Director Kartiki Gonsalves and producer Guneet Monga became the first Indian filmmakers to claim competitive Oscars after their short documentary The Elephant Whisperers won the Academy Award tonight.
Gonsalves gave thanks to “my motherland, India,” as she accepted the award.
The Elephant Whisperers revolves around Bomman and Belli, an Indigenous couple and their “large” family – orphaned elephant calves that they help raise in the Theppakadu Elephant camp within the Mudumalai Tiger Reserve in South India. Gonsalves spent five years following this human-elephant blended family for her Netflix documentary.
“I stand here today to speak for the sacred bond between us and our natural world,” Gonsalves said as she began her acceptance speech, “for the respect of Indigenous communities and empathy towards other living beings we share our space with, and finally, for coexistence.”
She added, “Thank you to the Academy for recognizing our film, highlighting Indigenous people and animals, to Netflix for believing in the power of the film, to Bomman, Bellie for sharing their sacred, tribal wisdom. To Guneet, my producer… and to Douglas Blush, my mentor, and my entire team. And, finally, to my mother, father, and sister who are up there somewhere. You are the center of my universe.”
Several Indian films have previously been nominated for Academy Awards, including Salaam Bombay! (1988), Lagaan (2001) and last year’s documentary feature Writing With Fire. The late Indian filmmaker Satyajit Ray earned an honorary Academy Award over 30 years ago.
In his opening monologue, Oscar host Jimmy Kimmel noted that in last year’s ceremony several awards, including Best Documentary Short, were shunted to a pre-show and didn’t air live (truncated versions were inserted into the telecast). Kimmel said, “You told us you wanted all the categories back in.”
But, ironically, show producers still managed to cut off Monga’s acceptance speech. She stepped to the mike after Gonsalves, but the orchestra by then had struck up music and Monga’s remarks couldn’t be heard.
The win marked yet another victory for Netflix in the Documentary Short Subject category. The streamer previously won in 2017 for The White Helmets, directed by Orlando von Einsiedel and produced by Joanna Natasegara, and in 2019 for Period. End of Sentence., directed by Rayka Zehtabchi and produced by Melissa Berton.
Netflix had a second contender in the same category this year, The Martha Mitchell Effect, directed by Anne Alvergue and produced by Beth Levison.
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