With the exception perhaps, of "Sugar Man," each of the documentaries tackles a current important political or social issue. "The film that used to be nominated" in the documentary category, said Jacoby, "fell into the categories of Holocaust films, disability films, ordinary people making good, fabulous unknown arts stories -- kids in the ghetto in a choir, or some anomaly, like an older person break dancing. Now the tendency seems to be more toward relevant and important social issues. And I also think the quality of the filmmaking recognized by the academy is higher than it used to be. It used to be that the subject or personality of the main character was more important. Now there's a much higher, more consistent quality and level of craft."
And that level is what the entire Academy is now voting on. Many in the industry embrace the changes in the documentary category for its "democratization" of the process and as a signal that documentaries have arrived, but they also worry that the selection process is flawed.
Joe Berlinger, whose 2011 film "Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory" was nominated, said that the nomination process early on, in which documentary filmmakers are "sent 150, 160 DVD's of movies in an unrealistic amount of time to watch them," meant that not all the films were seen by the entire branch before the short list was announced. (Small screening committees once selected the films and each committee watched a different set of films.) And if Academy members could verify they'd seen all five nominated documentaries, they were allowed to vote on a separate ballot. But that was always a very small number.
"We're kidding ourselves if you think every Academy member will have seen all five titles," said Berlinger. "They'll gravitate toward the film they've seen or heard about. Part of me prefers the system where people had to certify they'd seen every title. They went to a particular screening and signed in. But that did make the numbers [of people who ultimately voted] too small. I'd like to see a middle ground here."
Sunday night, early in the show, a winner will be announced. The filmmakers ABC News spoke with this past week seem to be enjoying the congeniality of their fellow documentarians -- "We're the class of 2013," said France.
As for Bendejelloul, he seems quite happy to be waking up in Los Angeles. "It's always light, you feel happy when you wake up. Right now in Stockholm" -- where he spent three long, cold winters editing "Searching for Sugar Man" at his kitchen table – "it's daylight only five or six hours a day."