Lucy Walker was nominated for an Oscar for her documentary, Waste Land
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Lucy Walker was nominated for an Oscar for her documentary, Waste Land
The true world premiere of Waste Land is a screening for the festival's volunteers, who are the lifeblood of Sundance. At the last minute we had to re-edit the film to take out shots of the young daughter of Vik Muniz,
the artist at the centre of the film, because he is in the middle of a divorce. I'm so tired that as I sit in the back row I can't even tell if the image and sound are in sync. When the first end credit pops on to the screen, the people in the audience leap to their feet, and I moan to myself that they could at least sit through some credits before they run off. But then I realise that they're just applauding. Rapturously. It's a standing ovation. I tell myself it's just the volunteers being their lovely enthusiastic selves.
Sundance and the Berlin film festival don't like to accept the same films, but Waste Land becomes the first film to not only screen but win at both. That was statistically improbable enough. But when we win our third festival, Full Frame, which is a fantastic head-to-head of the best of the year's documentaries from all the top festivals, it's starting to feel like it can't just be a coincidence. It's sinking in that audiences love the film as much as I do.
18 NOVEMBER 2010
THE OSCARS LONGLIST
In the documentary category a long-list of 12 to 15 films is announced, and I am truly honoured that we are on it. It's the most competitive year in documentary history, with over 100 documentaries in consideration, and the list is decided by my heroes, the best documentary film-makers in the world.
25 JANUARY 2011
THE OSCAR NOMINATIONS
The night before the nominations are announced, I am at Sundance, serving on the jury. I've been pretty cool thus far but suddenly, the night before, a lot of people are giving me the nod and the wink, and the pressure is piling on. I'd been longlisted before, in 2006 for Blindsight, but didn't get nominated. So I get to my hotel room late and switch my cellphone to silent. I don't want to be woken up by a consolatory text message if we don't get nominated. Shortly after 6.30am, my hotel phone rings. The producer has got through to me on the landline. My silent cellphone has 20 missed calls and 50 new text messages and it's only five minutes since the announcement.
The nomination means our mission is accomplished. It's been a full year since we premiered here at Sundance, and I've been pounding the pavement doing anything I can think of, up to and including wearing a garbage bag to the premiere, to get this little underdog of a film noticed, distributed, sold, seen, loved. And the nomination is the most tangible proof that the work has paid off.
THE NOMINEES LUNCHEON
All 150 nominees stand on risers to pose for the giant class photo. Then we are called one by one, in alphabetical order, to the stage to collect our certificate and our nominees' sweatshirt. Yes, sweatshirt. It's an early-80s-looking grey sweatshirt, in man's size large. It's not a small large. It's a seriously big, tall sound-engineer-who-doesn't-get-out-from-behind-the-sound-desk-much man-size LARGE. There are no women's sizes or styles. I realise that there are very few women among the nominees, and most of them seem to be the 10 actresses. I'm the only female director in my category And whenever there's a round-up of all the documentary directors, the press tends to focus on what I'm wearing whereas the guys get to talk about their work. Business as usual, alas.
WHAT NOT TO WEAR
I'd hoped for something gorgeous that showed off my arms, in a really pretty colour. Then pretty soon you realise how restricted you are. You have to find a one-of-a-kind sample-size couture floor-length gown – and if you're me, you have to find it for free. One of my fellow nominees spent $45,000 on a vintage couture gown, and I'm not going to do that. I'm fortunate that I have lots of friends in the fashion world keen to help – but still, it's not an easy challenge. I'd been loaned some amazing vintage Celia Birtwell/Ossie Clarke dresses that I loved, and I loved that they were vintage as the theme of the movie is recycling and resurrection, and I am British after all, and I love classic British design. However the dresses weren't considered "substantial" enough. Rats. Fortunately I had a dream email from Diane von Furstenberg, whose clothes I happen to adore, saying that she loved the film and wanted it to win, and would do anything to help.
It's hard to know what to say that doesn't start with I hated the hair, I hated the make-up but by this point you've let go of the fantasy of looking lovelier than you've ever looked and you're just relieved to be getting through it without having a stroke or a car crash. Thank goodness they give you a limo on the big day, because you would without a doubt crash a car if you got your hands on one, and not because you're drunk, but because your mind is blown to smithereens.
I was OK about not winning. There was a frontrunner, a big, important, impeccable studio film about the financial crisis. And they won. But I get 10 concerned texts – "Are you OK?" "Of course!!" I bounce back. When I see one of the other nominees sobbing and saying "I really thought we had it" I realise that it is possible to take losing badly and I'm relieved that I hadn't gotten my hopes too high, even though so many people had believed we were going all the way. Besides, I steal a life-size gold-covered chocolate Oscar from the dessert room (not dessert table, dessert ROOM) at the governor's ball. It looks pretty convincing, at first glance, on my mantelpiece. I'm looking forward to visitors double-taking it – if I can resist biting its gold-leafed-chocolate head off.
THE VANITY FAIR PARTY
I'm with Peggy Siegal at the Vanity Fair party. Peggy is an Oscar legend, the quintessential New York maven and the real queen behind The King's Speech, as she's been hosting myriad high-end screenings with VIPs and tastemakers – and, above all, academy voters. We've talked about whether there might be a documentary film to be made that follows Peggy through a whole Oscar season, and how we might structure it. And this is how. You begin and end at the Vanity Fair party. Last year Peggy had already begun her campaign on The King's Speech, whispering in all the right ears that the movie had tested higher than any other movie in studio history, and was the film to see this year. Now she is on to the next campaign.
THE GOODY BAG QUESTION
I keep getting knowing text messages about Caribbean holidays, and even a Virgin Galactic flight. But in truth the only swag I got was some anti-cellulite underwear (er, thanks!). Oh and a boutique-load of red lipsticks, which I've never in my life worn. So the rumours of nominees' gift bags seem to be exaggerated.
THE WEEK SINCE THE OSCARS
Since the Oscars, if I can get to sleep, I wake up in a cold sweat sitting up with a start panicking that I'm late, or naked, or wearing a rubbish bag or something too primally frightening to even recognise. I talk to my friend who is an Iraq veteran, who runs me through a checklist and determines that I actually have Oscars post-traumatic stress disorder. I believe it.