Deutchman: Toward the end of the year, we could see momentum building from a critical perspective, and started hearing some conversations about Oscar. I had a very, very strong opinion, which I think I convinced everybody else of, that if we ended up getting just the nomination for Best Documentary, it would be poison. It would be sealing the film’s fate as being this tiny niche movie, and not having any crossover possibilities. With Siskel and Ebert and others calling it the best film of the year, maybe we could push for the Best Picture nomination.
I’m convinced that if in those days, they had 10 Best Picture nominees rather than five, we would have been one of them. But the reality is we may have killed our own hopes for the Best Documentary because I was so public about Best Picture. I mean, I was quoted in places that we were not going after Best Documentary, that our feelings were we deserved Best Picture.
James: When the Oscar nominations were announced, we were all there at the Kartemquin office and the local affiliates, and the newspapers were there with us.
Quinn: We were all standing at a doorway with the press lined up in this room so the cameras could be on our faces at the moment the nominations were announced.
James: We’re watching TV and no Best Picture, which we thought was a long shot. Then news came in we didn’t get a Best Documentary nomination.
Marx: I tried to put on the best face and say, “Well, it is what it is and blah blah blah.”
James: We got nominated for Best Editing, which we thought was weird. But the snub meant the press now had a story.
Deutchman: Some folks blame me for the fact that it didn’t get nominated for Best Documentary. But I don’t feel bad about that at all. My feeling is we got more press from not getting the nomination than we would have gotten by getting it. [Ed. note: Deutchman left Fine Line a month before the nominations were announced.]
James: I got home that day and got a call from Ebert who said, “I’m outraged, you just have to be too.” And I said, “Well, I kind of take the long view—” and he cut me off and said, “You’re not going to say anything, are you?“ and I said no, and he hung up. He wanted a quote, and realized I wasn’t going to give it to him so he had to go find one.
Ebert: I remember Roger and I were so upset that they didn’t get the nomination. How could that have happened? [According to Roger Ebert: “We learned, through very reliable sources, that the members of the committee had a system. They carried little flashlights. When one gave up on a film, he waved a light on the screen. When a majority of flashlights had voted, the film was switched off. Hoop Dreams was stopped after 15 minutes.”]
Gilbert: What was fantastic was that Steve, Frederick, and Bill were nominated for editing, which I think is one of the few times a documentary has been nominated in a category outside of docs.
There was a huge uproar to what happened, and for the first time, that documentary branch came under a huge attack.
Deutchman: At that time, it was a very small, very political committee. Some people think they voted for their friends, but I also think there’s certain types of documentaries that committee leaned toward, and this film didn’t fit that type.
Gilbert: I wanted to get involved, and I really fought to become a member. So out of the three of us, I got in the voting process for all documentaries. The biggest change we fought for was having a real branch. In the documentary branch before, you didn’t have to be a documentary filmmaker to be in it. I know some of the people who saw our film were hairdressers who hadn’t worked for 25 years.
Quinn: The process was quite flawed, and it’s still flawed, but it’s better because of the kind of reforms people like Peter fought for.
Gilbert: I did some pretty heavy research. Things changed, like you had to be a documentary filmmaker to be in it and vote. That’s what I was most involved in, having just documentary filmmakers be involved in the branch.
Gilbert: Oscar night was bittersweet for me because I was thrilled for Steve and Frederick, but I felt like I was the third wheel.
James: I was sitting next to the guy that won. He edited Forrest Gump [Arthur Schmidt]. The person who edited Speed was right in front of us, and I thought he was going to win, because Speed is all editing.
Marx: Things did not look good from the get-go.
James: When [Schmidt] came back to his seat with the Oscar, he let me hold it.
Gilbert: The ultimate Oscar moment for me was, my wife and I were sitting next to Harvey and Bob Weinstein’s mom. Her commentary made my Oscar evening unbelievable.
James: The Forrest Gump people were nice enough to invite us to their party after the show.
Gilbert: They were like, “In two years, everyone is going to think you won.” Which is true, half of my life is correcting people that we did not win an Oscar.