Documentary short directors Dee Hibbert-Jones and Nomi Talisman on their Oscar noms: 'It's really stunning'
The pair got the bulletin from Jerusalem instead of their local TV station
Dee Hibbert-Jones and Nomi Talisman woke up early in the San Francisco Bay area to watch the Oscar nominations announcement live. The co-directors of Last Day of Freedom got the news they hoped for, just not in the way they expected.
"We tuned into a TV station. We were totally waiting and then the network said that they were going to announce [the nominations] after the break," Talisman told Nonfictionfilm.com. "But after the break the local station actually went into a traffic report and continued and continued and continued."
Hibbert-Jones added, "It was actually very funny because there we are sitting there, and we have a young son too, and the three of us are sitting there in our pajamas watching basically ABC7 News reports for the traffic and we’re like, 'Wait, aren’t we supposed to hear from the Oscars?' And then people start calling us."
Those people were calling to say the couple, who are partners in life as well as in filmmaking, had indeed earned an Oscar nomination in the Documentary Short category.
"The first person to call was my sister who was actually watching in Jerusalem… And she said, ‘Everyone was rooting for you. We’re so excited!’" Talisman said.
"It still doesn’t feel real because we didn’t see it [on TV], we just heard from other people," said Hibbert-Jones. "But hey, it’s fantastic. We’re really thrilled."
Their 32-minute films raises questions about the death penalty and the fairness of the justice system through the story of Bill Babbitt. The filmmakers recorded an audio interview with Babbitt who described taking in his brother Manny in the 1980s, a Vietnam War vet battling PTSD and paranoid schizophrenia.
"Last Day of Freedom, basically it's the story of a man who realizes his brother has committed a crime and his quandary of whether he should call the police," Hibbert-Jones told NFF at the IDA Awards, where the film won Best Documentary Short. "And when he finally did call the police his brother was accused of a capital crime."
Babbitt's brother spent almost 20 years on death row at California's San Quentin Prison.
"He was executed on his 50th birthday," Hibbert-Jones said, with Bill as one of the witnesses. "[The film] is Bill's story and it's animated frame by frame. It's 32,000 drawings."
Artwork from "Last Day of Freedom," the Oscar-nominated short by directors Dee Hibbert-Jones and Nomi Talisman. Courtesy Living Condition LLC
Even though Hibbert-Jones and Talisman had won the prestigious IDA Award, there was of course no guarantee they would get an Oscar nomination.
"It’s like even being in the running, even thinking about it was truly not where we were," Talisman told NFF. "It was beyond anything that you would consider to be in any kind of realistic expectations."
Hibbert-Jones and Talisman said they had been uncertain whether Academy voters would respond to the documentary, in part because of its subject matter but mostly because it was completely animated -- unusual for a nonfiction film.
"We’re like kind of amazed to be taken seriously by the [Academy] doc branch members, so we feel really stunned but also just grateful. God, thank you!" Hibbert-Jones said.
She added, "I read a report from somebody that [said] documentary shorts are hardcore. They really deal with issues. All of the films that are nominated are really extraordinary issues that tend to be current right now."
The four short documentaries nominated along with Last Day of Freedom all take on powerful subject matter:
>Chau, Beyond the Lines, directed by Courtney Marsh, a 33-minute film about a Vietnamese boy with severe birth defects caused by Agent Organge, who dreams of becoming an artist.
>Claude Lanzamann: Spectres of the Shoah, directed by Adam Benzine, a look at the making of Lanzmann's vital 1985 film Shoah.
>A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness, directed by Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy. The story of a young Pakistani woman who miraculously survived an attempted honor killing.
>Body Team 12, directed by David Darg, the story of courageous teams charged with disposing of bodies in the midst of the Ebola crisis in Liberia.
Last Day of Freedom and fellow Oscar nominee Claude Lanzmann: Spectres of the Shoah will screen at the Irvine Film Fest in Southern California Jan. 21. Hibbert-Jones said she will travel to Irvine for that event. But in the meantime she and Talisman were planning an Oscar nomination celebration for Thursday night, one designed to accommodate their young son.
"That literally means everybody has to come over to our house. Because he’s six and he’ll want to be part of it," Hibbert-Jones said. "At some point we’ll him to bed, but he sleeps through almost anything which is fantastic. So basically [it's], 'Hey, come over to our house and we’re gonna get crazy.' In actual fact one of the first things I did this morning was clean out the fridge ‘cause we needed room for drinks.”
Matthew Carey is a documentary filmmaker and journalist. His work has appeared on CNN, CNN.com, TheWrap.com, NBCNews.com and Documentary.org.