Moment of Truth: 2010's Oscar-Nominated Documentarians Talk to Movieline
Welcome back to Moment of Truth, Movieline's weekly showcase of up-and-coming nonfiction cinema. Usually each installment features one new film and filmmaker, but hey: It's Oscars Weekend! This calls for an exception. As such, Movieline reached out to this year's nominees for Best Documentary Feature, hosting a virtual roundtable including:
· Rebecca Cammisa (Which Way Home, about Latin American child migrants to the U.S.)
· Judith Erlich and Rick Goldsmith (The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers, about the famous Vietnam War-era whistleblower)
· Robert Kenner (Food Inc., about the grave implications of U.S. food production)
· Anders Østergaard (Burma VJ, about citizen journalists documenting uprisings in Burma)
· Louie Psihoyos (The Cove, about the secret slaughter of dolphins in Taiji, Japan)
Congrats to them! But now we have some questions. Take a moment to get to know them, their stories, their takes on the race, and, of course, their respective Oscar-night dates.
So in a matter of days, you're taking your film to the Academy Awards. Has it sunk in? How are you feeling about it right now?
Goldsmith: Yes, and very proud.
Erlich: Anxious about getting tickets for my crew to the awards ceremony and hundreds of little details I ordinarily ignore in life -- like gowns and jewels. My dress has actually become a community project of artist friends in Berkeley. I feel like Cinderella with a crew of mice stitching for me. That has been fun.
Psihoyos: It has sunk in. I feel that all the docs have won by being nominated -- winning a little gold man is a great opportunity to get your message out to the world a little bit further. I'm feeling like I love being in a wonderful fraternity of people who are using the most powerful medium in the world to make a difference.
Cammisa: It has sunk in a bit, but it will definitely feel more real once we are on the red carpet. I am really thrilled that a documentary about unaccompanied child migrants is being so celebrated. This child welfare issue is so important, so grave, that I am happy to know that Which Way Home is achieving such acclaim.
Kenner: This is a total honor. It is all very exciting. I have been so busy traveling, and talking about Food Inc. that I have not had much time to fully take it all in.
This year's documentary nominees have a relatively activist edge. In what ways do you think this nomination has helped influence change or bring awareness to your subject specifically?
Cammisa: When our film received this nomination we definitely felt how strongly an Oscar nod resonated with the public and those institutions we are trying to work with to bring about change. However, we are just starting our outreach campaign, so we have yet to see how the nomination opens doors and/or impacts our efforts.
Goldsmith: The buzz contributes to nationwide discussion about important themes: choosing conscience over career, speaking out against war and militarism, and demanding more from our elected officials, to name a few.
Kenner: The nomination helps shine the spotlight on the issues. It helps get the word out. That said, I think films should be nominated for their merit, not because of the important issues.
Østergaard: One of the most delightful things about this nomination is how it has boosted morale inside Burma. I am told that the Burmese public is very excited about the nomination and is following the film closely. It means so much to the Burmese not to be forgotten by the rest of the world, and they see this is something that could really help.
Erlich: The nomination just shines a big light on the issues of this film -- freedom of the press, the inevitability of war, the need for transparency in government and the rights of whistleblowers. We have been amazed by the response to this film particularly in audiences of young people and veterans. This film strikes a number of chords for people, but primarily it calls into question acting on conscience and the possibility of transformation from war making to peacemaking as individuals and as a nation. We are working with a number of anti-war and truth-telling organizations to move that agenda forward, but we have just begun that effort.
Psihoyos: I wanted our film to inspire a legion of activists. In our film I say, "You're either an activist or an inactivist," and audiences that see the film are now becoming activists in droves for many issues -- not just dolphin-related ones. People are finding the film hopeful and empowering, and all around the world people are becoming involved. My mailbox is full of people who were touched and inspired by the film. The film motivated health officials in Japan to investigate the town where dolphins are captured, Taiji, and discovered a huge epidemic of mercury poisoning there from eating too much dolphin meat and the wrong kinds of fish. Just a few days ago, I heard the cove is shut down and an artificial cove has been placed in pens at sea. It's too early to say that this is permanent but it shows their world is coming under fire and change is afoot. People said we would never get distribution for the film in Japan and now we do - it comes out next month.