Films from Indiewood, the specialty divisions of the Hollywood studios, dominated the nominations for the 78th Academy Awards Tuesday, giving many film festival favorites exciting moments in their career. Many of the Oscar nominees themselves heard the news the same way that most people did Tuesday morning, via a live announcement on television.
"Tsotsi": Gavin Hood
Among those who watched was "Tsotsi" director Gavin Hood, nominated in the best foreign language film category.
"I'm in Los Angeles, and like almost everyone in this crazy business of ours, I watched on TV bleary-eyed," Hood told indieWIRE Tuesday morning not long after the A.M.P.A.S. announcement. "Being the last film to be announced [in the category], my heart was pounding. One isn't quite prepared for something like this."
The South African production about a troubled township youth who later finds redemption after caring for a baby he inadvertently kidnapped during a botched car theft, first penetrated the international scene in August after it received two awards, including the Audience prize and best new British feature award (Hood holds dual South African and British citizenship) at the Edinburgh International Film Festival. The Zulu, Xhosa and Afrikaans-language film then went on to receive awards at the Toronto International Film Festival in September as well as at AFI Fest in Los Angeles in November and received a Golden Globe nomination for best foreign film.
"When you make a little film without stars and not in English, you [just] hope you get into international festivals, so we didn't know if we'd get accepted in competition in Edinburgh or Toronto," said Hood, giving credit to festivals where the film first screened and raised its profile. "Each [one seemed to bring] attention to the film to audiences around the world. We [originally] just wanted it to play in London, New York and Los Angeles like most small films do."
Hood also told indieWIRE that he was proud to be in the company of his fellow Oscar nominees who have taken on complex stories dealing with the human condition and conflict.
"I think 'Tsotsi' appeals because a person's emotional needs are universal. We need to know we're needed by others and feel and give love, and these needs are overwhelmed by economic or family struggles. At the very core, the human need is very universal. Many of the [nominees] like 'Joyeux Noel,' 'Brokeback Mountain, 'Tsotsi' and 'Munich' are about the need for human connection."
Hood, however, stressed that neither he nor other filmmakers believe they can provide answers to world or personal conflict, but said he hopes films such as his will create debate.
"We're not going to change the world, and I don't want to come off saying, we are changing the world... All these films don't talk about good vs. evil like maybe your typical blockbuster. We have a lot of films being nominated with genuine human conflict [and] it is weak to believe [we] know all the answers."
"Murderball": Henry Alex Rubin
Fellow '06 nominee Henry Alex Rubin, along with co-director of "Murderball" Dana Adam Shapiro, received a nod for best documentary this morning, the second in a row in the category for Toronto and New York-based distributor ThinkFilm (the company's "Born into Brothels" went on to win last year).
"I'm elated, I'm freaking elated. I'm not going to pretend I'm not [excited]. [It was the] best wakeup call in my life," Rubin told indieWIRE this morning from his apartment in Manhattan's East Village. Rubin, without access to cable television, only learned the news when he received a call from colleagues. "[New York ThinkFilm head] Mark Urman and my agent called me. I got rid of television and cable right now because I'm finishing my script. I'm a monk."
When asked how it felt to be a nominee, Rubin reflected on his past and those that have had influence on him. "I grew up a bit of a dork and all I did was watch movies and I always dreamed I would be in that room. I dreamed of being a director. My sister is the most important person to me [and] she believed I could be a director. I'm [also] excited because ["Walk the Line"] director James Mangold was my professor at Columbia [and he] is going to be in the room with me. I spoke to him this morning."
Rubin also expressed great excitement for the people that he and Shapiro captured in the film, which received both a special jury prize and an audience award at the 2005 Sundance Film Festival and went on to take honors in Seattle, Full Frame, Indianapolis as well as at the Gothams.
"I knew [the film] had potential to be cinematic and emotional, which are two things that should be part of any [film] experience. It had these two key ingredients. But once I met the guys, Dana and I became friends [with them] and the movie was a love letter to these guys."
"Murderball" takes a look at the world of quadriplegic rugby, in which players use specially designed wheelchairs to compete in the sport that is both equally elegant and violent as its more famous counterpart. The film also explores some of the charismatic personalities behind the sport as they fight to compete in the Paralympic Games in Athens, Greece.
On a practical level, Rubin hopes the nomination will provide an impetus for people who may have stayed away from the film when it was first released, and will raise awareness.
"[The nomination] means that people who ignored [the film] the first time might take a look at it again. I think a lot of people stayed away because the subject matter sounded depressing and the title sounded super violent [but] people have really liked it once they see it...I [also] hope it will help the sport of quadriplegic rugby, and hope they will have an easier time of finding sponsors. They usually have to have bake sales to raise airfare money to compete."
Other nominees issued statements through their spokespeople on such a big day. In the best actress category, Keira Knightley was a popular choice among audiences who have loved Joe Wright's "Pride & Prejudice." The film nabbed 4 nods. She said in a statement, "We spent a glorious summer making this film in lovely England, with lovely, lovely director Joe Wright. It was great news to wake-up to after a long night shoot on a pirate ship -- four wonderful nominations! I'm so proud."
Another actress, Rachel Weisz, nominated for best supporting actress in "The Constant Gardener," said in her statement, "My journey with 'The Constant Gardener' has been an extraordinary and rewarding one, made possible by a great director, Fernando Meirelles, and a brilliant leading man, Ralph Fiennes. And now to be an Academy Award nominee, is the greatest honor for me. I am deeply grateful to the members of the Academy for my nomination."
Another best actress nominee, Judi Dench ("Mrs. Henderson Presents") proclaimed the news, "Absolutely wonderful," in her statement. She added, "I am so thrilled to be nominated for something I loved working on every single day. I'm in such good company."
"'Brokeback Mountain' was a story that I was moved by, and moved to tell on film. I'm now further moved that Academy members have responded to our movie and to the fine work of our cast and crew," said Ang Lee in a statement, celebrating his best director nomination. "It is a rare privilege and an absolute joy to be nominated for an Oscar, and I thank the members of the Academy for honoring the men and women of 'Brokeback Mountain' with these nominations."
"I am thrilled and honored beyond belief to have been nominated for this award," said nominee Dolly Parton, who was honored for her work on the film "Transamerica," nominated for best song ("Travelin' Thru"). "It's always great to be a part of something so special, not just the Oscars but the wonderful film Transamerica."