Wrestling with Tony and Oscar: Frieda Lee Mock


In the Hollywood Reporter, Frieda Lee Mock takes a very revisionist view of documentary films, and Martin Grove doesn’t do much to stop her.

In 1994, Mock won an Oscar for Maya Lin: A Strong Clear Vision, which hasn’t aged well. Hoop Dreams, directed by Steven James and a box office success, wasn’t even nominated, and charges of cronyism flew. Mock had been the chairwoman of the selection committee for the previous two years. Roger Ebert was one of many who were appalled by the omission and by Mock’s win.

Alan Adelson, an Oscar winner himself, wrote a great piece for Entertainment Weekly (not online), and was interviewed by Carl Bromley in The Nation:

“Many of the committee members at the time considered documentary the real weakling in the cinema litter,” “They had a patronizing, paternalistic attitude toward the form: Documentaries are never seen by anyone until the academy shines their light on it and gives the poor weakling sustenance. There was a sense of mission. They promoted films they thought the public needed. And they felt threatened by an already successful film.”

Admittedly, the Reporter piece is about her newest film, “Wrestling With Angels: Playwright Tony Kushner”, but Grove asks about Michael Moore’s success with Fahrenheit 9/11 and she answers:

“I think so (but I also) think there was a lot before then. For instance, ‘Hoop Dreams’ made a splash and did well theatrically. But ‘9/11’ was a huge blockbuster.”

And that’s the difficulty. FBLA gets the feeling that Mock, who’s in her second term as an Academy Governor of the Documentary Branch, would prefer that documentaries be made by skilled, careful artisans (she’s been working on the Kushner film for nearly 4 years) and not have a great deal of popular success. She really liked Spellbound:

They had a very inexpensive digital camera and they did it with a couple of grants, but virtually out-of-pocket. They cut it in their living room. And it ultimately was nominated for an Academy Award. It was very entertaining and said a lot about America.

Mock got the idea for the Kushner film, according to the piece, when

she saw Kushner deliver a one-minute speech at a college graduation a few years earlier.

He spoke at her daughter’s graduation from Wesleyan.

Somehow hanging around Tony Kushner and his pals, and filming his wedding, sounds more like a PBS piece than Oscar bait.