Tickling Giants, Sara Taksler's documentary about the work of Egyptian satirist and former Dubai resident Bassam Youssef during the Arab Spring, has reached the shortlist for three Oscars. Judges will vote for the final nominees over the next few days — voting closes on Tuesday, January 23 — and even if Tickling Giants doesn't make the final cut, reaching the nomination shortlist is an impressive achievement for a film that was funded largely through crowd funding, had no marketing budget, and has yet to achieve a widespread cinema release.
Most impressively, Daily Show producer Taksler finds herself on the shortlist for Best Director, although she modestly concedes that it would be a "super duper long shot to go for a documentary and a woman."
Strangely, thanks to the murky machinations of the Academy voting system, despite her directing nod and a 100 per cent rating on Rotten Tomatoes, the movie isn’t up for Best Feature Documentary, but it could have a realistic chance in either the Best Original Song or Best Original Score categories, where it is also a contender.
Paul Tyan wrote both the score and the music to the theme tune, Tickling Giants, while Taksler wrote the lyrics to the piece, and the team have also released a video of the song to try and raise awareness in the absence of money for a high profile Oscars marketing campaign.
The movie may have so far failed to reach wide audiences, but Taskler says it has gathered some fans in high, and unexpected, places: "I expected liberals and fans of The Daily Show to like the movie," she says. "What I didn't expect was the response Tickling Giants would get from others. I got a call from someone advising Ted Cruz, who loves the film and has become a champion for it. People who work with the Koch Network have come out to support screenings. Glenn Beck loves the movie. I never expected the right and left to come together on this. But I've met people from all backgrounds who support free speech and are worried about politicians abusing their power. They want this movie to be seen and discussed."
The recent "Muslim Ban" in the US has also strengthened Tickling Giants' support. "When people watch the movie, they see that these good, kind, funny people are the types of individuals we're talking about when we discuss banning refugees and Muslim immigrants," she says.
Indeed, in the wake of the ban and other recent developments, Taksler says the movie is more relevant to her homeland than ever: "Tickling Giants is a movie about a guy who steps up when he sees power being abused in his country," she says. "I never expected that I would relate so strongly to the politics in Egypt … Now that I live in a country where the president is offended by Saturday Night Live, I'm realising that the stakes are getting high here, too."