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A different victory for UO: Oscars

March 6, 2018 GMT

In a rare showing for the University of Oregon, three Ducks won statuettes Sunday at the Oscars.

The winners included longtime filmmaker James Ivory, a four-time nominee, who took home the award for best adapted screenplay for the film “Call Me By Your Name.” The 1951 UO graduate and Klamath Falls native became the oldest ever Oscar winner in a competitive category at age 89.

At the other end of the spectrum was Jake Swantko, a 30-year-old graduate of the UO’s School of Journalism and Communication, who worked as director of photography on best documentary winner “Icarus.” The film was his first major movie credit.

Richard Hoover, a 1980 UO graduate, shared an Oscar for best visual effects on “Blade Runner 2049.”

In an interview Monday, Swantko described the surreal transformation of the movie that became Icarus and “perfect storm” of circumstances that helped bolster its success.

Swantko was originally enlisted to help shoot a “Super Size Me”-style immersive documentary in Colorado, where director Bryan Fogel would willingly test how doping would bolster his cycling performance. But it was Fogel’s plans to try to evade detection in official tests that flipped the movie on its head.

“It was a pretty simple idea” for a movie, Swantko said. “It became a once-in-a-lifetime kinda story.”

At a 2014 symposium in Eugene, Fogel met the leader of Russia’s national anti-doping laboratory, Grigory Rodchenkov, who surprisingly agreed to help him with his secret doping regimen.

But the movie dramatically pivots when the Russia’s state-sponsored doping program starts drawing scrutiny and Rodchenkov, fearing for his life, fled the country, assisted by Fogel. The enigmatic doctor would then become a key whistleblower in building the case that would eventually lead to Russia’s ban from the 2018 Winter Olympics.

Swantko recalled Monday that Fogel had low expectations of his initial meeting of Rodchenkov, so Swantko did not even fly out to film their interview.

Yet Rodchenkov would become “the perfect character” and the centerpiece of their documentary, he said.

“We came across this story, got really lucky, and worked our asses off,” Swantko added.

Swantko said the positive reaction the film got at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival was his first hint of the success it might achieve. Netflix later would buy the rights to movie for a reported $5 million.

Still, the best documentary category at the Oscars is an “unpredictable,” Swantko said, and “we knew it was out of our control.”

Swantko said he was just delighted for the movie to be nominated and to go to the Oscars ceremony, where a personal hero of his, Eddie Veder of the band Pearl Jam, complimented him on the film.

It’s a big step up from the fledging filmmaker who, just four years ago, was crowdsourcing to raise $2,500 to shoot a documentary short in Crimea during its annexation by Russia.

“I mean it’s crazy,” Swantko said. Best documentary “is holy grail” of non-fiction filmmaking.

Swantko, who grew up in Sisters, said he knew almost nothing about shooting high-quality video before entering the UO, where he worked for Flux, a print and online student magazine.

“My time at the university was a huge catapult for me,” he said.

Meanwhile, Ivory, best known for directing “A Room With a View” and “Howard’s End,” won for the coming-of-age drama “Call Me By Your Name.” He spent almost a year adapting André Aciman’s novel for the big screen. He made headlines on Sunday for his unusual outfit: He wore a shirt with the face of one of the film’s stars printed on it.

Ivory visited the UO last month for the 26th Queer Film Festival, according to the university’s news site. He majored in architecture and fine arts at the UO, Ivory told attendees, with hopes of building movie sets. But his fellow arts students were derisive of his plans to enter the world of movies.

“If I had wanted to be a great painter or sculptor or something like that, perhaps they would have been more approving,” he said on the website.

Follow Saul Hubbard on Twitter @SaulAHubbard. Email saul.hubbard@registerguard.com.