#tbt: Brigitte Berman Makes Oscar History

By Pat Mullen

“And the winner is… It is a tie. A tie?”

Yes, even Oprah can be surprised. The talk show host and Color Purple star was caught off guard while presenting the prize for Best Documentary Feature on March 30, 1987 at the 59th Academy Awards.

The category resulted in a rare tie at the Oscars between Canada’s Brigitte Berman for Artie Shaw: Time is All You’ve Got and Joseph Feury and Milton Justice for Down and Out in America. It was the first tie ever in the feature documentary category and only the fourth out of six ties at the Academy Awards.

Artie Shaw also made history as the third Canadian film to win the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature. The award previously went to Canuck docs Just Another Missing Kid by John Zaritsky (1982 Oscars) and The Man Who Skied Down Everest for producers F. R. Crawley, James Hager and Dale Hartleben (1975 Oscars). No Canadian feature doc has won since Berman took the stage.

Here’s a transcript of Berman’s speech via the Academy, which she offered while accepting the award with producer Don Haig. (And watch the video below featuring a fashionable and flabbergasted Oprah!)

Thank you very much, members of the Academy, for this great honor. And thank you, Artie, for trusting me with your life story and for so many years of just such incredible inspiring music. There are a lot of people I’d like to thank. My associate producer Don Haig, without whom I never could have made the film. I’m especially pleased that it’s a Canadian film about a great American artist that has been honored this way. Thank you, everybody who helped me, the Canada Council, the Interior Arts Council, Nick Laidlaw, Telefilm Canada, just everybody who worked on it. Thank you very, very much.

Brigitte Berman returns this Friday with the wonderful new documentary The River of My Dreams: A Portrait of Gordon Pinsent.