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How to watch the 2020 Oscar-nominated documentaries

How to watch the 2020 Oscar-nominated documentaries
Free Solo directors Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin accept the 2019 Oscar for best documentary feature. Star Alex Honnold is second from the right. (Photo by Craig Sjodin/ABC)

The 2020 Oscar nominees are once again very white and very male, but there’s an exception: the documentary categories.

“Four of the five feature documentaries nominated for an award on Sunday are directed or co-directed by women. Three of those stories revolve around women, focused on their daily struggles and lived experiences. And all of them feature a diversity of languages,” Alisha Haridasani Gupta writes in the New York Times In Her Words newsletter, which explores why, historically, the nonfiction categories have been better about reflecting human experience.

So where do you watch the 2020 Oscar-nominated docs? All of them are actually available to stream right now, though on different platforms—some are free to watch, others require subscriptions or the purchase of a rental or DVD. I’ve listed all five below, along with the film’s official synopsis and links so you can watch them right now.

The winners will be announced live during the Oscars, which airs on ABC starting at 8 p.m. ET on Sunday, Feb. 9—and will feature a new promo for ABC’s American Idol season 3, which premieres the following Sunday.

American Factory

A scene from American Factory at Fuyao Glass Americ
A scene from American Factory at Fuyao Glass America (Image via Netflix)

Directed by Steven Bognar and Julia Reichert

Netflix’s description: “The acclaimed film takes a deep dive into a post-industrial Ohio, where a Chinese billionaire opens a new factory in the husk of an abandoned General Motors plant and hires two thousand blue-collar Americans. Early days of hope and optimism give way to setbacks as high-tech China clashes with working-class America.”

Reviews on Metacritic 86 (universal acclaim), Rotten Tomatoes: 96% fresh

The Cave

The Cave stars Dr. Amani (center) and Dr. Alaa (right) in an operating room of their underground hospital in Al Ghouta, Syria
The Cave stars Dr. Amani (center) and Dr. Alaa (right) in an operating room of their underground hospital in Al Ghouta, Syria. (Photo by National Geographic)

Directed by Feras Fayyad

National Geographic Channel’s description: “The Cave paints a stirring portrait of courage, resilience and female solidarity inside a subterranean hospital in Syria run by a young, female pediatrician.”

Reviews on Metacritic: 83 (universal acclaim), Rotten Tomatoes: 97% fresh

The Edge of Democracy

Former president of Brazil Dilma Rousseff in the documentary The Edge of Democracy
Former president of Brazil Dilma Rousseff in the documentary The Edge of Democracy (Image via Netflix)

Directed by Petra Costa

Netflix’s description: “A cautionary tale for these times of democracy in crisis – the personal and political fuse to explore one of the most dramatic periods in Brazilian history. Combining unprecedented access to leaders past and present, including Presidents Dilma Rousseff and Lula da Silva, with accounts of her own family’s complex political and industrial past, filmmaker Petra Costa (ELENA) witnesses their rise and fall and the tragically polarized nation that remains.”

Reviews on Metacritic: 81 (universal acclaim), Rotten Tomatoes: 97% fresh

For Sama

In east Aleppo, Syria, Waad al-Kateab films a bombed bombing in Oct. 2016
In east Aleppo, Syria, Waad al-Kateab films a bombed bombing in Oct. 2016 (Photo via PBS)

Directed by Waad al-Kateab and Edward Watts

PBS’s description: “The astonishing personal story of a young Syrian mother’s perseverance through the siege of Aleppo. Told as a love letter from a mother to her daughter, the film explores the agonizing dilemma of whether to abandon Aleppo and the fight for freedom.”

Reviews on Metacritic: 89 (universal acclaim), Rotten Tomatoes: 99% fresh


A scene from Honeyland
A scene from Honeyland

Directed by Ljubo Stefanov and Tamara Kotevska

Description: “Hatidze lives with her ailing mother in the mountains of Macedonia, making a living cultivating honey using ancient beekeeping traditions. When an unruly family moves in next door, what at first seems like a balm for her solitude becomes a source of tension as they, too, want to practice beekeeping, while disregarding her advice. The most awarded film out of this year’s Sundance Film Festival, Honeyland is an epic, visually stunning portrait of the delicate balance between nature and humanity that has something sweet for everyone.”

Reviews on Metacritic: 86 (universal acclaim), Rotten Tomatoes: 99% fresh

The short-subject documentary Oscar nominees

With one exception, the Oscar-nominated films in the 2020 short-subject documentary category are not available to watch. But here are those films, and the synopsis published by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

In the Absence: “When the MV Sewol ferry sank off the coast of South Korea in 2014, over three hundred people lost their lives, most of them schoolchildren. Years later, the victims’ families and survivors are still demanding justice from national authorities.” Directed by Yi Seung-Jun and Gary Byung-Seok Kam

Learning to Skateboard in a Warzone (If You’re a Girl): “Over the course of 15 years, a class of young girls from disadvantaged neighborhoods in war-torn Kabul, learn to read and write, and grow together in confidence through the joy of skateboarding.” Directed by Carol Dysinger and Elena Andreicheva

Life Overtakes Me: “Hundreds of refugee children in Sweden who have fled with their families from extreme trauma in their home countries have become afflicted with Resignation Syndrome. Facing deportation, they withdraw from the world into a coma-like state, as if frozen, for months or even years.” Directed by John Haptas and Kristine Samuelson. Watch on Netflix

St. Louis Superman: “Bruce Franks Jr., a leading Ferguson activist and battle rapper who was elected to the overwhelmingly white and Republican Missouri House of Representatives, must overcome both personal trauma and political obstacles to pass a bill critical to his community.” Directed by Smriti Mundhra and Sami Khan

Walk, Run, Cha-Cha: “Chipaul and Millie Cao reunited in 1980s Los Angeles after being separated by the Vietnam War. Forty years later, they become ballroom dancers to reconnect again and make up for lost time.” Directed by Laura Nix and Colette Sandstedt

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About the author

  • Andy Dehnart

    Andy Dehnart is the creator of reality blurred and a writer and teacher who obsessively and critically covers reality TV and unscripted entertainment, focusing on how it’s made and what it means.

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