55 women-directed documentaries submitted for Oscar contention

#Female Pleasure (Barbara Miller)

159 documentaries were submitted to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for Oscar contention. 55 are directed by women. AMPAS will announce a documentary shortlist of 15 finalists Dec. 16. Both the Directors Guild of America and the Academy have a history of recognizing gender parity for women in the documentary category, despite massively underrepresenting female-identifying directors of feature films.

Always in Season

Director: Jacqueline Olive 

FF2 Media Rating: 4/5

“On August 29, 2014, African-American teen Lennon Lacy was found hanging from a swing set in Bladenboro, North Carolina. Lennon’s death was ruled a suicide, but inconsistencies lead his family to believe he was lynched. Mother Claudia Lacy heads the fight for Lennon’s justice, while historical reenactments establish the horrific act’s modern day context and reiterate that it must not be repeated.” -Beatrice Viri

American Factory

Director: Julia Reichert

FF2 Media Rating: 4/5

American Factory explores what becomes of a former General Motors factory when it is taken over by CEO Cao Dewang, the owner of Chinese company Fuyao Glass  (dedicated to producing glass for automobiles). Chinese workers are hired to manage the American workers to help promote maximum efficiency, and take courses on how to ‘deal’ with American work culture.” -Beatrice Viri


Writer: Aimara Reques

FF2 Media Rating: 5/5

“The globe-spanning epic Aquarela is a highly-conceptual thesis on water in all its forms, particularly as it is being unsettled globally by climate change. At the pace of the glaciers that are its subject, it sounds the alarm of global warming with an eerie calm.” –Giorgi Plys-Garzotto

At the Heart of Gold: Inside the USA Gymnastics Scandal

Director: Erin Lee Carr 

FF2 Media Rating: 4.5/5

At the Heart of Gold compiles myriad first-person interviews, archival footage, psychologic experts and the trial of Larry Nassar’s sexual abuse case into an evocative and thoughtful film. Review-wise, there’s not much to say— the first-hand commentary and heart-wrenching victim statements speak for themselves. The resilience of these young women is profound, but it’s heartbreaking to know of their suffering and the deep scars that plague the rest of their lives — and disgusting to see the corrupt system that repeatedly covered up and undermined their abuse.” -Beatrice Viri

Blowin’ Up

Director: Stephanie Wang-Breal

FF2 Media Rating: 5/5 

“Inspiring and insightful, Blowin’ Up speaks to a unique judicial system that helps mostly black and Asian female victims of sex trafficking get back on track with their lives. It’s not only inspiring but insightful. Judge Toko Serita is dedicated to helping these women get a second chance at life in a Queens courtroom.” -Stephanie Taylor

Blue Note Records: Beyond the Notes

Director: Sophie Huber

FF2 Media Rating: 4/5

“An absolute must-see, beautifully composed and full of rich history and bright talent…[it][ showcases the history of Blue Note Records, home of many groundbreaking jazz musicians like Miles Davis, John Coltrane and Thelonious Monk. Filled with clips and photos of the artists at work and underscored by their electrifying music, this film is a worthy tribute to the iconic label.” -Julia Lasker

The Brink

Director: Alison Klayman

FF2 Media Rating: 4/5 

“Expertly nuanced in position, The Brink documents former White House Chief Strategist Stephen Bannon’s efforts to align with far-right world leaders and spread his nationalist agenda around the world. Although it might appear to give Bannon the attention he loves, it succeeds in undermining him at every turn in terms of camera work, commentary, and design that employs a classic cinéma vérité approach.” -Dayna Hagewood

Cracked Up

Director: Michelle Esrick

FF2 Media Rating: 4.5/5

Saturday Night Live alum Darrell Hammond brings his 2011 memoir ‘God, If You’re Not Up There, I’m F*cked: Tales of Stand-Up, Saturday Night Live, and Other Mind-Altering Mayhem’ to life in this emotionally raw documentary of overcoming childhood trauma.
-Brigid Presecky

The Edge of Democracy

Director: Petra Costa

FF2 Media Rating: 4.5/5

“[Chronicles] the fight between democracy and militant government that has plagued Brazil for decades. Part memoir of director, writer, and producer Petra Costa, The Edge of Democracy clearly lays out the steps to Brazil’s recent democratic demise.” -Maiya Pascouche

The Elephant Queen (Victoria Stone)

The Elephant Queen

Director: Victoria Stone

FF2 Media Rating: 4.5/5

“A touching portrayal of the friendly majestic creatures, The Elephant Queen closely observes an elephant herd and the delicate ecosystem they live in. As the dry season begins, the family has no choice but to journey across the African savannah and seek refuge.” –Katusha Jin

Ernie & Joe: Crisis Cops

Director: Jennifer McShane

FF2 Media Rating and Review: Coming Soon 

#Female Pleasure

Director: Barbara Miller

FF2 Media Rating: 4.5/5

“Featuring five remarkable women activists across four continents, #Female Pleasure continues the global conversations regarding women and sexuality…an informative update on the contemporary view of female bodies and reminds a progressive and feminist audience that though we have come a long way, there is still a long way to go.” -Malin Jorvi

Fiddler: A Miracle of Miracles

Director: Valerie Thomas 

FF2 Media Rating: 4/5

“Featuring renditions of the musical from all around the world, including Japan and Thailand, and even from some charming middle schools, the joy of performance in all different kinds of people is a delight. Though Fiddler may seem like a dated piece of art, Miracle of Miracles shows that its message remains timeless.” -Julia Lasker


Director: Julie Simone

FF2 Media Rating: 3/5

“From fiddles to banjos to flat-foot dancing, the community of Old Time music comes alive when enjoying the tunes of the past. In its long sequence of showing some of the band members talking about family history, is a passion that is very much alive in the present.” -Sophia Jin

For Sama

Director: Waad al-Kateab

FF2 Media Rating: 4.5/5 

For Sama stirs up myriad complicated emotions— but as a film it’s so necessary, so intimate, so real. It shows how human those caught up in war are; most of the time they’re civilians caught in the middle of corrupt politics…This form of documentary film is one of the most important of all— to bring awareness to the stories, to inform the world of injustice.” -Beatrice Viri

Framing John DeLorean

Director: Sheena M. Joyce

FF2 Media Rating: 4.5/5

“The man who invented the DeLorean is unable to go back in time to undo his mistakes: the irony. A car made famous by in the 1985 megahit Back to the Future, the DeLorean and its maker have been the subject of fascination for decades. In a unique hybrid of documentary and feature film, the filmmakers use Alec Baldwin to bring to life the story of a ‘renegade visionary.’” -Brigid Presecky

The Game Changers

Writer: Shannon Kornelson

FF2 Media Rating: 5/5

“Any vegans in the audience are going to love co-writer Shannon Kornelson’s documentary on the benefits of a plant-based diet. Kornelson, director Louie Psihoyos, and a cast of interviewees from the Miami Dolphins to Arnold Schwarznegger show us that veganism doesn’t just benefit the average person, but even the highest level athletes as well.” Giorgi Plys-Garzotto

Ghost Fleet

Director: Shannon Service

FF2 Media Rating and Review: Coming Soon

The Great Hack

Director: Karim Amer and Jehane Noujaim

FF2 Media Rating: 4/5

“Timely, informative and sobering to the American viewer with their daily dose of President Donald Trump, The Great Hack will make you think twice before liking a Facebook page, swiping your credit card or agreeing to ‘terms of service’ notifications before you read the fine print. A must-watch before the 2020 election.” -Brigid Presecky

Hail Satan?

Director: Penny Lane

FF2 Media Rating: 4/5

“Compiling a series of interviews, protest displays and archival footage, Hail Satan? focuses on The Satanic Temple – a nontheistic political and religious activist group which, contrary to popular belief, does not worship Satan as a God, but has him serve as their icon for rebellion.”  -Beatrice Viri


Director: Tamara Kotevska

FF2 Media Rating: 5/5

“This observational documentary brilliantly follows the solitary indigenous life of Hatizde Muratova, the last female beehunter in Europe, as she attempts to maintain her bee colonies and care for her ill mother. Honeyland watches exactly like an excellently-executed fiction film (observational documentary tends to trick us) and manages to remain grounded to Hatizde’s best qualities throughout. It is charming, heartbreaking, and the best film I have seen in a long, long time.” -Dayna Hagewood


Director: Liza Mandelup 

FF2 Media Rating: 4/5

“A 16-year-old boy who dreams of escaping his small life in rural Tennessee by becoming rich and famous using social media…Jawline is a fascinating, if uncomfortable to watch…a testament to the rising world of internet fame and what it demonstrates about the world of social media in the most technology-centered generation yet, Gen-Z.” -Julia Lasker

The Kingmaker

Director: Lauren Greenfield

FF2 Media Rating and Review: Coming Soon

Knock Down the House

Director: Rachel Lears

FF2 Media Rating: 5/5

Knock Down the House is more than just a film – it is part of a movement. It’s available on Netflix so that as many people as possible can access it. It is meant to spread a message to the people of the US: we do have the power to advocate for ourselves and see our country run the way we want it to.” -Julia Lasker

Making Waves: The Art of Cinematic Sound

Director: Midge Costin

FF2 Media Rating: 3.5/5

“A dynamic and informative documentary that covers the history of film sound from the invention of the phonograph to the advent of surround sound…an homage to many of the great films from all eras and to the talented directors and sound designers that created them, though it may become a bit dry for a mainstream audience. For film aficionados at least, Making Waves is at once nostalgic, educational, and inspiring.” -Julia Lasker

Making Waves: The Art of Cinematic Sound (Midge Costin)

Midnight Traveler

Writer: Emelie Mahdavian 

FF2 Media Rating: 4.5/5

“Directed and recorded on smartphones by the film’s subjects themselves, Midnight Traveler is a beautiful documentary about a family who must leave their home in Afghanistan to flee the Taliban….an incredibly intimate and honest portrayal of life for refugees.” -Julia Lasker

Moonlight Sonata: Deafness in Three Movements

Director: Irene Taylor Brodsky

FF2 Media Rating: 4.5/5

“Brodsky explores the world of silence against the world of sound. Filling eyes with tears, Moonlight Sonata: Deafness in Three Movements really beautifully shows there is a life without sound worth living, especially with the support of family and friends, and that there is hope for a cure for deafness.” -Sophia Jin

The Most Dangerous Year

Director: Vlada Knowlton

FF2 Media Rating: 3.5/5

“Here, Knowlton turns the camera toward her own family and the emotional development of her young transgender daughter in order to make an argument about civil rights. It is an argument fueled by love and frustration, and she makes it well.” Amelie Lasker

My Home India

Director: Anjali Bhusan

FF2 Media Rating and Review: Coming Soon

One Child Nation

Director: Nanfu Wang

FF2 Media Rating: 3/5

“Wang attempts to search for answers and perspectives about China’s one child policy beginning in 1979 in the non-cohesive documentary One Child Nation.-Dayna Hagewood


Writer: Cassidy Hartmann

FF2 Media Rating: 5/5

“Dives into detail about the difficulties of being a tenor, and the goodheartedness of Luciano Pavarotti…an engaging, inspiring documentary film to both musicians and non-musicians.” -Sophia Jin

The Proposal

Director: Jill Magrid

FF2 Media Rating: 3.5/5

“Director and visual artist Magrid’s own journey for access to architect Luis Barragán’s archives in Switzerland— and her controversial means of gaining the owner’s attention.”  -Beatrice Viri

Raise Hell: The Life and Times of Molly Ivins

Director: Janice Engel

FF2 Media Rating: 4/5

“Whether you were an avid viewer of hers during the Bush era or (like me) spent most of the Bush era learning your multiplication tables, Janice Engel delivers an overview of Molly Ivins that will charm, tickle, and at times chill any blue-team resident of the year 2019.” –Giorgi Plys-Garzotto

Reinventing Rosalee

Director: Lillian Glass

FF2 Media Rating: 3.5/5

“A moving portrait of  a mother’s life…following Rosalee from her escape from WWII Germany, to her time spent in Soviet prisoner-of-war camps, to rebuilding her life in the United States…a touching and honest depiction of an incredible woman.” -Anika Guttormson

Roll Red Roll

Director: Nancy Schwartzman

FF2 Media Rating: 4/5

“A hard-hitting portrait of a small Ohio town that is forced to reconcile with a culture that keeps women from coming forward about assault and the technology that helped a young woman find justice….Schwartzman toes the line between careful exposure and spectacle with caution, using the victims story as a backdrop to discuss the larger issue of rape culture on campuses in an honest way.” -Anika Guttormson


Director: Prune Nourry

FF2 Media Rating: 4/5

“Nourry films in a personal, first person perspective, letting us see her private spaces and the inside of her mind as she comes to terms with her cancer diagnosis, using the film to fully immerse the viewer in her world.” -Carlotta Plys-Garzotto

Shooting the Mafia

Director: Kim Longinotto

FF2 Media Rating and Review Coming Soon

The Spy Behind Home Plate

Director: Avia Kempner 

FF2 Media Rating and Review: Coming Soon


Director: Lesley Chilcott

FF2 Media Rating and Review: Coming Soon

Who Will Write Our History

Director: Roberta Grossman 

FF2 Media Rating: 5/5

“During WWII, Polish Jews were locked away and left to die in the infamous Warsaw Ghetto. Through the work of daring souls like Emanuel Ringelblum, Hersz Wasser, and Rachel Auerbach, their accounts of life and death were written down and preserved in the Oyneg Shabes Archive. Based on the book of the same name by historian Samuel Kassow, Grossman’s documentary chronicles the atrocities of the Holocaust while bringing to life the words of those whose lives it altered forever.”  –Roza Melkumyan

Woodstock: Three Days That Defined a Generation

Writer: Jamila Ephron

FF2 Media Rating: 3.5/5

“A look inside the ups and down of the historic Woodstock festival in Bethel, New York…a magical and nostalgic look into the 1969 festival that set the precedent for what all modern festivals have become.” -Anika Guttormson


Director:  Suzannah Herbert and Lauren Belfer

FF2 Media Rating: 4/5

Though Wrestle doesn’t fully delve into the horrors of police brutality and racial profiling, it does manage to scratch the surface and paint a picture of underlying privilege and class complications in the south through an Alabama wrestling team…amazingly thoughtful and genuine–definitely a recommendation for those interested in advocacy.” -Beatrice Viri

“Who Will Write Our History” (Roberta Grossman)

The following films up for shortlist contention have not yet been reviewed by FF2 Media because they have not been released theatrically. 


After Parkland

Bridges of Time

Buddha in Africa

Call Me Intern

Cinema Mon Amour 



Finding Farideh

It’s a Hard Truth Ain’t It

The Rememberer

The Serengeti Rules

When Tomatoes Met Wagner

© Georgiana E. Presecky (11/13/2019) FF2 Media

All photos courtesy of respective distributors, credited in hyperlinks.

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