Colorado is fired up for an Oscar win.
Last year’s biggest statewide entry in the Academy Awards was “Don’t Look Up,” the ecological fable/comedy directed by former Denverite Adam McKay (“Anchorman,” “The Big Short”) and co-written by Denver’s David Sirota. It lost in all four categories for which it was nominated — including Best Motion Picture of the Year — but there’s hope again in 2023.
“Hollywood has a way of making the ceremony feel really humbling,” said Denver producer Shane Boris, who will attend the Oscars this weekend thanks to nominations for two separate titles. “We never make these even thinking an Oscar is possible.”
“These” are the documentaries “Fire of Love” and “Navalny,” two very different projects that share Boris as a producer. Boris, in fact, is the only person in Oscars history other than Walt Disney to be nominated in the Documentary category twice in the same year, according to a publicist. Disney was nominated in 1942 for “The Grain That Built a Hemisphere” and “The New Spirit.”
Back then the category contained a whopping 25 nominees. It now includes only five titles, making Boris’ double showing all the more impressive.
“The most important part of the awards is raising the profile of the important issues these films address,” said Boris, who graduated from Colorado Academy in 2000 and splits his time between Colorado and California, on a video call.
The annual Academy Awards telecast, which airs at 6 p.m. MT on Sunday, March 12, will be the biggest stage yet for Boris’ pair of nominated docs.
“Fire of Love” tells the love story of volcanologists Katia and Maurice Krafft, who produced spectacular footage and insights about volcanoes before dying together in a volcanic explosion in 1991. The acclaimed National Geographic movie, directed by Sara Dosa, is an eye-catcher on the Disney+ streaming homepage, giving it massive audience reach.
Director Daniel Roher’s “Navalny” examines Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who was poisoned in 2020 in an attack that is suspected to have come directly from Vladimir Putin. Navalny remains a political prisoner in Russia, having spent most of the 21st century attempting to break Russian leadership’s authoritarian stranglehold on its people. A joint venture of HBO and CNN Films, “Navalny” is currently streaming on HBO Max.
Boris’ other Academy Award nomination came with “The Edge of Democracy,” a Brazilian film (also directed by Dosa) that missed its win in 2020, and is still available to stream on Netflix. His current titles flow in the same vein in their attempts to expand the boundaries of what documentaries can be, whether that’s a scientific love story or a thriller that just happens to be true.
Searchlight Pictures earlier this month confirmed that “Fire of Love” is getting adapted into a narrative feature, with Boris on board as producer, according to IndieWire.
“They’re captivating, but very urgent and issue-driven,” Boris said of his documentaries. “With ‘Fire of Love’ in particular, we took so many pieces from French New Wave and films like ‘Y Tu Mama Tambien’ and so many different books. I feel like the Colorado cultural and art scene definitely influenced that.”
Boris is quick to credit Colorado’s 20th-century cultural history alongside his creative peers and the artistic friends he had growing up in Denver. Whereas some state expats have sheepishly apologized for or denigrated Colorado’s isolated geography and Western roots, Boris sees avant garde artists and pioneers. That includes experimental filmmaker and former University of Colorado Boulder professor Stan Brakhage, whose eponymous award is presented each year at Denver Film Festival, as well as Chicano muralists, composers, designers and sculptors.
“It was always a part of my life and childhood to just hear their visionary ideas and understand them and crystalize them and do anything I could to help bring them into existence,” he said. “But I also learned an appreciation for nature and the sentience of the natural world that informs a lot of the work I care about. That’s just time in the mountains plus time with the Colorado sky.”
Boris’ deep resume and passion for justice, be it ecological, social or political, has already taken him to the other major awards shows of the industry, this year and in the past. He enjoys networking with other creatives and hearing why they’re passionate about their work. And he’s glad to contribute to Colorado’s growing documentary scene, exemplified by companies such as acclaimed director Jeff Orlowski’s Exposure Labs (“Chasing Coral,” “Chasing Ice,” “The Social Dilemma”).
“Oftentimes there are love stories in the Best Picture nominees, but there isn’t one this year,” he said. “So it feels pretty amazing to have a story about love for each other, and the planet, in the documentary category. No matter what happens, if it helps people to express their deeper love for one another and be more inclined to care for the planet that sustains us, we’re touched beyond belief.”
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