Documentaries at the Oscars –Creating Visibility with Creative Marketing

Back in the early 90s, one of my clients in Los Angeles was The International Documentary Association. During those years, I learned to respect the hard work and dedication of the independent filmmakers nominated for Documentary Oscars, who got such little attention during the Academy Awards ceremony.  This year, two Oscar nominees – Waste Land” and “Gasland” – will be featured in a Flatbush Green Film series at Brooklyn College and co-sponsored by their Student Center, as well as the Flatbush Food Coop and Sustainable Flatbush. The film series is offering residents a chance to see these powerful films, which have a very short run in theaters.

Both films have had difficult marketing challenges and have heroically innovative Directors whom anyone could learn from.  Lucy Walker, director   of “Waste Land” jokes that it is a movie about garbage, “but if you ask the publicist, it’s about the   transformative power of art,” she told the New York Times in an interview near her home in Venice, California

In fact, “Waste Land” is about the Brazilian artist Vik Muniz, set against the backdrop of a massive garbage dump in Rio de Janeiro. She confesses to having little in the way of an awards marketing budget, and said the prize money the film has won on the festival circuit or through auctioning the artist’s work has gone back to the catadores, or garbage pickers, the film focuses on.  A British filmmaker, Ms. Walker is appealing to the British Film Council, and does get some glittery perks, such as access to screenings at the Soho House in Los Angeles and a party in New York given by the designer Diane von Furstenberg.  She also has several other high-profile fans.

Josh Fox, the director of “Gasland” runs a small downtown theater company in New York.  He has been on a nationwide grass-roots tour for his film, which investigates hydraulic fracturing (or fracking), a drilling process that pumps water and chemicals underground to extract natural gas.  The film explores the charge that it results in environmental and health damage. He is driving his film to screenings at theaters, community centers,  Environmental Protection Agency offices and schools, sometimes sleeping in his car.  According to the New York Times, Mr. Fox does have the backing of HBO, which showed his film last year, but most of the financing for his tour comes from foundations and none is earmarked for awards season campaigning.  In fact, the one reliable source of publicity for the film is from its critics in the oil and gas industry. Mr. Fox hopes that protests in the form of attack videos will help the movie.

When you watch the Academy Awards on Feb. 27, remember to pay attention to the documentary film category.  After seeing their trials and victories close up in Los Angeles, I really enjoy their moment of glory. And if you are in the Brooklyn area, come to the screenings at Brooklyn College Student on Campus Road and East 27th St.  The Screening of Gasland is on Wednesday, Feb. 23rd at 7 pm.  More details are available on the Sustainable Flatbush website at

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