Irish filmmaker Tomm Moore knew exactly what many skeptical film fans were thinking last week when it was announced that his small film, "The Secret of Kells," had been nominated for best animated feature.
"They're all going, 'What the hell is this film that got nominated?' " the director joked via telephone from Ireland, where he was en route to tape an interview for a local television station.
The hand-drawn film, which has been out in theaters in Ireland nearly a year now, tells the story of a young boy trying to protect the national treasure, "The Book of Kells," from the Vikings. Aside from those who caught a screening of the movie at the New York International Children's Film Festival last summer, the film will not have been largely seen stateside until it begins its theatrical release in Boston on March 19.
Eric Beckman, founder and director of the children's film festival, said he fell in love with the movie when it premiered at his event. The company the film was licensed to at the time went out of business, presenting an opportunity for the festival's distribution arm, GKIDS, to pick it up.
"I said, 'I'd die to handle the film,' and was asked if I'd give it an Oscar run," Beckman said. "I said yes, but the Oscar deadline was three days away."
Beckman and his team managed to get the film submitted to the academy under the wire but had to quickly decide upon a campaign strategy.
"Everyone was saying, 'You must take out a big print ad campaign and spend $200,000,' but that is so directly opposed to what our strategy as a company is," he explained.
Instead, GKIDS put its resources into creating a social networking campaign targeted toward the niche group of animators and filmmakers who make up the academy's animation committee.
E-mail and Facebook blasts were sent out and screenings were set up at animation hubs such as Disney and DreamWorks and at the AMC Burbank 8, which is near a number of prominent animation offices.
Much to Moore's surprise, the grass-roots efforts paid off.
"The phone started ringing after the nomination, and we couldn't believe how well it did," the director said.
"This film is really small compared to American features, so even just being nominated means a huge amount."