LOS ANGELES, March 3 (UPI) -- Almost without exception, this year's field of Oscar-nominated documentaries focuses on issues of war and peace in ways that feature films rarely can.
In some cases, the connection to war and peace is literal. In others, personal stories provide a solid connection to larger political issues.
"Balseros" examines the repression in Fidel Castro's Cuba and the extraordinary steps people take to escape. "The Fog of War" and "The Weather Underground" both look back on America's misadventure in Vietnam and the disruptive effect it had on the nation's culture and politics.
"Capturing the Friedmans" offers a controversial take on a police investigation of alleged child molestation in a case that tore apart a family and a community in Long Island, N.Y. "Asylum" tells the story of one woman trying to escape genital mutilation in her native Ghana and the difficulties she encountered seeking asylum in the United States.
"Chernobyl Heart" prominently features the work of the Chernobyl Children's Project, an organization that helps children and families devastated by radiation and high levels of cancer, birth defects and heart conditions in Belarus, the country most seriously contaminated by the Chernobyl nuclear accident in 1986.
"The Fog of War" took the Oscar for Best Documentary Feature at the Academy Awards on Feb. 29. In his acceptance speech, director Errol Morris delivered one of the few political observations of the night.
"Forty years ago this country went down a rabbit hole in Vietnam and millions died," he said. "I fear we're going down a rabbit hole once again. And if people can stop and think and reflect on some of the ideas and issues in this movie, perhaps I've done some damn good here."
Speaking with reporters backstage, Morris said he saw a connection between Vietnam and America's current involvement in Iraq.
"My belief is we live in a very dangerous time, and it's important for people to be thinking about and discussing these issues," he said. "It's an election year. We should all be thinking about what we're doing and whether we want to go on doing it."
"Balseros," also nominated for Best Documentary Feature, is an epic in its own way. Carlos Bosch -- who directed "Balseros" with Josep M. Doménech -- said he and his crew were very lucky to be able to film the departure of a handful of Cubans on rafts in 1994 and to be able to follow up on their stories after they had spent some time in the United States.
The result is a sense of perspective that allows audiences to watch refugees complete the trip and then live significant portions of their new lives in America -- complete with stories of personal success and crushing disappointment.
"Balseros," which will be shown on HBO later this month, may take on new currency given the current renewal of upheaval in Haiti, although it appears somewhat unlikely that the United States will be forced to deal with another round of Caribbean refugees in leaky boats at this time.
In "Asylum," filmmakers Sandy McLeod and Gini Reticker told the story of Baaba Andoh -- a young Ghanaian woman who goes in search of her father to ask his blessing on her impending marriage. When she finds him, he not only disapproves of the marriage but also insists that she marry a friend of his and submit to genital mutilation, in accordance with the custom of her father's tribe.
McLeod and Reticker made the film to call public attention to forced marriage, forced sterilization and abortion, domestic violence and other practices such as genital mutilation. The film suggests that Andoh's difficulty in gaining asylum in the United States was due to the gender-related nature of her grievance in Ghana.
The story documented in "Asylum" took place in July 2001. Reticker told United Press International that Andoh's challenge would be even more daunting now, but she said international pressure seems to be mounting to change conditions for women seeking asylum on such grounds.
"She's part of a whole area of human rights law that recognizes women's rights -- sexual slavery, genital mutilation, living in a state that won't protect you from violence," said Reticker.
The Oscar for Best Documentary Short Subject went to "Chernobyl Heart." Filmmaker Maryann DeLeo said she had been moved to make the film after a visit two years ago to an exhibit at the United Nations sponsored by the Chernobyl Children's Project.
"It was pretty horrifying to see what was still happening," she said, "and I had completely forgotten about Chernobyl and whether there were still effects from radiation or what had happened to the people there."
DeLeo told reporters backstage at the Academy Awards that nuclear reactors still pose potential health threats, although they're not discussed much in public anymore.
"Nuclear reactors are kind of sleeping giants in the sense we don't hear about them, and there are little accidents all the time that we just don't know about," she said. "I don't think there's a Chernobyl of the United States, but I think there's probably more danger out there than we know about."