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“If a Tree Falls” Director Marshall Curry on His Second Oscar Nomination, What He Looks for in a Subject and What Keeps Hollywood Interested in Remaking Docs

"If a Tree Falls" Director Marshall Curry on His Second Oscar Nomination, What He Looks for in a Subject and What Keeps Hollywood Interested in Remaking Docs

Since his debut in 2005 with “Street Fight,” documentary filmmaker Marshall Curry has remained one of the most acclaimed nonfiction directors working today. That first film, about the 2002 Newark mayoral race, went on to receive many major festival awards before snagging nominations for an Oscar, an Emmy and a Writers Guild award. His next doc, “Racing Dreams,” about young NASCAR hopefuls, won the Best Documentary honor when it premiered at the 2009 Tribeca Film Festival. It also quickly attracted the attention of DreamWorks, which announced plans for a dramatic feature adaptation. 

And now his third film, “If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front,” which profiles a radical environmentalist, has followed the course of his first, winning major festival awards before garnering Curry his second Academy Award nomination in only seven years (it’s also been nominated by the Writers Guild and will likely get an Emmy nod later this year). It’s a remarkable achievement and already a remarkable career, but much deserved as he’s only churned out remarkable documentaries.

After the nominations were announced, I chatted with Curry about the honor, the new Oscar changes, what he looks for in a subject and why Hollywood is so interested in remaking nonfiction films.

Were you surprised by the Oscar nomination?

Yes. I was very surprised. It was a really good year for docs and kind of an odd one for the nomination. Some of the big movies didn’t get shortlisted and didn’t get nominated. But I was very pleasantly surprised.


Was it very different for you this time than when you were nominated for “Street Fight”?

Yes it was different, but it’s not something you get used to by any stretch. So it was still thrilling and surprising. With “Street Fight” it was my very first film and it was really just something I made in my apartment. I’d shot it and edited it. With this one we had a strong theatrical distributor and PBS was supporting it. But still, it’s definitely a huge surprise.

And honestly, the night before the [announcement] I looked at some of the lists of what people were predicting. A number of lists said, “here is what we think are the top five, and here are the three possible spoilers,” and we weren’t even on the list of possible spoilers. So I think other people were surprised too.

Continue reading this interview at the Documentary Channel Blog.

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