Oscar Documentaries Take on AIDS, Rape in Military, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, a Lost Musician


And nobody knew who he was. "The journalists who are all there, in huge numbers along the red carpet, they're all calling out the names of people they want to have a picture of," said Longley, speaking by phone from Kabul, where he's working on a new doc. "And when you come along, unless you're Michael Moore, they don't really know who you are. The first time you do this, it can be extremely intimidating. As a documentary filmmaker, you realize just how far down the Hollywood totem pole you really are."

Perhaps. But Oren Jacoby, whose 2004 short film "Sister Rose's Passion" was nominated for an Oscar, told ABC News, "There's been a sea change within the last five to 10 years in terms of the documentary's prominence. With digital distributing and everybody watching everything everywhere, the barriers are down, and people are looking for things they're interested in, and they're as interested in watching a documentary as anything else."

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Dick agrees. "I've been making films for 25 years," he said. "And I've seen this change in the last 10 years. People come up to me all the time and tell me, 'Documentaries are my favorite genre.'"

As for the little-known truths, Kirby said about the subject of rape in the military, "I've never come across a story that was so underreported and covered up. More than half a million men and women have been sexually assaulted. And there was no feature documentary, no comprehensive book. This was an example of what documentary filmmaking can do, to bring these stories to light."

"The Invisible War" has been screened widely in Washington, D.C., and among members of the military, including outgoing Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta. Policies for investigating rape have changed as a result of the film, and special victims units have been established. Just last month, the film came up during Chuck Hagel's confirmation hearings on Capitol Hill.

RELATED: Israeli-Palestinian Conflict Plays Out in Oscar Docs

"The Gatekeepers" and "5 Broken Cameras" each focus on Israeli policies toward the Palestinians. "Gatekeepers" features the six surviving heads of the security agency Shin Bet -- a cross between the CIA and the FBI -- harshly criticizing the state, questioning the morality of the occupation on the West Bank and calling for dialogue with neighboring states, including Iran. "5 Broken Cameras" tells the story of the day-in, day-out struggles of a Palestinian family in a village on the West Bank.

"Why don't we see these stories on the news?" said France.

France, an investigative journalist based in New York, said he made his decision to "throw myself off the cliff" -- i.e., work on a documentary -- because there was an important story about the AIDS epidemic that had not been told. "All the major storytelling about AIDS was produced in the middle of the plague, and it was largely focused on the arrival of a mysterious new illness and what that did to the people in the country and the world. Nobody had told the story about what was done in response."

"Plague" is the story of the activists who were not only angry, as they were portrayed in the media, but who were extremely effective in their strategy in influencing the government and the health care system -- with the result that AIDS is now a treatable disease.

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