Two of the documentary filmmakers nominated for Academy Awards this past Tuesday were on hand at the Realscreen Summit. Here, realscreen speaks with Henry Ansbacher (pictured), producer of The Last Campaign of Governor Booth Gardner which was nominated under the best documentary short category, and Louie Psihoyos, director of The Cove which was nominated for best doc feature.
When Psihoyos started work on The Cove, ‘the only awards I ever knew about were Sundance and the Oscars,’ he says. Once the doc was out and reaping international praise he quickly became aware of the multiple festival awards that exist – including Best Doc Directing from the Directors Guild of America, the Allan King Doc Award from the Toronto Film Critics Association, and Best in Festival from the Blue Ocean Film Festival. They’re among the over 40 awards he’s received thus far for The Cove.
The awards and strong buzz put together made it no surprise that The Cove was nominated for best documentary at the Academy Awards. Even with all the accolades, however, Psihoyos says the film’s impact upon its audience and how that in turn influences change regarding the dolphin slaughter in Taiji, Japan and environmental action in general is the most important part of the process for him.
‘I never got into filmmaking to win awards, or even to make a film,’ he says. ‘I got into filmmaking to start a movement. This film is a way to wake up the population, to try to create awareness and try to get people on board.
‘Movies can be ten dollars and a box of popcorn, or maybe they can be a way to change the world,’ says Psihoyos. ‘Maybe they can be both.’
Ansbacher’s short, directed by Daniel Junge, follows former Washington governor Booth Gardener as he campaigns in favor of assisted suicide while struggling with Parkinson’s Disease. ‘As a person who has always had control and made the tough decisions in his life, he thinks people that are in the last stages of their lives with a terminal illness should have some control over how their lives end,’ says Ansbacher, when talking about the elements of Gardener’s story that drew him to make the doc.
Ansbacher’s previous doc, They Killed Sister Dorothy (also directed by Junge), won the best documentary prize from the jury and the audience at SXSW in 2008 and also made the feature documentary shortlist for an Academy Award in 2009. Coming off the success of his previous doc, Gardener’s story attracted Ansbacher and Just Media, and he started work on what would become The Last Campaign.
As for the Oscar nod, ‘It’s a pretty incredible place to be,’ he says. ‘It’s kind of a cliché [to say] it’s an honor just to be nominated, but it’s a huge honor. It’s terrific that so many people in this field really thought this film stood out.’