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'Fog of War' lifts Morris to his first Oscar victory

March 01, 2004|Elaine Dutka | Times Staff Writer

In the highly competitive documentary feature category, Errol Morris' "The Fog of War" walked off with the Academy Award on Sunday night. It was the first Oscar -- and nomination -- for the veteran filmmaker who saw releases such as "The Thin Blue Line," "A Brief History of Time" and "Fast, Cheap & Out of Control" bypassed by the academy.

"I'd like to thank the academy for finally recognizing one of my films.... I thought it would never happen!" said an ebullient Morris.

His portrait of former Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara edged out the other front-runner, "Capturing the Friedmans," Andrew Jarecki's portrayal of convicted father and son child abusers and their computer-class victims, and Nathaniel Kahn's critically acclaimed "My Architect," a cinematic search for the truth about his late father, the legendary architect Louis I. Kahn.

Also nominated were "Balseros," about seven Cuban families boarding a raft for Florida, and "The Weather Underground," in which members of the radical group discuss their 1970s activities.

Neither straight documentary nor historical record, Sony Pictures Classics' "Fog of War" features McNamara offering insights about the Great Depression, the industrialization of the war years, and changes in the way conflicts are fought.

While it was critically well-received, some complained it wasn't the mea culpa they expected from a prime architect of the Vietnam War. "People who hated the man came out hating him more," said Sandra Ruch, executive director of the International Documentary Assn.

"The Fog of War," which has taken in nearly $2 million, is one of three financially successful movies in this year's pack, emulating the Oscar-winning "Bowling for Columbine" and nominees "Winged Migration" and "Spellbound" last year.

And for the first time in Oscar history all five nominees have had extended theatrical runs, Ruch said.

"The life of a documentary, for the most part, hasn't been a theatrical one," she said.

"But as these nominees indicated, that's starting to change.... Most entertainment is fast food, but documentaries stay with you -- and people are demanding them."

Like "Friedmans" and "Architect," "Fog of War" reflects a "personalized" approach new to the category, said Mark Urman, a Think Film marketing executive who specializes in documentaries. In years past, nominees have been observational, using "objective footage."

"After 'Bowling for Columbine,' there was a sea-change in what a nominee can be," he said. "We're seeing the end of the documentary as it's traditionally defined and the birth of a narrative nonfiction filmmaking -- storytelling that happens not to involve costumes and sets."


'If people can stop and think and reflect on the ideas

in this film, perhaps I've done some ... good here.'

Errol Morris,accepting the best documentary feature award for "The Fog of War"

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