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Montgomery filmmaker comes close, but misses out on Academy Award

Edgar Barens

Edgar Barens

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Updated: April 5, 2014 6:33AM

Edgar Barens admits it: He was more than a little bummed when his name wasn’t called Sunday night at the Academy Awards ceremony in Los Angeles.

“I was crushed,” he said on Monday after I asked how it felt when “The Lady in Number 6: Music Saved my Life” was handed the Oscar for best short documentary.

“I wasn’t in the bathroom crying my eyes out,” Barens added with a chuckle. “But I admit it: It took some of the wind out of my sails.”

That’s because this 53-year-old filmmaker from Montgomery, and his compelling documentary “Prison Terminal: The Last Days of Private Jack Ryan,” had been considered the favorite in the lead-up to the Oscar ceremony.

“I was pretty confident,” he said. “But sometimes it comes down to a timing issue.”

Besides, he noted, “there were a lot of talented people in that theater who did not come home with an Oscar.”

And Barens still had one heckuva time at the event, including the 90 minutes he spent walking the Red Carpet with his mother Teresa and a public relations representative from HBO, who helped him determine which media tables to stop at for interviews. HBO is airing “Prison Terminal” March 31.

The documentary and short feature nominees, Barens said, sat toward the back of the theater to the left. But when it was time for their categories, they were moved to a front balcony, which is where we got a chance to see our hometown boy when the short documentary category was announced.

By that time, Barens said the butterflies in his stomach were making their presence known. And by the time his category was being read, “my heart was pounding and I think my ears sort of closed up.”

To the point Barens thought he heard his name ….

When he realized Malcolm Clark (a previous winner) was called instead, “it was a sucker punch to the gut,” Barens said.

At the same time, because of the relentless buildup to the ceremony, “it was a sense of release” … and relief that he would not have to stand in front of millions of people to recite his blueprint of an acceptance speech.

Barens realizes the fact he “will always be an Oscar nominee” will certainly help him with future projects.

“I just know more doors would have opened if I would have come home with the Oscar,” he said.

The night itself was as “surreal” as he thought it would be. He was able to talk to Meryl Streep at the nominee party; sat next to Bruce and Laura Dern at the Governors Ball following the ceremony; “almost shook hands” with Leonardo DiCaprio, and got a chance to speak to Liza Minnelli, who “sounds just like Judy Garland.”

Barens also ran into an old friend, “Gravity” Oscar winner Chris Munro. He’d worked with him on a Tony Curtis film 30 years ago in Spain. And he ended up chatting with actor Bob Odenkirk.

“Bob asked me where I was from and I said Aurora. Turns out, he’s from Naperville … and he was with his mom, too.”

Speaking of mom: Barens “ended up overthinking” what Teresa should wear as his date to the Oscars. After having a friend bring over an extensive selection of high-priced gowns for her to rent, “she ended up going with her own nice cream coat dress” she brought from home over a little black dress.

“And she looked fabulous,” he said proudly.

After the Governors Ball, Barens said he met family and friends at the Four Seasons, where they hung out until around 2 a.m. He was up at 6, however, because “I can never sleep late.”

Barens will be back in the Fox Valley on Tuesday, and then it’s back to work at the Jane Addams College of Social Work at the University of Illinois at Chicago, where he does research for filmmaking.

A grant, he added, will give him a chance to go on the road later this year with “Prison Terminal.” And he hopes to hit about 50 prisons and nearby universities.

“Yes, I was crestfallen,” he freely admits of the Oscar-miss. “But losing put a fire in my heart. Next time, I’m going to try harder.”

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