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Elinor Burkett says she and fellow Best Documentary Short winner still aren't speaking

Roger Ross Williams and Elinor Burkett accept the Oscar for Best Documentary Short on Sunday night. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

Who knew short documentaries could pack in so much drama?

Early in Sunday night's Academy Awards telecast, producer-director Roger Ross Williams came onstage to accept the Best Short Documentary Oscar for "Music by Prudence," a film about disabled musicians at a school in Zimbabwe. Seconds into it, his speech was cut short by Elinor Burkett -- the film's co-producer, also named as a winner -- who appeared out of nowhere and took over the microphone.

What was that all about?

"He was sprinting!" Burkett told our colleague Marissa Newhall on Monday. "Most people wait for each other, go up together, pretend they like each other. But I'm still in my seat, and he's up there talking!"

Not surprisingly, there's bad blood between the filmmakers. Burkett, a former journalist and author who splits her time between Zimbabwe and the Catskills, discovered the film's subjects. Williams got involved, artistic visions diverged, a lawsuit was filed, and things were settled out of court.

Elinor Burkett, left, and Roger Ross Williams pose in the press room with their Best Documentary Short Oscars. (AP Photo/Matt Sayles)

Then came the nomination. Both producers said they were under the impression the Motion Picture Academy would allow only one person to make a speech, and they didn't talk beforehand. The tension boiled into an awkward showstopper, a la Kanye West at September's MTV Video Music Awards.

Attempts to reach Williams on Monday were unsuccessful, but he posted his cut-off acceptance speech on his movie's Web site. He would have addressed Prudence Mabhena, a key subject of the film who was in the audience, saying: "We don't always recognize the gifts we get, and Prudence, I'm so very happy to be a part of recognizing you tonight." And he would have thanked Burkett.

Burkett did get her statuette ("I'm carrying it around in a plastic bag, because I have no other way to carry it"), but didn't bury the hatchet: "After you get off the stage there's an assembly line where we're photographed and interviewed together, and Roger would not speak to me," Burkett says. "That's how bad it was."

By The Reliable Source  |  March 9, 2010; 1:04 AM ET
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This isn't hard to figure out. The Academy producers only allowed one of them, and Williams got on stage first no matter any agreement beforehand as to who would take the stage since they both received Oscars. Burkett should have calmlyy waited on the side even if she arrived late from her seat, allow Williams to talk and she would have been acknowledged anyway. Then she could have added her comments, even if talking over the music as is what usually happens when these things exceed the time allotted. Instead, she interrupted him, embarrassed herself, and most importantly her message was lost as to the subject matter of the documentary. Combine all this with the fact that the lawsuit between the two was settled, it's very clear that Williams did nothing wrong, and was even respectful and professional to allow Burkett to babble on without causing more of a scene.

My conclusion is that Burkett is a brilliant documentarian, but also a first class psycho-b*tch who owes Williams and those musicians in Zimbabwe a huge apology.

Posted by: JimGoldbloomVA | March 9, 2010 8:36 AM | Report abuse

You can remain silent and people will think you are being gracious or classy, or you can barge in on someone else's speech and remove all doubt as to your level of class and grace. This woman has neither.

Its all about her. The truth is that the Directors artistic vision is what won that Oscar. She contributed only because she discovered the subjects. If it was left up to her, the vision would have been lost along with that Oscar, so kudos to Roger Ross Williams for keeping it classy and being above the fray.

She is a train wreck and we will certainly hear more from her in the future. Someone will offer to make a reality series about her I'm sure.

Posted by: BriBonano | March 9, 2010 9:13 AM | Report abuse

I guess this removes any question as to why they don't want Sally Quinn at Ben Bradlee's granddaughter's wedding. Gosh only knows we have plenty of these grifter, hanger on, whining, me, me, me types in the arts in Washington.

What gives with Carol Joynt? Between guzzles of box wine she has turned her blog into an homage to Quinn. She also wants Georgetown to secede from the District and has some ridiculous idea that somehow Georgetown is like The People's Republic of Santa Monica. The "Timmy" Shriver rap must have combined with the booze to rot her brain. Doubtful that Joynt would feel comfortable south of Montana.

Posted by: SoCali | March 9, 2010 10:03 AM | Report abuse

The Academy must've wanted to avoid a stink, so gave them two statues. Usually they give only one for the docs.

Years ago, a friend co-produced a feature doc that was nominated. Knowing only one could speak, the lead producer-director & her partner went on stage together, but it was agreed that only the lead would speak. (BTW, she got booed when she criticized Bush Senior -- that's how long ago this was).

They also agreed that my friend & the other co-producer would stand next to the stage where they were mentioned & seen and they'd all go back together to speak to the press.

They got only one statue. And, my friend did not "win an Academy Award" but can say she's "produced an Academy Award winning film."

Posted by: dadada | March 9, 2010 10:05 PM | Report abuse

A friend of mine's sister once collected an Oscar for a documentary for which she had nothing to do in the production. She got the rights as part of a divorce settlement but there she was all gussied up thanking the Academy. We howled, she too was a beatch on wheels!

I agree about that Georgetown scene. It really seems retro in how awash it is in booze. If you read Joynt's blog (which indeed does have some strange old tape of the Bradlees - it was painful to watch even a few minutes of it - old Ballbuster running the show and the poor kid looking like a deer in the headlights every time she corrected or interrupted him - non-stop - and poor Ben, if anybody ever looked deperate for a rock, any rock, to crawl under that man did - and ballbuster really looks like an alky - someone should advise that woman about the benefits of good lighting to the sallow set) anyhow, on Joynt's blog she is always having wine, running off to have wine, coming back from having wine, meeting someone for wine, buying wine, stealing wine, sleeping with some .... for wine....running to catch up because of wine related delays, etc., etc.
Whine, wine, whine, wine, whine, wine....

When people get sober and go into AA they often comment on how much time it adds back into their lives....might be worth a try.

Posted by: ManOpener | March 9, 2010 11:57 PM | Report abuse

I must say in reviewing more of that Quinn Bradlee taping that Carol Joynt is reasonably good at her job and she does have lovely skin, a plus for TV.

Posted by: ManOpener | March 10, 2010 12:05 AM | Report abuse

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