‘American Factory’, ‘Learning to Skateboard’ Win Doc Oscars
By Pat Mullen
American Factory ended an impressive year-long run by winning the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature. The doc directed by Julia Reichert and Steven Bognar went into the ceremony as the odds-on favourite and the Academy didn’t let them down. The film about the struggles of the working class in a Dayton, Ohio manufacturing plant prevailed in a night that yielded few surprises until the end. Reichert and Bognar used their speech to acknowledge the inspirational work among their fellow nominees in a strong field. In one of the few, if only, shout-outs to Karl Marx in Oscar history, Reichert called upon the workers of the world to unite if they ever hope to see change.
#Oscars Moment: Steven Bognar, Julia Reichert and— The Academy (@TheAcademy) February 10, 2020
JeffReichert9</a> accept the Oscar for Best Documentary Feature: "American Factory" (<a href="https://twitter.com/afactoryfilm?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">afactoryfilm). pic.twitter.com/p4cWdVWm5S
American Factory took the lead during a tight awards season race with Todd Douglas Miller’s Apollo 11, which many presumed to be the Oscar frontrunner until it missed the nomination. Reichert and Bognar’s film was fêted by numerous pockets of the industry in an acclaimed run that began at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival where American Factory won the directing prize. It also won the Directors’ Guild of America Award, the Independent Spirit Award for Best Documentary Feature, top prizes from the Cinema Eye Honors, along with awards from numerous critics’ circles including the Toronto Film Critics Association and the Los Angeles Film Critics Association. Reichert’s career was the focus of Hot Docs’ Outstanding Achievement Award retrospective last year.
The night marked the first win for Reichert on her fourth nomination, while it was Bognar’s second nomination. American Factory also brought the second win for Netflix in the feature documentary category after 2017’s Icarus. The film had the additional honour of being the first doc produced by Barack and Michelle Obama’s Higher Ground Productions. The former President took to Twitter to congratulate the filmmakers on their win. The current President did not.
Congrats to Julia and Steven, the filmmakers behind American Factory, for telling such a complex, moving story about the very human consequences of wrenching economic change. Glad to see two talented and downright good people take home the Oscar for Higher Ground’s first release. https://t.co/W4AZ68iWoY— Barack Obama (@BarackObama) February 10, 2020
On the shorts front, the Oscar went to Learning to Skateboard in a Warzone (If You’re a Girl), which was also favoured to win. The film directed by Carol Dysinger tells the inspirational story of young girls in Kabul, Afghanistan who gain confidence through skateboarding while receiving an education. Dysinger was one of several winners who used the stage to encourage women in the industry to knock down doors and pursue their passions. She highlighted the encouragement of receiving a student Academy Award from Frank Capra early in her career, as well as the inspiration she drew from the girls at Skateistan (the school depicted in her film). The list of wins for Skateboarding leading into the Oscars included the short doc prizes at the British Academy Awards (BAFTAs), the International Documentary Association Awards, and the Tribeca Film Festival.
"I've been working in Afghanistan since 2005 and this movie is my love letter to the brave girls of that country."— ABC News (@ABC) February 10, 2020
Carol Dysinger speaks after “Learning to Skateboard in a Warzone (If You’re A Girl)” wins Best Documentary (Short Subject). https://t.co/f3iv3Ro55g #Oscars pic.twitter.com/JCxg7hGeFH
Last night’s telecast, however, will be remembered for the historic upset that ended the show. While most of the wins were expected, Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite topped off the night with a come-from-behind Best Picture win that many pundits expected to go to Sam Mendes’ war drama 1917. Parasite made history as the first film not in the English-language to win Best Picture. (Although 2011’s winner The Artist was a French-Belgian co-production, it was a silent film.) Like American Factory, Parasite dominated the festival circuit throughout 2019. Their wins proved that the Academy, as much as we complain about them, sometimes gets it right.
AMERICAN FACTORY is the first win of the night for Netflix and the first win ever for Higher Ground, the Obamas’ production company. Sadly, one of its directors, doc legend Julia Reichert, has said she has terminal cancer. pic.twitter.com/8CtaPlRiNN— Scott Feinberg (@ScottFeinberg) February 10, 2020
Julia Reichert is a hero.— Ernest Owens (@MrErnestOwens) February 10, 2020
She is battling cancer and up on the stage fighting for the working class people. American Factory is an incredible documentary. Please see it on Netflix. #Oscars
AMERICAN FACTORY's Julia Reichert: "Just being in the presence, in the company of our brother and sister documentarians who risked their lives … bringing stories to us about hospitals being bombed in Syria, about Brazil, about Macedonia … We are inspired by you guys."— Justin Chang (@JustinCChang) February 10, 2020