Oscar’s Puzzle

udy epstein, principal, seventh art releasing (la)
January 1, 2007

Udy Epstein, principal, Seventh Art Releasing (LA)
What are your thoughts on this year’s Oscar shortlist?
More so than any other year, many of the films in the list have a political message or affiliation.
Do you think the shortlist is too politically charged, and do you see this as a trend that will continue into 2007?
I think there will be less [in 2007]. It’s partly a coincidence and a reflection of the zeitgeist. Iraq is significant now and there are a lot of films about it, but the Academy focuses on how people respond to it emotionally rather than its commercial success.
What’s your Oscar tradition?
At the auditorium, there’s an open bar and people just drink themselves silly, but it’s more fun to watch it at home and make guilty pleasure comments about the celebrities.

David Koh, head of acquisitions and production, Palm Pictures (NY)
What are your thoughts on this year’s Oscar shortlist?
An Inconvenient Truth is the obvious choice to win, but overall this year was slower for docs and the choices seem to be a little weaker than in previous years. The world is more serious and there’s a different appetite. People are interested to learn about far away places and more global points of view versus just a strictly us focus. But looking at this list, there are more voices coming just out of the States.
Do you think the shortlist is too politically charged? Will this trend continue into 2007?
There are so many movies this year about the Iraq war that it’s almost its own subgenre. I’m unsure if it will extend into [2007], though.
What film should have made the shortlist?
What’s your Oscar tradition?
We usually watch it together with a group of people from the industry and then head out to some of the after parties.

Susan Margolin, co-founder and COO, Docurama (NY)
What are your thoughts on this year’s shortlist?
It’s fascinating that women directed 10 of the 15 films. That’s an extraordinary accomplishment considering the tiny percentage of female directors in the film industry.
What film should win?
The Trials of Darryl Hunt is riveting, heart wrenching and so beautifully made. An Inconvenient Truth has the greatest awareness due to Gore’s presence, its marketing and the importance of the message, but I think it’s a shame the films with the widest release are the forerunners. It doesn’t bring to light the films that won’t achieve wide distribution.
What films should have been on the shortlist?
Wordplay. I don’t understand why that wasn’t on there because it was critically acclaimed and theatrically released with a powerful marketing campaign. Crude Awakening from Ray McCormack and Basil Gelpke is also a brilliant look at the depletion of the world’s oil. A Lion in the House was also extraordinary.
What’s your Oscar tradition?
Popcorn, popcorn and more popcorn.

Jan Rofekamp, president and CEO, Films Transit (Montreal)
Do you think An Inconvenient Truth deserves to win best feature?
It’s the only truly global film that deals with global issues. But I think Blindsight is fantastically made. When it played in Toronto at the film festival, you could see the audience was thrilled to be watching it.
Do you think the shortlist is too politically charged, and do you see this as a trend that will continue into 2007?
I’m not sure if the films being reflective of a political environment is all that new. Since they made the rule change that the documentary Oscar would be decided on by a committee of doc filmmakers, it took a sharp turn to the social political about four or five years ago.
What is your Oscar night tradition?
I don’t have a party because the announcement for the documentary feature lasts all of 30 seconds. I easily miss it myself every year.

Dustin Smith, acquisitions, Roadside Attractions (LA)
What are your thoughts on this year’s Oscar shortlist?
There are four docs on Iraq on this list, and that’s a big trend. They’re serving a great purpose because mainstream media isn’t revealing everything about what’s happening over there, but no one is seeing these movies.
Do you think the shortlist is too politically charged, and do you see this as a trend that will continue into 2007?
Yes, but I think they’ll serve a purpose in 10 to 15 years when people are ready to see them.
Which films will make it to the final-five cut?
Jonestown is unbelievable. It brought new information about the cult to light. For example, I didn’t know most of the people in his temple were black.
And Shut Up & Sing is such a great, fun movie and the fact it hasn’t done a million dollars at the box office boggles my mind.
Which films should have made it to the shortlist?
Wordplay is the biggest one, if only because it made over US$3 million. A Lion in the House is an unbelievable film that got a lot of buzz at Sundance.
What’s your Oscar tradition?
I stay at home and hang on every word. It’s best I don’t go to parties because I’m that guy who’s telling people to shut up during the speeches.

Mark Urman, head of US theatrical, THINKfilm (NY)
What are your thoughts on this year’s feature shortlist?
I have a very strong and well-made doc on this list and I still think An Inconvenient Truth is their Oscar to lose. It’s not only the most likely to win, but it’s well deserving.
Why do you think An Inconvenient Truth will win?
Instead of the Academy quite scrupulously tying to separate the new, vitamin-fortified impoverished documentaries of yesteryear, they’re embracing the genre’s mainstreaming. When March of the Penguins won last year, it showed the Academy is more comfortable to celebrate films the public may have heard of.
What’s your best Oscar memory?
Last year at the awards, I ended up hanging out with the rapper who won the Oscar for Best Original Song and he was in shock. He just kept saying ‘Martin Scorsese doesn’t have an Oscar, but I have one.’

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