Always take Oscar nominations with a grain of salt.
That’s something I learnt when Fifty Shades of Grey copped a nom back in 2015. But despite some very obvious oversights in this year’s top contenders (Uncut Gems, et al.), there are some incredibly deserving films that’ve made it to the last round of the documentary categories. From honey hunters to personal takes from the frontline of the Syrian crisis, check out the five films vying for Best Documentary Feature at this year’s Oscars, and where you can watch them online now.
The Cave tells the story of a hidden underground hospital in Syria and the female-led team who risk their lives to provide medical care to the local population. It’s not the first time the film’s director, Feras Fayyad, has been nominated for Best Documentary Feature—in 2017, his heart-wrenching documentary Last Men in Aleppo was also nominated, but lost to doping scandal doco Icarus. Here’s hoping Fayyad and his Syrian film crew are actually able to attend the awards in person this time, as in 2017 their visas were rejected as part of Trump’s Travel Ban.
Hatidze lives with her ailing mother in the mountains of Macedonia, making a living cultivating honey using ancient beekeeping traditions. When a rowdy family moves in next door, what at first seems like a balm for her solitude becomes a source of tension as they, too, want to practice beekeeping. Honeyland was the most awarded film at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, and its cinematography is out of this world. It’s more than worth forking out a few dollars to watch this on one of the below streaming services.
When General Motors closed its factory doors back in 2008, over 10,000 people were plunged into unemployment. Two years later, Chinese billionaire Cao Dewang reopened the factory, bringing 2,000 jobs new jobs and thousands of underpaid, overworked Chinese workers with him. What followed was a cultural battle between high tech China and working-class America, in an environment where profits come before the health and safety of workers, and unionisation is a very dirty word. The film was number one on Obama’s film list for 2019—although as his new film company purchased it, he’s a little biased—and it should be on yours too. Give it a go.
Watch American Factory on Netflix.
Waad al-Kateab captured over 500 hours of her life over a period of five years, during the uprising in her home of Aleppo, Syria. Waad kept the camera rolling during protests and violence, falling in love and getting married, and giving birth to her daughter Sama, as bombs rained down around them. Told from a first-person perspective, For Sama manages to make you care deeply about a small family a million miles away, in a time when over-saturation of bad news has so many feeling apathetic. Throughout the film, Waad and her doctor husband have to make a difficult choice: to escape Aleppo and ensure her daughter’s safety, or to stay and keep fighting the struggle they’ve dedicated their lives to. Not an easy watch, but a necessary one.
The Edge of Democracy
Director Petra Costa delves into the tumultuous recent history of Brazil’s democracy, through her own experience of growing up in the years following military dictatorship. She takes viewers inside her country’s (and her own) bright-eyed hopes for a functioning democracy with charismatic leaders at the helm. But, sadly, it wouldn’t last, and corruption and an impeachment drove a wedge through everyday Brazilians and left the country divided. ‘We think the film is enormously important for the global community, not just for Brazil,’ the film’s producer Joanna Natasegara said. ‘We polarize more and more and that’s not only in Brazil—this idea that the left and right are getting further and further apart and that, in and of itself, creates anti-democratic sentiment on both sides.’
Watch The Edge of Democracy on Netflix.