January 25, 2008
I just wanted to drop you a note to let you know (if you didn’t already) the good news that “Sicko” has been nominated for this year’s Academy Award for Best Documentary. It was a pleasant surprise when we got the news on Tuesday.
Of course, every reporter who’s called me in the past few days wanted to know if I plan on giving an “anti-war” or “anti-Bush” speech, should “Sicko” win, as I did when we won the Oscar for “Bowling for Columbine” in 2003. (As you may recall, it was the 5th day of the war when those Oscars were held, and I said from the stage that, while I enjoy making nonfiction films, we live in fictitious times with a man of fiction in the White House. A ruckus ensued with a loud roar of cheers and boos, then someone cued the band to get me off the stage. As host Steve Martin said a few moments later, Teamsters were out back loading me into the trunk of a car.)
Well it’s five years later and we are still at war. But there’s no booing these days. 65% of the public is now opposed to the war and to Mr. Bush. The Academy, instead of cutting off the microphone, now nominates anti-war films for Best Documentary. That’s right, three of the five nominees this year are Iraq War films!
I am very honored to be in this group of documentaries, three of which I brought last summer to our film festival in northern Michigan. “Taxi to the Dark Side” is a brutal examination of U.S. torture in Iraq and Afghanistan. “Operation Homecoming” has actors reading letters from soldiers in Iraq. “No End in Sight” has ex-Bush administration officials admitting how they messed up the occupation, lamenting how things would have been so much better if only Bush had put people in Baghdad who knew what they were doing (and wouldn’t we all have loved to see THAT? Hahaha). And “War/Dance” tells the moving story of kids in a dance competition in war-torn Africa. A diverse group of films, and proof that nonfiction movies are stronger than ever.
A lot of people ask me, ‘how does this whole Oscar voting thing work?’ Well, actors nominate actors, directors nominate directors — every branch essentially votes to nominate their own (including documentary filmmakers in my branch) — and then all 6,000 Academy members vote for the Best Picture nominees. After the nominations are announced, then all 6,000 vote for all the categories.
Documentaries, though, have one special rule: The voters have to verify they have seen all five nominated films. As some of these films, unfortunately, don’t have the distribution they deserve, special Academy members-only screenings of all five nominees are set up for this very purpose in the next few days in New York, and in the next couple of weeks in L.A. and elsewhere, and that’s when any Academy member can vote for Best Documentary.
But will there be an Oscar show this year? As you know, the Writers Guild (of which I am a member) is on strike and the Oscars are a union show. If the strike isn’t settled, they won’t be able to put on the typical telecast as no actor, writer or anyone I know will cross the picket line. This is all happening because a couple of hotheads at the studios (some would say union-busting knuckleheads) have walked away from the negotiating table in what seems like an attempt to simply get rid of the union. What do they think we are, air traffic controllers?
The writers are only asking for about 2.5 cents out of every dollar made on Internet sales (that’s right, not even 3 pennies!), a small pittance compared to what the studios or networks rake in. That’s it. The union has dropped the demand to unionize the reality shows (in 1993, I created the first unionized reality show, “TV Nation,” but the Writers Guild unfortunately wasn’t able to build on this).
I would like to believe that the honchos will come to their senses and settle this strike. Otherwise, I won’t be able to talk to Joan Rivers on the red carpet or attend all those Oscar parties afterward! Don’t make me suffer like this! My wardrobe and stylist people are already in tears.
In the meantime, I’ll send you some pre-Super Tuesday thoughts next week. Thanks again for all your nice comments on the Oscar nod and I hope this extra attention on “Sicko” will help to push for the day when every American can go to the doctor or the hospital and never be asked “what’s in your wallet?”