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Groundbreaking filmmaker drawn by relevance, realism

BY BRANDY McDONNELL Published: March 5, 2010
For director Kathryn Bigelow, relevance and realism fueled her through the making of her explosive Iraq war drama, "The Hurt Locker.”

"Our feeling, really, was always to the give the audience a boots-on-the-ground look at life over there — and life as a bomb tech, specifically, since it’s kind of a war of bombs, that’s sort of the modus operandi of engagement — and to really make a combat movie. Because it comes from firsthand observation, that was the intention of the entire piece,” she said of the fictional story based on embedded journalist-turned-screenwriter Mark Boal’s experiences in Iraq.

Her nail-bitingly powerful "The Hurt Locker” is more than just the best movie to emerge about the Iraq war. It stands out as one of the most thoughtful and thrilling war films in recent memory.

It has been honored accordingly: "The Hurt Locker” has been named 2009’s best picture at the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) Awards, Broadcast Film Critics Association Awards, Los Angeles Film Critics Association Awards, National Society of Film Critics Awards, New York Film Critics Circle Awards and the Oklahoma Film Critics Circle Awards.

The low-budget independent war film, shot in Jordan in just 44 days, is tied with mega-blockbuster "Avatar” for a leading nine nominations going into Sunday’s Academy Awards. Along with best picture, best original screenplay and best actor for star Jeremy Renner, "The Hurt Locker” garnered Bigelow a best director nomination, and she has a real shot at becoming the first woman to take home the directing prize.

After all, she already has become the first female filmmaker to win the directing award from the Directors Guild of America and BAFTA.

"She is one of the great practitioners of the craft not only because of her virtuoso command of physical action, but the way it grips for scene to scene. ... She has a gift for giving characters real emotional depth,” Michael Cain, artistic director of the 2009 AFI Dallas International Film Festival, said last spring in presenting Bigelow an American Film Institute Dallas Star Award.

That Bigelow, 58, boldly treads into cinematic territory traditionally held by male directors isn’t surprising. The painter- turned-filmmaker has taken on other male-dominated genres with her 2002 submarine drama "K-19: The Widowmaker,” 1991 surfer-heist actioner "Point Break,” 1995 sci-fi thriller "Strange Days” and 1987 vampire horror-noir "Near Dark.”

The California native said in Dallas she isn’t necessarily drawn to what some consider "boys’ films.” She just wants to work from strong scripts with "timeless, iconic characters.”

"You just work out of instinct,” she said.


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