• Rhyena Halpern

My Film Was Nominated for An Academy Award!





It was 1988 and the category was Documentary Short.


My film, made with Megan Williams, was called “Language Says It All”. It was about deaf children and how being deaf was really more about access to language than it was about not being able to hear.


The film is on YouTube and here is the link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c3-3oZ_CHf4

Out of the five nominated films, it was the second best IMHO. The winner was about the filmmaker’s dad falling in love again at 88 years of age and was a charmer. It deserved to win.


It was fun going to the Oscars back then. I remember seats next to Little Richard and the fun of finding that white leather dress and black leather jacket. I remember my first and only pair of high heels cutting into my feet. I remember my friend treating me to a hair and makeup session the day of and being so nervous I could not eat. I remember lots of bad gowns on inebriated celebrities. I remember wishing snacks were as plentiful as alcohol.


Documentaries were still considered fringe back then. The Best Documentary categories were considered a joke and inferior to Best Live Short.


But we- documentary filmmakers- persevered. We were passionate and dedicated to our craft and our belief in the power of the non-fiction form to create social change. We kept going despite financial problems and career setbacks.


Documentaries have reached a tipping point.


I was so proud today to listen to a show on NPR devoted to what the hosts considered the strongest category in this year’s Oscar nominations. Yep, you guessed it, documentaries!


And the one favored to win, ‘Flee’, is nominated in 3 categories!


When I was coming up as an idealist filmmaker, most documentaries barely got seen beyond the Film Festival circuit. They were considered labors of love; impossible to make a living by; screened on PBS at 130 am; doomed to obscurity. I remember the heartache of years of excellent work by my peers, barely recognized.


But now they are beloved. People even describe themselves on dating sites as ‘lovers of documentaries’. People rely on them as a source for learning; books adapted to moving images. Documentaries reflect and advance our discourse on issues of the day.


I remember when Hoop Dreams broke out. I remember when Ken Burns wasn’t yet a household name. I remember when the Aids Quilt doc received a lot of attention. “My Octopus Teacher” would have been buried 20 years ago. Now it is celebrated, discussed widely and applauded.


So now, I am kvelling, happy to see the evolution of the field as well as the audience.


I think David Byrne got the Oscar that year for Best Song. He said something like its nice to get the recognition but the real joy is in making the work. Onward!

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