In presenting the Solzy Awards for Documentaries, this year has proven to be the toughest year ever. It’s so tough that I’m not issuing just one award as I’ve done in years past. As you can see from many of the below winners, Sundance truly kicked off the Year of the Documentary. While it tends to be the case every year, this year proved to be harder than most. I wish I could honor every film but the reality is that this isn’t the case.
With no further adieu, I present the the Solzy Awards for Documentaries in 2018.
Best Political Documentary: RBG
I first watched RBG while covering Sundance in January. My biggest regret is that my time on the mountain prevented me from seeing Justice Ginsburg in person. Ginsburg was to the women’s rights movement what the late Justice Thurgood Marshall was to the racial equality movement. This picture becomes evident very quickly as directors Julie Cohen and Betsy West sit down with RBG. The two directors provide us with an inside look at her family life. This includes a conversation with her granddaughter. Both of them have a scholar/student relationship in addition to the typical family relationship. The film is currently available on Blu-ray and DVD.
Best Nostalgic Documentary: Won’t You Be My Neighbor?
Having missed this during Sundance, I was happy when I finally saw the film upon release in June. It’s a safe bet that viewers will be in tears by the time the documentary ends. Fred Rogers passed away in February 2003 but as Won’t You Be My Neighbor? shows, his legacy will live on forever. The film is currently available on DVD.
Most Courageous Documentary: On Her Shoulders
Make no mistake, On Her Shoulders is a film that ought to be on every shortlist for Best Documentary Feature given the importance of the subject content. Nadia Murad is a young woman that ought to be commended for her bravery for being thrust into the spotlight when she just wanted to live a normal life. In fact, the young woman took home the 2018 Nobel Peace Prize for “efforts to end the use of sexual violence as a
weapon of war and armed conflict.” The film is now playing in select theaters.
Best WTF Documentary: Three Identical Strangers
Three Identical Strangers tells the crazy but true and sad story of Bobby Shafran, Eddy Galland, and David Kellman. The three of them were separated at birth when they were adopted by three different families. Bobby was sent off to live with the affluent Shafran family. Eddy went to the middle class Gallands. As for David, he went to live with the blue-collar Kellmans. All were adopted by Jewish families who had an older daughter living with them, also adopted. If there’s a legacy for Three Identical Strangers, it’s that the Jewish Board of Family and Children’s Services should release the study. At the very least, they ought to let people know they have a sibling. The film is available on Blu-ray and DVD.
Best Entertainer Documentary: The Zen Diaries of Garry Shandling
Filmmaker Judd Apatow pays tribute to the late comedian with The Zen Diaries of Garry Shandling. It’s an emotional retrospective full of clips. Shandling’s colleagues also reminisce about in a documentary that aired two years after his passing. Over the course of 4.5 hours in The Zen Diaries of Garry Shandling, director Judd Apatow gives us an authentic view of someone that he called not only a mentor but a friend. The film will be available soon on DVD and is already available on Digital (Part 1, Part 2).
Best Film Documentary: Half the Picture
With a topic that could not be more timely with the gender parity among directors in Hollywood, Half the Picture is such an important film. Amy Adrion, who directs the film, is a first-time director. There’s a staggering statistic regarding female filmmakers in that 84% will become a one-time director. A lot of this is due to financing or lack thereof. It doesn’t have to be this way. Studios can and should get better when it comes to employing women in film. What Adiron does with the film is amplify the conversation that is going on at the moment. Beyond the troubles facing female filmmakers is the gender gap when it comes to paychecks. Half the Picture ought to be required viewing for every single studio executive in the industry. The film is available on Blu-ray and DVD.
Best TV Documentary: Freaks and Geeks: The Documentary
Freaks and Geeks was the series that treated both comedy and drama in the way it should be. What Freaks and Geeks: The Documentary does is is allow its fans to close the doors on a beloved series. While we would love to have a reunion special or another season, Freaks and Geeks is perfect as is. The film is available on Digital.
Best LGBTQ Documentary: TransMilitary
TransMilitary is the most important documentary that anyone will view during the 2018 calendar year. Transgender representation in the media is very important–it’s something that this transgender film critic knows all too well. Even though TransMilitary is a documentary and not a narrative feature, it is the importance of films such as these that can help to spread education and awareness when it comes to representation. Contrary to what some of these conservatives may think, our lives are not an experiment at all. Not even close. We just want to live our lives as anyone else does. The film is available on LogoTV.
Best Sports Documentary: Alone in the Game
Alone in the Game is a must-watch documentary that tells the story of the harsh realities that face LGBTQ athletes on a daily basis. Alone in the Game is just a small part of the conversation but is important in moving the conversation forward. If there’s any legacy to the sports documentary, it’s that LGBTQ athletes shouldn’t be afraid of living an authentic life. The film is available through VOD.
Best Comedic Documentary: Poop Talk
This is the best documentary about shit to ever be released. It’s both poignant and hysterical. The Sklar Brothers produce a film that may never be seen in the likes of history again. This film features a star-studded cast of comedians talking about shit, including Paul Scheer and Oscar nominee Kumail Nanjiani. When I watched comedian Nicole Aimée Schreiber talk about her experiences, my laughter turned into tears. She’s the true MVP of Poop Talk. The film is available on Digital. You can pre-order the Blu-ray and DVD.
Best Documentary That Shows The System Needs To Change: The Sentence
If The Sentence doesn’t have you in tears at some point, please check your tear ducts. Rudy Valdez developed a love for film because of his sister, Cindy Shank. His older sister had wanted to be a filmmaker at one point in her life and she passed along this love to her brother. Six years after the death of Cindy’s ex-boyfriend, Alex, she is sent to jail because of “the girlfriend problem.” It has something to do with the “conspiracy of knowledge” according to legal experts interviewed in the film. She’s not the only person who went to jail because of this. Featuring an emotional reunion that will bring a smile to your face, The Sentence is one of the most powerful documentaries of 2018.
Best Non-Released Documentary: The Orange Years: The Nickelodeon Story
Not every star from Nick is interviewed but they’ve got some of the main stars, writers, and executives on camera. This is the problem with these sort of documentaries. This is a network that has some 40 years of history (G-d, I feel old). There’s no feasible way to cover EVERYTHING in the network’s history in detail. The big ones are covered in some detail and that’s what is important here. The filmmakers can only spend so much time on everything. The perfect documentary of Nickelodeon would likely run four hours but obviously, that’s not going to happen. For having a 90ish minute running time, The Orange Years: The Nickelodeon Story will be perfectly satisfying satisfying for fans. The film just held its world premiere during DOC NYC 2018.
Lifetime Achievement Award: Adam F. Goldberg
You’re probably wondering what The Goldbergs creator Adam F. Goldberg did to earn the first-ever Lifetime Achievement Award as presented by the Solzy Awards. His love of pop culture has led the man to executive produce a number of documentaries. Among them are Back in Time, Ghostheads, On the Sly: In Search of the Family Stone, and The Orange Years to name a few. Upcoming documentaries include films about Police Academy, Beetlejuice, and Dungeons & Dragons. Feel free to check out his filmography on IMDB.