O.J.: Made in America - Making the Case (for the TFS Awards)
This week, we're highlighting some of this year's Talk Film Society Awards Best Film nominees. Today, Matt writes about groundbreaking documentary by Ezra Edelman, taking to task those that say it shouldn't count as a feature documentary. It's currently in contention for Best Film.
Ever since O.J.: Made in America premiered at Sundance way back in January of 2016, buzz has been growing for the landmark documentary. There has also been a vocal group of detractors; not because of the film's quality however, but because this group does not consider Made in America to be a film. According to them, it should be considered a television mini-series, thus precluding it to any accolades that a typical theatrical documentary would receive. I'd hate to be the bearer of bad news for the detractors, but O.J.: Made in America is indeed a feature documentary. It's also one of the nominees for Best Film at the 4th Annual Talk Film Society Awards (as well as a Best Documentary Feature nominee at the 88th Academy Awards).
"It's far too long."
"It's split into chapters."
"It's an ESPN Doc."
These are the common refrains you hear when discussing O.J.: Made in America whether it be amongst friends or online. These responses are pure folly. For the length, just look at Shoah, the masterful 9.5 hour long Holocaust documentary from 1985 by Claude Lanzmann. It's rightfully considered a classic in the medium, showcasing an important topic without shying away from any detail, big or small. Made in America, is a nearly 8 hour documentary that not only studies the much talked about 'Trial of the Century' but the scope of race relations in Los Angeles and America as a whole. It's a heady topic, but one that director Ezra Edelman (Magic & Bird: A Courtship of Rivals) handles with a deft hand and skill that's hard to imagine. The tale he weaves here, using new interviews, archive footage, and court proceedings, is truly astounding. O.J.:Made in America is not only the best documentary of 2016, it's one of the best films overall.
For a modern documentary of its length, it only makes sense that Edelman and ESPN Films would split Made in America into five chapters. This is the age we live in. The age of Netflix Binges and Hulu Marathons. Viewers feel a sense of achievement when they finish a season of a television series, and the personal accomplishment of watching the entirety of O.J.: Made in America in one sitting (something I've done twice thus far) is an even in and of itself. Detractors will say that this should disqualify the film from any consideration but seeing as how Made in America received a theatrical release is enough to snuff out that petty fire.
I'll also stop you right there with the "Oh it's an ESPN Doc" rhetoric. Just because it's a documentary that was released by a cable network is a moot point. Not counting the important fact that Made in America received a limited theatrical run, there have been numerous well regarded feature documentaries have played on television well before the Academy Awards ceremony, as distributors know that this might be the only way that audiences will be able to see the work. Not everyone lives in a major city with movie theaters that play documentaries on the regular. The "biggest" documentary that played in my town in 2016 was the vile Hillary's America by noted criminal and hack filmmaker Dinesh D'Souza. Unfortunately not every city can be a house of culture.
So yes, O.J.: Made in America might not be your typical feature documentary, but it certainly deserves consideration for Best Film at the Talk Film Society Awards. Its grasp is far reaching and it achieves everything it sets out to do with flying colors. Each side has their say and it's not a one sided affair in the least, this was truly one of the shining examples of fair and balanced journalism on display in 2016.
If it's not clear by now, I'm an adamant defender of Made in America being considered a film and not a television mini-series. It's one of the defining moments for cinema in 2016 and not surprisingly one of my favorite films of the year (it ranked at number two). If you want to watch the "actual" television series version, be sure to check out the award winning American Crime Story: The People Vs O.J. Simpson, as it makes a terrific companion piece to Made in America.
Currently available on DVD and Blu-ray, as well as streaming in its entirety on Hulu, it's a film that everyone should see, no matter their interest in O.J. Simpson, the man. This is an important picture about the current state of America above all else.