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A truly international slate: your guide to the 2024 Oscar nominees for best documentary

A truly international slate: your guide to the 2024 Oscar nominees for best documentary
Bobi Wine parades through crowds of people in Kayunga District on December 01, 2020 in Jinja, Uganda. (Photo by Getty Images/Getty Images)

This year, all the Oscar nominees for best documentary feature come from outside of the United States. Here is your guide to the 2024 nominees for best documentary feature.

The dominance of international nonfiction films has some in Hollywood concerned. The North American market has become saturated with true crime and celebrity-powered offerings – often to the detriment of makers of rigourous investigations, riveting real-life stories or innovative artistic expressions.

My research finds, with courage and persistence, documentary filmmakers outside established centres of power draw attention to global problems at the local level. This year’s nominees demonstrate how the industry has shifted from safe topics for English-speaking viewers. This is good news for audiences who want to see depictions from more of the world in which we live.

Bobi Wine: The People’s President

Bobi Wine: The People’s President charts the journey of Ugandan musician Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu (stage name Bobi Wine) from humble roots in a Kampalan slum to contesting the corrupt rule of the inexorable Yoweri Museveni as a presidential candidate in 2021.

The first crossroad comes as Museveni changes the country’s constitution to allow him to rule until his death, which Wine and his supporters oppose. On concocted charges, police arrest and torture the popstar-turned-politician. But Wine has the hearts of young voters, as well as his wife Barbie, who adds a personal insight to this fight for freedom.

Although it contains confronting material, Moses Bwayo and Christopher Sharp’s film is the most accessible of the nominees. The documentary features an uplifting Afrobeat soundtrack, and includes astonishing sequences of “people power” at rallies and in protest against state-sanctioned interference to Wine’s campaign.

The Eternal Memory

Maite Alberdi’s portrait of patience and love, The Eternal Memory, has a strong chance at this year’s awards. The film won a top prize at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival and this is Alberdi’s second Oscar nomination for best documentary, after The Mole Agent in 2021.

Journalist Augusto Góngora witnessed many momentous events of Chilean history but his memories are being ravaged by Alzheimer’s disease. His wife of many years, Paulina Urrutia, attempts to stimulate her husband’s confused mind.

Archival footage of Góngora’s reports during the military overthrow of the democratic socialist government in 1973 intersperse this tender documentary. His efforts to record the violence of the Pinochet regime serve as a warning against forgetfulness, and the lyrical tone and steady pace of The Eternal Memory remind the viewer that time passes quickly, so seize the day.

Four Daughters

Filmmaker Kaouther Ben Hania tells the heartrending story of a Tunisian family affected by Islamic radicalisation. The documentary blends fact and fiction by casting actors to play the roles of two absent daughters, Ghofrane and Rahma.

Since the 2011 uprising that ousted autocratic former President Ben Ali, Tunisia has experienced poverty and violence, leading many young people to go to nearby countries to enlist as jihadists.

We watch as mother Olfa Hamrouni meets her surrogate daughters, played by Ichrak Matar and Nour Karoui. Together with the remaining girls, Eya and Tayssir, they reenact scenes from their lives together. Another actor, Hend Sabry, is on standby to take Olfa’s place for parts that are “too difficult” to play as herself.

Four Daughters examines themes of generational loss for women in the Arab world, but not without moments of resilience and humour. Ben Hania’s therapeutic approach to working with her participants challenges practitioners who deploy exploitative modes of documentary production.

To Kill a Tiger

Indian-born Canadian filmmaker Nisha Pahuja’s stunningly shot and scored documentary deals with the gang rape of a 13-year-old girl during a wedding party in Jharkhand in eastern India.

Rice farmer Ranjit seeks justice for his eldest daughter Kiran through the court system: a rare course of action in rural India. Activists from the Srijan Foundation join Ranjit’s quest, hoping to garner a crucial conviction for the crime and to end entrenched prejudices that lead most gender-based violence in India to go unreported.

Pressure and threats mount as Pahuja and her crew capture an all-or-nothing battle. To Kill A Tiger has several unforgettable scenes – and a glimmer of hope on the horizon.

20 Days in Mariupol

Predicted as the favourite to win in a tight race, Pulitzer-prize winning journalist Mstyslav Chernov’s observational-style account of the Russian invasion of the Ukrainian port city Mariupol makes for tense viewing. When Russian troops surround the city, the bombarded citizens and journalists are left without utilities and unable to escape.

This film follows an investigative journalism approach. Chernov sends dispatches to his editors of ordinary people during extraordinary times, and the resulting news items become punctuation points in the film.

Chernov’s camera goes on to tape several atrocities that are terrible yet crucial to witness, making the account an apt recipient of recognition. The bravery to point the camera in the face of oncoming danger is remarkable, and the documentary greatly benefits from a tight assembly by editor Michelle Mizner, who also produced. DM 

This story was first published in The Conversation. Phoebe Hart is an Associate Professor in Film Screen & Animation at Queensland University of Technology.

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