“Citizenfour” director Laura Poitras was thrilled that her examination of NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden earned a ticket to the Oscars, but she was shocked that “Life Itself” didn’t make the list of best documentary nominees.
It’s the second time that “Life Itself” director Steve James has been snubbed by Academy Awards voters. “Hoop Dreams,” his seminal look at the lives of two inner-city basketball players, was shut out of the documentary race in 1994.
“Steve James should have been on this list,” Poitras said.
“Life Itself,” which looks at the life of film critic Roger Ebert, wasn’t just expected to get nominated. Many observers thought it would win the prize.
“I’m in shock,” said Poitras. “When his name wasn’t up there, I thought, ‘How is that possible?’ He’s a legend in our field with an incredible body of work. I assumed his film would be nominated, so it’s a bit of a heartbreak.”
Poitras said she was also disappointed that “The Overnighters,” a documentary about the North Dakota oil boom, wasn’t nominated, calling it her favorite film of the year.
Despite the omissions, the “Citizenfour” director was still in a celebratory mood, telling Variety that Glenn Greenwald, the journalist who helped Poitras pull back the curtain on the American government’s illegal wiretapping practices, had already called to congratulate her on the nomination.
“This is a film that got made because a lot of people took a lot of risks,” said Poitras. “This is a celebration of that.”
The Oscar nominee said she hoped the awards attention would encourage more people to see the film and engage in the larger debate about surveillance. Snowden, who is currently avoiding extradition in Russia, had yet to talk to Poitras, and the director was not in a position to contact him on a secure computer after the nominations were announced.
“I haven’t been in touch with him yet, but he spends a lot of time on the Internet, so I’m sure he knows about it,” said Poitras.