‘Icarus’ and ‘Traffic Jam’ Win Doc Oscars

By Pat Mullen

Sometimes it’s good to be wrong! POV sorely went 0 for 2 in the predictions for the documentary categories last night, but the better films won. Director Bryan Fogel’s Icarus scooped the documentary feature prize (we picked Last Men in Aleppo to win) after presenter Laura Dern called documentary filmmakers the revolutionaries of the day. The doc about Russia’s systemic drug doping was a hot topic with the Winter Olympics helping to put the urgency of the film in the spotlight. Fogel dedicated the award to whistleblower Grigory Rodchenkov, former head of Russia’s Anti-Doping Centre, who helped the Icarus team expose the truth and is now in hiding.

The win for Icarus presented a major coup for Netflix. The streaming site won its first Academy Award for a feature last night after scooping best short doc the previous year for The White Helmets. Netflix campaigned aggressively for both Icarus and fellow nominee Strong Island, accumulating criticism that Oscars should be reserved for theatrical releases while others in the industry noted that it was time to think more inclusively about modes of distribution.

On the short doc front, Frank Stiefel’s Heaven is a Traffic Jam on the 405 won in a tight race over Edith+Eddie. Stiefel’s wonderful doc profiled artist Mindy Alper and her journey with mental illness as she approached a major exhibition of her work. The film, disarming in its candid and open discussion of mental illness, was a beautiful portrait of the creative process and an artist finding her voice in the darkness. Stiefel thanked Alper in his speech saying how much the film inspired audiences to care. Watch Heaven is a Traffic Jam on the 405 here.

Outside of the documentary categories, The Shape of Water won Best Picture and Best Director for Guillermo del Toro. The Toronto-shot fantasy posed a big win for the home team with Canadian producer J. Miles Dale, while Canucks Paul Austerberry, Jeffrey A. Melvin and Shane Vieau won Best Production Design for the film and gave shout outs to the local crew. Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway returned to present Best Picture after last year’s notorious flub in which an envelope mix-up resulted in La La Land incorrectly receiving the Best Picture Oscar before being handed off to Moonlight. While the clean finale didn’t make for as wild of an ending, it was the best the Academy could have hoped for in a relatively safe and enjoyable show.