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A Closer Look: Oscar Nomination - The Road To El Dorado?

March 25, 2001 will be the Big Night: the 73rd Academy Awards, presented by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. This year's nominations for best animated short are: Michael Dudok de Wit's lyrically elegant "Father & Daughter," Steffen and Annette Schaffler's moody puppet film "The Periwig-Maker" and Don Hertzfeldt's humorously chaotic short "Rejected." For a few moments when the Oscar for Best Animated Short Film is presented, animation is given its just place next to the likes of mainstream blockbusters. However, while the entire world recognizes the Oscar, what does it mean to an animator and his career? Opinions often vary on the subject. Most directors concur it brings a lot of attention and does open doors. It also gives filmmakers the courage to continue to pursue their personal film quest. But it can also bring jealousy and resentment, or put so much pressure on the artist that his/her next project becomes very challenging to say the least.

Last year's winner, Alexander Petrov, is accustomed to winning awards. He received Oscar nominations for both "The Cow" in 1990 and "The Mermaid" in 1998. Upon receiving his Oscar, Petrov said, "Having been nominated twice before, now I can look at this award without irony. I'm very happy to have received the Oscar as it has given "The Old Man And The Sea" and my earlier films recognition. And like any artist I wanted to be first. I'm happy that the Academy has the category of animated short film, because it gives a chance to independent artists to show their work. This said, I think it's nonsense to dwell on the subject of awards. What is most important is that you do what you want to do for artistic expression and not worry about the prizes." Although he is unquestionably viewed as a master in the animation industry, Petrov was not well-known in his own country, Russia, before the Oscar. Petrov won the Oscar the very day President Vladimir Putin won the election and he jokingly says that, for a few days, he was the second star in the country! But despite his hour of glory, almost a year later, Petrov is still not sure how he can benefit from his Oscar and obtain work in Russia.

Don Hertzfeldt ("Rejected") is ecstatic about his nomination, which was a total surprise to him. He commented: "Until the nominee's luncheon yesterday [March 12], I really hadn't been able to enjoy any of this nomination circus at all. Since the news, it's just been nothing but a string of endless interviews, phone calls, engagements, meetings, radio shows, etc. I guess all of that unpreparedness illustrates what a surprise our nomination was! Thankfully, the luncheon yesterday was a real blast I met some really amazing and talented people - just looking at the faces around the room was rather humbling. Despite being the poorest fellow in the room, I felt really welcome and everyone was really sweet. They even knew our film very well." As for future projects, Don said: "I don't think I will have to worry about doing commercial work ever again, thanks to 'Rejected.' We began production on our sixth independent animated short before 'Rejected' was even completed. It will quite probably be the most difficult film I've attempted to tackle, on an animation and busywork level, since 'Lily and Jim'... Meanwhile, I've been developing a feature animated project that's very close to me at a couple of studios for the last two years, and like it or not, the nomination alone will prove instrumental in giving that a big boost. So we'll see what happens there. Other than that, I'm developing an interesting comic-book sort of project, teaching a course at my old university, tending to the Website, and always feeling really lucky that I'm not dependent on the mainstream industry for my creative outlets."

Michael Dudok de Wit ("Father and Daughter") is equally pleased with the attention he has received with his nomination: "The nomination which my film has received is first of all a huge compliment for the film, huge, and it draws more viewers towards the film. Moreover, I have received a lot of congratulations and genuine joy from friends and colleagues, and from some strangers, which is great, especially after having worked for years on the film, often alone and often until deep in the night. The nomination has also generated a number of interviews, particularly for the Dutch press, which is not really surprising since the film is a Dutch-British co-production and the story is set against Dutch landscapes. I enjoy some interviews a lot when the questions or the interviewer is interesting, but otherwise I accept interviews just because I find it worthwhile that the media turn their attention a bit more to my film and to independent animation in general."

Michael is cautiously optimistic about the future of his career: "Whether the nomination will open doors I will have to see. Being a nominee or even an Oscar winner has by all accounts little effect on finding financial support for the next short film. In the past, I have made a lot of commercials, some poor ones and some I am proud of, and if the nomination helps me to attract one or two really exceptional commercials, I would be pleased. My previous personal film 'The Monk and the Fish' was successful and also got a nomination, and as a result I was invited to teach at different art colleges, which is what I wanted. I occasionally meet people who see short animated films mostly as a step to a more ambitious career in feature films or TV series, who believe that the animator's next move 'forward' should be a longer project. The career person in me agrees with that but the artist in me has a limitless admiration for short animated films. They can be truly exquisite and extremely powerful in the very personal way they touch people. In literature too I notice how for instance a single poem can affect me more than a whole novel. I would love to make many more shorts and I am actually working right now on the storyboard of a new one, but, even so, I am also very interested in the idea of writing a larger project, provided it is a project I feel totally passionate about." Sunday, March 25 will be the night. We wish Don, Michael and Steffen good luck and, above all, hope that each of them will continue to work on films into which they put their talent and hearts.

Related AWN content:

- This year, again, AWN is the place to go to discover all the animation nominees for the Short Animated Film Oscar award. Films are featured on AWN's Oscar Showcase with 15-30 second QuickTime clips, a brief summary of the film, pictures and the director's thoughts. Plus, you can vote for which one you think should be the big winner on awards night. See the creme de la creme, and then express yourself and cast a vote! There's only ten days left!