On Wednesday night the Cinema Eye honors recognized the likes of Steve James’ “The Interrupters” (Outstanding Achievement in Nonfiction Filmmaking and Direction), the late Tim Hetherington’s short “Diary” (Outstanding Achievement in Nonfiction Short Filmmaking), Mike Mills’ “Beginners” (Heterodox Award for Narrative Filmmaking; a narrative film that imaginatively incorporates nonfiction strategies, content and/or modes of production) and Clio Barnard’s “The Arbor” (Outstanding Achievement in a Debut Feature Film). The first ever Hell Yeah Prize was awarded to Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky for their “Paradise Lost” trilogy.
Charles Lyons was there. His report and the complete list of winners is below (here are the nominees):
The most chilling moment of last night’s 5th Annual Cinema Eye Honors award show came when Judith Hetherington, the mother of the late photographer and filmmaker Tim Hetherington, took the stage to accept the best nonfiction short award for her son’s film, “Diary.”
An Academy Award-nominated filmmaker for “Restrepo,” Tim was killed in Libya last April, while capturing images of fighting between Gaddafi’s forces and Libyan rebels in Misrata when he was caught in a mortar attack. Judith didn’t say much; she didn’t have to. As she left the stage with her son’s trophy in hand, the audience in the auditorium at the Museum of the Moving Image in Queens, stood and erupted in applause.
That somebody died while making a film whose objectives were humanitarian was, at least to me, a reminder of how different the stakes are between the worlds of nonfiction and studio filmmaking.
But even in nonfiction filmmaking, there’s enormous variety, the celebration of which was part of the reason Cinema Eye came into existence five years ago. The event puts the spotlight on the craft of non-fiction filmmaking, paying tribute to below-the-line categories such as editing, cinematography, graphic design & animation, and production in a type of filmmaking that tends toward just honoring directors.
“Documentary filmmaking… in the Academy, there’s one award,” Steve James told me, as he stood near Cinema Eye co-chair, AJ Schnack, at the after-party held at nearby restaurant, Studio Square. “What’s great about this is it treats documentaries as an art form.”
James picked up two of the event’s last awards—for best direction and best nonfiction filmmaking, for “The Interrupters,” based on Alex Kotlowitz’s New York Times Magazine article about violence interrupters who protect their Chicago communities. Despite successful screenings at Sundance last year and at SXSW and elsewhere, the film was not short listed by the Academy, and James reminded me that his 1994 standout, “Hoop Dreams,” had also been Oscar-snubbed.
A coming out party of sorts for documentarians long in the shadow of the slick feature crowd, the Cinema Eye Honors, sponsored by the under-the-radar but emerging Documentary Channel based in Nashville, gave off a cool, improvisational vibe. Co-chairs and co-hosts Schnack and the effervescent Esther Robinson provided the evening’s twinkle in between a somewhat long-winded, though nonetheless compelling show.
Throughout the evening, there was much talk about the new Academy rules for documentaries, and it was significant that Michael Moore, one of the orchestrators of those new rules in his role as Academy Documentary Branch governor, handed James the best nonfiction film award.
The evening featured a virtual who’s-who in documentary filmmaking, with Frederick Wiseman receiving a legacy honor for his seminal 1967 film, “Titicut Follies,” which not only broke formal ground but also wound up being a nasty and notorious case of movie censorship, even as movie screens were ostensibly freeing up.
Wiseman was on hand, as were filmmakers such as Joe Berlinger, Oscar-winner Alex Gibney, Laura Poitras, and such vital figures in the documentary community, past and present, as Nicole Guillemet and Thom Powers.
I cornered Berliner at the after-party to ask about the power of films to affect real-world change, such as his “Hell Yeah” award winner, “The Paradise Lost Trilogy” and his earlier sensation, “Crude.” “The best way to be an advocate,” he said, “Is to honor the journalism.” He continued, “What this award show represents, and what’s good about documentaries, is that there’s every sort of style. Steve James said it best. Documentary is not a genre.”
Robinson, director of the 2007 award-winning documentary “A Walk into the Sea: Danny Williams and the Warhol Foctory,” told me: “We don’t need to be reductive in our search for excellence.” She added that this award show was not about selling films based on anything as simple as subject matter, but rather about “celebrating the craft and the beauty and the rigor” of nonfiction filmmaking.
Outstanding Achievement in Nonfiction Feature Filmmaking
“The Interrupters,” Directed by Steve James, Produced by Alex Kotlowitz and Steve James
Outstanding Achievement in Direction
Steve James, “The Interrupters”
Audience Choice Prize
“Buck,” Directed by Cindy Meehl
Outstanding Achievement in Production
Gian-Piero Ringel and Wim Wenders, “Pina”
Outstanding Achievement in Editing
Gregers Sall and Chris King, “Senna”
Outstanding Achievement in Cinematography
Danfung Dennis, “Hell and Back Again”
“The Tiniest Place.” Directed by Tatiana Huezo Sánchez
“Beginners,” Directed by Mike Mills
Outstanding Achievement in Nonfiction Short Filmmaking
“Diary,” Directed by Tim Hetherington
Outstanding Achievement in an Original Music Score
John Kusiak, “Tabloid”
Outstanding Achievement in Graphic Design and Animation
Rob Feng and Jeremy Landman, “Tabloid”
Outstanding Achievement in a Debut Feature Film
Clio Barnard, “The Arbor”
Hell Yeah Prize
Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky, “The Paradise Lost Trilogy”
(Hell Yeah Prize, given to filmmakers who have created works of incredible craft and artistry that also have significant, real-world impact, to Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky for their HBO Documentary Films trilogy Paradise Lost, which played a critical role in securing the release from prison of the wrongly prosecuted and convicted West Memphis Three. Joe Berlinger, Bruce Sinofsky and Jason Baldwin, one of the West Memphis Three, accepted the award.)
“Titicut Follies,” Directed by Frederick Wiseman, Presented by Steve James
(This year’s Legacy Award was presented to the landmark 1967 documentary, Titicut Follies, a stark and graphic portrayal of the conditions that existed at the State Prison for the Criminally Insane at Bridgewater, Massachusetts. The Legacy Award is intended to honor classic films that inspire a new generation of filmmakers and embody the Cinema Eye mission: excellence in creative and artistic achievements in nonfiction films. The Legacy Award celebrates the entire creative team behind the chosen film. Filmmaker Frederick Wiseman accepted the award on behalf of the film.)