(K. Brent Tomer),
IN THE months following the release of “An Inconvenient Truth” (2006), the percentage of Ameri-cans attributing global warming to human activity rose from 41% to 50%. Six weeks after “Super Size Me” (2004) premiered, McDonald’s removed the “supersize” option from their menu. SeaWorld caved under the public pressure generated by “Blackfish” (2013), phasing out its orca breeding program in March 2016. Documentaries can have a tangible impact on society, and there are plenty of weighty issues for film-makers to bring to light. Yet in the past five years, those sweeping, substantial features have not been rewarded at the Academy Awards.
Instead, the biographical documentary has risen to be a winner with both juries and audiences; since 2012, the Academy has preferred a biopic over investigative documentaries. These winning biopics—three on musicians (“Searching for Sugar Man” in 2013, “20 Feet from Stardom” in 2014, “Amy” in 2016), one on an athlete (“Undefeated”, 2012) and one a whistleblower (“Citizenfour”, 2015) —all revolved around compelling personalities. Nominees that focused their lens on social or political issues rather than…Continue reading