Your Guide to the Best Documentaries of 2012 as Nominated by the Cinema Eye Honors

Last night, at a special event in conjunction with the AFI FEST, the nominees for the 2013 Cinema Eye Honors were announced. And once again, the titles contending for the ten feature categories, all of which focus solely on nonfiction films (to make up for the Oscars’ minimal recognition), represent the year’s best in documentaries. As someone who professionally concentrates on docs elsewhere, I tend to feel kinda useless or redundant when Cinema Eye names its nominees, because now when someone asks me what’s great this year I can just point to their list of 31 features.

Of course, some of these films are only up for specific honors, like those for original music score and graphic design, and may not be quite as necessary as the six up for the top award or the 10 nominated for the Audience Choice Prize (which sadly, for publicity-sake, lacks a Justin Bieber movie like last year). Also, I could name a bunch of exceptional docs that haven’t been recognized, such as This is Not a Film, The House I Live In, Under African Skies, Beware of Mr. Baker, Last Call at the Oasis, The Queen of Versailles, Girl Model (though its directors are up for Downeast) and The Invisible War.

Still, I’m very excited that one of my top three nonfiction films of the year, The Imposter, is one of the most-nominated titles, while I’m even more ecstatic that the CEH could bring more attention to brilliant, lesser-known works like Only the Young, Tchoupitoulas, Planet of Snail, ¡Vivan las Antipodas! and Vol Special (Special Flight). The Cinema Eye Honors will be held January 9, 2013 in NYC. After the jump, check out all the nominees, including shorts, with some info about each.


5 Broken Cameras

Nominated for Outstanding Achievements in Nonfiction Filmmaking and Editing (Véronique Lagoarde-Ségot and Guy Davidi) and for the Audience Choice Prize.

Cole spotlighted the film in a European Film Market rundown: “‘5 Broken Cameras looks at Palestinian farmer Emad Burnat, who has been documenting his village’s resistance to advancing Israeli settlements since 2005, using the 5 cameras of the title. Each camera tells a part of the story.’ A doc with an interesting angle, timely subject matter, and a reluctant storyteller who ends up getting a new camera every time one is broken in the conflict.”

Currently in theaters and on the festival circuit. Hits DVD on January 15.


Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry

Nominated for Outstanding Achievement in Production (Alison Klayman and Adam Schlesinger) an Debut Feature Filmmaking (Alison Klayman).

Cole spotlighted the film in a European Film Market rundown: “‘Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry is the inside story of a dissident for the digital age who inspires global audiences and blurs the boundaries of art and politics.’ A firebrand, bizarre activist with a mind for design and sculpture, Sundance Selects has recently picked it up to show in theaters near us.”

Currently in theatersAvailable to rent from iTunes.


Argentinian Lesson 

Nominated for the Spotlight Award (a juried award typically recognizing undistributed films).

From the Silverdocs program guide: “Turning a highly observant lens on fleeting childhood innocence, acclaimed Polish director and cameraman Wojciech Staron captures his son’s experiences during a year the family spent in Argentina. Young Janek and his Argentinian friend Marcia get a lesson in life’s complexities outside of the family cocoon. The boy’s reticence in a strange land, paired with the father’s acute powers of perception, result in a masterpiece of visual storytelling through nuance and detail.”


Beauty is Embarrassing

Beauty is Embarrassing

Nominated for Outstanding Achievement in Graphic Design or Animation (Neil Berkeley, Anthony Maiuri) and the Audience Choice Prize.

Kevin reviewed from SXSW: “Would you have ever expected that a completely eccentric, beautifully talented artist, and sometime puppeteer was behind the some of the puppets and set design on Pee-Wee’s Playhouse? Actually you might, because those were some of the strangest puppets ever to hit television. But there’s an equally strange personality behind them. Wayne White, a Tennessee-born surreal pop art artist and puppeteer, is the subject of the incredibly impressive Beauty is Embarrassing documentary that was one of the most entertaining films I saw during SXSW this year.” It was even one of our 12 Best Movies of SXSW 2012 and later Cole interviewed White and director Neil Berkeley. Check out our post on the film’s trailer here.

Currently in theaters and available to rent from iTunes and Amazon.



Nominated for the Spotlight Award (a juried award typically recognizing undistributed films).

Cole reviewed from Berlin: “The simple way to describe this convention-bucking flick is that it’s a little over an hour of animals. That alone makes it watchable, but the brilliance of the project is in its more complex description: a film composed entirely of sequential static shots of wild beasts and humans watching or caring for wild beasts that shines a spotlight on observation and fine art.” And he reiterated in the European Film Market rundown: “A truly clever concept that delivers a unique movie-watching experience. It’s a doc that works unnervingly well on the deep end, and even without the subtext, it’s still gorgeous moving photography of animals.”


Big Boys Gone Bananas!*

Nominated for Outstanding Achievement in Production (Margarete Jangård).

From a Sundance program announcement: “The behind-the-scenes story of a full-scale attack on freedom of speech. When Dole set its sights on the WG Film production Bananas!* in May 2009, confusion was the method, aggression was the tactic and media control was the story.”



Nominated for the Audience Choice Prize.

From our coverage of the controversy regarding its R rating: “an important look at a terrible behavioral plague that has the American school system in its grip, and has already lead to an unacceptable amount of violence and death. This movie deals with the lives of bullies and those that are bullied; it’s theoretically an eye-opening experience meant to preach an anti-bullying message to a generation of people who are growing increasingly more callous in the way they treat one another.”


Chasing Ice

Nominated for Outstanding Achievement in Cinematography (Jeffrey Orlowski).

From a SXSW program announcement: “Photographer James Balog was once a skeptic about climate change, but he discovers undeniable evidence. Balog reveals hauntingly beautiful, time-lapse videos of vanishing glaciers, while delivering hope to our carbon-powered planet.”

Opens in theaters Friday.


Cutting Loose

Nominated for Outstanding Achievement in Nonfiction Short Filmmaking (Finlay Pretsell and Adrian McDowall).

From a SXSW program announcement: “‘I’m trusted with a pair of scissors and I’m in here for murder.’ A snapshot of prison life in the build up to the annual hairdressing competition.”



Nominated for Outstanding Achievements in Nonfiction Filmmaking, Direction (Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady), Editing (Enat Sidi) and Original Music Score (Dial.81).

Kate reviewed at Sundance: “Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady (Jesus Camp, The Boys of Baraka) attempt to tackle the many issues facing Detroit in their film, drawing from different perspectives to form a complete and complex picture of why Detroit is, as one of their subjects grimly announces, ‘never coming back,’ With the automobile industry decamping for cheaper labor and bigger factories in other countries (mainly Mexico) and the constant threat of competitors (China and Japan specifically), Detroit has become a ghost city, one where nearly 90,000 houses lay vacant, one where their own mayor (Dave Bing) proposes a plan to relocate citizens from failing neighborhoods into ones more prone to survival in a desperate bid to keep the city operating. Detroit is, in short, a very unhappy city.” … “along with their cinematographers Tony Hardmon and Craig Atkinson have succeeded when it comes to the technical aspects – making a truly goregous film, filled with crisp, effective visuals. The camerwork in Detropia is both extremely natural and richly kinetic, it’s a feast for the eyes, even as it tracks decay and disarray. Detroit may be in relative ruins, but it frequently looks lush and intriguingly haunted, the sort of ghost town you’d want to explore, without fear.”

Currently in theaters.



Nominated for the Spotlight Award (a juried award typically recognizing undistributed films).

From our Tribeca program announcement: “Hit hard by the closure of the sardine canning factory, its laid-off residents—mostly 70-year-olds—just want to get back to work. So why is Italian immigrant Antonio Bussone having so much trouble getting federal funds to open a new lobster processing plant? Charged with the spirit of a generation that still gives it 110 percent, this poignant and poetic documentary sheds new light on the trying task of putting America back to work.”


Family Nightmare

Nominated for Outstanding Achievement in Nonfiction Short Filmmaking (Dustin Guy Defa).

Currently at AFI FEST. From their program guide: “Re-purposing a series of unearthed home movies, Dustin Guy Defa dubs his own voice over the voices of his family members to create a haunting portrait of family dysfunction.”


Good Bye Mandima (Kwa Heri Mandima)

Nominated for Outstanding Achievement in Nonfiction Short Filmmaking (Robert Jan-Lacombe).

From the Hot Docs program guide: “A panoramic photograph taken in 1980s Zaire (today’s Congo) shows a village assembled on a grassy airstrip. “Panoramic photos,” the narrator tells us, “are made to get an overview of a special moment or place.” In this case, a family is leaving – forever. This award-winning short is the retrospective goodbye of a European boy to the African culture that raised him.”


Herman’s House

Nominated for Outstanding Achievement in Graphic Design or Animation (Nicolas Brault, Tom Hillman).

I wrote on this film at “revisits the very popular (and still tragic) documentary subject of the Angola Three — or one of them, 30-year solitary confinement-suffering prisoner Herman Wallace — and artist Jackie Sumell, who is working on a project in his honor and possible benefit. In addition to tackling prison conditions, human rights advocacy and political art, the doc also gets into a number of other topics including architecture, community, post-Katrina development of New Orleans and very personal stories involving Sumell’s background and family. For a film spawned from an issue of constraint, it’s anything but limited. Ambitiously, Bhalia reaches about and covers a lot of ground yet the doc never feels scattered, although it does occasionally come close. ”

Currently on the festival circuit.


How to Survive a Plague

How to Survive a Plague

Nominated for Outstanding Achievements in Editing (T. Woody Richman, Tyler H. Walk, Jonathan Oppenheim) and Debut Feature Filmmaking (David France) and the Audience Choice Prize.

From Cole’s post showcasing its trailer: “It’s hard to think of a plague still hanging around, but that’s exactly what AIDS is. It was a misunderstood disease that saw some lawmakers fighting back against finding a cure with any relative speed, but this doc chronicles a group of men and women literally fighting for their lives.”

Currently in theaters and available On Demand.

Rather than a reject, Christopher Campbell is a film school dropout. But he has since gotten a master’s degree in cinema studies and has been blogging about movies since 2005. Earlier, he reviewed films for a zine (a what?) that you could buy at Tower Records (a what?). He is married with two children.

Read More from Christopher Campbell
Get Film School Rejects in your email. All the cool kids are doing it:
Previous Article
Next Article
Reject Nation
Leave a comment
Comment Policy: No hate speech allowed. If you must argue, please debate intelligently. Comments containing selected keywords or outbound links will be put into moderation to help prevent spam. Film School Rejects reserves the right to delete comments and ban anyone who doesn't follow the rules. We also reserve the right to modify any curse words in your comments and make you look like an idiot. Thank You!