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Oscars 2013: 'Searching for Sugar Man' wins best documentary

February 24, 2013|By Mark Olsen
  • A scene from the documentary "Searching for Sugar Man."
A scene from the documentary "Searching for Sugar Man." (Academy of Motion Picture…)

The musical mystery “Searching for Sugar Man” won the Oscar for documentary on Sunday night. Directed by Malik Bendjelloul, the film about an obscure Detroit singer made a remarkable near-sweep of eligible awards since its premiere at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival. 

The film details how for years it was thought that the 1970s singer-songwriter known as Rodriguez had faded into obscurity or died. But through the passionate sleuthing of dedicated fans in South Africa, where he unexpectedly achieved a startling level of fame, he was discovered to be very much alive, living and working in Michigan. Producer Simon Chinn previously won the Oscar for his work on “Man on Wire.”

Rodriguez himself was not at the Oscars; Bendjelloul said he was on tour in South Africa. 

Oscars 2013: Nominee list | Red carpet | Fashion

This year’s feature documentary nominees were a mix of the personal and political, emotions and activism from around the world.

Also competing in the category were:

With “The Gatekeepers,” director Dror Moreh and producers Philippa Kowarsky and Estelle Fialon pulled off the astonishing feat of getting six former heads of Israel’s counterterrorism agency to speak on-camera about the moral complexities of their work with a mixture of insight and even regret. The film is a powerful examination of the long, violent history between Palestine and Israel.

The first Palestinian film to ever be nominated for documentary feature, the Israeli-Palestinian-French co-production “5 Broken Cameras” takes a different, on-the-ground angle toward the ongoing conflict on the West Bank. Palestinian farmer Emad Burnat began documenting his life on home video, with that footage eventually shaped by his co-director Guy Davidi. The title is from the film itself, as Burnat went through five cameras in capturing the nonviolent resistance of everyday life amid bulldozers, protests and constant military presence.

Directed by Kirby Dick and produced by Amy Ziering, “The Invisible War” shines a light on the widespread epidemic of sexual harassment in the U.S. military. The film has already had a tangible, positive effect in the world, as military officials have renewed efforts to curb sexual assault. Dick was previously nominated in this category for his 2004 documentary “Twist of Faith.”

In “How to Survive a Plague,” director David France and producer Howard Gertler look at the early days of AIDS, the formation of the group ACT-UP and the sense of community and activism that sprang from the response to the emergence of disease in the early 1980s.

The 85th Academy Awards are being held at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood on Sunday night, in a televised ceremony hosted by Seth MacFarlane.

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Follow Mark Olsen on Twitter: @IndieFocus

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