August 17, 2007
Upstarts aim to end HBO's dominance in docus
By Sandie Angulo Chen

For the second year in a row, HBO Documentary Films has scored three out of five nominations in directing for nonfiction. HBO snagged the Emmy in 2006 (Jon Alpert, "Baghdad ER"), 2005 (James Miller, "Death in Gaza") and 2004 (Kate Davis, "Jockey"). Since the Academy added the category in only 2003, HBO looks statistically poised to go four-for-five.

The HBO noms include Spike Lee's Hurricane Katrina epic "When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts," Lauren Greenfield's eating-disorders chronicle "Thin" and Rory Kennedy's examination of torture "Ghosts of Abu Ghraib." Rounding out the envelope: the History Channel's geektastic "Star Wars: The Legacy Revealed," directed by Kevin Burns; and an episode of Showtime's NPR-to-cable show "This American Life," directed by Christopher Wilcha.

Lee, an outstanding nonfiction special nominee for 1998's "4 Little Girls," is back with a powerful account of Hurricane Katrina and the government's many failures as the floodwaters rose and fell. Although the doc opened to near-universal acclaim, many voters may lack the resolve to sit through the painful four hours.

Burns, a four-time-nominee, won in 2002 for producing A&E's "Biography." His entertaining exploration of the mythic archetypes behind George Lucas' "Star Wars" saga, however, might seem lightweight compared with the competition.

Critics hailed Greenfield's candid look at patients at an eating disorder clinic as a provocative filmmaking debut, but it may be too soon to award the photog-turned-filmmaker a golden statuette.

Kennedy, nominated in 2000 for "American Hollow," helmed this year's only doc about Iraq, a subject akin to the last two Middle East-themed winners. But some voters may discount the forcefulness of Kennedy's film as overly biased.

Wilcha's "God's Close-Up" episode of Ira Glass' show follows a devout Mormon artist on his unlikely search for bearded men willing to model for his visionary biblical paintings. Some TV critics have compared Glass' 30-minute segments to Errol Morris' work, while others decry the heavily narrated format.