Edward Snowden in Oscar-nominated Citizenfour by Laura Poitras

No, I did not see this coming.

The Oscar nominations were announced this morning and I did a poor job of predicting — only three of the five films on my list were right: Citizenfour, Virunga and Last Days in Vietnam. The other two films that made the cut are Finding Vivian Maier and The Salt of the Earth.

I have repeatedly made my case for Life Itself, and I’m shocked that Steve James’ film about critic Roger Ebert didn’t make it. Never fear though, I bet he’s made of strong stock. After not getting a nod with Hoop Dreams, and everyone making such a stink about it, I imagine James has gotten used to that feeling of being an Oscar outsider. He’ll be back again, and I hope next time he gets the nod so that we can all laugh about it.

As for the nominees… wow! What is that perfect alchemy to getting this far in the race? A documentary has to be more than just a great film; it has to have the right subject matter, the right people behind it, and the right distribution/marketing team championing it. Citizenfour had it all, and is now the front-runner to win. I think the film, which is critical of President Obama’s policy on surveillance, could prove to be a litmus test for how disenchanted Hollywood is with the president.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Let’s enjoy this moment for the filmmakers who have spent years pushing and prodding their way to this point. I sent the same list of questions to Virunga director Orlando von Einsiedel and Finding Vivian Maier director Charlie Siskel, and clearly, as actor Michael Caine once put it, they’re both “walking on air.”

What was your first thought/feeling when you saw you got the nom?

Orlando von Einsiedel: Our team was spread out across the globe this morning but we all connected on Skype to watch the announcement together. There was a lot of cheering! We are truly honoured to be recognised amongst so many brilliant films this year. However, this is so much bigger than us as a filmmaking team. This has always been about the Virunga National Park and its amazing rangers. Today we took a huge step in further spreading their inspiring story of bravery standing up to Big Oil to protect an incredibly important part of our planet for all of us.

Charlie Siskel: My first thought was “What would Vivian Maier make of all this?” She took over 150,000 photographs and never showed them during her lifetime but now the world is finally seeing her art and learning her story. This is the audience Vivian Maier deserves and the one I believe she had in mind when she worked for 50 years taking photographs in anonymity. It is a great day and Maier is finally getting her due.

In five words or less, describe how you feel now.

Orlando von Einsiedel: Gobsmacked. Thankful. Excited. Humbled. Exhausted.

Charlie Siskel: Grateful, proud, elated and sleepy. (That’s 5).

How’d you sleep last night?

Orlando von Einsiedel: I slept well — helped immensely by the fact that I’m deeply jet-lagged.

Charlie Siskel: Sleep? Actors need sleep, documentary filmmakers don’t. No one cares whether we look rested.

What do you think the weeks will be like heading up to the Oscars?

Orlando von Einsiedel: This is all new to us as a team so we don’t really know what to expect. If it’s anything like today, I imagine we’ll run the gamut all the way from immensely excited through to absolutely terrified.

Charlie Siskel: Like the past few months, I imagine it will be very busy with press and screenings and events. I’ve been told it is a whirlwind. Apparently life doesn’t completely change as a nominee — people don’t throw flower petals at your feet and you don’t hear the sound of angels singing everywhere you go.

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Tom Roston
Tom Roston is a guest columnist for POV's documentary blog. He is a former Premiere magazine senior editor, who graduated from Brown University and started his career in journalism at The Nation and then Vanity Fair. Tom's freelance work has appeared in The New York Times, The Guardian, The Los Angeles Times, The Hollywood Reporter and other publications. He has written several Kindle Singles, including the bestselling Kindle Singles Interview: Ken Burns. Tom's current list of favorite documentaries are: 1. Koyanisqaatsi by Godfrey Reggio; 2. Hoop Dreams by Steve James; 3.Stories We Tell by Sarah Polley; 4.Crumb by Terry Zwigoff; 5. Montage of Heck by Brett Morgen