By Matthew Carey
The coronavirus pandemic pushed the release of a slew of narrative films into 2021, reducing the number of Best Picture contenders this Oscar season. But it’s a completely different story with documentary. Streaming platforms and other players didn’t hold back their nonfiction slate, and with the Academy relaxing qualification rules, the record for films in contention for Best Documentary is about to be shattered this year.
That makes this the perfect time to launch Deadline’s first Contenders Documentary, a virtual showcase of top nonfiction films this awards season. The event kicks off today at 8 a.m. PT. Click here to register and join the livestream, and follow along for the day on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram via @Deadline and #DeadlineContenders. See the full schedule of panels below.
The Contenders Documentary program, featuring conversations with a raft of Oscar-winning and Oscar-nominated filmmakers including Alex Gibney, Liz Garbus, Ron Howard, Bryan Fogel, Errol Morris, Gianfranco Rosi, Amy Ziering and Kirby Dick, reflects how filmmakers confronted some of the world’s most dire problems, like Covid-19. Hao Wu jumped into action when the novel coronavirus erupted, making the vérité documentary 76 Days for MTV Documentary Films, a riveting look at patients and medical staff in locked-down Wuhan, China. Gibney wasted no time either, combining forces with two fellow filmmakers to document the Trump administration’s failed response in Neon’s Totally Under Control.
This past year also brought a reckoning with systemic racial injustice after the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. America’s legacy of intransigent racism forms the backdrop of two films from Amazon Studios: All In: The Fight for Democracy and Garrett Bradley’s Time. The latter title takes a granular view of the racial dimension to mass incarceration, examining the experience of a Black woman who spent years trying to win the release of her imprisoned husband.
All In, featuring Democratic party superstar Stacey Abrams, shows how the former Georgia gubernatorial candidate has fought to counteract the country’s long history of voter suppression targeting communities of color.
It’s another civil rights movement, one that empowered people with disabilities, that gets long overdue attention in the Netflix documentary Crip Camp. Judy Heumann, a key subject of the film and a leading disability rights activist, joins our conversation on that film.
Heumann began her activism in the 1970s. A new activist on the world scene, climate change warrior Greta Thunberg, is the focus of Hulu’s I Am Greta. And the threat from global warming also factors in Ron Howard’s Rebuilding Paradise, for National Geographic, a film about the California town wiped out by voracious wildfires in 2018, and in Sony Pictures Classics’ The Truffle Hunters. Even the pursuit of truffles in Italy’s Piedmont region, it seems, is endangered by climate change.
The explosion of documentary film in recent years has been driven largely by the emergence of streaming platforms. Along with films from Netflix, Hulu and Amazon, Contenders Documentary highlights award-winning documentaries from Apple TV+ and HBO Max.
Here’s the full rundown of today’s lineup and panelists:
CONTENDERS DOCUMENTARY PANEL SCHEDULE
(all times PT)
8 a.m. – WELCOME
8:0-8:23 a.m. – Hulu
I Am Greta - Nathan Grossman
8:23-8:44 a.m. – Amazon
Time - Garrett Bradley
All In: The Fight For Democracy - Liz Garbus, Lisa Cortés
8:44-9:29 a.m. – Showtime
My Psychedelic Love Story - Errol Morris
Belushi - R.J. Cutler
Kingdom of Silence - Rick Rowley. Mohamed Soltan
9:30-9:40 a.m. – MORNING BREAK
9:42-10:01 a.m. – Focus Features
The Way I See It - Laura Dern, Jayme Lemons, Dawn Porter
10:01-10:24 a.m. – Sony Pictures Classics
The Truffle Hunters - Michael Dweck, Gregory Kershaw
The Human Factor - Dror Moreh
10:24-11:09 a.m. – Netflix
Dick Johnson is Dead - Kirsten Johnson
Athlete A - Bonni Cohen, Jon Shenk
Crip Camp - Judy Heumann, Jim LeBrecht, Nicole Newnham
The Social Dilemma - Jeff Orlowski
11:10-11:40 a.m. – LUNCH
11:41 a.m.-12:22 p.m. – Neon
Gunda - Victor Kossakovsky
The Painter and the Thief - Barbora “Barbar” Kysilkova, Benjamin Ree
Totally Under Control - Alex Gibney, Ophelia Harutyunyan, Suzanne Hillinger
Notturno - Gianfranco Rosi
12:22-12:42 p.m. – HBO Max
On the Record- Kirby Dick, Drew Dixon, Amy Ziering
12:42pm – 1:03 p.m. – MTV Documentary Films
76 Days - Hao Wu
A Life Too Short - Safyah Usmani
1:03-1:13 p.m. – AFTERNOON BREAK
1:14-1:35 p.m. – Briarcliff Entertainment
The Dissident - Bryan Fogel, Jake Swantko
1:35-1:53 p.m. – Nat Geo
Rebuilding Paradise - Ron Howard, Michelle John, Xan Parker
1:53-2:12 p.m. – Apple TV+
Boys State - Amanda McBaine, Jesse Moss