Academy Award for Best Documentary (Short Subject)

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Academy Award for Best Documentary (Short Subject)
Country United States
Presented by Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS)
First awarded 1941
Currently held by Frank Stiefel
Heaven Is a Traffic Jam on the 405 (2017)

This is a list of films by year that have received an Academy Award together with the other nominations for best documentary short subject. Following the Academy's practice, the year listed for each film is the year of release: the awards are announced and presented early in the following year.

Rules and eligibility[edit]

Per the recent rules of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS), a Short Subject Documentary is defined as a nonfiction motion picture "dealing creatively with cultural, artistic, historical, social, scientific, economic or other subjects".[1] It may be photographed in actual occurrence, or may employ partial reenactment, stock footage, stills, animation, stop-motion or other techniques, as long as the emphasis is on fact, and not on fiction. It must have a run time of no more than 40 minutes and released during a special eligibility period which may vary from year to year, but generally begins the month of September of the prior year and ends in August of award year. (This eligibility differs from most other Academy Award categories which only includes films released between January and December of the award year). The documentary's release must also occur within 2 years of the film's completion, and there are also rules governing the formatting of audio and video used to produce and exhibit the picture.

In addition, to be eligible the film must meet one of the following criteria:

  • complete a commercial showing of at least 7 days in either Los Angeles County, California or the borough of Manhattan, New York before being released to other non-theatrical venues such as DVD or TV; or,
  • regardless of any public exhibition or nontheatrical release the film must have won a qualifying award at a competitive film festival, as specified by the Academy; or
  • win a Gold, Silver or Bronze Medal award in the Academy’s Student Academy Award Competition.

The film must run daily for 7 days, open to the public for paid admission, and must be advertised in one of the city's major circulars during its run. The film must have narration or dialogue primarily in English or with English subtitles, and must be the whole of an original works. Partial edits from larger works and episodes from serialized films are not eligible.[1]

Eligibility rules for prior years may have differed from these.

Nomination process[edit]

The Documentary Branch of the Academy first votes to select ten pictures for preliminary nomination, after which a second round of balloting is conducted to select the five documentary nominees. The entire Academy membership will then vote for one of these five for The Oscar. A maximum of two people involved with the production of the documentary may be nominated for the award, one of whom must be the film's credited director. One producer may also be nominated, but if more than one non-director producer is credited the Academy Documentary Branch will vet the producers to select the one they believe was most involved in the creation of the film.[1]

Winners and nominees[edit]


Year Film Nominees
Churchill's Island National Film Board of Canada
Adventure in the Bronx Film Associates
Bomber United States Office for Emergency Management Film Unit
Christmas Under Fire British Ministry of Information
Letter from Home British Ministry of Information
Life of a Thoroughbred Truman Talley
Norway in Revolt The March of Time
A Place to Live Philadelphia Housing Association
Russian Soil Amkino
Soldiers of the Sky Truman Talley
Warclouds in the Pacific National Film Board of Canada
Short subject and feature documentaries competed in a combined Best Documentary category.
[note 1]


December 7th United States Navy
Children of Mars RKO Radio
Plan for Destruction Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Swedes in America United States Office of War Information Overseas Motion Picture Bureau
To the People of the United States Walter Wanger
Tomorrow We Fly United States Navy Bureau of Aeronautics
Youth in Crisis The March of Time
With the Marines at Tarawa United States Marine Corps
Hymn of the Nations United States Office of War Information Overseas Motion Picture Bureau
New Americans RKO Radio
Hitler Lives? Gordon Hollingshead
Library of Congress United States Office of War Information Overseas Motion Picture Bureau
To the Shores of Iwo Jima United States Marine Corps
Seeds of Destiny United States Department of War
Atomic Power The March of Time
Life at the Zoo Artkino
Paramount News Issue #37 (Twentieth Anniversary Issue! 1927.....1947) Paramount
Traffic with the Devil Herbert Morgan
First Steps United Nations Division of Films and Visual Information
Passport to Nowhere Frederic Ullman Jr.
School in the Mailbox Australian News & Information Bureau
Toward Independence United States Army
Heart to Heart Herbert Morgan
Operation Vittles United States Army Air Force
A Chance to Live Richard de Rochemont
So Much for So Little Edward Selzer
1848 French Cinema General Cooperative
The Rising Tide St. Francis-Xavier University, Antigonish, Nova Scotia


Year Film Nominees
Why Korea? Edmund Reek
The Fight: Science Against Cancer Guy Glover
The Stairs Film Documents, Inc.
Benjy Made by Fred Zinnemann with the cooperation of Paramount Pictures Corporation for the Los Angeles Orthopaedic Hospital [note 2][3]
One Who Came Back Owen Crump (Film sponsored by the Disabled American Veterans, in cooperation with the United States Department of Defense and the Association of Motion Picture Producers)
The Seeing Eye Gordon Hollingshead
Neighbours Norman McLaren [note 2]
Devil Take Us Herbert Morgan
The Garden Spider (Epeira Diadema) Alberto Ancilotto
Man Alive! Stephen Bosustow
The Alaskan Eskimo Walt Disney
The Living City John Barnes
Operation Blue Jay United States Army Signal Corps
They Planted a Stone James Carr
The Word John Healy and John Adams
Thursday's Children World Wide Pictures and Morse Films
Jet Carrier Otto Lang
Rembrandt: A Self-Portrait Morrie Roizman
Men Against the Arctic Walt Disney
The Battle of Gettysburg Dore Schary
The Face of Lincoln Wilbur T. Blume
The True Story of the Civil War Louis Clyde Stoumen
A City Decides Charles Guggenheim & Associates, Inc.
The Dark Wave John Healy
The House Without a Name Valentine Davies
Man in Space Ward Kimball
No award given
Ama Girls Ben Sharpsteen
Employees Only Kenneth G. Brown
Journey into Spring Ian Ferguson
The Living Stone Tom Daly
Overture Thorold Dickinson
Glass Bert Haanstra
Donald in Mathmagic Land Walt Disney
From Generation to Generation Edward F. Cullen


Year Film Nominees
Giuseppina James Hill
Beyond Silence United States Information Agency
A City Called Copenhagen Statens Filmcentral and The Danish Government Film Office
George Grosz' Interregnum Charles Carey and Altina Carey
Universe Colin Low
Project Hope Frank P. Bibas
Breaking the Language Barrier United States Air Force
Cradle of Genius Jim O'Connor and Tom Hayes
Kahl Dido-Film-GmbH
L'Uomo in Grigio (The Man in Gray) Benedetto Benedetti
Dylan Thomas Jack Howells
The John Glenn Story William L. Hendricks
The Road to the Wall Robert Saudek
Chagall Simon Schiffrin
The Five Cities of June George Stevens Jr.
The Spirit of America Algernon G. Walker
Thirty Million Letters Edgar Anstey
To Live Again Mel London
Nine from Little Rock Charles Guggenheim
Breaking the Habit Henry Jacobs and John Korty
Children Without Charles Guggenheim
Kenojuak National Film Board of Canada
140 Days Under the World Geoffrey Scott and Oxley Hughan
To Be Alive! Francis Thompson
Mural on Our Street Kirk Smallman
Overture Mafilm Productions
Point of View Vision Associates Productions
Yeats Country Patrick Carey and Joe Mendoza
A Year Toward Tomorrow Edmond A. Levy
Adolescence Marin Karmitz and Vladimir Forgency
Cowboy Michael Ahnemann and Gary Schlosser
The Odds Against Lee R. Bobker and Helen Kristt Radin
Saint Matthew Passion Mafilm Studio
The Redwoods Mark Jonathan Harris and Trevor Greenwood
Monument to the Dream Charles Guggenheim
A Place to Stand Christopher Chapman
See You at the Pillar Robert Fitchett
While I Run This Race Carl V. Ragsdale
Why Man Creates Saul Bass
The House That Ananda Built Fali Bilimoria
The Revolving Door Lee R. Bobker
A Space to Grow Thomas P. Kelly Jr.
A Way Out of the Wilderness Dan E. Weisburd
Czechoslovakia 1968 Denis Sanders and Robert M. Fresco
An Impression of John Steinbeck: Writer Donald Wrye
Jenny Is a Good Thing Joan Horvath
Leo Beuerman Arthur H. Wolf and Russell A. Mosser
The Magic Machines Joan Keller Stern


Year Film Nominees
Interviews with My Lai Veterans Joseph Strick
The Gifts Robert McBride
A Long Way from Nowhere Bob Aller
Oisin Vivien Carey and Patrick Carey
Time Is Running Out Horst Dallmayr and Robert Menegoz
Sentinels of Silence Manuel Arango and Robert Amram
Adventures in Perception Han van Gelder
Art Is... Julian Krainin and DeWitt L. Sage, Jr.
The Numbers Start with the River Donald Wrye
Somebody Waiting Hal Riney, Dick Snider and Sherwood Omens
This Tiny World Charles and Martina Huguenot van der Linden
Hundertwasser's Rainy Day Peter Schamoni
K-Z Giorgio Treves
Selling Out Tadeusz Jaworski
The Tide of Traffic Humphrey Swingler
Princeton: A Search for Answers Julian Krainin and DeWitt Sage
Background Carmen D'Avino
Children at Work (Paisti Ag Obair) Louis Marcus
Christo's Valley Curtain Albert Maysles and David Maysles
Four Stones for Kanemitsu Terry Sanders and June Wayne
Don't Robin Lehman
City Out of Wilderness Francis Thompson
Exploratorium Jon Boorstin
John Muir's High Sierra Dewitt Jones and Lesley Foster
Naked Yoga Ronald S. Kass and Mervyn Lloyd
The End of the Game Claire Wilbur and Robin Lehman
Arthur and Lillie Jon Else, Steven Kovacs and Kristine Samuelson
Millions of Years Ahead of Man Manfred Baier
Probes in Space George V. Casey
Whistling Smith Barrie Howells and Michael Scott
Number Our Days Lynne Littman and Barbara Myerhoff
American Shoeshine Sparky Greene
Blackwood Tony Ianzelo and Andy Thomson
The End of the Road John Armstrong
Universe Lester Novros
Gravity Is My Enemy John Joseph and Jan Stussy
Agueda Martinez: Our People, Our Country Moctesuma Esparza
First Edition Helen Whitney and DeWitt L. Sage, Jr.
Of Time, Tombs and Treasures James R. Messenger and Paul N. Raimondi
The Shetland Experience Douglas Gordon
The Flight of the Gossamer Condor Jacqueline Phillips Shedd and Ben Shedd
The Divided Trail: A Native American Odyssey Jerry Aronson
An Encounter with Faces K.K. Kapil
Goodnight Miss Ann August Cinquegrana
Squires of San Quentin J. Gary Mitchell
Paul Robeson: Tribute to an Artist Saul J. Turell
Dae Risto Teofilovski
Koryo Celadon Donald A. Connolly and James R. Messenger
Nails Phillip Borsos
Remember Me Dick Young


Year Film Nominees
Karl Hess: Toward Liberty Roland Hallé and Peter Ladue
Don't Mess with Bill John Watson and Pen Densham
The Eruption of Mount St. Helens George Casey
It's the Same World Dick Young
Luther Metke at 94 Richard Hawkins and Jorge Preloran
Close Harmony Nigel Noble
Americas in Transition Obie Benz
Journey for Survival Dick Young
See What I Say Linda Chapman, Pam LeBlanc and Freddi Stevens
Urge to Build Roland Hallé and John Hoover
If You Love This Planet Edward Le Lorrain and Terre Nash
Gods of Metal Robert Richter
The Klan: A Legacy of Hate in America Charles Guggenheim and Werner Schumann
To Live or Let Die Freida Lee Mock
Traveling Hopefully John G. Avildsen
Flamenco at 5:15 Cynthia Scott and Adam Symansky
In the Nuclear Shadow: What Can the Children Tell Us? Vivienne Verdon-Roe and Eric Thiermann
Sewing Woman Arthur Dong
Spaces: The Architecture of Paul Rudolph Robert Eisenhardt
You Are Free (Ihr Zent Frei) Dea Brokman and Ilene Landis
The Stone Carvers Marjorie Hunt and Paul Wagner
The Children of Soong Ching Ling Gary Bush and Paul T.K. Lin
Code Gray: Ethical Dilemmas in Nursing Ben Achtenberg and Joan Sawyer
The Garden of Eden Lawrence R. Hott and Roger M. Sherman
Recollections of Pavlovsk Irina Kalinina
Witness to War: Dr. Charlie Clements David Goodman
The Courage to Care Robert Gardner
Keats and His Nightingale: A Blind Date Michael Crowley and James Wolpaw
Making Overtures: The Story of a Community Orchestra Barbara Willis Sweete
The Wizard of the Strings Alan Edelstein
Women – for America, for the World Vivienne Verdon-Roe
Debonair Dancers Alison Nigh-Strelich
The Masters of Disaster Sonya Friedman
Red Grooms: Sunflower in a Hothouse Thomas L. Neff and Madeline Bell
Sam Aaron D. Weisblatt
Young at Heart Sue Marx and Pamela Conn
Frances Steloff: Memoirs of a Bookseller Deborah Dickson
In the Wee Wee Hours... Dr. Frank Daniel and Izak Ben-Meir
Language Says It All Megan Williams
Silver into Gold Lynn Mueller
You Don't Have to Die Malcolm Clarke and Bill Guttentag
The Children's Storefront Karen Goodman
Family Gathering Lise Yasui and Ann Tegnell
Gang Cops Thomas B. Fleming and Daniel J. Marks
Portrait of Imogen Nancy Hale and Meg Partridge
The Johnstown Flood Charles Guggenheim
Fine Food, Fine Pastries, Open 6 to 9 David Petersen
Yad Vashem: Preserving the Past to Ensure the Future Ray Errol Fox


Year Film Nominees
Days of Waiting Steven Okazaki
Burning Down Tomorrow Kit Thomas
Chimps: So Like Us Karen Goodman and Kirk Simon
Journey Into Life: The World of the Unborn Derek Bromhall
Rose Kennedy: A Life to Remember Freida Lee Mock and Terry Sanders
Deadly Deception: General Electric, Nuclear Weapons and Our Environment Debra Chasnoff
Birdnesters of Thailand (Shadow Hunters) Éric Valli and Alain Majani
A Little Vicious Immy Humes
The Mark of the Maker David McGowan
Memorial: Letters from American Soldiers Bill Couturié and Bernard Edelman
Educating Peter Thomas C. Goodwin (posthumously) and Gerardine Wurzburg
At the Edge of Conquest: The Journey of Chief Wai-Wai Geoffrey O'Connor
Beyond Imagining: Margaret Anderson and the 'Little Review' Wendy L. Weinberg
The Colours of My Father: A Portrait of Sam Borenstein Richard Elson and Sally Bochner
When Abortion Was Illegal: Untold Stories Dorothy Fadiman
Defending Our Lives Margaret Lazarus and Renner Wunderlich
Blood Ties: The Life and Work of Sally Mann Steven Cantor and Peter Spirer
Chicks in White Satin Elaine Holliman and Jason Schneider
A Time for Justice Charles Guggenheim
Blues Highway Vince DiPersio and Bill Guttentag
89 mm od Europy (89mm from Europe) Marcel Łoziński
School of Assassins Robert Richter
Straight from the Heart Dee Mosbacher and Frances Reid
One Survivor Remembers Kary Antholis
Jim Dine: A Self-Portrait on the Walls Nancy Dine and Richard Stilwell
The Living Sea Greg MacGillivray and Alec Lorimore
Never Give Up: The 20th Century Odyssey of Herbert Zipper Terry Sanders and Freida Lee Mock
The Shadow of Hate Charles Guggenheim
Breathing Lessons: The Life and Work of Mark O'Brien Jessica Yu
Cosmic Voyage Jeffrey Marvin and Bayley Silleck
An Essay on Matisse Perry Wolff
Special Effects: Anything Can Happen Susanne Simpson and Ben Burtt
The Wild Bunch: An Album in Montage Paul Seydor and Nick Redman
A Story of Healing Donna Dewey and Carol Pasternak
Alaska: Spirit of the Wild George Casey and Paul Novros
Amazon Kieth Merrill and Jonathan Stern
Daughter of the Bride Terri Randall
Still Kicking: The Fabulous Palm Springs Follies Mel Damski and Andrea Blaugrund
The Personals: Improvisations on Romance in the Golden Years Keiko Ibi
A Place in the Land Charles Guggenheim
Sunrise Over Tiananmen Square Shui-Bo Wang and Donald McWilliams
King Gimp Susan Hannah Hadary and William A. Whiteford
Eyewitness Bert Van Bork
The Wildest Show in the South: The Angola Prison Rodeo Simeon Soffer and Jonathan Stack


Year Film Nominees
Big Mama Tracy Seretean
Curtain Call Chuck Braverman and Steve Kalafer
Dolphins Greg MacGillivray and Alec Lorimore
The Man on Lincoln's Nose Daniel Raim
On Tiptoe: Gentle Steps to Freedom Eric Simonson and Leelai Demoz
Thoth Sarah Kernochan and Lynn Appelle
Artists and Orphans: A True Drama Lianne Klapper McNally
Sing! Freida Lee Mock and Jessica Sanders
Twin Towers Bill Guttentag and Robert David Port
The Collector of Bedford Street Alice Elliott
Mighty Times: The Legacy of Rosa Parks Robert Hudson and Bobby Houston
Why Can't We Be a Family Again? Roger Weisberg and Murray Nossel
Chernobyl Heart Maryann DeLeo
Asylum Sandy McLeod and Gini Reticker
Ferry Tales Katja Esson
Mighty Times: The Children's March Robert Hudson and Robert Houston
Autism Is a World Gerardine Wurzburg
The Children of Leningradsky Hanna Polak and Andrzej Celinski
Hardwood Hubert Davis and Erin Faith Young
Sister Rose's Passion Oren Jacoby and Steve Kalafer
A Note of Triumph: The Golden Age of Norman Corwin Corinne Marrinan and Eric Simonson
The Death of Kevin Carter: Casualty of the Bang Bang Club Dan Krauss
God Sleeps in Rwanda Kimberlee Acquaro and Stacy Sherman
The Mushroom Club Steven Okazaki
The Blood of Yingzhou District Ruby Yang and Thomas Lennon
Recycled Life Leslie Iwerks and Mike Glad
Rehearsing a Dream Karen Goodman and Kirk Simon
Two Hands Nathaniel Kahn and Susan Rose Behr
Freeheld Cynthia Wade and Vanessa Roth
La Corona (The Crown) Amanda Micheli and Isabel Vega
Salim Baba Tim Sternberg and Francisco Bello
Sari's Mother James Longley
Smile Pinki Megan Mylan
The Conscience of Nhem En Steven Okazaki
The Final Inch Irene Taylor Brodsky and Tom Grant
The Witness: From the Balcony of Room 306 Adam Pertofsky and Margaret Hyde
Music by Prudence Roger Ross Williams and Elinor Burkett
China's Unnatural Disaster: The Tears of Sichuan Province Jon Alpert and Matthew O'Neill
The Last Campaign of Governor Booth Gardner Daniel Junge and Henry Ansbacher
The Last Truck: Closing of a GM Plant Steven Bognar and Julia Reichert
Rabbit à la Berlin Bartek Konopka and Anna Wydra


Year Film Nominees
Strangers No More Karen Goodman and Kirk Simon
Killing in the Name Jed Rothstein
Poster Girl Sara Nesson and Mitchell Block
Sun Come Up Jennifer Redfearn and Tim Metzger
The Warriors of Qiugang Ruby Yang and Thomas Lennon
Saving Face Daniel Junge and Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy
The Barber of Birmingham: Foot Soldier of the Civil Rights Movement Robin Fryday and Gail Dolgin
God Is the Bigger Elvis Rebecca Cammisa and Julie Anderson
Incident in New Baghdad James Spione
The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom Lucy Walker and Kira Carstensen
Inocente Sean Fine and Andrea Nix Fine
Kings Point Sari Gilman and Jedd Wider
Mondays at Racine Cynthia Wade and Robin Honan
Open Heart Kief Davidson and Cori Shepherd Stern
Redemption Jon Alpert and Matthew O'Neill
The Lady in Number 6: Music Saved My Life Malcolm Clarke and Nicholas Reed
Cavedigger Jeffrey Karoff
Facing Fear Jason Cohen
Karama Has No Walls Sara Ishaq
Prison Terminal: The Last Days of Private Jack Hall Edgar Barens
Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1 Ellen Goosenberg Kent and Dana Perry
Joanna Aneta Kopacz
Our Curse Tomasz Śliwiński and Maciej Ślesicki
The Reaper (La Parka) Gabriel Serra Arguello
White Earth J. Christian Jensen
A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy
Body Team 12 David Darg and Bryn Mooser
Chau, Beyond the Lines Courtney Marsh and Jerry Franck
Claude Lanzmann: Spectres of the Shoah Adam Benzine
Last Day of Freedom Dee Hibbert-Jones and Nomi Talisman
The White Helmets Orlando von Einsiedel and Joanna Natasegara
Extremis Dan Krauss
4.1 Miles Daphne Matziaraki
Joe's Violin Kahane Cooperman and Raphaela Neihausen
Watani: My Homeland Marcel Mettelsiefen and Stephen Ellis
Heaven Is a Traffic Jam on the 405 Frank Stiefel
Edith+Eddie Laura Checkoway and Thomas Lee Wright
Heroin(e) Elaine McMillion Sheldon and Kerrin Sheldon
Knife Skills Thomas Lennon
Traffic Stop Kate Davis and David Heilbroner

Individuals with multiple wins[edit]

Individuals with multiple nominations[edit]


  1. ^ A preliminary list of 21 films were announced as nominees, but the Documentary Award Committee subsequently narrowed the field to 7 titles included on the final ballot. The 14 films that did not advance were: Bismarck Convoy Smashed (Australian Department of Information Film Unit), Day of Battle (United States Office of War Information Domestic Motion Picture Bureau), The Dutch Tradition (National Film Board of Canada), Kill or Be Killed (British Ministry of Information), The Labor Front (National Film Board of Canada), Land of My Mother (Polish Information Centre), Letter from Livingston (United States Army 4th Signal Photographic Unit), Life Line (United States Army Pictorial Service), The Rear Gunner (United States Department of War), Servant of a Nation (Union of South Africa), Task Force (United States Coast Guard), The Voice That Thrilled the World (Warner Bros.), Water, Friend or Enemy (Walt Disney), and Wings Up (United States Army Air Force 1st Motion Picture Unit).
  2. ^ a b A press release issued by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in 2005 stated that "Documentary Short Subject winners Benjy (1951) and Neighbours (1952) are among a group of films that not only competed, but won Academy Awards in what were clearly inappropriate categories. Benjy, directed by Fred Zinnemann and narrated by Henry Fonda, is the fictional tale of a crippled boy. The film was used as a fundraiser for the Los Angeles Orthopedic Hospital... Norman McLaren's Neighbours, which today would compete in the Animated Short category, used 'pixelation' – animation using living people – to create an allegory of war."


  1. ^ a b c "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2015-02-26. Retrieved 2015-03-08. 
  2. ^ "The Official Academy Awards Database". Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Retrieved January 4, 2018. 
  3. ^ "Oscar's Docs Resumes with Nature Documentaries". Archived from the original on April 11, 2008. Retrieved November 26, 2008. 
  4. ^ "Academy Awards 2017: Complete list of Oscar winners and nominees". Los Angeles Times. February 26, 2017. Retrieved January 8, 2018. 
  5. ^ Hipes, Patrick (January 23, 2018). "Oscar Nominations: 'The Shape Of Water' Leads Way With 13". Retrieved January 23, 2018.