Toronto’s Daniel Roher has won the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature. The Navalny director accepted the award during the Oscars telecast on March 12. The award was presented by last year’s Best Documentary Feature winner Questlove (Summer of Soul) and Best Live Action Short winner Riz Ahmed (The Long Goodbye). Roher used the stage to honour his film’s chief subject, Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, and dedicated the win to all political prisoners worldwide and cited Navalny’s criticism of Putin’s unjust war in Ukraine.
“Alexei, the world has not forgotten your vital message to us all,” said Roher onstage. “We cannot, we must not be afraid to oppose dictators and authoritarianism. Wherever it rears its head.”
"Alexei, the world has not forgotten your vital message to us all: We cannot, we must not be afraid to oppose dictators and authoritarianism wherever it rears its head."
— ABC News (@ABC) March 13, 2023
Roher was joined onstage by producers Diane Becker, Shane Boris, Melanie Miller, and Odessa Rae, with whom he shared the award, as well as Navalny’s wife Yulia and their children, Dasha and Zakhar. “My husband is in prison just for telling the truth,” Yulia Navalnaya told the crowd. “My husband is in prison just for defending democracy.”
Navalny proved a hit on the festival circuit with its story gaining in resonance as days went by. The film premiered as a late/covert addition to the 2022 Sundance line-up where it won the audience award for the U.S. Documentary Competition and was named the overall favourite of the festival. Roher previously opened the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival with the Robbie Robertson doc Once Were Brothers, which credited Martin Scorsese and Ron Howard among its executive producers.
On the shorts front, the award went as expected with Netflix’s The Elephant Whisperers. Directed by Kartiki Gonsalves and produced by Guneet Monga, the film is a portrait of a South Indian couple tending to an orphaned elephant. The Elephant Whisperers marks Netflix’s third win in the category.
Roher’s win for Navalny, meanwhile, marked a strong night for the Canadians at the Oscars. Filmmaker Sarah Polley won Best Adapted Screenplay for Women Talking, her take on Miriam Toews’ novel about a group of Mennonite women who debate their options for survival following a wave of sexual abuse. Dual citizen Brendan Fraser, who grew up in Ottawa and attended school in Toronto, won Best Actor for his career-defining performance as a man eating himself to death in The Whale. Montreal-based makeup artist Adrien Morot was among the team that won Best Makeup and Hairstyling for The Whale, which featured Fraser in an oversized prosthetic.
The indie comedy Everything Everywhere All at Once dominated the dramatic field at the Oscars. It won seven prizes including Best Picture. The film directed by the duo of Daniel Scheinert and Daniel Kwan, aka Daniels, also made history as the third film to win three acting prizes: Best Actress for Michelle Yeoh, Best Supporting Actor for Ke Huy Quan, and Best Supporting Actress by Jamie Lee Curtis. The previous films to make the feat, Network and A Streetcar Named Desire, fell short of the Best Picture win.
The ceremony was hosted by Jimmy Kimmel in a long but slap-free event. The evening also paid tribute to late documentary filmmakers John Zaritsky and Julia Reichert during the “In Memoriam” segment. The filmmakers won Best Documentary Feature for Just Another Missing Kid (1982) and American Factory (2019), respectively.