In the Best Documentary Feature category of the Academy Awards, 2017 is a year of firsts. For the first time, four of the five Oscar-nominated documentary directors in the category are people of color (Roger Ross Williams, for Life, Animated; Ezra Edelman, for O.J.: Made in America; Ava DuVernay, for 13th; and Raoul Peck, for I Am Not Your Negro). In fact, 2017 reveals the largest percentage of Oscar-shortlisted documentary directors of color over at least the past decade. Almost a third (29 percent) of this year’s 17 credited Oscar-shortlisted documentary directors (in the Best Documentary Feature category) are people of color, up from 18 percent in 2016, none in 2015, and 17 percent in 2014. The percentage of recognized women documentary directors, while an increase from last year (24 percent of recognized shortlisted directors in 2017 are women, compared to 18 percent in 2016), remains at relatively the same low level of recognition over the past decade.

In 2016, as a response to widespread criticism and negative media coverage, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences welcomed a record number of new members to become part of the voting class to bestow Academy Awards: 683 film professionals (46 percent women, 41 percent people of color) were invited in.2 According to the Academy, prior to this new 2016 class, its membership was 92 percent white and 75 percent male.3 To represent the documentary category, 42 new documentary creative professionals (directors and producers) were invited as new members.

Over the past several years, criticism about “Oscars so white” reached beyond the ranks of Hollywood’s inner business circles into consumer consciousness.4 However, the media and public backlash largely focused on the entertainment business’ big scripted films, actors and actresses. The documentary feature category is largely excluded from the cultural conversation about diversity and inclusion in entertainment storytelling, despite the documentary genre’s vital place in the marketplace and a functioning democracy.

And yet, despite notable achievements and improvement in recognizing directors of color and female directors, the documentary field may have similar challenges of diversity and inclusion. This study spotlights at least one important numerical reality of the challenge—at one notable level of international achievement in film.


For a documentary filmmaker, being recognized by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences for an Oscar nomination in the Best Documentary Feature category is often the pinnacle moment in a career. Beyond the celebratory achievement, the acknowledgment can open up doors for funding and opportunities for subsequent films and career opportunities. Formal Academy recognition in documentary feature films happens in three phases: It begins in December with the Academy’s announcement of a shortlist—15 films that advance to a formal nomination for the Academy’s Best Documentary Feature Award. Then, in mid-January, the final list of five official nominations is announced. Finally, at the end of February or early March, the one winner is announced at the Academy Awards ceremony.

What does it take for a documentary film and its director and producer to make it to the top—the Oscars shortlist, the nomination and the win? Which film directors and producers are recognized, in terms of race and gender? Are the shortlisted films focused on pressing social issues, or slice-of-life entertainment stories? Where can audiences see the documentaries—on PBS, HBO, iTunes, Netflix and beyond?

This study is the first to examine a full decade of Academy Award-shortlisted, -nominated and -winning documentary films—a total of 150 films, 190 credited directors and 1,027 producers (credited executive producers, producers and co-producers); in total, this study examines all films as well as the race and gender identifications of 1,217 credited creative professionals (directors and producers). From this close investigation of Oscar-shortlisted documentary films, consistent patterns emerge to paint a portrait of documentary representation at this highest level of achievement.


SPOTLIGHT: 2017 Oscar-Shortlisted and -Nominated Documentary Films

Race: Directors & Producers:
Of the 17 shortlisted documentary directors (across 15 films), 71 percent are white, and 29 percent are directors of color (a notable increase from 18 percent directors of color in 2016). Of the 126 Oscar-shortlisted documentary producers (executive producers, producers, and co-producers across 15 films), 92 percent are white, and 8 percent are producers of color. For the first time in the history of the documentary category, four out of the five formally Oscar-nominated documentary directors are directors of color.

Gender: Directors & Producers:
Of the 17 shortlisted documentary directors (across 15 films), 76 percent are male, and 24 percent are women (up from 18 percent in 2016). Of the 126 Oscar-shortlisted documentary producers (executive producers, producers and co-producers across 15 films), 51 percent are men, and 49 percent are women.



RACE (2008-2017): Over a decade, Oscar shortlist recognition consistently favors white documentary directors and producers, despite notable changes in 2017.

Documentary directors and producers recognized by the Academy Awards shortlist and nomination process have been overwhelmingly white. Across ten years of data (2008-2017), only 25 directors of color have been represented in the Oscars shortlist for documentaries—13 percent of all directors. (Notably, of the 25 shortlist-recognized documentary directors of color, five were recognized in 2017.) Almost 9 in 10 (87%) of shortlist-recognized documentary directors over the past decade have been white.

The portrait is much the same for recognized documentary producers. Over a full decade (1,028 total producers), 9 percent of documentary producers in the Oscars shortlist have been people of color; more than 9 in 10 (91%) have been white.



GENDER (2008-2017): Recognition of female documentary directors remains consistently rare. However, women—under male directors—are significantly more likely to be formally recognized as producers than as directors.

Documentaries that are recognized with Academy Award shortlist and nomination recognitions are primarily directed by men. Despite notable outlier years and individual successes, this trend has not changed over the past decade. Over the past ten years, 25 percent of Oscar-shortlisted documentary directors have been women; three-quarters (75%). of the recognized directors have been men.

However, an interesting pattern and significant difference emerges for female producers: Over the past decade, 42 percent of Oscar-shortlisted documentary producers have been women, while 58 percent have been men. Women are significantly more likely to be recognized as producers than directors.



TOPICS (2008-2017): Pressing social issues are likely to be shortlisted for Oscar recognition.

Consistently, documentaries that work at the intersection of investigative journalism and film—spotlighting contemporary social issues and perhaps impacting them—are recognized by the Academy in the shortlist process. Across ten years, about 7 in 10 (69%) of the Oscar-shortlisted films have been “social issue” stories (such as the 2015 Oscar-winning documentary film CitizenFour), compared with 31 percent that have focused on entertainment and slice-of-life stories (for example, the 2014 Oscar-winning documentary 20 Feet from Stardom).


DISTRIBUTION (2008-2017): Film festivals and online streaming platforms dominate Oscar-shortlisted and nominated films’ distribution plans.

All of the documentary films shortlisted over the past three years employed a multi-tiered distribution strategy, including the film festival circuit, TV broadcast and streaming; a theatrical screening is required for an Academy Award shortlist and nomination, so all of the films completed some limited or extensive theatrical runs. Only a few films didn’t complete all three distribution levels (festivals, streaming, TV) in their respective roads to Oscar, given the importance of audience (and Academy) awareness and buzz around the films.5

Film festivals play a vital role. Across ten years of data, 100 percent of Oscar-shortlisted films screened at film festivals; almost half (47%) show at the Sundance Film Festival. Strategic layered distribution beyond the theater is key for these documentary films; about 9 in 10 (88%) are available via online streaming at some point in their marketplace lifecycles, with iTunes, Netflix and Amazon as top destinations.

TV is part of the layered documentary distribution model. Seven in 10 (71%) of the past decade’s Oscar-shortlisted documentaries also had TV broadcast windows. Public broadcasting remains a vital home for high-quality documentaries; 29 percent of Oscar-shortlisted documentaries have aired on PBS (compared to 19 percent on HBO, 3 percent on National Geographic and CNN, and 21 percent across a range of cable TV outlets).6

AWARDS: Oscar-Shortlisted Documentary Feature Films are Recognized by Cinema Eye Honors, Sundance Film Festival and Emmy Awards.

The one award that is consistently the best connection to an Oscar shortlist recognition for documentary films is the relatively new Cinema Eye Honors, followed by awards given at the Sundance Film Festival, and the Emmys. About 27 percent of the shortlisted documentaries won Cinema Eye Honors, 22 percent won Sundance Film Festival awards, 15 percent won Emmy Awards, and 12 percent won International Documentary Association (IDA) Awards.

Despite their prominence in the entertainment business, the major industry awards—Directors Guild of America (DGA), Writers Guild of America (WGA), Producers Guild of America (PGA)—generally don’t register as prominently for the majority of Oscar-shortlisted and nominated films. (The notable exception is the 2015 Oscar winner in the Best Documentary Feature category, CitizenFour, which won almost all of these awards, plus additional journalism awards.) Most of the shortlisted and nominated documentary filmmakers win many awards in the national and international film festival circuit, much more so than the ones sponsored by the entertainment guilds (i.e., DGA, WGA, PGA).


This key findings document represents the preliminary findings of a formal study to be released later in 2017. Directed by Caty Borum Chattoo, director of the Center for Media & Social Impact, a team of four researchers systematically gathered, archived and fact-checked data for 150 total films across three years (2008-2017) along the road to the Academy Award. Data gathering took place from October 2016 to February 2017. The examined films were all shortlisted for the Academy Award in November of the preceding year (15 each per year), with five progressing each year the following January or February after the shortlist announcement —to the formal Oscar nominations for Best Documentary Feature Film. Each film was then categorized and coded according to key areas of interest in which data could be comprehensively and accurately gathered and confirmed via publicly available information: Credited directors’ general racial (white or non-white) and gender (male or female) categories; film topic areas (social-issues dominated or slice-of-life or entertainment narratives); distribution details across festivals, TV and streaming platforms; and awards. With regard to distribution mechanisms —streaming, festivals, TV —a cautionary note is in order for 2017 films and the ability to make full averaged conclusions across the three studied years about year-to-year trends and totals yet, as many 2017 films (i.e., shortlisted in 2016 for consideration for the 2017 Academy Awards) may pursue TV and streaming distribution sometime later this year, given where they are in the full life cycles of the films.

Across a full decade of shortlisted documentary films (150 total films), a total of 190 filmmakers were formally credited as directors, given that some films credited more than one director; all directors were coded for this analysis, including any instances in which a director was credited as a “co-director.” A total of 1,028 formally credited producers were also categorized by race and gender, including decision-making producer roles: executive producer, producer and co-producer. “Associate producer” was not included, given inconsistent crediting and lack of decision-making power in this role. If a director was credited additionally as a producer, that person was counted in both the director and producer categories in order to maintain an accurate and complete portrait within the two distinct groups. Combined, 1,217 credited directors and producers were examined. Intercoder reliability was tested among two coders who independently coded 20 percent of the full sample of 150 films; across all coding categories, intercoder reliability achieved an average of 96 percent agreement. Based on a satisfactory result, three researchers coded all remaining data, which was checked by the project’s principal investigator.

Data was collected and checked using a cross-referenced combination of the official film websites, IMDB profiles, and media coverage about each film and filmmaker during the period from shortlist to nomination to Academy Awards. Best efforts were made to verify each available data point through multiple sources of public information and additional documentary industry fact-checking with International Documentary Association personnel. With regard to race, for this analysis, only “white” and “non-white” were coded, given the limitations of using visual and media data (photos, IMDB profiles, media articles) alone. More granular and precise racial identifications of film directors and producers— beyond broad categories of white and non-white —were not determined, given the potential challenges in visual identifications (cross-referenced with media articles as needed).

About the Center for Media & Social Impact

The Center for Media & Social Impact (CMSI) at American University’s School of Communication, based in Washington, DC, is a research center and innovation lab that creates, studies and showcases media for social impact. Focusing on independent, documentary, entertainment and public media, CMSI bridges boundaries between scholars, producers and communication practitioners who work across media production, media impact, public policy and audience engagement. The Center produces resources for the field and research; convenes conferences and events; and works collaboratively to understand and design media that matter.

Appendix: Documentary Films & Filmmakers (2008-2017)

2017 Oscar-Shortlisted Documentary Feature Films

Cameraperson, Big Mouth Productions Kirsten Johnson Abigail Disney, Kirsten Johnson, Marilyn Ness, Gini Reticker, Danielle Varga, Amy Ziering
Command and Control, American Experience Films/PBS Robert Kenner Robert Kenner, Brian Pearle, Melissa Robledo, Mark Samels, Eric Schlosser
The Eagle Huntress, Stacey Reiss Productions,Kissiki Films and 19340 Productions Otto Bell Otto Bell, Sharon Chang, Jeremy Chilnick, Dan Cogan, Barbara Dobkin, Susan MacLaury, Stacey Reiss, Daisy Ridley, Regina Kulik Scully, Marc H. Simon, Morgan Spurlock
Fire at Sea, Stemal Entertainment Gianfranco Rosi Remi Burah, Roberto Cicutto, Paolo Del Brocco, Camille Laemle, Serge Lalou, Donatella Palermo, Oliviere Pere, Gianfranco Rosi, Martine Saada
Gleason Dear Rivers Productions, Exhibit A and IMG Films Clay Tweel Justin Bergeron, Kimi Culp, Scott Fujita, Seth Gordon, Kevin Lake, Tom Lavia, Thomas McEachin, Tenny Priebe, Shannon E. Riggs, Mary Rohlich
Hooligan Sparrow, Little Horse Crossing the River Nanfu Wang Andy Cohen, Alison Klayman, Michael Shade, Nanfu Wang
I Am Not Your Negro, Velvet Film Raoul Peck Remi Grellety, Hebert Peck, Raoul Peck, Patrick Quinet
The Ivory Game, Terra Mater Film Studios and Vulcan Productions Kief Davidson, Richard Ladkani Paul G. Allen, Dinah Czezik-Muller, Kief Davidson, Adam Del Deo, Leonardo DiCaprio, Jody Gottlieb, Jennifer Davisson Killoran, Wolfgang Knopfler, Walter Kohler, Lisa Nishimura, Joanne Reay, Carole Tomko
Life, Animated, Motto Pictures and A&E IndieFilms Roger Ross Williams Christopher Clements, Robert DeBitetto, Julie Goldman, Carolyn Hepburn, Rob Sharenow, Ron Suskind, Molly Thompson, Roger Ross Williams
O.J.: Made in America, Laylow Films and ESPN Films Ezra Edelman John Dahl, Ezra Edelman, Deidre Fenton, Libby Geist, Nina Krstic, Kristin Lesko, Erin Leyden, Tamara Rosenberg, Connor Schell, Carline Waterlow
13th, Forward Movement Ava DuVernay Spencer Averick, Howard Barish, Ben Cotner, Adam Del Deo, Ava DuVernay, Tilane Jones, Lisa Nishimura, Jason Sterman, Angus Wall
Tower,” Go-Valey Keith Maitland Adrienne Becker, Louis Black, Sandy K. Boone, Pamela Colloff, Steve Eckelman, Sally Jo Fifer, Megan Gilbride, Rachel Gould, Keith Maitland, Booka Michel, Minnow Mountain, Amy Rapp, Susan P. Thomson, Meredith Vieira, Lois Vossen, Luke Wilson, Sarah Wilson
Weiner,” Edgeline Films Josh Kriegman, Elyse Steinberg Christopher Clements, Barbara Delaune Warren, Elizabeth Delaune Warren, Lily Fan, James Gay-Rees, Julie Goldman, Carolyn Hepburn, Josh Kriegman, Sean McGing, Elyse Steinberg, Hilary Verbuch
The Witness, The Witnesses Film James D. Solomon William Genovese, Melissa Jacobson, James D. Solomon
Zero Days, Jigsaw Productions Alex Gibney Javier Alberto Botero, Sarah Dowland, Alex Gibney, Olga Kuchmenko, Stacey Offman, Marc Shmuger, Jeff Skoll, Diane Weyermann

2016 Oscar-Shortlisted Documentary Feature Films

Amy, On the Corner Films [TV: Channel 4, UK] Asif Kapadia Adam Barker, James Gay-Rees, David Joseph, George Pank
Best of Enemies, Tremolo Productions and Media Ranch Robert Gordon, Morgan Neville Caryn Capotosto, Robert Gordon, Julie Goldman, Morgan Neville, Clif Phillips
Cartel Land, Our Time Projects and The Documentary Group [TV: A&E] Matthew Heineman Kathryn Bigelow, Robert A. Compton, Robert DeBitetto, Myles Estey, Daniel Fernández, Donna Gruneich, Kevin Gruneich, Matthew Hamachek, Matthew Heineman, David McKillop, Matt Porwoll, Gabriel Rosenzvit, Bradley J. Ross, Molly Thompson, Tom Yellin
Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief,” Jigsaw Productions Alex Gibney Alex Gibney, Sheila Nevins, Arthur Portnoy, Matthew Slater, Kristen Vaurio, Chris Wilson, Lawrence Wright
He Named Me Malala,Parkes-MacDonald and Little Room [TV: Nat Geo] Davis Guggenheim Shannon Dill, Michael Garin, Davis Guggenheim, Laurie MacDonald, Mohamed Al Mubarak, Walter F. Parkes, Jeff Skoll
Heart of a Dog,” Canal Street Communications Laurie Anderson Laurie Anderson, Jim Cass, Cooper Holoweski, Dan Janvey, Shaun MacDonald, Jake Perlin, Noah Stahl, Jason Stern
The Hunting Ground, Chain Camera Pictures Kirby Dick Amy Blavin, Paul Blavin, Nicole Boxer, Dan Cogan, Robert A. Compton, Maria Cuomo Cole, Ted Dintersmith, Barbara Dobkin, Geralyn White Dreyfous, Nicole Ehrlich, Amy Entelis, Barbara Gerson, Mark Gerson, Bonnie Greenberg, Ruth Ann Harnisch, Elizabeth Hazard, Jason Janego, Sarah E. Johnson, Julie Lépinard, Sébastien Lépinard, Vinnie Malhotra, Sukey Novogratz, Anne O’Shea, Brian Quattrini, Tom Quinn, Wendy Schmidt, Regina Kulik Scully, Jennifer Siebel Newsom, Julie Smolyansky, Jacki Zehner, Amy Ziering
Listen to Me Marlon,Passion Pictures [TV: Showtime] Stevan Riley Jeffrey I. Abrams, John Battsek, George Chignell, R.J. Cutler, Avra Douglas, Mike Medavoy, Andrew Ruhemann, Nicole Stott
The Look of Silence, Final Cut for Real Joshua Oppenheimer Kaarle Aho, Sabine Bubeck-Paaz, Torstein Grude, Werner Herzog, Flemming Hedegaard Larsen, Errol Morris, Signe Byrge Sørensen, Tore Tomter, Bjarte Mørner Tveit, Iikka Vehkalahti, Nathalie Windhorst
Meru,Little Monster Films [TV: Showtime] Jimmy Chin, Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi Jimmy Chin, Shannon Ethridge, Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi
3 1/2 Minutes, 10 Bullets, Motto Pictures, Lakehouse Films, and Actual Films Marc Silver Orlando Bagwell, Christopher Clements, Bonni Cohen, Julie Goldman, Carolyn Hepburn, Minette Nelson, Jeff Skoll, Diane Weyermann
We Come as Friends, Adelante Films and KGP – Kranzelbinder Gabriele Production [TV: Sweden] Hubert Sauper Gabriele Kranzelbinder, Hubert Sauper
What Happened, Miss Simone?, RadicalMedia and Moxie Firecracker Liz Garbus Sidney Beaumont, Adam Del Deo, Liz Garbus, Amy Hobby, Jayson Jackson, Jon Kamen, Lisa Simone Kelly, Lisa Nishimura, Justin Wilkes
Where to Invade Next, Dog Eat Dog Films and IMG Films Michael Moore Rod Birleson, Carl Deal, Tia Lessin, Michael Moore, Mark Shapiro, Will Staeger
Winter on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom, Pray for Ukraine Productions Evgeny Afineevsky Evgeny Afineevsky, Bohdan Batruch, John Battsek, Christa Campbell, Linda Carlson, Adam Del Deo, David Dinerstein, Eduard Georgadze, Lati Grobman, Kostyantyn Ignatchuk, Yurko Ivanyshyn, Nadine Khapsalis Kogod, Lina Klebanova, Dennis L. Kogod, Lisa Nishimura, Pavlo Peleshok, Andrew Ruhemann, Galyna Sadomtseva-Nabaranchuk, Jason Sterman, Den Tolmor, Angus Wall

2015 Oscar-Shortlisted Documentary Feature Films

The Case against 8, Day in Court Ben Cotner, Ryan White Ben Cotner, Rebekah Fergusson, Jessica Lawson, Sheila Nevins, Ryan White
Citizen Koch, Elsewhere Films Carl Deal, Tia Lessin Gillian Caldwell, Carl Deal, Abigail Disney, Farhad Ebrahimi, Tia Lessin, Gini Reticker
CitizenFourPraxis Flms Laura Poitras Mathilde Bonnefoy, Kirsten Johnson, David Menschel, Sheila Nevins, Laura Poitras, Tom Quinn, Katy Scoggin, Jeff Skoll, Steven Soderbergh, Diane Weyermann, Dirk Wilutzky
Finding Vivian Maier, Ravine Pictures [TV: Showtime] John Maloof, Charlie Siskel Jeff Garlin, John Maloof, Charlie Siskel
The Internet’s Own Boy,Luminant Media [TV: Pivot] Brian Knappenberger Charles Annenberg Weingarten, Zach Braff, Mason Fink, Aaron Greenspan, Greg Kidd, Brian Knappenberger
Jodorowsky’s Dune,City Film [TV: Starz] Frank Pavich Frank Pavich, Donald Rosenfeld, Stephen Scarlata, Michel Seydoux, Travis Stevens
Keep On Keepin’ On, Absolute Clay Productions Alan Hicks John Caulkins, Paula DuPré Pesmen, Adam Fell, Tom Gorai, Adam Hart, Alan Hicks, Quincy Jones, Karl Kister, Jill Mazursky, David Skinner
The Kill Team, f/8 filmworks Dan Krauss Christopher Clements, Linda Davis, Julie Goldman, Deborah Hoffmann, Dan Krauss
Last Days in Vietnam, Moxie Firecracker Films Rory Kennedy Rory Kennedy, Keven McAlester
Life Itself, Kartemquin Films and Film Rites Steve James Garrett Basch, Steve James, Mark Mitten, Justine Nagan, Zak Piper, Gordon Quinn, Martin Scorsese, Kat White, Steven Zaillian
The Overnighters, Mile End Films West Jesse Moss Amanda McBaine, Jesse Moss
The Salt of the Earth, Decia Films [TV: Movies on Demand] Juliano Ribeiro Salgado, Wim Wenders Andrea Gambetta, David Rosier, Lélia Wanick Salgado, Wim Wenders
Tales of the Grim Sleeper,”Lafayette Film Nick Broomfield Charles Finch, Shani Hinton, Marc Hoeferlin, Erin Li, Celia Taylor
Virunga, Grain Media Orlando von Einsiedel Howard G. Buffett, Adam Del Deo, Leonardo DiCaprio, Jon Drever, Maxyne Franklin, Joanna Natasegara, Lisa Nishimura, Jess Search, Orlando von Einsiedel

2014 Oscar-Shortlisted Documentary Feature Films

The Act of Killing, Final Cut for Real Joshua Oppenheimer, Christine Cynn Christine Cynn, Torstein Grude, Werner Herzog, Anne Köhncke, Errol Morris, Joshua Oppenheimer, Andre Singer, Signe Byrge Sørensen, Joram ten Brink, Bjarte Mørner Tveit, Michael Uwemedimo
The Armstrong Lie,The Kennedy/Marshall Company Alex Gibney Jennie Amias, Alex Gibney, Beth Howard, Frank Marshall, Matthew Tolmach
Blackfish,Our Turn Productions Gabriela Cowperthwaite Judy Bart, Rick Brookwell, Gabriela Cowperthwaite, Erica Kahn, Manny Oteyza
The Crash Reel, KP Rides Again Lucy Walker Julian Cautherley, Dan Cogan, Geralyn White Dreyfous, Sheila Nevins, Adam Pearce, Jenny Raskin, Lucy Walker
Cutie and the Boxer, Ex Lion Tamer and Cine Mosaic Zachary Heinzerling Patrick Burns, Lydia Dean Pilcher, Ezra Edelman, Zachary Heinzerling, Kiki Miyake, Sierra Pettengill, Mark Steele, Caroline Waterlow, Svetlana Zill
Dirty Wars, Civic Bakery Rick Rowley Anthony Arnove, Brenda Coughlin, Scott Roth, Jeremy Scahill, Jess Search, Randall Wallace, Sandra Whipham
First Cousin Once Removed,Experiments in Time, Light & Motion Alan Berliner Alan Berliner, Sheila Nevins, Shari Spiegel
God Loves Uganda, Full Credit Productions Roger Ross Williams Julie Goldman, Mette Hoffman Meyer, Roger Ross Williams
Life According to Sam, Fine Films Sean Fine, Andrea Nix Sean Fine, Andrea Nix, Sheila Nevins, Miriam Weintraub
Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer, Roast Beef Productions Mike Lerner, Maxim Pozdorovkin Maxyne Franklin, Nick Fraser, Martin Herring, Mette Hoffman Meyer, Havana Marking, Nick Quested, Kate Townsend, Christina Willoughby, Mike Lerner, Maxim Pozdorovkin
The Square,” Noujaim Films and Maktube Productions Jehane Noujaim Ibrahim Alhusseini, Karim Amer, Daniel E. Catullo, Adam Del Deo, Gavin Dougan, Geralyn White Dreyfous, Jodie Evans, Stuart Farmer, Maxyne Franklin, Nicole Guillemet, Muhammad Hamdy, Alexandra Johnes, Sarah E. Johnson, Pedro Kos, Clark Langon, Mike Lerner, Clare Munn, Arif Naqvi, Lisa Nishimura, Jehane Noujaim, Khalil Noujaim, Andy Rocklin, Tarek Shoeb, Lekha Singh
Stories We Tell, National Film Board of Canada Sarah Polley Silva Basmajian, Sonia Hosko, Anita Lee
Tim’s Vermeer, High Delft Pictures Teller Glenn S. Alai, Peter Adam Golden, Tim Jenison, Penn Jillette, Teller, Farley Ziegler
20 Feet from Stardom,”Gil Friesen Productions and Tremolo Productions Morgan Neville Art Bilger, George Conrades, Joel S. Ehrenkranz, Gil Friesen, Morgan Neville, Caitrin Rogers
Peter Morton
Which Way Is the Front Line from Here? The Life and Time of Tim Hetherington, Tripoli Street Sebastian Junger James Brabazon, Gretchen McGowan, Sheila Nevins, Nick Quested,

2013 Oscar-Shortlisted Documentary Feature Films

Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry,Never Sorry , Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry,Never Sorry LLC Alison Klayman Andy Cohen, Julie Goldman, Colin Jones, Karl Katz, Alison Klayman, Adam Schlesinger, Nicolai Frahm
Bully, The Bully Project LLC Lee Hirsch Lee Hirsch, Cynthia Lowen, Cindy Waitt
Chasing Ice, Exposure Jeff Orlowski Jerry Aronson, David J. Cornfield, Linda A. Cornfield, Paula DuPre Pesman, Jeff Orlowski
   Detropia, Loki Films Heidi Ewing, Rachel Grady Craig Atkinson, Dan Cogan, Heidi Ewing, Sally Jo Fifer, Rachel Grady, David Menschel
   Ethel, Moxie Firecracker Films Rory Kennedy Nancy Abraham, Veronica Brady, Rory Kennedy, Sheila Nevins, Jack Youngelson
   5 Broken Cameras, Guy DVD Films Emad Burnat, Guy Davidi Emad Burnat, Christine Camdessus, Guy Davidi, Serge Gordey
   The Gatekeepers, Les Films du Poisson, Dror Moreh Productions, Cinephil Dror Moreh Estelle Fialon, Philippa Kowarsky, Dror Moreh, Anna van der Wee
   The House I Live In, Charlotte Street Films, LLC Eugene Jarecki Roy Ackerman, David Alcaro, Joslyn Barnes, Sam Cullman, Kathleen Fournier, Nick Fraser, Danny Glover, Shirel Kozak, John Legend, Brad Pitt, Russell Simmons, Christopher St. John
   How to Survive a Plague, How to Survive a Plague LLC David France Dan Cogan, David France, Howard Gertler, Alan Getz, Woody Richman, Joy A. Tomchin, Stan Tomchin, Henry van Ameringen
   The Imposter, Imposter Pictures Ltd. Bart Layton John Battsek, Katherine Butler, Simon Chinn, Robert DeBitetto, Poppy Dixon, Dimitri Doganis, Tabitha Jackson, Robert Sharenow, Molly Thompson
   The Invisible War, Chain Camera Pictures Kirby Dick Tanner King Barklow, Nicole Boxer, Maria Cuomo Cole, Abigail Disney, Geralyn White Dreyfous, Sally Jo Fifer, Sarah E. Johnson, Teddy Leifer, Women Donors Network, Regina Kulik Scully, Jennifer Siebel Newsom, Kimball Stroud, Amy Ziering
 Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God, Jigsaw Productions in  association with Wider Film Projects and Below theRadar Films Alex Gibney Nicoletta Billi, Trevor Birney, Alex Gibney, Alexandra Johnes, Jessica Kingdon, Sloane Klevin, Sheila Nevins, Ruth O’Reilly, Maureen A. Ryan, Lori Singer, Kristen Vaurio, Jedd Wider, Todd Wider
   Searching for Sugar Man, Red Box Films Malik Bendjelloul John Battsek, Malik Bendjelloul, George Chignell, Simon Chinn, Sheryl Crown, Malla Grapengiesser, Maggie Monteith, Hjalmar Palmgren, Andrew Ruhemann, Peter Schildt, Nicole Stott
   This Is Not a Film, Wide Management Mojtaba Mirtahmasb, Jafar Panahi Jafar Panahi
   The Waiting Room, Open’hood, Inc. Peter Nicks Linda Davis, William Hirsch, Lawrence Lerew, Peter Nicks, Scott Verges

2012 Oscar-Shortlisted Documentary Feature Films

Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory, HBO Joe Berlinger, Bruce Sinofsky Joe Berlinger, Michael Bonfiglio, Robert Friedman, Jon Kamen, Frank Scherma, Jonathan Silberberg, Justin Wilkes, Nancy Abraham, Sidney Beaumont, Sheila Nevins
Buck,Cedar Creek Productions, LLC Cindy Meehl Julie Goldman, Wilder W. Knight II, Andrea Meditch, Cindy Meehl
Bill Cunningham New York,TheNew York Times Company, First Thought Films Richard Press Philip Gefter
Battle for Brooklyn, RUMUR. Inc with support from the Moving Picture Institute Michael Galinsky, Suki Hawley David Beilinson, Michael Galinsky, Suki Hawley
Hell and Back Again,Roast Beef Productions, Thought Engine Media Group Danfung Dennis Diana Barrett, Thomas Brunner, Dan Cogan, Steven Cohen, David Cumming, Ian Darling, Danfung Dennis, Caroleen Feeney, Maxyne Franklin, Pierre Hauser, Martin Herring, Patricia Lambrecht, Mike Lerner, Havana Marking, Karol Martesko, Gernot Schaffler, Juliette Timsit
If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation, Marshall L. Curry Productions, LLC Marshall Curry, Sam Cullman Steve Bannatyne, Marcia Carver, Sam Cullman, Marshall Curry, Sally Jo Fifer, Nick Fraser, Simon Kilmurry, Jo Lapping
Jane’s Journey, Animal Planet, CC Medien, NEOS Film, Sphinx Media Lorenz Knauer Andreas Atzwanger, Michael Halberstadt, Philipp Schall, Torben Struck, Matthias Triebel, Philipp Wundt
The Loving Story, Augusta Films with support from the National Endowment for the Humanities Nancy Buirski Nancy Abraham, Neda Armian, Scott Berrie, Nancy Buirski, Elisabeth Haviland James, Sheila Nevins, Patricia Romeu, Marshall Sonenshine
Pina, Neue Road Movies, Eurowide Film Production (co-production), Zweites Deutsches Fernsehen (ZDF) (co-production), ZDFtheaterkanal (co-production), ARTE (co-production), Tanztheater Wuppertal Wim Wenders Chris Bolzli, Claudie Ossard, Gian-Piero Ringel, Jeremy Thomas, Wim Wenders
Project Nim, Red Box Films, in associated with Passion Pictures, BBC Films James Marsh John Battsek, George Chignell, Simon Chinn, Nick Fraser, Hugo Grumbar, Jamie Laurenson, Andrew Ruhemann, Maureen A. Ryan
Semper Fi: Always Faithful,”Wider Film Projects Tony Hardmon, Rachel Libert Wendy Ettinger, Tony Hardmon, Judith Helfand, Rachel Libert, Julie Parker Benello, Jedd Wider, Todd Wider
Sing Your Song,Thought Engine Media Group Susanne Rostock Gina Belafonte, Jim Brown, Michael Cohl, William Eigen, Frankie Nasso, Julius R. Nasso, Sage Scully
Undefeated,Zipper Bros Films, Five Smooth Stones Productions, Level 22 Productions, Spitfire Pictures Daniel Lindsay, T.J. Martin Sean Combs, Paolo Coppola, Ed Cunningham, Michele Farinola, Seth Gordon, Neeraj Kohli, Daniel Lindsay, Jillian Longnecker, Rich Middlemas, Chris Miller, Nigel Sinclair, Glen Zipper, Ralph Zipper
Under Fire: Journalists in Combat, JUF Pictures Martyn Burke Martyn Burke, Anthony Feinstein, Laura Morton
We Were Here,  Weissman Projects David Weissman, Bill Weber David Weissman

2011 Oscar-Shortlisted Documentary Feature Films

Client 9:The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer, ES Productions LLC Alex Gibney Alex Gibney, Maiken Baird, Sam Black , David Boardman, Robert DeBitetto, Peter Elkind, Mason Speed Sexton, Rob Sharenow, Molly Thompson, Jedd Wider, Todd Wider
Enemies of the People, Old Street Films Rob Lemkin, Thet Sambath Rob Lemkin, Thet Sambath, Sandra Whipham
Exit through the Gift Shop, Paranoid Pictures Banksy Zam Baring, Holly Cushing, Jaimie D’Cruz, James Gay-Rees
Gasland, Gasland Productions, LLC Josh Fox Josh Fox, Trish Adlesic, Molly Gandour, Don Guarnieri, Laura Newman, David Roma
Genius Within: The Inner Life of Glenn Gould, White Pine Pictures Michèle Hozer, Peter Raymont Michèle Hozer, Peter Raymont
Inside Job, Representational Pictures Charles Ferguson Charles Ferguson, Jeffrey Lurie, Audrey Marrs, Christina Weiss Lurie
The Lottery, Great Curve Films Madeleine Sackler Blake Ashman, Erin Lanuti, James Lawler, Madeleine Sackler
Precious Life, Origami Productions Shlomi Eldar Ehud Bleiberg, Yoav Ze’evi
Quest for Honor, Smothers Bruni Productions Mary Ann Smothers Bruni Mary Ann Smothers Bruni, Sarah Elizabeth Lamar Bruni, Frances Farenthold, Warzer Jaff, Philip Knox Key, Lawrence Taub, F. Birusk Tugan
Restrepo, Outpost Films Tim Hetherington, Sebastian Junger Tim Hetherington, Sebastian Junger, John Battsek, Nick Quested
This Way of Life,Cloud South Films Thomas Burstyn Barbara Sumner-Burstyn
The Tillman Story, Passion Pictures/Axis Films Amir Bar-Lev John Battsek, Michael Davies, Robert DeBitetto, Kerstin Emhoff, Caitrin Rogers, Andrew Ruhemann, Rob Sharenow, Molly Thompson
Waiting for ‘Superman’, Electric Kinney Films Davis Guggenheim Michael Birtel, Lesley Chilcott, Eliza Hindmarch, Jeff Skoll, Diane Weyermann
Waste Land, Almega Projects Lucy Walker, Karen Harley, João Jardim Angus Aynsley, Andrea Barata Ribeiro, Jackie De Botton, Miel De Botton, Hank Levine, Peter Martin, Fernando Meirelles, Alex Moreno
William Kunstler: Disturbing the Universe, Disturbing the Universe LLC Emily Kunstler, Sarah Kunstler Vanessa Hope, Susan Korda, Emily Kunstler, Sarah Kunstler, Jesse Moss

2010 Oscar-Shortlisted Documentary Feature Films

The Beaches of Agnes, Cine-Tamaris Agnès Varda Tom Taplin, Agnès Varda
Burma VJ, Magic Hour Films Anders Østergaard Lise-Lense Møller, Fredrik Gertten, Torstein Nybø, Helle Ulsteen
The Cove, Oceanic Preservation Society Louie Psihoyos Olivia Ahnemann, Jim Clark, Paula DuPré Pesmen,
Top 5000
Fisher Stevens
Every Little Step, Endgame Entertainment Adam Del Deo, James D. Stern John Breglio, Christopher C. Chen, Adam Del Deo, Douglas Hansen, Eleanor Nett, James D. Stern
Facing Ali, Network Films Inc. Pete McCormack Ronald A. DiNicola, Paul Gertz, Derik Murray, Kent Wingerak
Food, Inc., Robert Kenner Films Robert Kenner Robert Kenner, Richard Pearce, Elise Pearlstein, Bill Pohlad, Melissa Robledo, Eric Schlosser, Robin Schorr, Jeff Skoll, Diane Weyermann
Garbage Dreams,” Iskander Films, Inc. Mai Iskander Mai Iskander, Tiffany Schauer, Kate Hirson, Claudia Miller
Living in Emergency: Stories of Doctors Without Borders, Red Floor Pictures LLC Mark N. Hopkins Diana Barrett, Erika Bertin, Pamela Tanner Boll, Molly Conners, Chris Cooper, Geralyn White Dreyfous, Naisola Grimwood, Mark Jonathan Harris, Daniel Holton-Roth, Mark N. Hopkins, Sarah E. Johnson, Ian McGloin, Louis Spiegler, Christopher Woodrow
The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers, Kovno Communications Judith Ehrlich, Rick Goldsmith Judith Ehrlich, Jodie Evans, Rick Goldsmith
Mugabe and the White African, Arturi Films Limited Lucy Bailey, Andrew Thompson David Pearson, Elizabeth Morgan Hemlock
Sergio, Passion Pictures and Silverbridge Productions Greg Barker Greg Barker, John Battsek, Chetin Chabuk, Abigail Disney, Geralyn White Dreyfous, Kerstin Emhoff, Nick Fraser, Jeffrey Lurie, Sheila Nevins, Samantha Power, Andrew Ruhemann, Jim Swartz, Susan Swartz, Christina Weiss Lurie

Julie Goldman

Soundtrack for a Revolution, Freedom Song Productions Bill Guttentag, Dan Sturman Joslyn Barnes, Jim Czarnecki, Mark Downie, Danny Glover, Bill Guttentag, Gina Harrell, Marc Henry Johnson, Dylan Nelson, Beverly Oden, Dan Sturman
Under Our Skin, Open Eye Pictures Andy Abrahams Wilson Andy Abrahams Wilson, Jim Shwartz, Cheryl Drake, Eve Morgenstern
Valentino The Last Emperor, Acolyte Films Matt Tyrnauer Matt Tyrnauer, Matt Kapp, Carter Burden, Adam Leff, Frédéric Tcheng
Which Way Home, Mr. Mudd Rebecca Cammisa Rebecca Cammisa, Lianne Halfon, John Malkovich, Russell Smith, Jack Turner, Bristol Baughan, Bette Cerf Hill, Sheila Nevins

2009 Oscar-Shortlisted Documentary Feature Films

At the Death House Door, Kartemquin Films [TV: Independent Film Channel] Peter Gilbert, Steve James Alison Palmer Bourke, Peter Gilbert, Steve James, Debbie Demontreux, Christine Lubrano, Zak Piper, Gordon Quinn, Evan Shapiro, Aaron Wickenden
The Betrayal (Nerakhoon), P.O.V, The American Documentary, isotopoe films Ellen Kuras, Thavisouk Phrasavath Flora Fernandez-Marengo, Ellen Kuras, Chiemi Karasawa, Wilder W. Knight II, Gini Reticker
Blessed Is the Match: The Life and Death of Hannah Senesh,  The Katahdin Foundation Roberta Grossman Roberta Grossman, Lisa Thomas, Marta Kauffman, Sophie Sartain
Encounters at the End of the World, Discovery Films Werner Herzog Henry Kaiser, Phil Fairclough, Dave Harding, Julian Hobbs, Andrea Meditch, Erik Nelson
Fuel, Big Picture Ranch, Blue Water Entertainment, Green Planet Productions, Open Pictures [TV: Japan] Joshua Tickell Daniel Assael, Darius Fisher, Greg Reitman, Dale Rosenbloom, Rebecca Harrell Tickell, John Goldsmith, Robert Little, Laura Martorella, Gregory McClatchy, Janet Morrow, Stephen Nemeth, H.W. Pausch, Todd Sali, Kevin Vickery
The Garden, Black Valley Films Scott Hamilton Kennedy Scott Hamilton Kennedy, Diana Barrett, Julie Bergman Sender, Dominique Derrenger, Dominique Derrenger, Caroleen Feeney, Vivianne Nacif, Stuart Sender, Steven Starr, Juliette Timsit
Glass: A Portrait of Philip in Twelve Parts, Independent Media, Kino Films, Mandalay Motion Pictures [TV: Finland] Scott Hicks Kerry Heysen, Scott Hicks, Susane Preissler, Roger Sexton, Lindsay Skutch
I.O.U.S.A., O’Malley Creadon Productions, Open Sky Entertainment, Peter G. Peterson Foundation Patrick Creadon Sarah Gibson, Christine O’Malley, Jon Carnes, Addison Wiggin
In a Dream, Herzliya Films Jeremiah Zagar Jeremiah Zagar, Pamela Tanner Boll, Geralyn White Dreyfous, Ross Kauffman
Crips and Bloods: Made in America, The Gang Documentary, Balance Vector Productions, Verso Entertainment Stacy Peralta Quincy Jones III, Steve Luczo, Baron Davis, Jesse Dylan, Dan Halsted, Shaun Murphy, Stacy Peralta, Gus Roxburgh, Cash Warren
Man on Wire, Discovery Films, BBC Storyville, UK Film Council, Wall to Wall,(in association with) Red Box Films James Marsh Simon Chinn, Nick Fraser, Victoria Gregory, Jonathan Hewes, Andrea Meditch, Maureen A. Ryan
Pray the Devil Back to Hell,Fork Films [TV: Netherlands] Gini Reticker Abigail Disney, Johanna Hamilton
Standard Operating Procedure, Participant Media, Sony Pictures Classics Errol Morris Julie Ahlberg, Amanda Branson Gill, Robert Fernandez, Martin Levin, Errol Morris, Ann Petrone, Julia Sheehan, Julia Sheehan, Jeff Skoll, Diane Weyermann
They Killed Sister Dorothy, Just Media Daniel Junge Marcela Bourseau, Nigel Noble, Henry Ansbacher
Trouble the Water, Elsewhere Films [TV: Turner Classic Movies] Carl Deal, Tia Lessin David Alcaro, Amir Bar-Lev, Joslyn Barnes, Carl Deal, Danny Glover, Tia Lessin, Todd Olson, Woody Richman

2008 Oscar-Shortlisted Documentary Feature Films

Autism: The Musical, BMP Films Tricia Regan Sasha Alpert, Joey Carson, Perrin Chiles,  David S. Glynn, Janet Grillo, Jonathan Murray, Sheila Nevins, Tricia Regan, Kristen Stills
Body of War,  Mobilus Media, Phil Donahue Enterprises [TV: Netherlands] Phil Donahue, Ellen Spiro Karen Bernstein, Phil Donahue, Ellen Spiro
For the Bible Tells Me So, Atticus Group, VisionQuest Productions [TV: Sundance Channel] Daniel G. Karslake Bruce Bastian, Karen Ellis, Bob Greenbaum, Sandra Hartness, Michael Huffington, Daniel G. Karslake, Nancy Kennedy, Michael A. Leppen, Keith Lewis, Helen R. Mendoza, Robin Voss
Lake of Fire, Anonymous Content [TV: Sundance Channel] Tony Kaye Yan Lin Kaye, Tony Kaye, David Kanter, Steve Golin, Lenny Beckerman
Nanking, HBO Documentary Films, Purple Mountain Productions Bill Guttentag, Dan Sturman Violet Du Feng, Bill Guttentag, Michael Jacobs, Ted Leonsis
No End in Sight, Red Envelope Entertainment, Representational Pictures Charles Ferguson Jennie Amias, Charles Ferguson, Alex Gibney, Audrey Marrs, Jessie Vogelson Childs
Operation Homecoming: Writing the Wartime Experience,  Documentary Group, The See Richard Robbins Adam Hyman, Kristin Lesko, Richard Robbins, Tom Yellin
Please Vote for Me,  Steps International, Independent Television Service (ITVS), Arte France Weijun Chen Don Edkins, Mette Heide, Mette Hoffman Meyer
The Price of Sugar, Uncommon Productions Bill Haney Tim Disney, Eric Grunebaum, Bill Haney
A Promise to the Dead: The Exile Journey of Ariel Dorfman,  White Pine Pictures Peter Raymont Peter Raymont
The Rape of Europa,  Actual Films, Agon Arts and Entertainent, Oregon Public Broadcasting Richard Berge, Bonni Cohen, Nicole Newnham Richard Berge, Bonni Cohen, David Davis, Robert M. Edsel, Nicole Newnham, Jon Shenk
Sicko,  Dog Eat Dog Films, The Weinstein Company,  [TV: Channel 2 AU] Michael Moore Kathleen Glynn, Anne Moore, Michael Moore, Meghan O’Hara, Susannah Price, Bob Weinstein, Harvey Weinstein
Taxi to the Dark Side, Discovery Channel, Jigsaw Productions, Tall Woods, Wider Film Projects, X-Ray Productions Alex Gibney Sidney Blumenthal, Don Edkins, Martin Fisher, Blair Foster, Alex Gibney, Don Glascoff, Mette Heide, Mette Hoffman Meyer, Robert Johnson, Sloane Klevin, Eva Orner, Susannah Shipman, Jedd Wider, Todd Wider
War/Dance,  Rogues Harbor Studios, Fine Films (II), Shine Global [TV: SundanceTV] Sean Fine, Andrea Nix Erik Cleage, Douglas Eger, Sean Fine, Albie Hecht, Daniel Katz, Kari Kim, Susan MacLaury, Stephen Nemeth, Andrea Nix, Josie Swantek, Mark Urman
White Light/Black Rain,  HBO Documentary Films, Farallon Films Steven Okazaki Taro Goto, Sheila Nevins, Steven Okazaki, Robert Richter, Atsuko Shigesawa


  1. Caty Borum Chattoo, lead investigator, is director of the Center for Media & Social Impact and executive in residence at American University’s School of Communication in Washington, DC. Nesima Aberra, Michele Alexander and Chandler Green are graduate student fellows at the Center for Media & Social Impact.
  5. Although alternative distribution was not a systematic element included in this particular study, it’s worth mentioning the fact that many documentary films also pursue community/grassroots and educational screenings. Additionally, the shortlisted films screen at industry events, including screenings for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences, the entertainment industry guilds, the International Documentary Association Screening Series and others.
  6. Note: To look at time-trend data or final totals, it’s too early to make final determinations about changes over time between the major distribution mechanisms, given that many of the 2017 shortlisted and nominated films are still in the early or mid-level phases of their films’ life cycles, which means TV and streaming windows may still be to come. We plan to review the data and distribute final findings later in 2017 after the most recent films have maximized their final distribution opportunities.