At least 15 music docs are among 167 features that are eligible for consideration in the documentary feature film category at the 2024 Oscars. These include films that tell the stories of such varied musicians as Jon Batiste, Carlos Santana, Syd Barrett and Pink Floyd, Joan Baez, Little Richard, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Thelonious Monk and Blood, Sweat & Tears.
Members of the documentary branch of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences will vote to determine the shortlist and, later, the nominees in this category. The shortlist of 15 films will be announced on Thursday, Dec. 21.
The Academy notes that some of the eligible films in this category have not yet had their required qualifying release and must fulfill that requirement and comply with all the category’s other qualifying rules to advance in the voting process.
Films submitted in the documentary feature film category may also qualify for Academy Awards in other categories, including best picture. Documentary features that have been submitted in the international feature film category as their country’s official selection are also eligible in this category.
The Academy also released lists of eligible films in two other categories on Thursday (Dec. 7). A total of 33 features are eligible in the animated feature film category. Eighty-eight countries or regions have submitted films that are eligible in the international feature film category. (A shortlist of 15 films will also be announced in that category on Dec. 21.)
Nominations for the 96th Academy Awards will be announced on Tuesday, Jan. 23. The 96th Oscars will be held on Sunday, March 10, at the Dolby Theatre at Ovation Hollywood and will be televised live on ABC and in more than 200 territories worldwide. Jimmy Kimmel is hosting.
Here are 15 notable music docs that are vying for a spot on the shortlist in the documentary feature film category. They are listed in alphabetical order.
This film explores a year in life of Jon Batiste, musician and former bandleader for The Late Show With Stephen Colbert. Batiste has won five Grammys and an Oscar in the past few years – and is nominated for six more Grammys at the Feb. 4 ceremony. Matthew Heineman directed the film.
This film, directed by Rudy Valdez, follows Carlos Santana’s journey from 14-year-old street musician to global sensation. Santana’s band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1998.They won eight Grammys in 2000, tying Michael Jackson’s record for the most Grammys won in one night.
Elis & Tom – It Had to Be You
This film, directed by Roberto de Olivera and Jom Tob Azulay, delves into the recording of the album Elis and Tom, recorded in 1974 by Brazilian singer Elis Regina and legendary composer. Antônio Carlos Jobim, the principal architect of the bossa nova boom of the 1960s. Jobim died in 1994 at age 67. He received a posthumous lifetime achievement award from the Recording Academy in 2012.
Finding Her Beat
This film looks at how women have overcome many years of being locked out of Taiko drumming. (Taiko refers to a broad range of Japanese percussion instruments.) Dawn Mikkelson and Keri Pickett directed the film, with the tag line, “Big drums, big dreams.”
Have You Got It Yet? The Story of Syd Barrett and Pink Floyd
This film recounts how Barrett co-founded Pink Floyd in 1965, only to be ousted from the band in April 1968, amid speculation of mental illness. He launched a brief solo career, but retired from public life in 1972. In 1996, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a member of Pink Floyd. He died of pancreatic cancer in 2006.
Joan Baez I Am a Noise
The legendary singer and activist, now 82, tries to make sense of her life, and the personal struggles she’s kept private. The film was directed by Miri Navasky, Maeve O’Boyle and Karen O’Connor. Baez received a lifetime achievement award from the Recording Academy in 2007.
Little Richard: I Am Everything
Paul McCartney, Billy Porter and John Waters appear in this doc about the rock ‘n’ roll icon who had a profound impact on music and culture. He was a flamboyant gender-bender in the 1950s, when “Don’t Say Gay” wasn’t just a political slogan, it was an unwritten rule. Lisa Cortes directed. Little Richard was one of the inaugural inductees in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1986. He received a lifetime achievement award from the Recording Academy in 1993. He died in 2020 at age 87.
Music Is My Life – Dr. Joseph Shabalala and Ladysmith Black Mambazo
A Japanese guitarist dedicates his life to honoring rock legend Jimmy Page, who achieved his greatest fame as the guitarist for Led Zeppelin. This Japanese superfan recreates vintage Led Zep concerts in small Tokyo clubs. Peter Michael Dowd directed.
Jakub Piatek directed this film about young pianists who participate in the legendary International Chopin Piano Competition in Warsaw, Poland. The film is of course set to Chopin’s music.
Rewind & Play
Alain Gomis wrote and directed this film which looks at the lack of respect with which jazz legend Thelonious Monk was treated in 1969, when, at the end of his European tour, he appeared on an interview show in Paris. The pianist and composer died in 1982 at age 64. He received a posthumous lifetime achievement award from the Recording Academy in 1993.
Taylor Mac’s 24-Decade History of Popular Music
Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman co-directed this film, which captures Taylor Mac’s exuberant, gay-positive 24-hour musical performance in New York City. Epstein has won twice in this category, for The Times of Harvey Milk (1984) and Common Threads: Stories From the Quilt (1989).
They Shot the Piano Player
This film tells the story of a music journalist, Jeff Harris, who sets out to uncover the truth about Francisco Tenório Júnior, a young Brazilian samba-jazz pianist who disappeared in Buenos Aires in March 1976. Jeff Goldblum and Tony Ramos appear in the film, which was co-directed by Javier Mariscal and Fernando Trueba.
What the Hell Happened to Blood, Sweat & Tears?
John Scheinfeld wrote and directed this film which looks at the band that was at the top of the heap in 1969, but quickly faded. How hot were they? Their eponymous sophomore album topped the Billboard 200 for seven weeks and won the Grammy for album of the year. The smart tag line for the film: “What goes up, must come down,” a line from that album’s smash hit “Spinning Wheel.” Clive Davis, then-president of BS&T’s label, Columbia Records, and music TV writer David Wild appear in the film.
Yoshiki Under the Sky
This film features the composer and artist (leader of rock bands X Japan and The Last Rockstars) leading a global concert featuring such other top artists as The Chainsmokers, St. Vincent, Lindsey Stirling, Sarah Brightman and The Scorpions. Yoshiki co-directed the film with Mark Ritchie.