The Documentary Feature category at the Oscars this year has five nominees: Collective, Crip Camp, The Mole Agent, My Octopus Teacher and Time. Of these, three are available to watch in India and one of them actually has an Indian connection.
NDTV veteran and nature documentary filmmaker Swati Thiyagarajan is the production manager and one of the associate producers on My Octopus Teacher. Directed by Pippa Ehrlich and James Reed, the 85-minute documentary follows the unusual relationship that develops between filmmaker Craig Foster and a female octopus in a kelp forest in South Africa.
The film has stunning underwater camerawork that showcases the beauty and staggering variety of marine life. The octopus, whom Foster follows for close to a year, develops an almost-human personality as she lets Foster into her world and helps him improve his relationship with his son. The film is available on Netflix.
Also on Netflix is Crip Camp: A Disability Revolution by Nicole Newnham and James Lebrecht. This moving and illuminating documentary explores the influence of a camp for disabled teenagers on the larger struggle for disability rights in American. At Camp Jened in New York state in the 1970s, teenagers with a range of disabilities, from polio to cerebral palsy, arrive every summer and learn to be themselves. They form friendships, fall in love, and gain the confidence and social skills denied to them in their lives at home.
In their adult years, some of the campers become important figures in the civil rights disability movement, organising sit-ins and protests and lobbying the American government to pass crucial laws that improved accessibility to educational institutions and workplaces. The 108-minute film benefits hugely from archival footage shot at the camp, which is alternated with interviews of the activists in the present.
Amazon Prime Video has Time, Garret Bradley’s immersive black-and-white documentary on the effects of long-term incarceration on an African-American family. The 81-minute film centres on Sibil Fox Richardson’s efforts to get her husband Robert released early from a staggering 60-year prison sentence for a bank robbery. As she waits for Robert to return, Richardson has rebuilt her life and brought up her sons.
Home video footage shot by Richardson and interviews in the present point to what time means for her and her family – endless waiting for Robert, tireless advocacy to highlight cases similar to hers, and constant phone calls to authorities to push for Robert’s release. In a particularly striking sequence, Richardson makes yet another call to a judge’s office to inquire on Robert’s status. She is polite, then composed as she learns about yet another delay, and finally outraged at the lack of empathy on the other end of the line.