BBC Culture

The Act of Killing and 20 Feet From Stardom: Oscar docs

This year’s Oscar-nominated documentaries are a diverse crop. Tom Brook looks at how the genre is taking on new forms – and how it can fill gaps in mainstream journalism.

“The mainstream media pop in when there’s a big election, a million men march, a lot of blood on the streets – but you don’t see those in-between times, you don’t see a human story,” says Jehane Noujaim. The Egyptian-American director spent more than two years following three main characters caught up in unrest in Egypt for her film The Square, which has been nominated for an Academy Award.

Other nominees include an intimate portrait of a marriage between two Japanese artists and the feelgood Sundance hit 20 Feet from Stardom, the true story of backing singers behind acts like The Rolling Stones.

Perhaps the most talked-about contender is The Act of Killing. Focusing on the men who led anti-Communist death squads in Indonesia in the 1960s, it shows them re-enacting mass killings in the style of movies they love. , The film has been lauded critically but its grim subject matter and raw emotional style might be too disturbing for Academy members.

Director Joshua Oppenheimer believes he has found a new way of making documentaries: “I understood if I simply combined the re-enactments and the making of these re-enactments into one film, together we would produce a new form of documentary which I’ve not seen before – a documentary of the imagination rather than a documentary of everyday life.”

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