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Oscar-Nominated Editors Brought the Past to Life in This Year’s Mostly Historical Films

As much as anything, the task of a film editor is to move the attention of the audience in the direction of the narrative. As biographical stories and historical drama dominate the nominated films in the category, that meant developing deep character portraits alongside factual events, and paying attention to historical reality.

This year’s crop of pics all strike that delicate balance between what’s “true” and “crafted,” and each editor found their own way there, whether the characters were pop icons, somewhat ordinary people, or historical figures.

For Yorgos Mavropsaridis, rookie nominee and editor of “The Favourite,” which tells the tale of a fragile Queen Anne when England is at war with France, sound became a crucial tool. “We experimented with the juxtaposition of sound and image, with the enormous help of sound designer Johnnie Burn,” Mavropsaridis says.

Despite working with documented, factual information, not every editor kept strictly to those details, either because cinematic storytelling wasn’t served by it or because the character in question may have been secretive.

“We did alter the order of the concerts that Queen and Freddie Mercury performed and this was done with the full blessing of the members of the band, because it seemed to work so much better and it would have seemed anticlimactic to do it the other way,” says John Ottman, editor of “Bohemian Rhapsody,” who is also a film composer. “We needed the drama that came from that.”

Hank Corwin, editor of “Vice,” had to delve deep when there was little biographical information about Dick Cheney available. “We could go in and show what the guy did without these human moments, but that would just be hollow and the audience yearns for the real characters,” says Corwin, who has been nommed twice for editing. “You’re craving real moments with the characters.”

Patrick J. Don Vito, editor of “Green Book,” and Barry Alexander Brown, editor of “BlacKkKlansman,” both found themselves telling the stories of characters who were not as well known as a notorious politician, famous royal or deceased rock star. But these characters still walked through radical and challenging times that continue to resonate today. They each felt history with them through their process.

“We’ve seen that movie before and that’s not always a personal story,” says Don Vito, a first-time film editing nominee. “So [helmer Peter Farrelly] purposely used moments that were born out of Dr. Shirley’s story, like you can’t try on a suit in a store like most of us would at that time. In that case, you would have to buy it first, and he purposefully went for those moments in the writing of it because he didn’t want it to be like other movies of the time period.”

Brown, nominated twice and a longtime Spike Lee collaborator, was also looking for new ways to view the early 1970s when African-American detective Ron Stallworth set out on a mission to infiltrate the Ku Klux Klan in “BlacKkKlansman.”

“We knew we were going to tie what happened then to events happening now,” says Brown. “So you have that moment when Harry Belafonte tells that story about Waco, Texas, in the 1950s, as there’s an induction of new members into the Klan, and later we used documentary footage of the violence in Charlottesville and the young woman killed there by the car — and you have all of this working together in the mind of the viewer.”

(Pictured above: Harry Belafonte in “BlacKkKlansman”)

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