a deadly encounter in prison, a celebrity chef and the current pandemic

Feature documentaries have become one of the most competitive categories at the Oscars. If the trend continues, entries vying for the 2022 shortlist could surpass last year’s record of 238. Here’s a quick look at three candidates vying for a spot on the list, which will be announced on December 21. The films explore the life of a revolutionary leader and television personality, a deadly prison rebellion, and the chaotic struggle to save lives amid a world-changing pandemic.

‘Julia’

This has been a busy year for documentaries about singular cultural figures who also became television pioneers, with subjects such as underwater explorer Jacques Cousteau and conductor-composer Leonard Bernstein. The most colorful, however, is Julia Child, whose public television show “The French Chef” first showed a spam-satisfied 1960s America how to pronounce – and cook – beef bourguignon, among many. other classic dishes.

In “Julia,” a Sony Pictures Classic release, filmmakers Julie Cohen and Betsy West, whose 2018 documentary Ruth Bader Ginsburg “RBG” was nominated for an Oscar, celebrate another revolutionary woman who broke with norms and changed his time. “She was tall, she was loud, she knew what she was talking about and she wasn’t afraid to talk about it,” Cohen said. “From the minute she appeared on TV, audiences loved her because she was genuine herself. She was not young. She was a woman who was already 50 years old.

Child, who died in 2004 at the age of 91, is renowned for having co-authored the 12-year-old cookbook “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” (1961). The filmmakers take the time to map Child’s life before this turning point, sparked by her World War romance with Paul Child, whom she met when they both worked for the Office of Strategic Services during World War II. Archival letters, diary entries and photographs bring the passion to life, as well as a score by English composer Rachel Portman. “If people choose to see our movie as a date movie, that’s fine,” Cohen said.

Paul Child’s photography has also been a godsend, offering comedic behind-the-scenes shots of early TV productions as well as surprisingly intimate glimpses. “We weren’t expecting to find a nude photo of Julia Child, but here it is,” West said, “along with a lot of other very sultry pics of someone that doesn’t automatically make you think they were sex. symbol, but for Paul Child it was.

‘Attica’

Its release coinciding with the 50th anniversary of the 1971 uprising at the Attica Correctional Facility in upstate New York, “Attica” posed chronological urgency to its filmmakers, Stanley Nelson and Traci Curry. “The people who survived Attica, who had clear memories of being there, they were getting older,” said Nelson, a three-time Emmy Award winner whose documentaries include “Freedom Riders” and “Black Panthers” : Vanguard of the Revolution “. “It was a real push to do it now to include them while they were still dynamic.”

These subjects, which include not only former prisoners but also journalists, prison guards, observers, family members and residents of the village of Attica, are at the heart of the film. “It became clear from the start that this was going to be a story told by the people who went through it,” said Curry, who conducted the interviews. After armed state police broke into the prison on the orders of New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller, 43 people were killed, including prisoners, correctional officers and prison employees. “It’s a deep trauma for everyone who lived it, every person.… There were a lot of tears, a lot of rage at the injustice on all sides.

The Showtime film makes extensive use of television news footage, a reminder that the Attica uprising was a major media event, but delves into the often shocking previously obscured images and emotional testimonies of John Johnson, an ABC News correspondent who was at the scene. “What happens with these films is that people use the same film over and over again,” Nelson said. “We had to constantly come back [to archival sources] and say, ‘No, we want to see everything. We want to see all you’ve got.

“The first wave”

Dangerous areas are a favorite ground for filmmaker Matthew Heineman, who has turned his camera on the Mexican drug cartels (Oscar nominee “Cartel Land”), the opioid crisis (Docuseries “The Trade”) and journalists. Syrians documenting ISIS (“Ghost City”) atrocities. His latest film, shot in a Queens hospital as the COVID-19 pandemic hit New York in 2020, proved more off-putting than any which of his previous projects.

“It was by far the most terrifying thing I have done,” said Heineman, “because we were going through the same thing that we were documenting.” Integrated for months at the Long Island Jewish Medical Center, the filmmaker and his small crew filmed for up to 18 hours a day in cramped and hectic spaces as healthcare providers struggled desperately to bring the deadly and mysterious virus under control.

“The First Wave,” a Neon theatrical release in partnership with National Geographic, joins a growing category of pandemic-themed documentaries including “76 Days”, “In the Same Breath” and “Totally Under Control”. This Tale of Truth, however, centers around a handful of topics, including passionate doctor Natalie Dougé and a New York Police Department school safety officer named Ahmed Ellis, a father whose fight for life becomes one. checkpoint.

Dougé, who becomes the driving spirit of the film, also opened the story to the broader social implications of the pandemic, which corresponded to the most explosive moments of the Black Lives Matter protests. “She was so clearly able to express the fear of the moment, but she was also opening up emotionally,” Heineman said. “We have become quite close, and through that trust and through that bond, we have been able to explore many other issues that have emerged in those four months.”

This story originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times.


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