While most of the film industry doesn’t need another awards event, it was clear from last night’s Cinema Eye nonfiction honors that the unsung and aesthetic-minded nonfiction filmmaker deserves a little celebration, a few extra pats on the back, and a community to help them in these dire times — when both funding and distribution are drying up. Cutting loose, doc filmmaker and event co-organizer AJ Schnack (“Kurt Cobain: About A Son”) set the tone early with an impressive musical rendition of Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire” with lyrics inspired by Tony Kaye’s abortion film “Lake of Fire.” Clearly, this was a room full of trusted colleagues, where anything was welcome — although Barbara Kopple’s enthusiastic climactic appearance drew some nervous titters.
Even so, Cinema Eye — named after the equally kooky excitable “Kino Eye” manifestos of the Russian experimental filmmaker Dziga Vertov (“Everyone who cares for his art seeks the essence of his own technique” ) — deserves support. Driven solely by art, not by commerce or self-promotion, the awards seek to offer validation to those who need it most: Working on the margins, stringing togething financing piecemeal and struggling for years at a time on labors of love that have no obvious payday or plaudits at the end, these films and filmmakers deserve a night to admire their own artistic accomplishments. Docs, often shunned as second-class citizens to narrative filmmakers, it was noted last night, are not even recognized by the guilds. Maybe with a little pressure, the American Society of Cinematographers could add a nonfiction category.
Last night’s big winner, Jason Kohn’s brilliant epic essay on corruption and violence in Brazil, “Manda Bala (Send a Bullet),” which I was happy to have seen garner major prizes, nearly vanished after taking multiple awards at Sundance ’07. While fledgling distributor City Lights Pictures is certainly proud of their acquistion, they had no idea what to do with it and the film languished briefly in the theatrical marketplace. Let’s hope the Cinema Eye honors can help the film find an audience on DVD and will continue to give a helping hand to the next wave of ambitious kinoks.