“Navalny” beats “All That Breathes” for the Bafta, and the two documentaries are now in a race for the Oscar.

It was a miss that set up one of the hottest races this awards season in Hollywood — on one side, a quiet film from India about two brothers who care for birds against the backdrop of riots and turmoil, and on the other side, a gritty drama chronicling the life and times of Russia’s charismatic opposition leader at a time when western interest in Russia is surging due to the Ukraine conflict.

On Monday, The Navalny topped All That Breathes at the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (Bafta), which is regarded as one of the most accurate predictors of the Academy Award winner later this year. Odessa Rae, the documentary’s producer, remarked, “He sacrificed everything to tell this story and others that need to be told.”

Despite their dissimilar approaches and subjects, these two documentaries have been the year’s top picks for the award for best documentary. All That Breathes has been awarded the grand prize at the Sundance Film Festival, the Gotham Independent Film Awards, Cannes, the London Film Festival, and the Hong Kong International Film Festival. That is not a light object. Independent cinema curator Meenakshi Shedde stated, “The film has worldwide talent, global co-production, is politically sensitive, and makes a message against Islamophobia.”

Navalny’s list of victories is shorter but no less important, including the Sundance Film Festival’s festival favourite prize. With its politically explosive subject matter and its release amid the backdrop of the Russia-Ukraine conflict, the film is as high-profile as it gets for a documentary. The Oscars conclude the awards season, thus Academy members are likely to watch victories and buzz closely before casting their ballots. And each nominee is very aware of what the Oscar signifies. “It is still leagues ahead of the competition in terms of credibility,” adds Shedde. The fact that it is the final prize you recall further makes it stand out.

Shedde is also the India and South Asia representative at the Berlin Film Festival and a Golden Globes international voter. She claims that winning one award does continue to attract the attention of other award-giving bodies. “Awards are given based on the merit of the film,” she explains, not on how much money was spent promoting it among jurors. In order to win the coveted golden statuette, however, the majority of studios and filmmakers invest extensively in jury-focused campaigns.

On March 13, will it be the calmer, kinder picture depicting a genuinely human narrative set against a vivid and troubling backdrop, or the higher-key political darling portraying the life of one of Russia’s most recognisable people and a great fit for the present political climate? In the past, a moment’s significance has persuaded Oscar voters.

Industry media have placed Sen’s next film near the top of their annual forecasts. Variety, a trade publication for the entertainment industry, describes it as “the only safe selection.” It was deemed “one of the most captivating films of the year” by Vogue magazine. According to the Los Angeles Times, it is the frontrunner (Navalny is at the bottom of their list). All The Beauty And The Bloodshed, a film on the life and work of famed photographer and activist Nan Goldin, is expected to win. Given that at least 8,000 jury members will vote in this year’s awards, it is impossible to predict how the scales will tilt. Then, have faith in the bird-like creature.

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