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Oscar Smackdown: John Battsek vs. John Battsek

Tim Hetherington

Restrepo and The Tillman Story producer John Battsek has two competing Oscar hopefuls -- "A lovely problem to have," he says.

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Passion Pictures' prolific Battsek, who won an Oscar for 1999's Munich Olympics terrorism doc One Day in September, has two films on the Oscar doc long list this year, or 13.3% of the 15-title slate. On Jan. 25 he finds out if either is in the final five candidates. Restrepo, a you-are-there account of the battle for Afghanistan, got DGA noms for directors Sebastian Junger and Tim Hetherington. The Tillman Story, an expose of the military's shameful coverup of the death of millionaire football hero-turned-Iraq volunteer Pat Tillman, got Battsek his second PGA nom in two years (the last was for Sergio).

"We edited Restrepo and Tillman at the same time," says Battsek, "one in New York, one in LA. They would send me cuts to look at. I made Sergio and The Tillman Story at the same time. It's not that hard to do if you have people working with you that you trust."

Off to Sundance to debut Project Nim next weekend, Battsek savors his dueling contenders. "It's a lovely problem to have. I hope to continue to have it." Some crusading doc types affect to be in the empyrean of truth, justice, and the cinematic way, loftily above the Oscar fray. Not he. "It's a big deal. It's the business we're in. In this business, it's the top of the tree, isn't it?"

And where does he plan to be Jan. 25 when the Oscar noms are read off? "In a hole somewhere waiting for my Blackberry to ring. Not a chance I'll watch the announcements on TV. No way. If the phone doesn't ring, I won't come out of the hole."

Additional reporting by Merle Ginsberg

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