(WXYZ) - Steve Bannatyne tells 7 Action News his cheeks hurt from smiling so much.
"It's pretty amazing," said the Port Huron native.
The 41-year-old executive producer now lives in Los Angeles with his wife and daughter.
He told us he was wearing his pajamas when he learned his company's documentary had been nominated for an Oscar.
"I let out a little scream inside," he recalled. "It was 5:45 in the morning, and I didn't want to wake my family up."
If A Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front is up against four other films for Best Feature Documentary at the Academy Awards February 26.
"The film follows a fellow named Daniel McGowan who was an environmental activist who set fire to a couple of lumber companies in 2001," explained Bannatyne. "Our film follows him from the time he was arrested by federal agents until he was sentenced to prison."
The documentary asks a couple of questions: Were these acts of terrorism? And how effective are traditional forms of peaceful protest?
"There's a way to interact with authority. One way brings on the pepper spray, and one way brings on the democratic conversation," said Bannatyne.
Marshall Curry and Sam Cullman co-directed and produced the film. Their names are listed on the actual Oscar nomination.
Bannatyne's company Lucky Hat Entertainment got involved with the film about four years ago.
"It was about these activists ten years ago clashing with authorities. And then not long after our theatrical release, the Occupy Movement popped up, and now it's become relevant again," said Bannatyne.
He said the film has really resonated with people in the Occupy movement – both protestors and police. He said there was even a free screening of the film at Occupy Oakland.
The former Grand Valley State student had originally planned to become a physical therapist.
"After two years I had the realization that this wasn't the career for me," recalled Bannatyne.
He took a year off to find himself, came back, and then realized he still didn't know what he wanted to do with his life.
"I had a talk with a friend of mine who asked me an interesting question. She said what do I daydream about when I drive on the highway alone. And I used to come up with scenes for movies in my head set to music that would occupy hours of my time. And she told me about an introduction to film and video production class. And that was the first time I realized there was a career in imagination," said Bannatyne with a smile.
He said his first "big movie" job was on Bicentennial Man back in 1998 as a production assistant.
He formed Lucky Hat Entertainment in 2007. Its first film – The Order of Myths – won the prestigious Peabody Award.
This is the first time one of his projects has been nominated for an Oscar.
His said his parents in Port Huron are very excited.
"My Dad used to play hockey in the IHL. He played for 15 seasons, and he says he is more nervous for me than he ever was in game 7 of the playoffs," said Bannatyne.
"My Mom is thrilled. I sent her three copies of the movie, and she's passing them around to all of Port Huron," he added.
So what's he wearing to the big night?
"I bought a tux two weeks ago. It's nothing special," he shrugged.
But then he admitted that's his back-up plan.
"There's an off chance maybe I'll get a Gucci [tux]," he smiled.
"Gucci has a documentary fund, and they put some money into our film."
But he's not betting on that kind of luck. He'd just love for his film to win.
You can watch the 84th Annual Academy Awards live on ABC Sunday, February 26th at 7:00 p.m. Eastern Time / 4:00 p.m. Pacific.
DOCUMENTARY FEATURE NOMINEES
Hell and Back Again
If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front
Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory