The Crawl: Minnesotans all over Oscars (no, not Diablo)

Star Tribune staff | Updated 8/17/2012

News and notes from the scene.

Alexander Payne

Minnesotans all over Oscars (no, not Diablo)

Following the announcement that "The Descendants" and "The Tree of Life" were among the pack in contention for 2012's best picture Oscar, we caught up with the movies' respective producers, Edina native Jim Burke and Bill Pohlad. Each first-time nominee was low-key, aw-shucks and Midwestern modest to a fault.

In addition to the top prize, Burke's Hawaiian family drama nabbed a best actor nomination for George Clooney, best director for Alexander Payne, best adapted screenplay and best film editing. Getting multiple nominations in key categories "means that the movie has got some wind in its sails," Burke said by phone from Los Angeles. "We depend on these kinds of things: Oscar nominations, Golden Globes. Those kinds of things, along with critical reviews, are what movies like ours need. We don't really make high-concept films, so these are like the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval."

Burke's post-nomination plan is to put as many Motion Picture Academy voters as possible in front of his film.

"I guess it's called campaigning. We take the film and screen the movie for audiences and talk about it later with them. We've found this is a picture that really kind of provokes conversation, causes people to think and ask questions. It's a really great experience."

At his River Road Entertainment offices in Minneapolis, Pohlad said he was "thrilled and shocked" by the morning's news. "We went sort of heads down into awards season," he said, anticipating that "The Tree of Life" would earn cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki his fourth Oscar nomination, but hedging his bets about additional honors. Because director Terrence Malick's film debuted in May, "we thought nobody was going to remember it.

"It's hard not to pick up the vibe. We haven't been in the conversation so much lately, so I was surprised," he said. "When I heard them say Terry's name, it was great, really a thrill" and a hint that a best picture nod might follow.

"We knew we were pushing the envelope. This is a film that wasn't for everyone necessarily. You really don't know how they'll react. But winning the Palme d'Or in Cannes was a really great thing. The critics have been quite supportive and Fox Searchlight did a fantastic job of getting it out there, thankfully. It's harder to get challenging films out there to people; they're not as open to it as they were 10 years ago. But even with challenging material, people are open to it if it has substance to it."

Pohlad's next project will be a historical drama co-produced with Brad Pitt, "12 Years a Slave," based on the 1853 autobiography by Solomon Northup. The film reunites the "Shame" team of Michael Fassbender and director Steve McQueen. Chiwetel Ejiofor stars as Northrup, a free black man who was tricked into slavery. The film is slated to start production this summer.

Burke's followup will be another collaboration with Payne, "Fork in the Road," adapted from Denis Hamill's romantic novel about an American filmmaker visiting Dublin and a dangerous, beautiful gypsy thief. It's scheduled to go before the cameras this year.

But until the Oscars are announced Feb. 26 on ABC, the producers will be promoting their current films and hoping. As Burke put it, "ever since January we've been going to banquets and awards shows and everywhere we go we run into the same people with the same movies. Sometimes they hand us the plaque and sometimes they hand them the plaque."

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