When the Academy announced its shortlist of contenders for the feature documentary Oscar last week, I was surprised to find Jessica Yu'sProtagonist left out. It isn't that I especially like the film, but Yu is an Oscar-winner (for her 1996 short Breathing Lessons: The Life and Work of Mark O'Brien), and despite my opinion of it, her latest is one of the most original docs I've seen in a long time. Of course, that could be the problem. Although it fits within the rules of eligibility, Protagonist, a film about Euripidean dramatic structure and four real men whose lives correspond with it, doesn't necessarily fit in with the normal crop of films nominated in the category.
On the day of the shortlist announcement, I was told that the Academy considers feature docs to be "extended news stories," which raises the awareness of an issue they feel is worth telling the world about. Now, this comment was likely just a speculation, and a seemingly uninformed and cynical one at that, but it is nonetheless a perception on the part of many serious non-fiction film fans. Despite the fact that I am not one of the many lovers of Protagonist, I would make no fuss if it won an Oscar, let alone was nominated for one. At least I'd admire the Academy for recognizing something cinematically interesting.