Sean Fine, with wife Andrea Nix Fine, shows D.C. pride on Oscars night
By Robert Samuels,
Her dress was white with long, black streaks, a Liancarlo, from a designer based in Miami. His tux was roomy and simple, a Zegna, from the designer based in Rome. But his socks were gaudy burgundy and gold, inspired by a hero from Washington.
When Sean Fine and his wife and co-director, Andrea Nix Fine, ascended the Dolby Theatre stage’s stairs Sunday to collect the Academy Award for best documentary short for “Inocente,” those burgundy-and-gold socks had the words “no pressure no diamonds” stitched on them. That’s a phrase made famous by Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III.
“I just love that guy, my entire family does,’’ said Sean, 40. “I just have this sense of pride about being from Washington. And its a different type of pride because I’m a third-generation Washingtonian.”
The Fines — Chevy Chase residents, husband and wife, parents, co-directors, Oscar winners. Their film, “Inocente,” an uplifting story about a homeless teenager who finds refuge in art, is based in San Diego, but the Fines edited it in their basement.
And ever since presenter Jamie Foxx laughed with Andrea about her tripping on the way up to the podium to receive her trophy (she Jennifer Lawrenced before Jennifer Lawrence), the couple has been tasting the ambrosia of newfound celebrity. Security let them into the uber-exclusive Vanity Fair party after a simple flash of the golden statues. They hung out with Steven Tyler from Aerosmith. Director Quentin Tarantino apparently loves them.
“Congratulations, man,’’ Sean recalls the “Django Unchained” director saying. “That was a great speech, man.”
This awards season, much has been made about Hollywood capturing stories of a Washington. The Fines’ story is of Washington capturing Hollywood.
“This world is very much a New York and L.A. world,’’ said Andrea, 41. “You don’t think about it as much until you get there that you’re based somewhere that’s very different.”
Added Sean, who grew up in the Palisades: “But you have to have a home. How do you stay grounded?”
They met in the District, while both worked on films for National Geographic. They started dating, soon fell in love and have been working together since getting married in 2003.
Their relationship is strikingly similar to that of Sean’s parents, Paul and Holly Fine, who met while working on broadcast news for what’s now WJLA. Paul, a producer, and Holly, an editor, worked together to create documentaries for “60 Minutes” and “Primetime,” winning four Peabody Awards.
Paul Fine, 67, was inspired by his dad: The late Nate Fine — Sean’s grandfather — served as the official photographer of the Washington Redskins for 51 years, and earned two Super Bowl rings with the team.
In fact, Sean was wearing his grandfather’s 1983 Super Bowl ring when he and his wife were nominated for their first Oscar, for “War/Dance,” a 2007 documentary about Ugandan refugees.
Wearing the ring to the ceremony five years ago just added to that night’s pressure. He was afraid he’d lose the heirloom. The couple ended up losing to a film about the killing of an Afghan cab driver, “Taxi to the Dark Side.”
This year, Sean decided to show his D.C. pride by wearing one of two pairs of his RGIII socks.
And this time, the Fines won.
It took three years for the Fines to finish “Inocente,” which tells the story of the titular teenager, who became homeless after she and her mother fled her abusive father. Inocente, who sported thick black mascara shaped like starbursts that stretched to her cheeks, flourished as an artist, creating bold, colorful and surreal images on canvas.
Inocente, now 19, joined the Fines as they walked across the red carpet. During their acceptance speech, Sean spoke of the need to support the arts for people like Inocente, who used painting as a form of self-expression.
“I looked down at these famous people, and they were silent, they were listening,’’ he said. “And if they were listening I can only imagine who else might have heard us. I know it sounds crazy or cheesy, but maybe we might have made a difference.”
It only reinforced the bond that Sean and Andrea have found with each other — supportive partners who share a similar film aesthetic.
“We’re both directors, and that’s a hard thing to do,’’ Andrea said. “But we really do think as one unit. Marriage makes things easier for us. But it would be really hard for us if we weren’t in a marriage that was secure and solid.”
Sean Fine’s parents served as role models on how to maintain a healthy relationship inside and outside the cutting room. From Paul and Holly, Sean said he learned about the art of negotiation and support, even when times were rough.
“We tried to leave the work in the office, but I know it crept in all the time at home,’’ Holly said. “But I think he saw that we were happy together. And that’s what he wanted in his relationship.”
On Oscar night, Paul and Holly held a small party for about a dozen people in their Maryland home, about 50 miles north of Washington. Holly made cheesecake, popped popcorn and chilled champagne.
“I can see my influence in the film,’’ said Paul, who can remember Sean fiddling with cords and a toy cameras as a child. “I felt like I directed the film myself.”
In some ways, they were the typical nervous parents. But they say they understood what Sean and Andrea must have been going through on a deeper level; as producers who’ve labored through Emmy and Peabody ceremonies, they remember how deflating it can be to lose an award honoring your best work.
The torturous waiting didn’t last long; the best documentary short category was the ninth award given, a little before 9:40 p.m. As actress Kerry Washington announced “Inocente” as the winner, Holly recalled that the room exploded.
“I even forgot to bring out the champagne,” she recalled the next day, still hoarse.
Later on Sunday night, Sean and Andrea got the chance to call their parents. The rooms, in Los Angeles and in Maryland, were so boisterous that it was hard to hear anything. But as one filmmaker talked to another, father to son, one message didn’t even need to be explicitly stated.
They’d both share a similar anecdote later. That night, as Sean and his wife went to the stage, they both felt the presence of Nate Fine watching over them. He taught them both to love the Redskins and the camera lens, starting a legacy of filmmaking in the only region they’d feel comfortable calling home.