Writing and producing documentary films should not be driven by industry awards, but it’s a motive that appears to be inescapable. Many awards are influential in getting one’s name out there, especially in the case of young filmmakers in need of financial support. The awards on today’s list are not in any certain order, but all are influential events on which the work and success of filmmakers can heavily rely.
Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature
The Academy of Motion Pictures began awarding an Oscar for documentary films in 1942. Today, it remains the most coveted award in the industry. Most recently, the Oscar for Best Documentary went to the film American Factory: a documentary exploring the work of a Chinese factory in the American mid-west. It was produced by former American president Barack Obama.
Critics’ Choice Documentary Awards
From 1995 to 2015, the Broadcast Film Critics Association awarded the Critic’s Choice Movie Award for Best Documentary. The tradition continues today and remains one of the industry’s most prestigious acknowledgements.
Chicago Film Critics Association Award for Best Documentary
Chicago Film Critics Associations awards films in all categories, just as the Oscars do. It is an institution that honours journalists in the fields of digital, print and TV media who work in film criticism. The last film to be awarded was Apollo 11, documenting the Apollo mission to the moon.
Dallas–Fort Worth Film Critics Association Award for Best Documentary Film
Dallas- Forth Association Critics Association has issued awards since 1990 and added a category for documentaries in 2002. The organisation gives voice to southern movie critics in particular. Their latest award went to Apollo 11 as well. To date, only two directors have received the award more than once: Michael Moore and Davis Guggenheim.
Gotham Independent Film Award for Best Documentary
This annual award is presented by the Independent Filmmakers Project. It focuses on small, indie projects that cover a broad range of topics. The award has garnered new influence as of late, as the lines between indie and mainstream productions are beginning to blur. The most recent film to be honoured was American Factory–arguably not a traditional indie film, as it was produced by the streaming service Netflix in collaboration with the Obamas.
National Society of Film Critics Award for Best Non-Fiction Film
This award began in 1985, simply dubbed “The Best Documentary Award.” National Society of Film Critics is one of the oldest and influential organisations for movie critics, first launched around 1966. The group is known for its unique tastes, reflecting the aesthetic of coastal elites. The last film to receive this award was Honeyland: a small, Macedonian picture that garnered much praise from critics.
Online Film Critics Society Award for Best Documentary Film
This organisation is the newest on our list, founded in 1997. It brings together critics in the online world only: an exclusive organisation that picks members carefully, based on the amount and quality of their work. Apollo 11 was their most recently awarded film.