PGA surprises with documentary nominees, but Alex Gibney makes the cut

Posted by · 6:00 pm · November 26th, 2013

Unlike their award for narrative features, which tends to closely mirror the Academy’s Best Picture race, the Producers’ Guild of America Award for documentaries is far less predictable and more idiosyncratic. The PGA may have agreed with the Academy (as did pretty much every major awards body) on “Searching for Sugar Man” last year, but the year before, not a single one of their nominees wound up in the Oscar race.

It’s looking like this might be one of their more independent-minded years, and the PGA today unveiled a nominee lineup dominated by low-profile titles that have thus far generated little awards conversation –though all five selected films are among the 151 titles longlisted for the Oscar. (Voting for the Academy shortlist, incidentally, closed on Friday.) No “The Act of Killing,” “Stories We Tell,” “20 Feet From Stardom” or “The Square” to be found here, then.

Instead, the best-known film on the list is Alex Gibney’s “We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks,” the first of his two absorbing fallen-idol studies this year. The second was “The Armstrong Lie”; both are up for the Oscar, but despite being a previous winner, Gibney isn’t seen as a significant threat this year. Perhaps he is not to be underestimated.

Second to “We Steal Secrets” in the publicity stakes is “Which Way is the Front Line From Here? The Life and Time of Tim Hetherington,” a portrait of the tragically slain photojournalist by his former collaborator Sebastian Junger — you may recall that they scored an Oscar nomination together two years ago for their visceral war doc “Restrepo,” so it’d be touching to see Junger score further accolades for his latest.

The remaining nominees include Kristi Jacobson and Lori Silverbush’s “A Place at the Table” tackles the issue of hunger in contemporary America, boasts an appearance from Jeff Bridges, among others. “Far Out Isn’t Enough: The Tomi Ungerer Story” isa debut feature from Brad Bernstein, and covers the life and work of the eponyous children’s book writer and editor. Finally, “Life According to Sam” tells the story of a couple’s fight for their son’s life after he’s diagnosed with a fatal illness, and has a strong awards pedigree: directors Andrea Nix and Sean Fine were recently Oscar-nominated in the doc feature category for “War/Dance,” and won this year’s short category with “Inocente.”

Nominees in the PGA’s remaining film categories will be announced on January 2, with the awards presented on January 19. Once again, the documentary nominees are:

“Far Out Isn’t Enough: The Tomi Ungerer Story”

“Life According to Sam”

“A Place at the Table” 

“We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks”

 “Which Way is the Front Line From Here? The Life and Time of Tim Hetherington”

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