Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature

Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature
Country United States
Presented by Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS)
First awarded 1942
Currently held by James Gay-Rees
Asif Kapadia
Amy (2015)
Official website

The Academy Award for Documentary Feature is an award for documentary films.

Winners and nominees

Following the Academy's practice, films are listed below by the award year (that is, the year they were released under the Academy's rules for eligibility). In practice, due to the limited nature of documentary distribution, a film may be released in different years in different venues, sometimes years after production is complete.


In 1942, there was one Documentary category, twenty-five nominees and four winners.

From 1943 there were two separate documentary categories (features and short films)



Year Film Director(s) Country
The Horse with the Flying Tail Larry Lansburgh  United States
Rebel in Paradise Robert D. Fraser  United States
Sky Above and Mud Beneath Pierre-Dominique Gaisseau  France
La grande olimpiade Romolo Marcellini  Italy
Black Fox: The Rise and Fall of Adolf Hitler Louis Clyde Stoumen  United States
Alvorada Hugo Niebeling  West Germany
Robert Frost: A Lover's Quarrel with the World Shirley Clarke  United States
Le Maillon et la chaîne Jacques Ertaud and Bernard Gorki  France
The Yanks Are Coming Marshall Flaum  United States
Note: Originally Terminus was announced as one of the nominees, but it was subsequently discovered that the film was first released prior to the eligibility period, and thus the nomination was withdrawn.
World Without Sun Jacques-Yves Cousteau  France /  Italy
14-18 Jean Aurel  France
Alleman Bert Haanstra  Netherlands
The Finest Hours Peter Baylis  United Kingdom
Four Days in November Mel Stuart  United States
The Eleanor Roosevelt Story
The Battle of the Bulge... The Brave Rifles
The Forth Road Bridge
Let My People Go: The Story of Israel
Mourir à Madrid
The War Game
The Face of a Genius
Helicopter Canada
The Really Big Family
Le Volcan interdit


Year Film Director(s) Country
Woodstock Michael Wadleigh  United States
Chariots of the Gods Harald Reinl  West Germany
Jack Johnson Jimmy Jacobs  United States
King: A Filmed Record... Montgomery to Memphis Ely Landau  United States
Say Goodbye David H. Vowell  United States
The Hellstrom Chronicle Walon Green  United States
Alaska Wilderness Lake Alan Landsburg  United States
The Sorrow and the Pity Marcel Ophüls  France
On Any Sunday Bruce Brown  United States
Ra Lennart Ehrenborg and Thor Heyerdahl  Sweden /  Norway
Marjoe Howard Smith and Sarah Kernochan  United States
Ape and Super-Ape Bert Haanstra  Netherlands
Malcolm X Arnold Perl  United States
Manson Robert Hendrickson and Laurence Merrick  United States
The Silent Revolution Eckehard Munck  West Germany
The Great American Cowboy Kieth Merrill  United States
Always a New Beginning John D. Goodell  United States
Journey to the Outer Limits Alexander Grasshoff  United States
Battle of Berlin Franz Baake and Jost von Morr  West Germany
Walls of Fire Herbert Kline and Edmund Penney  United States
Hearts and Minds Peter Davis  United States
Antonia: A Portrait of the Woman Judy Collins and Jill Godmilow  United States
The Challenge... A Tribute to Modern Art Herbert Kline  United States
The 81st Blow Haim Gouri  Israel
The Wild and the Brave Eugene S. Jones  United States
The Man Who Skied Down Everest F. R. Crawley, James Hager and Dale Hartlebe[1]  Canada
The California Reich Keith Critchlow and Walter F. Parkes  United States
Fighting for Our Lives Glen Pearcy  United States
Man: The Incredible Machine Irwin Rosten and Ed Spiegel  United States
The Other Half of the Sky: A China Memoir Shirley MacLaine and Claudia Weill  United States
Harlan County, USA Barbara Kopple  United States
Hollywood on Trial David Helpern  United States
Off the Edge Michael Firth  New Zealand
People of the Wind Anthony Howarth and David Koff  United States
Volcano: An Inquiry into the Life and Death of Malcolm Lowry Donald Brittain and John Kramer  Canada
Who Are the DeBolts? And Where Did They Get Nineteen Kids? John Korty  United States
The Children of Theatre Street Robert Dornhelm and Earle Mack  United States
High Grass Circus Tony Ianzelo and Torben Schioler  Canada
Homage to Chagall: The Colours of Love Harry Rasky  Canada
Union Maids Jim Klein, Miles Mogulescu and Julia Reichert  United States
Scared Straight! Arnold Shapiro  United States
Mysterious Castles of Clay Joan Root and Alan Root  United States
Raoni Jean-Pierre Dutilleux and Luiz Carlos Saldanha  France
Le vent des amoureux Albert Lamorisse  France
With Babies and Banners: Story of the Women's Emergency Brigade Lorraine Gray  United States
Best Boy Ira Wohl  United States
Generation on the Wind David Vassar  United States
Going the Distance Paul Cowan  Canada
The Killing Ground Steve Singer  United States
The War at Home Glenn Silber  United States


Year Film Name(s)
From Mao to Mozart: Isaac Stern in China Murray Lerner
Agee Ross Spears
The Day After Trinity Jon Else
Front Line David Bradbury
The Yellow Star – The Persecution of the Jews in Europe 1933-45 Dieter Hildebrandt
Genocide Arnold Schwartzman
Against Wind and Tide: A Cuban Odyssey John Brousek
Brooklyn Bridge Ken Burns
Eight Minutes to Midnight: A Portrait of Dr. Helen Caldicott Mary Benjamin
El Salvador: Another Vietnam Glenn Silber
Just Another Missing Kid John Zaritsky
A Portrait of Giselle Muriel Balash
After the Axe Sturla Gunnarsson
Ben's Mill Michel Chalufour and John Karol
In Our Water Meg Switzgable
He Makes Me Feel Like Dancin' Emile Ardolino
Children of Darkness Ara Chekmayan and Richard Kotuk
First Contact Robin Anderson and Bob Connolly
The Profession of Arms Michael Bryans and Tina Viljoen
Seeing Red Jim Klein and Julia Reichert
The Times of Harvey Milk Rob Epstein
High Schools Charles Guggenheim
In the Name of the People Frank Christopher
Marlene Maximilian Schell
Streetwise Martin Bell
Broken Rainbow Maria Floria and Victoria Mudd
The Mothers of Plaza de Mayo Susana Blaustein Muñoz and Lourdes Portillo
Soldiers in Hiding Malcolm Clarke
The Statue of Liberty Ken Burns
Unfinished Business Steven Okazaki
Artie Shaw: Time Is All You've Got (tie) Brigitte Berman
Down and Out in America (tie) Joseph Feury and Milton Justice
Chile: Hasta Cuando? David Bradbury
Isaac in America: A Journey with Isaac Bashevis Singer Amram Nowak
Witness to Apartheid Sharon I. Sopher
The Ten-Year Lunch Aviva Slesin
Eyes on the Prize Henry Hampton
Hellfire: A Journey from Hiroshima Michael Camerini, John Junkerman and James MacDonald
Radio Bikini Robert Stone
A Stitch for Time Nigel Noble
Hôtel Terminus: The Life and Times of Klaus Barbie Marcel Ophüls
The Cry of Reason: Beyers Naude – An Afrikaner Speaks Out Robert Bilheimer
Let's Get Lost Bruce Weber
Promises to Keep Ginny Durrin
Who Killed Vincent Chin? Christine Choy and Renee Tajima-Peña
Common Threads: Stories from the Quilt Rob Epstein and Bill Couturié
Adam Clayton Powell Richard Kilberg
Crack USA: County Under Siege Vince DiPersio and William Guttentag
For All Mankind Al Reinert
Super Chief: The Life and Legacy of Earl Warren Judith Leonard and Bill Jersey


Year Film Name(s)
American Dream Barbara Kopple and Arthur Cohn
Berkeley in the Sixties Mark Kitchell
Building Bombs Mark Mori and Susan Robinson
Forever Activists: Stories from the Veterans of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade Judith Montell
Waldo Salt: A Screenwriter's Journey Robert Hillmann and Eugene Corr
In the Shadow of the Stars Allie Light and Irving Saraf
Death on the Job Vince DiPersio and William Guttentag
Doing Time: Life Inside the Big House Alan Raymond and Susan Raymond
The Restless Conscience: Resistance to Hitler Within Germany 1933-1945 Hava Kohav Beller
Wild by Law Lawrence Hott and Diane Garey
The Panama Deception Barbara Trent and David Kasper
Changing Our Minds: The Story of Dr. Evelyn Hooker David Haugland
Fires of Kuwait Sally Dundas
Liberators: Fighting on Two Fronts in World War II Bill Miles and Nina Rosenblum
Music for the Movies: Bernard Herrmann Margaret Smilow and Roma Baran
I Am a Promise: The Children of Stanton Elementary School Susan Raymond and Alan Raymond
The Broadcast Tapes of Dr. Peter David Paperny and Arthur Ginsberg
Children of Fate Susan Todd and Andrew Young
For Better or For Worse David Collier and Betsy Thompson
The War Room D. A. Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus
Maya Lin: A Strong Clear Vision Freida Lee Mock
Complaints of a Dutiful Daughter Deborah Hoffmann
D-Day Remembered Charles Guggenheim
Freedom on My Mind Connie Field and Marilyn Mulford
A Great Day in Harlem Jean Bach
Anne Frank Remembered Jon Blair
The Battle Over Citizen Kane Thomas Lennon and Michael Epstein
Fiddlefest: Roberta Tzavaras and Her East Harlem Violin Program Allan Miller and Walter Scheuer
Hank Aaron: Chasing the Dream Mike Tollin and Fredric Golding
Troublesome Creek: A Midwestern Jeanne Jordan and Steven Ascher
When We Were Kings Leon Gast and David Sonenberg
The Line King: The Al Hirschfeld Story Susan W. Dryfoos
Mandela Jo Menell and Angus Gibson
Suzanne Farrell: Elusive Muse Anne Belle and Deborah Dickson
Tell the Truth and Run: George Seldes and the American Press Rick Goldsmith
The Long Way Home Marvin Hier and Richard Trank
Ayn Rand: A Sense of Life Michael Paxton
Colors Straight Up Michèle Ohayon and Julia Schachter
4 Little Girls Spike Lee and Sam Pollard
Waco: The Rules of Engagement Dan Gifford and William Gazecki
The Last Days James Moll and Ken Lipper
Dancemaker Matthew Diamond and Jerry Kupfer
The Farm: Angola, U.S.A. Jonathan Stack and Liz Garbus
Lenny Bruce: Swear to Tell the Truth Robert B. Weide
Regret to Inform Barbara Sonneborn and Janet Cole
One Day in September Arthur Cohn and Kevin Macdonald
Buena Vista Social Club Wim Wenders and Ulrich Felsberg
Genghis Blues Roko Belic and Adrian Belic
On the Ropes Nanette Burstein and Brett Morgen
Speaking in Strings Paola di Florio and Lilibet Foster


Year Film Name(s)
Into the Arms of Strangers: Stories of the Kindertransport Mark Jonathan Harris and Deborah Oppenheimer
Legacy Tod Lending
Long Night's Journey into Day Deborah Hoffmann and Frances Reid
Scottsboro: An American Tragedy Daniel Anker and Barak Goodman
Sound and Fury Josh Aronson and Roger Weisberg
Murder on a Sunday Morning Jean-Xavier de Lestrade and Denis Poncet
Children Underground Edet Belzberg
LaLee's Kin: The Legacy of Cotton Deborah Dickson and Susan Frömke
Promises B.Z. Goldberg and Justine Shapiro
War Photographer Christian Frei
Bowling for Columbine Michael Moore and Michael Donovan
Daughter from Danang Gail Dolgin and Vicente Franco
Prisoner of Paradise Malcolm Clarke and Stuart Sender
Spellbound Jeffrey Blitz and Sean Welch
Winged Migration Jacques Perrin
The Fog of War Errol Morris and Michael Williams
Balseros Carlos Bosch and Josep Maria Domenech
Capturing the Friedmans Andrew Jarecki and Marc Smerling
My Architect Nathaniel Kahn and Susan R. Behr
The Weather Underground Sam Green and Bill Siegel
Born into Brothels Ross Kauffman and Zana Briski
The Story of the Weeping Camel Byambasuren Davaa and Luigi Falorni
Super Size Me Morgan Spurlock
Tupac: Resurrection Karolyn Ali and Lauren Lazin
Twist of Faith Kirby Dick and Eddie Schmidt
March of the Penguins Luc Jacquet and Yves Darondeau
Darwin's Nightmare Hubert Sauper
Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room Alex Gibney and Jason Kliot
Murderball Henry Alex Rubin and Dana Adam Shapiro
Street Fight Marshall Curry
An Inconvenient Truth Davis Guggenheim
Deliver Us from Evil Amy Berg, Frank Donner, and Matthew Cooke
Iraq in Fragments James Longley and Yahya Sinno
Jesus Camp Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady
My Country, My Country Jocelyn Glatzer and Laura Poitras
Taxi to the Dark Side Alex Gibney and Eva Orner
No End in Sight Charles Ferguson and Audrey Marrs
Operation Homecoming: Writing the Wartime Experience Richard Robbins
Sicko Michael Moore and Meghan O'Hara
War/Dance Sean Fine and Andrea Nix Fine
Man on Wire Simon Chinn and James Marsh
The Betrayal (Nerakhoon) Ellen Kuras and Thavisouk Phrasavath
Encounters at the End of the World Werner Herzog and Henry Kaiser
The Garden Scott Hamilton Kennedy
Trouble the Water Carl Deal and Tia Lessin
The Cove Louie Psihoyos and Fisher Stevens
Burma VJ Anders Østergaard and Lise Lense-Møller
Food, Inc. Robert Kenner and Elise Pearlstein
The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers Judith Ehrlich and Rick Goldsmith
Which Way Home Rebecca Cammisa


Year Film Name(s)
Inside Job Charles H. Ferguson and Audrey Marrs
Exit Through the Gift Shop Banksy and Jaimie D'Cruz
Gasland Josh Fox and Trish Adlesic
Restrepo Tim Hetherington and Sebastian Junger
Waste Land Lucy Walker and Angus Aynsley
Undefeated TJ Martin, Dan Lindsay, and Richard Middlemas
Hell and Back Again Danfung Dennis and Mike Lerner
If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front Marshall Curry and Sam Cullman
Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky
Pina Wim Wenders and Gian-Piero Ringel
Searching for Sugar Man Malik Bendjelloul and Simon Chinn
5 Broken Cameras Emad Burnat and Guy Davidi
The Gatekeepers Dror Moreh, Philippa Kowarsky, and Estelle Fialon
How to Survive a Plague David France and Howard Gertler
The Invisible War Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering
20 Feet from Stardom Morgan Neville, Gil Friesen and Caitrin Rogers
The Act of Killing Joshua Oppenheimer and Signe Byrge Sørensen
Cutie and the Boxer Zachary Heinzerling and Lydia Dean Pilcher
Dirty Wars Richard Rowley and Jeremy Scahill
The Square Jehane Noujaim and Karim Amer
Citizenfour Laura Poitras, Mathilde Bonnefoy and Dirk Wilutzky
Finding Vivian Maier John Maloof and Charlie Siskel
Last Days in Vietnam Rory Kennedy and Kevin McAlester
The Salt of the Earth Wim Wenders, Juliano Ribeiro Salgado and David Rosier
Virunga Orlando von Einsiedel and Joanna Natasegara
Amy Asif Kapadia and James Gay-Rees
Cartel Land Matthew Heineman and Tom Yellin
The Look of Silence Joshua Oppenheimer and Signe Byrge Sørensen
What Happened, Miss Simone? Liz Garbus, Amy Hobby and Justin Wilkes
Winter on Fire: Ukraine's Fight for Freedom Evgeny Afineevsky and Den Tolmor


For this Academy Award category, the following superlatives emerge:[2]


While accepting the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress award in 1978, Vanessa Redgrave made a scornful reference to the Jewish Defense League, which was picketing the event in protest of Redgrave's involvement in the documentary The Palestinian, which advocated for a Palestinian state. She was both cheered and booed when she praised the Academy for ignoring "the threats of a small bunch of Zionist hoodlums whose behavior is an insult to the stature of Jews all over the world."[3]

Many critically acclaimed documentaries were never nominated. Examples include Salesman, Dont Look Back, Gimme Shelter, Grey Gardens, Sans Soleil, Shoah, The Thin Blue Line, Roger & Me, Touching The Void, Hoop Dreams, Wordplay, Crumb, Paris is Burning, Position Among the Stars, Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck, Grizzly Man, Metal: A Headbanger's Journey, The Interrupters, The Last Waltz, Stories We Tell, Crime After Crime, Waltz with Bashir, Project Nim, Blackfish, Waiting for "Superman", The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters, Senna, We Were Here, Nostalgia for the Light, Life Itself, The Overnighters, The Internet's Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz, Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief, Listen to Me Marlon, any entry from the Up Series, Hitchcock/Truffaut, Heart of a Dog and Fahrenheit 9/11 (see below).

Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11, at the time the highest-grossing documentary film in movie history, was ruled ineligible because Moore had opted to have it played on television prior to the 2004 election. Previously, the 1982 winner Just Another Missing Kid had already been broadcast in Canada and won that country's ACTRA award for excellence in television at the time of its nomination.

The controversy over Hoop Dreams' exclusion was enough to have the Academy Awards begin the process to change its documentary voting system.[4] Roger Ebert, who had declared it to be the best 1994 movie of any kind, looked into its failure to receive a nomination: "We learned, through very reliable sources, that the members of the committee had a system. They carried little flashlights. When one gave up on a film, he waved a light on the screen. When a majority of flashlights had voted, the film was switched off. "Hoop Dreams" was stopped after 15 minutes."[5]

The Academy's executive director, Bruce Davis, took the unprecedented step of asking accounting firm Price Waterhouse to turn over the complete results of that year's voting, in which members of the committee had rated each of the 63 eligible documentaries on a scale of six to ten. "What I found," said Davis, "is that a small group of members gave zeros (actually low scores) to every single film except the five they wanted to see nominated. And they gave tens to those five, which completely skewed the voting. There was one film that received more scores of ten than any other, but it wasn't nominated. It also got zeros (low scores) from those few voters, and that was enough to push it to sixth place."[6]

In 2000, Arthur Cohn, the producer of the winning One Day in September boasted, "I won this without showing it in a single theater!" Cohn had hit upon the tactic of showing his Oscar entries at invitation-only screenings, and to as few other people as possible. Oscar bylaws at the time required voters to have seen all five nominated documentaries; by limiting his audience, Cohn shrank the voting pool and improved his odds. Following protests by many documentarians, the nominating system was subsequently changed.[7]

Hoop Dreams director Steve James said "With so few people looking at any given film, it only takes one to dislike a film and its chances for making the short list are diminished greatly. So they’ve got to do something, I think, to make the process more sane for deciding the shortlist."[8] Among other rule changes taking effect in 2013,[9] the Academy began requiring a documentary to have been reviewed by either the New York Times or Los Angeles Times, and be commercially released for at least one week in both of those cities. Advocating for the rule change, Michael Moore said, "When people get the award for best documentary and they go on stage and thank the Academy, it's not really the Academy, is it? It's 5% of the Academy."[8]

The awards process has also been criticized for emphasizing a documentary's subject matter over its style or quality. In 2009, Entertainment Weekly's Owen Gleiberman wrote about the documentary branch members' penchant for choosing "movies that the selection committee deemed good because they’re good for you... a kind of self-defeating aesthetic of granola documentary correctness."[10]

Although documentaries are eligible for the Academy Award for Best Picture, none has yet earned a nomination. Documentaries are ineligible for the other awards such as Best Original Screenplay and Best Director due to their realistic elements.

See also


External links

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