After it was announced that there would be ten Best Picture nominees at the 82nd Academy Awards, almost everyone writing on the subject immediately went to the idea that suddenly less respectable, but more general audience-friendly, films would be honored, thus drawing in more of the public, thus raising the Academy’s profile (essential now), thus boosting the telecasts annual ratings. The thing is, though, they’ve had many chances to do that over the past few years and deliberately have not done it. Back in the ’80s, and even in the ’90s, they were more inclined towards multi-plex films – can you imagine a movie like a Moonstruck getting nominated now? It just wouldn’t happen.
Perhaps that’s because Academy members don’t vote by committee. They don’t sit around a big table with bottles of Arrowhead and decide what “should” be nominated in order to satisfy the endangered species that is AMPAS. No, they vote for what they like. One person (or that person’s kid, mistress, maid or assistant) sits down with a ballot.
Some of the films that get in are going to be documentaries. Right now, there are two big ones – Michael Moore’s Capitalism: A Love Story, and The Cove.
The Cove is a documentary filmed like a feature. The NY Times posted a story about it yesterday:
‚ÄúThe Cove,‚Äù in other words, is an unconventional documentary, one that looks very much like a feature film, with the dramatic arcs and suspense one would expect in a James Bond or Hollywood action movie. And because the film contains graphic images of the mass killing of a species of animal that humans regard fondly, with images as unsettling as those of baby seals being clubbed to death in Canada, it seems destined to generate an emotional and contentious debate.
My first thought was, no one is going to want to see to see this movie, and more importantly, aren’t they just preaching to the converted? That’s where Oscar comes in. A dual nomination for The Cove (in Best Pic and in Doc Feature) would boost the profile of this horrendous practie enough that it could actually do some good.
Which is exactly what Mr. Psihoyos, 52, had in mind when he began filming ‚ÄúThe Cove‚Äù in 2005. ‚ÄúWhat I set out to do was not so much make a movie as to create a movement,‚Äù he said by telephone from his office in Boulder, Colo. ‚ÄúThis movie is a tool to shut this thing down and end the barbarism we saw back there in that cove.‚Äù
Still, the cynic in me thinks that people will care for five minutes and then move on to something else. What I really, though, is that this is the Academy proves itself a vital force, in recognizing films that could have significant cultural impact.
The other important thing to know about The Cove, whether it goes all the way or not (I think it will), is that it won’t have any problems funding its own publicity:
‚ÄúThe Cove‚Äù has the feel and flow of a feature film in part because it did not suffer from the financial constraints that often afflict documentaries. One of Mr. Psihoyos‚Äôs dive buddies is Jim Clark, the billionaire founder of Netscape, who started the environmental group known as the Oceanic Preservation Society along with Mr. Psihoyos and agreed to bankroll ‚ÄúThe Cove‚Äù more out of conviction than a desire to add to his bank account.
Mr. Psihoyos refers to the production team he hired, which included a pair of free divers, a maritime technician and a ‚Äúclandestine operations‚Äù organizer, as ‚ÄúOceans 11.‚Äù At one point they asked Industrial Lights & Magic, the George Lucas special effects company, to make fake rocks that could hide high-definition cameras and microphones, which were then secretly installed at the cove in Taiji.
There will be many detractors of the film, naturally, the Japanese fishing industry and government responds to the article, amusement parks that use dolphins for entertainment. The Japanese government official interviewed talks up the cultural differences between Japan and America in terms of how they view the dolphin species. There is no doubt that in America we revere dolphins as magical, intelligent creatures – perhaps the most beloved in the sea.
The filmmakers aknowledge that the hard part is going to be getting people to see the movie at all; after all, the senseless slaughter of beautiful animals in mass is not something anyone wants to see, especially in the summer of ’09, with so much other depressing news out there.
What will draw peole to the theater in this case will be the film’s already growing critical reception and awards, the fact that it will likely make ten best lists in the fall, and has a good shot at being considered for a Best Picture nomination as well. All of these will eventually get this movie seen. Word of mouth will spread it even further. Even if the movie makes little money in the theater (they don’t seem to care about the money), it will start the conversation, expose the situation, which is the best thing you can hope for with activist docs like this one.