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 Orlando von Einsiedel
Joanna Natasegara
The White Helmets (2016)

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]

List of winners and nominees[edit]



Note: A press release issued by AMPAS in 2005 states 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 "pixilation" – animation using living people – to create an allegory of war." [3]







Year Film Name(s)
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


  1. ^ a b c "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2015-02-26. Retrieved 2015-03-08. 
  2. ^ a b c d e "1942 (15th Academy Awards)". Academy Awards Database. Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Archived from the original on 12 January 2012. Retrieved 15 January 2010. 
  3. ^ ""Oscar's Docs" Resumes with Nature Documentaries". Archived from the original on April 11, 2008. Retrieved 2008-11-26.