This Sunday, the 87th Academy Awards will be held at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood.

Oscar Statue  Image Credit: Davidlohr Bueso (Flickr)

Oscar Statue
Image Credit: Davidlohr Bueso (Flickr)

A nanny, a computer programmer, a war, a photographer and a national park are the subjects of this year’s Best Documentary nominees.

Let’s take a closer look at them:

1. CitizenFour

Directors: Laura Poitras, Mathilde Bonnefoy and Dirk Wilutzky

In 2013, a computer programmer by the name of Edward Snowden was working in the NSA’s Oahu office in Hawaii. He had been working for the NSA since 2009, and discovered there was existing government programs which involved heavy citizen surveillance in a post 9/11 America. Snowden copied the files he discovered and travelled to China.  From Hong Kong, he summoned two journalists, Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras, and released the information to them.

Glenn Greenwald was a journalist with The Guardian in the UK, and on 6th June 2013 he wrote an article detailing how the NSA were collecting data from the customers of mobile phone operators Verizon.

Laura Poitras filmed the original interview and subsequently made the documentary, Citizenfour, which is nominated for the 2015 Best Documentary Feature at this year’s Oscars.

 

2. Finding Vivian Maier

Directors: John Maloof and Charlie Siskel

Vivian Maier worked as a nanny in Chicago for over 40 years.  She also was a secret photographer who saw the streets of New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago as her canvas. Yet, her photographs remained secret, many of her negatives were left undeveloped and she never showed her work to friends or family.

In 2007 in order to pay off some of her debt, Maier auctioned off one of her storage units in Chicago. Three photo collectors bought her work, one of which was John Maloof. Maloof was in the process of writing a book about an area in East Chicago and hoped he would find vintage photographs amongst this collection of negatives. So he took a gamble and bought the majority of Maier’s negatives for $400.

Maier passed away in 2009 aged 83, and would never live to see the recognition her work is receiving now.

 

3. Last Days in Vietnam

Directors: Rory Kennedy and Keven McAlester

The documentary focuses on the final weeks of the Vietnam War. The North Vietnamese army was advancing to Saigon, as the South Vietnamese troops were beginning to collapse. The US military had just been given orders to withdraw their soldiers, and after two decades the Vietnam war was coming to an end.

The remaining US soldiers in Vietnam had built relationships with the South Vietnamese, and faced a dilemma when they were asked to start evacuating Saigon: Should they risk punishment and help the South Vietnamese people evacuate, or should they let the people they had built friendships with try to survive on their own?

 

4. The Salt of the Earth

Directors: Wim Wenders, Juliano Ribeiro Salgado and David Rosier

Sebastião Salgado was born in Brazil in 1944. Although he received a master’s degree in economics, at 26 he decided to embark on a photography career. Over 40 years later, Salgado now lives in Paris and continues to take mesmerising images.

Salgado’s son, Juliano, teams up with director Wim Wenders in the documentary to tell his father’s story. Over the last few years, the younger Salgado had reluctantly accompanied his father on expeditions to the Amazon, Siberia and Indonesia (but to name a few), and although the trips were somewhat obligatory to start with, the result was a beautiful film.

 

5. Virunga

Directors: Orlando von Einsiedel and Joanna Natasegara

In a remote part of eastern Congo, there lies a national park called “Virunga“. The park houses the last remaining mountain gorillas, and the people who are trying to protect the heritage site. The film is the second time a Netflix documentary has been nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary – last year a documentary about Egyptian revolutionaries entitled “The Square” was nominated.

Described as, “A powerful combination of investigative journalism and nature documentary,” the documentary  centres around the declaration of war by rebel group, M23. The outbreak of violence threatens all those inside the park – the rangers, the filmmakers and the animals.

 

Click here to see the full list of nominees for each category.