Savannah Film Fest: 10 Doc Oscar Contenders on Inspirations and Obstacles for Their 2020 Films

The seventh annual 'Docs to Watch' panel on Oct. 25 brought together the helmers of 'Boys State,' 'Crip Camp,' 'Dick Johnson Is Dead,' 'The Dissident,' 'The Human Factor,' 'MLK/FBI,' 'Time,' 'The Truffle Hunters,' 'The Way I See It' and 'Welcome to Chechnya.'

Even a pandemic couldn't keep the SCAD Savannah Film Festival from proceeding with its seventh annual 'Docs to Watch' Panel — albeit virtually, given the circumstances.

As in the past, the panel was presented by The Hollywood Reporter, moderated by yours truly and brought together the directors of 10 of the year's top documentary features to discuss what led them to their films' subjects; how they confronted unexpected challenges along the way; and what sort of impact they hope their work will have as it goes out to the world.

2020's panelists were Amanda McBaine, co-director, with Jesse Moss, of Boys State (A24 and Apple TV+), a film about teens competing in a mock government program in Texas; Nicole Newnham, co-director, with James Lebrecht, of Crip Camp (Netflix), a film about a generation of disability activists who emerged from a 1970s summer camp; Kirsten Johnson, director of Dick Johnson Is Dead (Netflix), a film about the director and her elderly father confronting the inevitability of his death; Icarus Oscar winner Bryan Fogel, director of The Dissident (Briarcliff), a film about the life and murder of a Saudi-born Washington Post journalist; The Gatekeepers Oscar nominee Dror Moreh, director of The Human Factor (Sony Classics), a film about the American negotiators who have tried to broker peace in the Middle East; 4 Little Girls Oscar nominee Sam Pollard, director of MLK/FBI (IFC), a film about the leader of the American civil rights movement and the FBI’s efforts to smear him; Garrett Bradley, director of Time (Amazon), a film about the impact of a harsh prison sentence on one African-American family over more than two decades; Michael Dweck, co-director, with Gregory Kershaw, of The Truffle Hunters (Sony Classics), a film about the old men and their dogs who pursue rare white truffles in the forests of Italy; Dawn Porter, director of The Way I See It (Focus), a film about the career and political activation of a former White House photographer; and How to Survive a Plague Oscar nominee David France, director of Welcome to Chechnya (HBO), a film about a network of activists helping LGBTQ citizens escape persecution in a closed Russian republic.

The SCAD Savannah Film Festival, which is usually held in Georgia on the campus of the Savannah College of Art and Design, is the nation's largest university-run film fest. In recent years, under the oversight of artistic director Christina Routhier, the event, long known for its beautiful setting and Southern hospitality, has become an important stop on the awards circuit.

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