Hale County, Minding the Gap, Of Fathers and Sons also make grade in documentary features category
The Oscar nominations brought delight to Hale County, Alabama Tuesday, but no joy in Mister Rogers' Neighborhood.
Hale County This Morning, This Evening, a poetic exploration of African-American life in the rural South, claimed one of the coveted five nominations for feature documentary, earning recognition for director RaMell Ross and producers Joslyn Barnes and Su Kim. It was Barnes' second Oscar-nomination in a row, coming off last year's Strong Island. Ross is a first-time filmmaker.
Hale County did not have major studio backing and distribution, but won the Cinema Eye Honors and the Gotham Independent Film Award, among other honors ahead of the Academy Award nominations. By contrast, Won't You Be My Neighbor? got major distribution through Focus Features and made a stunning $22.8 million at the box office, but it failed to earn an Oscar nomination on Tuesday in one of the biggest shocks of the day in any category.
Morgan Neville's documentary about children's television pioneer Fred Rogers had been considered a lock for a nomination. On Saturday it won the Producers Guild of America Award.
Two major box office office successes did earn Oscar nominations alongside Hale County: RBG and Free Solo.
RBG, the story of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, collected $14 million during its impressive theatrical run in 2018. The wonderful reaction to the nomination by filmmakers Betsy West and Julie Cohen was captured on camera.
CNN's Brian Stelter, citing reporting from his colleague Joan Biskupic, said West and Cohen communicated the Oscar nomination news to Justice Ginsburg, who continues to recover from recent cancer surgery.
The box office hit Free Solo, about climber Alex Honnold's perilous ascent of Yosemite's El Capitan without ropes, claimed an Oscar nomination for directors E. Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin and producers Evan Hayes and Shannon Dill. It has made $12.3 million in theaters so far, just ahead of Three Identical Strangers. The latter film, by Tim Wardle, was considered a favorite for Academy Award recognition at one point, but didn't score a nomination.
Of Fathers and Sons, director Talal Derki's harrowing documentary about a jihadist family in Syria, got an Oscar nomination Tuesday even though the Berlin-based filmmaker spent the nomination voting period in Europe, unable to mount a campaign for his film because he couldn't get a visa from U.S. diplomatic authorities (the State Department eventually relented, but not before the voting window had all but closed).
Matthew Carey is a documentary filmmaker and journalist. His work has appeared on Deadline.com, CNN, CNN.com, TheWrap.com, NBCNews.com and in Documentary magazine.