Want to Win an Academy Award? It’s easy:
1) Pick a tragic subject
2) Spend years of your life documenting it
3) Add in some epic music
4) BAM! Oscar nomination.
Seriously, look at the numbers. Four of the five documentary features nominated last year featured some form of tragedy or downtrodden humanity:
- “Gasland” – Showcases the devastating consequences of natural gas drilling on a population
- “Inside Job” – Reviews the devastating consequences of Wall Street’s recklessness on society at large
- “Restrepo” – Follows a marine unit fighting in Afghanistan and depicts the real-time death of an American soldier
- “Waste Land” – Follows an artist into the landfills of Rio de Janiero where he interacts with human scavengers and attempts to elevate them above their circumstances
And again this year, four of the five nominated feature documentaries involve tragedy or downtrodden humanity:
- “Hell and Back Again” – A young wounded Afghan veteran returning home and struggling to cope with normal life
- “If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front” – Ecoterrorists and their bold, destructive actions against corporations
- “Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory” – Three falsely accused teenagers in a child murder case
- “Undefeated” – A downtrodden, inner-city high school football team that pulls together in the face of personal tragedy and against all odds has their first undefeated season in the history of their school
Tragedy, Fortitude and Triumph
I have to admit that every tragic or underdog documentary film nominated by the Academy (at least in the last two years) is pretty epic. They are compelling true life stories of some troubling social tragedy or personal story of triumph which are told well through their editing. So is it true then that tragedy begets awards?
According to some dude named Lloyd from the UK who has lots of theories,
“Those in pampered circumstances will benefit most from enjoying stories of despair and pain. Interestingly enough, in the 1930s, Hollywood made most of its money making light-hearted romances, with jokes, songs, and dancing. In more affluent periods, disaster movies have been all the rage.”
So is the Academy Pampered?
I say just tell your story. While it seems true indeed that real life tragedy and devastation (and/or the overcoming of those things) wins all the awards, there’s a place in the world for all of us (at least until we reach 12 billion).
All we can really do is tell stories that mean something to us and that we’re compelled to tell. Instead of reaching for the golden idol just yet, look around to your community and start small if you need to. Tell stories that are worth telling and are within your means to tell.
Because after all, not every story has to have an epic tragedy or dastardly villain… just the ones that win Oscars.