For Colette Catherine, the subject of the Oscar-nominated short documentary Colette, April 25 will be a very special day—for a couple of reasons.
“April 25th is Colette’s 93rd birthday, which is the 93rd Oscars…The two dates cross over,” director Anthony Giacchino tells Deadline. “It was meant to be. She turns 93 on the 93rd Academy Awards.”
By a curious coincidence, Colette is not the only subject of a nominated short documentary to be the same age as Oscar. So is Horace Bowers Sr., who along with his grandson Kris Bowers are the focus of A Concerto Is a Conversation.
“The first Oscar nominations were announced in 1928…Horace Bowers was born in 1928,” notes Ben Proudfoot, who directed A Concerto Is a Conversation with Kris Bowers. “So this is a story 93 years in the making.”
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Horace Bowers Sr. grew up in the Jim Crow South of Bascom, Florida and hitchhiked cross country to Los Angeles as a 17-year-old. He built a life there and became an entrepreneur and real estate investor, overcoming obstacles to Black success. He laid a foundation for family achievement that continues with Kris, who is an Emmy Award-winning composer, and now, with Monday’s announcement, an Oscar-nominated filmmaker as well.
Bowers calls the Oscar recognition “really incredible and super surreal,” adding that he feels most excited for his grandfather. “This whole journey and seeing his reaction has been the biggest thrill for me and the thing that makes me feel the happiest and the most proud.”
Skye Fitzgerald earned the second Oscar nomination of his career Monday, this time for his short documentary Hunger Ward. It’s a searing examination of Yemen’s suffering children, who have been reduced to starvation as a result of civil war in the Middle Eastern country. Fitzgerald tells Deadline he felt uncertain whether Oscar Documentary Branch voters would be willing to confront such a tragic subject.
“It’s gratifying for sure to feel like people are willing to look, people are willing to see and hopefully engage on very difficult subject matter,” he notes. “But it’s something we ought to be looking at and something that we can actually intervene on. And that’s what I’m most thrilled about this morning is that with this recognition by the Academy it gives us an opportunity to bring the issue to a larger and more engaged demographic that can really help us end the war in Yemen. And I’m really hopeful about that.”
Saudi Arabia, with backing from the U.S., has inflicted misery while propping up the Yemeni government, imposing an air and sea blockade on Yemen that has kept food from reaching those in desperate need of it. The Biden administration recently said it would discontinue military support for Saudi Arabia’s offensive operations.
“The nomination gives us agency to just raise awareness about what the U.S. government has been doing in Yemen,” Fitzgerald comments, “and how we can continue to put the brakes to it.”
Geopolitics form the crux of another of the short documentaries recognized with an Oscar nomination. Do Not Split, directed by Anders Hammer, takes a street-level view of pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong that have met with an increasingly hostile reaction from Chinese authorities.
A Love Song for Latasha, meanwhile, examines a life cut short in ugly fashion—15-year-old African-American schoolgirl Latasha Harlins, who was shot to death by a Korean-American convenience store owner in Los Angeles in 1991. The incident contributed to the atmosphere of racial tension and feeling of disempowerment among African-Americans that later exploded after the acquittal of the police officers accused of beating Rodney King.
Between A Love Song for Latasha, the feature documentary Time and short doc A Concerto Is a Conversation, several of Monday’s Oscar nominees contend with the African-American experience. The nominations also honor filmmakers of color, including Time’s Garrett Bradley, A Love Song for Latasha’s Sophia Nahli Allison and Concerto’s Kris Bowers.
“It’s something that feels really special that they’re recognizing the incredible work that’s being done by people from so many different backgrounds and especially for the Black community,” Bowers observes. “It’s something that people have been fighting for so long…It shows that the needle is actually moving and that’s because of years of work that we’re just now starting to see the scratches on the surface.”
Colette rescues from obscurity a tragic story of World War II—the death of a brave, young member of the French Resistance. His name was Jean-Pierre Catherine, the beloved older brother of Colette. As a teenager he was captured by Nazi forces in France and sent to a concentration camp—Mittelbau-Dora—in Germany. There, as happened to so many slave laborers like him, Jean-Pierre perished after a matter of weeks, worked to death and deprived of food.
For 75 years Colette has preserved his memory, yet without director Anthony Giacchino and producer Alice Doyard, she might have been the only one to keep that candle burning. Now, the nomination will bring the story to a wider audience.
Giacchino joined Doyard and Colette on a Zoom call to see the Oscar nomination announcement. Colette watched from her apartment in Caen, near the beaches of Normandy that were stormed in 1944, leading to the liberation of France. Giacchino shared her reaction to the nomination.
“She said, ‘I am grateful to all of the initiators of the film,’” Giacchino reports, “‘without whom Jean-Pierre would still be in the “night and fog” of Dora.’”
“I don’t think I could say anything better than that,” Giacchino observes. “What she saw was her brother living on, because of this recognition.”
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