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‘Holding an Oscar is very much like holding Harry Potter’s wand. It’s magical’

Director Malcolm Clarke, right, with producer Nicholas Reed and their Oscars for best documentary short film for The Lady in Number 6: Music Saved My Life.


Filmmaker Malcolm Clarke confirms there was something a bit surreal about waking up in a Los Angeles hotel room after a night of partying, with an Oscar on the bedside table.

"He was squinting at me a bit," says Clarke. "It's been a while since I've had a man in my room. And he's naked, too."

Montreal-based Clarke directed the film The Lady in Number 6: Music Saved My Life, which won the Oscar Sunday night in the best short documentary category.

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The film delves into the memories of Alice Herz Sommer who, at 110, was the oldest living Holocaust survivor. She died but one week prior to Oscar night, as Clarke mentioned in his acceptance speech.

This was Clarke's second Oscar win and third nomination; he won for You Don't Have to Die in 1989 and was nominated in the best-feature-documentary category in 2003 for Prisoner of Paradise. He says there's still a learning curve at No. 2. "Well, we didn't want to jinx things, so [producer] Nicholas Reed and I decided not to write up a speech in advance. That was crazy. When they called our names and I was walking up onto stage, my knees turned to jelly. I have no recollection of what I said. I'll have to go to YouTube to see my speech."

After making a speech, Oscar winners are hurried backstage, and there, Clarke says, you watch as the metal plate with your name engraved is screwed onto the Oscar by a technician. "I guess they do that to maintain secrecy about who won."

Clarke says after the ceremony ended, he and Reed went to the main party, but they couldn't take the other members of the Lady in Number 6 filmmaking team, as only those with Oscars can attend. "We spent some time there, but then went over to the Vanity Fair party," he says. "And we were able to get everyone from our team in. You can't really get in there unless you're a star or holding an Oscar. Holding an Oscar is very much like holding Harry Potter's wand. It's magical. The seas part for you. And I had a nice chat with John Travolta."

Attitudes toward documentary filmmaking have changed quite radically since Clarke accepted his first Oscar in '89. "Back then, there was this movement in the academy to drop the documentary categories altogether. Amazing to think that, but there was. Documentaries didn't make money and people tended to think of them as filler for TV. So when I accepted that Oscar I was thanking the academy for keeping the categories in place."

Now, he says, "documentaries have become far more ubiquitous. In a way, they've become more democratic, because the equipment is cheaper and they are easier to distribute online. But it's much harder to make money from them now. The funding pie is split in 1,000 different pieces. They are much harder to monetize."

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