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Leave it to the birds to bring home B.O. gold

After grossing over $75 mil, 'Penguins' is front-runner in docu Oscar race

Filmmakers working in nonfiction are a bit like the Rodney Dangerfields of the film business. “They get no respect,” notes Billy Baldwin, president of New York-based PostWorks.

Baldwin should know, as his company’s extensive credits include work on four 2003 highly regarded documentaries including Errol Morris’ Academy Award-winning feature, “The Fog of War,” and Oscar nominees “My Architect,” “Capturing the Friedmans” and “Asylum” as well as 2004 Acad mention Lauren Lazin’s “Tupac: Resurrection” and winner Zana Briski and Ross Kauffman’s “Born Into Brothels.”

Docus are noted for typically making little noise and little money. That truism, however, has been shattered recently with such B.O. winners as “Bowling for Columbine,” “Fahrenheit 9/11” and now “March of the Penguins.” After grossing more than $75 million, the film is the front-runner in the current docu Oscar race.

The Academy started honoring docus in 1941, when “Churchill’s Island” beat out a number of war-theme pics. Since then, the award has gone to “Kon Tiki” (1950), “Woodstock” (1970), “Hotel Terminus” (1988) and “Bowling for Columbine” (2002). This year’s noms could include such well-received films as “Murderball,” “Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room,” “Boys of Baraka,” “Mad Hot Ballroom” and, of course, “March of the Penguins.”

“That’s the category we’re pushing it in, although who knows? Maybe it’ll also have a shot at best picture,” says Laura Kim, marketing VP at Warner Independent.

A picture mention is unlikely, but then producing a film about the life and death struggles of the emperor penguin was always a shaky proposal. “And penguins aren’t even my favorite creatures,” notes filmmaker Luc Jacquet. “But I was so in awe of them and also the whole environment and the incredible odds they battle just to survive, I just had to do it.”

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