Thursday, October 1, 2009

Port filmmaker takes home an Emmy

Looks like third time's a charm for Mark Davis. The Newburyport filmmaker finally has an Emmy — in theory, at least. Last week, the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences gave him the thumbs-up for "Five Years on Mars," his documentary about Spirit and Opportunity, the Mars rovers that defied everyone’s expectations by surviving five-plus years — and delivered a mountain of data that will keep scientists busy for years.

The news didn’t come during the glitzy, star-studded and mind-numbingly vapid televised ceremonies, but the next day, quietly, away from the cameras, in the “grand ballroom” of an overpriced midtown hotel, where newsies were safe from the prying eyes of TMZ. No matter. Davis, 59, was more than 2,000 miles away, standing at the top of a 8,000-foot butte in Wyoming (“a beautiful, beautiful space,” he says) when they named the winner of the Emmy for Outstanding Science, Technology and Nature Programming — him.

He knew the ceremony was going on, but he was trying not to think about it. He had been nominated and passed over twice before — for “The Curse of T-Rex” in 1996, and “Mars Dead or Alive” in 2005, both Nova episodes. He went to the ceremonies. The first time he wore a tuxedo, the second time a suit. So when he saw his name on the list this time out, he decided to take a raincheck. It wasn’t a snub. He just decided he didn’t want to get his hopes up.

Then, while he was enjoying the view from the Wyoming butte, he started getting a flurry of messages on his cell, which worked only intermittently in the rugged, desolate western terrain where he was shooting for his next project: a documentary about the so-called “bone wars,” a Civil Ward-era smackdown between paleontological superstars Charles Marsh and Edward Cope, a competition that eventually destroyed them both.

He was disappointed to learn that “the Academy” had passed over Mars animator Dan Maas and 2D motion graphics designer Anna Saraceno, Davis's daughter, for animation work for “Five Years,” which aired in November 2008 on the National Geographic Channel. “There wouldn’t have been a film without the animation,” he says. But he enjoyed his moment. “It was a nice way to end the day,” he says.

And about that Emmy ...

He doesn’t actually have it. They said it should arrive — by mail — in six to eight weeks, like something you order off the telly.

And what does it mean in the grand scheme of things? That Davis, who has been making films for Nova, American Experience and National Geographic for more than a quarter-century, will get the recognition of his colleagues and a gold(ish) statue ... Eventually. There’s no big cash prize, so the he’ll be hauling his camera a while longer. Which is fine, seeing how he’s got one project set to air ("Mars: Making the New Earth," which premieres in November on the National Geographic Channel), another show in production (the Bone Wars piece) and another film about the Red Planet on the horizon. “It's hard to get away from Mars,” he says. “It's got a hold on me."

As for the little statue, it’s probably going to travel around a bit until it finds a permanent place to collect dust, probably in Davis’s editing room.

When it finally arrives.

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