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2021 Oscar documentary nominees, and how to watch them online

The 2021 Oscar nominees were announced by The Academy yesterday, including 10 documentary films: five feature-length documentaries and five shorts.

All of those unscripted films are available to watch online; some for free, and some on paid streaming services, though they’re not always easy to find.

For example, while The Mole Agent premiered on PBS earlier this year, as part of POV, it was only streaming on POV.org until Feb. 8, and now is on Hulu, and can also be rented or bought on Amazon.

The nominees were selected by members of the Academy’s documentary branch, and were initially narrowed to a list of 15 shortlisted films, five of which were nominated. Those that were shortlisted by not nominated are All In: The Fight for Democracy, Boys State, Dick Johnson is Dead, Gunda, MLK/FBI, Notturno, The Painter and the Thief, 76 Days, The Truffle Hunters, and Welcome to Chechnya.

Winners of the 93rd Oscars will be announced April 25 in a live show on ABC that will be broadcast from the Oscars’ usual home, the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood, and Union Station, a train station in Los Angeles.

Here are the nominees—and where you can watch them right now.

Feature documentary nominees

Michelle Robinson created this image as one of seven artists from around the world who created works based on the Oscar statuette for the 93rd Oscars
Michelle Robinson created this image as one of seven artists from around the world who created works based on the Oscar statuette for the 93rd Oscars. (Image via The Academy)

Collective

A scene from the documentary Collective
A scene from the documentary Collective (Image via Magnolia Pictures)

Director: Alexander Nanau

Nominated producers: Alexander Nanau and Bianca Oana

Official synopsis:

After an explosive fire claims the lives of 27 people at Bucharest nightclub, Colectiv, officials reassure the public that surviving victims will receive care in facilities that are “better than in Germany.” Weeks later, a rising causality count leads intrepid reporters at the Sports Gazette to investigate. Just as a crucial tip exposes Hexi Pharma, a local firm’s culpability, the firm’s owner dies under mysterious circumstances and the health minister quietly resigns amid the uproar -but this is only the first chapter in a thrilling, ever-twisting exposé.

Closely tracking the efforts of the Gazette team as they methodically discover layer upon layer of fraud and criminal malfeasance, Alexander Nanau’s Collective is a fast-paced, real-time detective story about truth, accountability, and the value of an independent press in partisan times.


Crip Camp

An archival photo from Camp Jened, as seen in the Netflix documentary Crip Camp
An archival photo from Camp Jened, as seen in the Netflix documentary Crip Camp (Image via Netflix)

Directors: Nicole Newnham and James Lebrecht

Nominated producers: Nicole Newnham, Jim LeBrecht and Sara Bolder

Official synopsis:

A groundbreaking summer camp galvanizes a group of teens with disabilities to help build a movement, forging a new path toward greater equality.


The Mole Agent

Sergio in The Mole Agent
Sergio in The Mole Agent (Image by Gravitas Ventures via PBS)

Director: Maite Alberdi

Nominated producers: Maite Alberdi and Marcela Santibáñez

Official synopsis:

Sergio is a Chilean spy. Sort of. At least, he is offered the role of one after a casting session organized by Detective Romulo, a private investigator who needs a credible mole to infiltrate a retirement home. Romulo’s client, the concerned daughter of a resident, suspects her mother is being abused and hires him to find out what is really happening.

However, Sergio is 83, not 007, and not an easy trainee when it comes to technology and spying techniques. But he is a keen student, looking for ways to distract himself after recently losing his wife. What could be a better distraction than some undercover spy action? While gathering intelligence, Sergio grows close to several residents and realizes that the menacing truth beneath the surface is not what anyone had suspected.

Maite Alberdi’s The Mole Agent is a stylish combination of an observational documentary and a spy movie, with sleek camerawork and wonderfully watchable characters. It’s a unique meditation on compassion and loneliness that will infiltrate your heart and never let go.


My Octopus Teacher

An octopus reaches out to Craig Foster in My Octopus Teacher
An octopus reaches out to Craig Foster in My Octopus Teacher (Photo by Netflix)

Director: Pippa Ehrlich and James Reed

Nominated producers: Pippa Ehrlich, James Reed and Craig Foster

Official synopsis:

After years spent filming some of the planet’s most dangerous animals, Craig Foster was burned out and depressed, his family relationships in turmoil. He decided to put a halt to his career to reconnect with his own roots – the magical underwater world of the kelp forest off the coast of his hometown – Cape Town, South Africa. For nearly a decade, Craig went diving daily in the icy cold waters, ditching wetsuit and scuba rig in one of the most predator dense places on earth. The common octopus he met and tracked became first his subject, then his teacher, showing him things no human had ever witnessed. Shot over eight years, with 3000 hours of footage, My Octopus Teacher documents a unique friendship, interaction and animal intelligence never seen before.


Time

Fox Rich in the documentary Time
Fox Rich in the documentary Time (Image via Amazon Studios)

Director: Garrett Bradley

Nominated producers: Garrett Bradley, Lauren Domino and Kellen Quinn

Official synopsis:

Fox Rich is a fighter. The entrepreneur, abolitionist and mother of six boys has spent the last two decades campaigning for the release of her husband, Rob G. Rich, who is serving a 60-year sentence for a robbery they both committed in the early 90s in a moment of desperation. Combining the video diaries Fox has recorded for Rob over the years with intimate glimpses of her present-day life, director Garrett Bradley paints a mesmerizing portrait of the resilience and radical love necessary to prevail over the endless separations of the country’s prison-industrial complex.

Short subject documentary nominees

Colette

Nominated producers and directors: Anthony Giacchino and Alice Doyard

Official Synopsis:

On the anniversary of the start of the Nuremberg trials, 90-year-old Colette Marin-Catherine confronts her past by visiting the Nazi concentration camp in Germany where her brother was killed. As a young girl, she had been a member of the French resistance and had always refused to set foot in Germany. That changes when a young history student named Lucie enters her life. Prepared to reopen old wounds and revisit the terrors of that time, Marin-Catherine offers important lessons


A Concerto is a Conversation

Nominated producers and directors: Ben Proudfoot and Kris Bowers

Official synopsis:

Kris Bowers is one of Hollywood’s rising young composers. At 29, he scored the Oscar-winning film “Green Book” (2018), and this year he premiered a new violin concerto, “For a Younger Self,” at the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles. For all that success, though, he says that as a Black composer, “I’ve been wondering whether or not I’m supposed to be in the spaces that I’m in.”

… Bowers traces the process of breaking into new spaces through generations of sacrifice that came before him, focusing on the story of his grandfather Horace Bowers. As a young man, he left his home in the Jim Crow South, eventually ending up in Los Angeles. Encountering discrimination at every turn, he and his wife, Alice, nevertheless made a life as business owners.

Today, their legacy lives on through their family and community in South Los Angeles, where a stretch of Central Avenue was recently designated Bowers Retail Square — in case any question remained about whether it’s a place they belong.


Do Not Split

Director: Anders Hammer

Nominated producers: Anders Hammer and Charlotte Cook

Official synopsis:

Told from within the heart of the Hong Kong protests, “Do Not Split” begins in 2019 as a proposed bill allowing the Chinese government to extradite criminal suspects to mainland China escalated protests throughout Hong Kong. Unfolding across a year, “Do Not Split” captures the determination and sacrifices of the protesters, the government’s backlash, and the passage of the new Beijing-backed national security law.


Hunger Ward

Director: Skye Fitzgerald

Nominated producers: Skye Fitzgerald and Michael Scheuerman

Official synopsis:

Filmed from inside two of the most active therapeutic feeding centers in Yemen, HUNGER WARD documents two female health care workers fighting to thwart the spread of starvation against the backdrop of a forgotten war. The film provides an unflinching portrait of Dr. Aida Alsadeeq and Nurse Mekkia Mahdi as they try to save the lives of hunger-stricken children within a population on the brink of famine.


A Love Song for Latasha

Director: Sophia Nahli Allison

Nominated producers: Sophia Nahli Allison and Janice Duncan

Official synopsis:

The injustice surrounding the shooting death of 15-year-old Latasha Harlins at a South Central Los Angeles store became a flashpoint for the city’s 1992 civil uprising. As the Black community expressed its profound pain in the streets, Latasha’s friends and family privately mourned the loss of a vibrant child whose full story was never in the headlines. Nearly three decades later, director Sophia Nahli Allison’s A LOVE SONG FOR LATASHA removes Latasha from the context of her death and rebuilds an archive of a promising life lost. Oral history and memories from Latasha’s best friend and cousin converge in a dreamlike portrait that shows the impact one brief but brilliant life can have.

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  • 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. Learn more about Andy.

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