In Documentaries, New York City Trumps Hollywood, Report Finds


Take that, Hollywood!

In the battle for Oscars, New York City is beating Hollywood by a long shot — at least in one category.

A study released today from the Center for an Urban Future, a New York City-based think tank, shows that half of the films nominated for an Oscar in the documentary-film category were made by New York City-based directors, and four out of the 10 nominated films were produced by New Yorkers.

This is not the first New-York-City-is-actually-better-than-Hollywood news we’ve heard this year. Last month, our jokester fashion-loving, Gaga-kissing mayor Mike Bloomberg chilled with the cast of Gossip Girl at a press conference declaring New York City the true film capital of the country.

The mayor announced then that 2011 was the busiest year ever for television production, with 23 series filming this season and shows like Gossip Girl spending hundreds of millions of dollars locally and hiring thousands.

Well, today, New York City film and television folks have another reason to pat themselves on the back, and some might say this is even more impressive (y’know, from a serious film standpoint, not a teeny-bopper die-hard Gossip Girl fan standpoint).

The center’s study, called “New York’s Oscar Party,” provides some simple data on documentary films, showing that the Big Apple has historically dominated in the category and continues to do so. Between 2005 and 2012, 32 of the 76 films nominated in the two documentary-film categories (short and feature) had a director based in the city and 35 had local producers. Compare that with Los Angeles (yay opportunity to shit on L.A.!), which was home to just 15 documentary producers and 14 directors nominated for an Oscar during that period. The San Francisco Bay Area has six nominated documentary producers and eight directors.

New York often takes home the prize, too — over the last six years, local directors have earned half the Oscars and more than half of the winning producers were based in the city.

(This year’s Oscar-nominated documentaries with a New York-based director for the feature category are Hell and Back Again (feature), If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front, and Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory (feature). God Is the Bigger Elvis (short); and Incident in New Baghdad are nominated in the short category).

Jonathan Bowles, executive director of the Center for an Urban Future, told Runnin’ Scared today that this dominance in the Oscars is often overlooked.

“This is a diamond in the rough. For those in the know, New York has always been strong at documentary filmmaking,” he said. “It’s a real critical part of the city’s creative industry, but it often floats under the radar. This is one of those special parts of the economy where New York has a real competitive edge.”

With filmmakers trekking around the globe for their projects, the documentaries don’t have the same economic impact that a big television show based in the city typically has, Bowles said, adding that it’s still meaningful that the filmmakers are living, editing, and producing in New York.

“It kinds of feeds into this whole creative capital…Just like we have designers that are working in Shanghai and Dubai, but they’re basing their companies in New York, it’s good to have documentary filmmakers, who might be shooting all over the world…choosing to make New York their home base, because they want to be near other creative people.”

It supports the growth of the local industry, he said, adding that there’s real potential for New York to encourage further development (through an incubator perhaps?): “This is something that’s pretty special for New York, and I’d like to see New York grow it.”