Chicago director nominated for Oscar in Best Documentary category

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Steve James was nominated for an Oscar for directing documentary "Abacus: Small Enough to Jail." (WLS)

A Chicago director who directed "Hoop Dreams" and Roger Ebert's "Life Itself" will be in Hollywood on Sunday as a contender in the Best Documentary category.

Steve James' "Abacus: Small Enough to Jail," which was made in Chicago, is one of two Kartemquin Films nominations.

This is James' first nomination as a director and he spoke to ABC7 recently from his west suburban home about whether he got excited when he heard the news.

"Well, I didn't like whoop for joy if that's what you mean, but I was very happy," James said. "Judy, my wife, was sitting there with me and she gave me a kiss and she said, 'I'm going back to bed.'"

He added: "For it to happen this time with "Abacus" was pretty sweet and it did make me think back on all of the work and how lucky I am to do what I get to do, to follow the lives of people I find quite extraordinary."

James and the Kartemquin team joined other nominees for the Oscar lunch.

So, was he star struck?

"You don't want to be star-struck. That's not the way to be," he said.

He was at a ringside table with actress Meryl Streep.

"When I met her I said, 'It's so great that the Academy is finally honoring you with a nomination.' It's like her 21st nomination," James said.

Streep smiled at the joke, he recalled.

"I'm sure she's heard that joke a million times and she said, 'Right back at you.' I'm sure she didn't realize actually it was true in my case," James said.

James was Oscar-nominated for editing "Hoop Dreams" in 1995.

"When the guy that won stood up to go collect his Oscar, I was sitting next to him so I was briefly on national television with Judy," he said.

He said he would love to add an Oscar to his awards, but his reward is in telling compelling stories in his films.

"I'm really looking at it as, 'We're just going to have a good time and celebrate being there and we'll see what happens.' It looks like I might get a tux for free out of this, so I'm gonna walk away from this with something. It's my goal," he said.
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