There are officially 151 films vying for the Best Documentary Feature Oscar this year. For that huge number of entries, a deadline looms this Friday: That is the last day of voting by the Academy’s docu branch for the lucky 15 that will make the shortlist of finalists, which will be announced in early December. That list will then be whittled to the five nominees. But for many docu filmmakers, just receiving early shortlist recognition would be a huge boost not just to their films but could do even more for the movies’ real-life subjects.
The steady, emotional journey of award-winning documentary Bridegroom continues with its availability for sale beginning today on iTunes and Amazon. But it is an Academy Award nomination — or even just making that shortlist — that filmmakers Linda Bloodworth-Thomason and husband Harry Thomason really want in order to carry their message of love and tolerance for gay couples worldwide. It demonstrates the importance of Oscar for many filmmakers who recognize its worth as a worldwide symbol. “We’ve done the research, and that would be so huge in getting it overseas,” said the film’s writer-director-producer Bloodworth-Thomason, a multiple Emmy nominee who created Designing Women. “Our goal now is to get it into as many countries we can. Even if it is underground, I want to get the film into places like Russia and the Middle East. I think we do have Oscar buzz. We are getting on these lists, but not ever having had it before, I am not sure I recognize it.”
Bloodworth-Thomason has directed documentaries before but mostly in a political vein connected to her and her husband’s long-term friendship with Bill and Hillary Clinton (the former president has endorsed Bridegroom and attended its Tribeca premiere in the spring). This time, however, it was different, and keeping the torch that Bridegroom has started alive is a driving force for the pair. The movie, which won the audience award at Tribeca, tells the love story of Shane and Tom, whose six-year relationship was cut short when Tom died after a freak fall off a roof. But it was what happened afterward — when Shane experienced the ramifications of how people without the protections of marriage can find themselves completely shut out — that shows the importance of marriage equality in its most human form.
Virgil Films has been distributing the movie theatrically — and tell me it is “doing great” — and the docu also has appeared on the OWN network (against the World Series) and Netflix. Bloodworth-Thomason became involved with the project almost by accident: She had been seated next to Shane and Tom at a wedding in Palm Springs and was taken by the couple. A year later, she heard Tom had died in an accident and had seen the YouTube video Shane made as a tribute to the “love of his life”. That video went viral and has more than 4 million views to date. But the filmmaker decided a more in-depth documentary, placing it on a larger stage, could really put a focus on the issue.
Fortunately, like many young people, Shane had documented his life extensively in photos and video. It also was an ironic plus that Tom’s real last name is Bridegroom. It seemed like kismet, the perfect title. So a Kickstarter campaign was started to raise financing, and more than 6,000 people contributed. The film ends with a long crawl listing every single one of the contributors and serves as its own kind of statement, Bloodworth-Thomason thinks. “I think this really is kind of a ‘people film’ now,” she said. “I feel most of those people have probably been discriminated against themselves in some way, and this was a chance to have their voice heard. Some had only spent a couple of dollars, but their name is up there. And it’s funny, but in every screening people have been so respectful that they stay until the last name rolls.”
She said that among the most satisfying things about the film has been positive reaction from unexpected places that proves a movie like this can make a difference. “My favorite was an email Shane got after the video went viral,” Bloodworth-Thomason said. “It was from a man who was shirtless, waving an AK-47 in the air, and he said, ‘I am a gun-toting redneck from Arkansas, but I just saw your video and I cried all day and I will never oppose this kind of love again’. If you can make rednecks cry, you’ve got something.
“I am really aiming this film at the millions of people who have just really never seen what it is they think they are opposing,” she continued. “I think this is a love story for all people, regardless of sexual orientation. I’ve had so many heterosexual people come up to me at screenings and say, ‘I would kill if I could have that kind of love, find that kind of relationship.’ The gay community did not really have a film showing the quintessential kind of love story I wanted to show. That was another goal — to give them their love story that heterosexual people would envy and wish they had. I think that’s the beginning of accepting something, if you envy it.”
With 150 other entries trying to get to second base at the Oscars, Bloodworth-Thomason is just hoping the relatively small pool of voters, overwhelmed by the sheer number of entries, will at least take a serious look at Bridegroom so that this remarkable story can continue to make a difference.