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Exclusive: Cinema Eye Names the Most Notable and Significant Documentary Subjects of the Year

By Sarah Salovaara | Indiewire October 22, 2013 at 5:45PM

Film is so often categorized as a collaborative medium. Beyond the cohesion of the crew, the creative energy and understanding between a director and his or her performers can elevate the blueprint material to new heights. That's all well and acknowledged in the world of narrative filmmaking, but what of the documentary? In a form ruled by the role of the voyeur, it seems that documentary subjects seldom receive their due share of plaudits. And so, Cinema Eye, the organization behind the annual nonfiction awards ceremony Cinema Eye Honors, has compiled its inaugural list of "The Unforgettables," a new category that will pay tribute to this year's notable faces of documentary film. The focus of 15 distinct films, these 17 people (and one bull orca) were selected by votes from more than 80 of this year’s eligible filmmakers as well as Cinema Eye’s nominations committee, which is comprised of 25 of the world’s top documentary film programmers and curators.
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Lisa Fischer from "20 Feet From Stardom"
RADiUS-TWC Lisa Fischer from "20 Feet From Stardom"

Film is so often categorized as a collaborative medium. Beyond the cohesion of the crew, the creative energy and understanding between a director and his or her performers can elevate the blueprint material to new heights. That's all well and acknowledged in the world of narrative filmmaking, but what of the documentary? In a form ruled by the role of the voyeur, it seems that documentary subjects seldom receive their due share of plaudits. And so, Cinema Eye, the organization behind the annual nonfiction awards ceremony Cinema Eye Honors, has compiled its inaugural list of "The Unforgettables," a new category that will pay tribute to this year's notable faces of documentary film. The focus of 15 distinct films, these 17 people (and one bull orca) were selected by votes from more than 80 of this year’s eligible filmmakers as well as Cinema Eye’s nominations committee, which is comprised of 25 of the world’s top documentary film programmers and curators.

"Documentaries often live and die by the degree to which a subject will allow a filmmaker to come into their lives and record often private events for very public viewing," said Cinema Eye Founding Director AJ Schnack. "With this list, we hope to encourage the discussion of the subject’s role in the filmmaking process and to publicly acknowledge the rich collaborations that often take place between subjects and filmmakers.” Added Cinema Eye Honors Chair Esther Robinson, "While it is provocative to call all subjects performers--it is not always an accurate description--the conversation about their contribution to a film is well worth having. Cinema Eye is unique in its commitment to recognizing the essential collaborations that make documentary possible, so what better place to recognize and celebrate our most intimate cinema-partners?"

"They are the heart and soul of what we do."

Cinema Eye drummed up the idea for "The Unforgettables" when documentary filmmaker and critic Robert Greene wrote an article for Hammer to Nail earlier this year, calling on the organization to present an award recognizing "The Best Performances in Nonfiction Film." Further, at the 2012 Cinema Eye Honors ceremony, much was made over the fact that Ameena Matthews, one of the subjects of Steve James’ "The Interrupters," had been named by Time Magazine as giving one of the top ten "performances" in a motion picture that year.

Andrea Meditch, Cinema Eye Board Chair and an executive producer for the likes of "Man on Wire," says the new category fits in with the Cinema Eye tradition of honoring varied aspects of great documentaries: "The relationship between the subject and the filmmaker is complex. The portrait is marked by both the strength of character--however provocative and powerful they may be--and the filmmaker's art and framing of them. We want to provoke that discussion, while acknowledging an essential part of the documentary form. The characters in documentary films share their lives, their fears, their beliefs, their struggles and their joys with us. They become our pathway into a wider world. They are the heart and soul of what we do."

"The Unforgettables" are listed below, and the full nomination slate for this year's Cinema Eye Honors--which also includes the first Nonfiction Film Made for Television award--will be announced on Wednesday, November 6 at the Film Society of Lincoln Center's Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center.

Anwar Congo / The Act of Killing

Lisa Fischer / 20 Feet From Stardom

Edwin Honig / First Cousin Once Removed

William Kamkwamba / William and the Windmill

Freda Kelly / Good Ol’ Freda

Kevin Pearce and David Pearce / The Crash Reel

Neil Platt / I Am Breathing

Michael Polley / Stories We Tell

Pug / 12 O’Clock Boys

Rafea / Rafea: Solar Mama

Susan Robinson and Shelley Sella / After Tiller

Chris “Wonder” Schoeck / Bending Steel

Ushio and Noriko Shinohara / Cutie and the Boxer

Tilikum / Blackfish

Nadezhda Tolokonnikova / Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer

This article is related to: Cinema Eye Honors, Documentary Film, Documentary, Awards






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