The Thin Blue Line

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In 1988, a documentary about a man in Texas convicted of a murder he did not commit made it to the top of numerous critics’ best-of lists, became one of the most widely-seen non-fiction films of its era, and even created enough publicity to overturn the conviction of the film’s subject.  However, The Thin Blue Line, despite the considerable attention and critical praise it attracted, was absent at that year’s Academy Awards because it was reportedly not considered a documentary. One can easily make a case inverse of the Academy’s evaluation, that this particular work actually defined what the documentary is, and can be, in North American filmmaking since. In what seems to be a decade-plus-long mainstream renaissance of the non-fiction form, The Thin Blue Line’s influence is palpable to a level nearing ubiquity. At the same time, nobody makes films quite like the intimidatingly intelligent and perceptive Errol Morris: filmmaker, investigative journalist, essayist, perceptive tweeter, and arguably (depending on who you ask) the first postmodernist documentarian. So here’s some free film school (for fans and filmmakers alike) from the man who inspired Werner Herzog to eat a shoe.

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Culture Warrior

With the release of Pixar’s Up, last year saw a great deal of conversation surrounding the ghettoization of animated movies at major awards shows. This debate resulted in something of a minor, qualified victory for animated cinema of 2009, as Up was the first animated movie to be nominated for Best Picture since Beauty and the Beast, but then again it sat amongst a crowded bevy of nine fellow nominations, and animated films remain unthreatening to their live action competitors because of the separate-but-unequal Best Animated Feature Category. I’d like to take this space to advocate for the big-category acceptance of yet another marginalized and underappreciated category around awards time: non-fiction films.

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