Ethan Hawke flexes a new muscle with the documentary “Seymour: An Introduction”

2015 Film Independent Spirit Awards - Arrivals
I’m not sure Ethan Hawke gets the credit that he deserves. Not only is he a well respected actor, but he’s a novelist and a filmmaker as well, having put out narrative features previously, and now a documentary. Yes, this Friday, his doc Seymour: An Introduction hits theaters, and it’s quite good. The four time Academy Award nominee (two acting nominations and two screenwriting nominations) has never been one to just take a quick paycheck, but this is clearly one of the bigger passion projects of his career. Luckily, it also turns out to be one of the better documentaries I saw last year and remains as such this year. It’s a doc that shows a lot of promise for Hawke in that realm if he chooses to pursue it.

What is Seymour: An Introduction about? Well, it centers around, yes, introducing us to Seymour Bernstein, a famous piano player who now teaches the craft to his students. Hawke met Bernstein at a dinner and was so taken with him, he decided to craft a whole documentary around getting to know the man. He’s right too, as Bernstein is delightful and the sort of figure you wish you had in your life. He’s positive, well spoken, and just feels like a great influence. Hawke noticed all of this and takes it to the screen in order to let us almost get to know the man he’s been able to get to know.

When I saw this back at NYFF last year, it struck me just how engaging the doc was. Usually, we get non fiction cinema about heady issues that leave you feeling sad. Seymour: An Introduction however, manages to uplift you in a way. That’s a nice fringe benefit. I’ve also been lucky enough to meet and talk to Bernstein once, as well as Hawke a few times, so it’s an added bonus to know that the interactions in the doc are the same in real life. These are two nice people who have seen their lives enriched by coming to know and become friends with the other one. We don’t see that in docs nearly enough, at least for my tastes.

Awards wise, I think this could very well be a dark horse for Best Documentary Feature this year. Even last year, I had predicted it before a release date was set. Now that it’s coming out this weekend, I know that it’ll be in contention for 2015. A lot will depend on the type of campaign it gets, but I think older members of the Academy will really be taken by this. It’s hard to know what Oscar voters will do in the Documentary field (“cough” snubbing Life Itself “cough”), but as long as this one gets put in front of them, I don’t think they’ll ignore it. A nomination is no sure thing, but if it gets a nod, I wouldn’t put it past that nom potentially turning into a win. There’s a chance, at the very least.

Overall, I mostly want to stress how good Hawke is at filmmaking, in the hopes that you’ll give Seymour: An Introduction a chance. I can vouch for this one and let you know that Hawke deserves Academy Award nomination number five for the doc. He’s got two acting nominations (Best Supporting Actor for both Boyhood and Training Day) as well as two for writing (Best Adapted Screenplay for both Best Midnight and Before Sunset), so one for documentary filmmaking would fit right in. Don’t miss this film. It’s small, but well worth seeking out. Trust me, you won’t regret being introduced to Seymour…

Be sure to check out Seymour: An Introduction this Friday!

About Joey Magidson

A graduate of Stony Brook University (where he studied Cinema and Cultural Studies), resides in Brooklyn, New York. He contributes to several other film-related websites and is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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