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by Eugene Hernandez
January 7, 2008 7:04 AM
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15 Documentaries Named to New Shortlist; Festival Programmers, Doc Insiders Unveil New Nonfiction Aw

Scenes from "The Monastery," "Lake of Fire," "Sicko," "Zoo" and "Manda Bala."

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' recent announcement of the short list of films competing for the best documentary Oscar stirred frustration among a community of filmmakers and insiders back in November. Fueled by online discussion via blogs, a coalition within the nonfiction and film festval community is launching a new outlet to celebrate the best documentary films of the year. Seeking to challenge the results of other institutions, filmmaker AJ Schnack, a vocal critic of the Oscar list, has enlisted the support of online independent film distributor IndiePix and the opinions of a host of North American film festival programmers to launch a new nonfiction filmmaking awards event, set for March 18, 2008 at IFC Center in New York City.

"In November, when the Oscar short list came out, it seemed to so many people that it was not reflective of the year we all experienced in documentary," said Schnack, whose "Kurt Cobain About A Son," during a conversation with indieWIRE on Friday. He secured the support of IndiePix and enlisted Toronto International Film Festival doc programmer Thom Powers to co-chair the new awards event.

Joining Powers selecting the nominees in eight categories, ranging from best doc, best international feature, and best debut feature as well as best achievement in directing, producing, editing, cinematography, graphics and animation, are a group of film festival programmers. Committee members along with Toronto's Thom Powers include Phoebe Brush (Full Frame), Matt Dentler (SXSW), Sean Farnel (Hot Docs), Tom Hall (Sarasota), David Kwok (Tribeca), Cara Mertes (Sundance), David Nugent (Hamptons), Rachel Rosen (Los Angeles), Sky Sitney (SilverDocs), David Wilson (True/False) and Brit Withey (Denver).

While Schnack and IndiePix will annouce the nominees and the name of the new awards later this month during the Sundance Film Festival, this weekend they unveiled a short list of their own, naming the 15 films competing for outstanding achievement in nonfiction filmmaking:

"Billy the Kid," directed by Jennifer Venditti
"Deep Water," directed by Louise Osmond and Jerry Rothwell
"The Devil Came on Horseback," directed by Ricki Stern and Anne Sundberg
"Ghosts of Cite Soleil," directed by Asger Leth
"In the Shadow of the Moon," directed by David Sington
"Into Great Silence," directed by Philip Groning
"Lake of Fire," directed by Tony Kaye
"Manda Bala (Send a Bullet)," directed by Jason Kohn
"Manufactured Landscapes," directed by Jennifer Baichwal
"The Monastery - Mr. Vig and the Nun," directed by Pernille Rose Gronkjær
"No End in Sight," directed by Charles Ferguson
"Sicko," directed by Michael Moore
"Taxi to the Dark Side," directed by Alex Gibney
"The Unforeseen," directed by Laura Dunn
"Zoo," directed by Robinson Devor

The shortlist was culled from a roster of 76 eligible films, based on criteria that included theatrical release, a certain amount of film festival play, and a level of box office success. Schnack removed his own "About A Son" from consideration, but "Billy The Kid," which was co-financed and produced in part by IndiePix, remains eligible. Schnack told indieWIRE on Friday that the festival programmers did not know about IndiePix's involvement in the event at the time they cast their nomination votes.

The winners of the new Honors in Nonfiction Filmmaking will be selected by a larger pool of voters, including filmmakers, distributors, programmers and writers, according to an announcement being made today by Schnack and IndiePix. More details about the new awards are available on the IndiePix website.

"When that Oscar short list post came out, [AJ Schnack] was calling for this new movement in nonfiction film and [new ways of] thinking about non fiction film," explained the company's Danielle DiGiacomo, during the conversation with indieWIRE, "We are trying to position IndiePix as as compay that really supports filmmakers and innovative thinking about filmmaking." Continuing, she sought to draw a contrast with the way the Oscars are chosen, adding, "One of the things that we are really stressing here is the transparency of these awards [and] and openness about the nomination committee."

Noting that other organizations seem to emphasize content and issue-driven work rather than focus on the art of nonfiction film, AJ Schnack explained that the new documentary awards were designed as, "a way to focus on some of the craft elements in non-fiction filmmaking."

"You can only bitch about documentaries not getting their due for so long before you have to do something," event co-chair Thom Powers told indieWIRE today. "The various pre-existing awards each have their strengths, but none seem to be reflecting the depth and range of talent that I witnessed in 2007. That feeling was shared my many doc makers I talked to. I think this honor is a nice complement to the others."

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9 Comments

  • ben collins1 | August 26, 2008 6:46 AMReply

    I think it is a mistake to only recruit the top doc programmers at each major fest. Having been in the business I know that programming is just as "political" as the Oscars. I'm not saying the festivals you list aren't wonderful, and important, and all that, but simply roll calling the biggest brands (even if they are "off-beat") is a step towards homogenization, and a step towards the same nepotizm/inbreeding problems that plague the tired Oscars short list every year. You must diversify or include a larger amount of people in your choices to be "truly indie". Power corrupts. You must also do your reasearch. The most cumulatively honored film of last year, Darius Goes West, is not mentioned in this article. It completely dominated critical and popular categories last year. Here is a link to the critical trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t2yoOlicmww

    I mention it, because it won my festival---which actually proves my point.
    Only enlisting film festival programmers will inevitably slip into self serving practices.

  • aj schnack | January 9, 2008 9:45 AMReply

    I respond to Betsy McLane's comments in depth on my blog, but I want to specifically respond here to her charge that the shortlist is "very 'North-America' centric". Four of the 15 films on this new shortlist hail from outside of North America. Only one of the 15 Oscar shortlist films did. Only one of the 10 films on the IDA shortlist did. Nowhere have I seen McLane argue that the International Documentary Association (an organization she ran for many years and still is closely aligned with) should have to change its name to the North American Documentary Association over its failure to shortlist more international films. I'm not sure what prompted McLane to make such a curious charge, but I wanted to clarify that - while our awards may be imperfect, particularly with an accelerated schedule - this particularly accusation was pretty off the mark.

  • documentarydiva | January 8, 2008 7:48 AMReply

    Terrific that peole have taken it into their own hands to recognize good documentaries that deseerve attention! It should be clear by now, however, to all filmmakers that AMPAS is a private club that can select films for any short-list, nomination or award that its members choose, without regard for "doing the right thing." Many people who vote on the AMPAS shortlist are very concerned with craft and art. Most, after all, are documentarians. It is also a grave error to state that most awards are given for content solely, rather than craft or artistry. Many, such as those given by WGA, DGA, the NewYork and LA film critics, many festival juries and esoecially the IDA, give equal or greater weight to craft and art. As someone who has served on juries, including SUNDANCE, and as the curent point person for the very much artistry based,IDA Pare Lorentz Award, I know that content is only a part of the decision-making process. The list is also very "North-America" centric, with very few films from any other region. Future lists might well include titles from other parts of the world, or the name should be changed to reflect its North American basis. And although it is good for recognition, do we really need more awards that speak mainly to the documentary or festival community community?

    Betsy A McLane documentarydiva.com

  • documentarydiva | January 8, 2008 7:48 AMReply

    Terrific that peole have taken it into their own hands to recognize good documentaries that deseerve attention! It should be clear by now, however, to all filmmakers that AMPAS is a private club that can select films for any short-list, nomination or award that its members choose, without regard for "doing the right thing." Many people who vote on the AMPAS shortlist are very concerned with craft and art. Most, after all, are documentarians. It is also a grave error to state that most awards are given for content solely, rather than craft or artistry. Many, such as those given by WGA, DGA, the NewYork and LA film critics, many festival juries and esoecially the IDA, give equal or greater weight to craft and art. As someone who has served on juries, including SUNDANCE, and as the curent point person for the very much artistry based,IDA Pare Lorentz Award, I know that content is only a part of the decision-making process. The list is also very "North-America" centric, with very few films from any other region. Future lists might well include titles from other parts of the world, or the name should be changed to reflect its North American basis. And although it is good for recognition, do we really need more awards that speak mainly to the documentary or festival community community?

    Betsy A McLane documentarydiva.com

  • documentarydiva | January 8, 2008 7:47 AMReply

    Terrific that peole have taken it into their own hands to recognize good documentaries that deseerve attention! It should be clear by now, however, to all filmmakers that AMPAS is a private club that can select films for any short-list, nomination or award that its members choose, without regard for "doing the right thing." Many people who vote on the AMPAS shortlist are very concerned with craft and art. Most, after all, are documentarians. It is also a grave error to state that most awards are given for content solely, rather than craft or artistry. Many, such as those given by WGA, DGA, the NewYork and LA film critics, many festival juries and esoecially the IDA, give equal or greater weight to craft and art. As someone who has served on juries, including SUNDANCE, and as the curent point person for the very much artistry based,IDA Pare Lorentz Award, I know that content is only a part of the decision-making process. The list is also very "North-America" centric, with very few films from any other region. Future lists might well include titles from other parts of the world, or the name should be changed to reflect its North American basis. And although it is good for recognition, do we really need more awards that speak mainly to the documentary or festival community community?

    Betsy A McLane documentarydiva.com

  • documentarydiva | January 8, 2008 7:44 AMReply

    Terrific that peole have taken it into their own hands to recognize good documentaries that deseerve attentin! Always a good thing. It should be clear by now, however, to all filmmakers that AMPAS is a private club that can select films for any short-list, nomination or award that its members choose, without regard for "doing the right thing." Many people who vote on the AMPAS shortlist. are very concerned with craft and art. Most, after all, are documentarians. It is also a grave error to state that most awards are given for content solely, rather than craft or artistry. Many, such as those given by WGA, DGA, the NewYork and LA film critics, many festival furies and esoecially the IDA give equal or greater weight to craft and art. As someone who has served on many juries, including SUNDANCE, as an the curent point person for the verymuch artistry based,IDA Pare Lorentz Award, I can assure everyone that content is only a part of the decisoin-making process. The list is also very "North-America" centric, with very few films from any other region. Future lists might well include titles from other parts of the world, or the name should be changed to reflect its North American basis. And although it is good for recognition, do we really need more awards that speak mainly to the documentary or festival community community?

    Betsy AMcLane documentarydiva.com

  • mjacobs | January 8, 2008 7:11 AMReply

    Now that's a shortlist!

  • mjacobs | January 8, 2008 7:02 AMReply

    Now that's a shortlist!

  • genartjeff | January 7, 2008 10:36 AMReply

    I hope the selection committee takes Sharkwater into consideration. The film has won over 20 film festival awards internationally (including Gen Art's Jury and Audience prizes). www.sharkwater.com