The Iraq war has traditionally been a sort of "third rail" film for directors. Films depicting the war have seen little box office success and not much critical acclaim.
So what compelled Bigelow to make "The Hurt Locker"?
"It was an opportunity not only to live life in the day of a bomb tech but also put the audience into the shoes of those men and women who are going out there," she said.
Based on the accounts of journalist Mark Boal, who was embedded with three bomb technicians in Iraq in 2004, "The Hurt Locker" has been hailed for its realistic depiction of war.
"I think it was an opportunity to be very reportorial and authentic," she said. "What you and I would run from, they walk towards 10,12, 15 times a day. I thought it was a pretty interesting psychology to examine this in a movie."
Bigelow cast three mostly unknown actors as her leads and shot the film in Jordan.
"I dragged them all to the Middle East in the hot, punishing summer sun," she said.
Made on a shoestring budget of $11 million with independent financing -- to put that into perspective, "Avatar" cost approximately $300 million to make -- Bigelow did not have to answer to any studios telling her what to do.
"In making the film independently, I kind of created a mandate," she said. "Three elements which were very important for me were having total creative control, final cut and the opportunity to cast these incredible actors."
Her lead actor, Jeremy Renner, also has been nominated for an Academy Award.
"I think [Bigelow's] very observant and gets into places that most people don't," said the 39-year old actor, who played the daredevil Sgt. William James. "I think that's why the movie turned out the way it did."
While a number of Bigelow's films have achieved popular and cult status over her 30-year career, none has received nearly as much critical acclaim as "The Hurt Locker."
She is showing no signs of stopping, with talks underway of teaming up with writer Mark Boal again for an action-adventure film in South America.
"What film can do is take you on a journey," she said. "It can put you there. And you walk out of the theater, maybe you're brushing sand off your pants because you felt like you were there. That is the great gift of film."