I’m here in L.A. for a variety of things, including awards weekend, which not-too-coincidentally falls during Mardi Gras week in New Orleans. (More on Mardi Gras, later.) This week/weekend feels like Mardi Gras for Hollywood and Indiewood, the long Super Bowl weekend of events and screenings and parties and awards. On Wednesday night, the International Documentary Association (IDA) hosted its annual celebration of the Oscar-nominated short and feature docs, at the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences building on Wilshire.
The evening started with some food, wine, and chit-chat. The nominated filmmakers conducted interviews with attending press, and then took some time to have a drink with friends in the room. The rest of us buzzed about the events of this busy week: Geoff Gilmore leaving Sundance, Saturday’s Independent Spirit Awards, the upcoming SXSW and True/False Film Festivals, etc. Soon enough, we were guided into the amazing Academy theater, for a presentation of the nominees. Our host for the evening was legendary actress/comedian Lily Tomlin. IDA Board President Eddie Schmidt and new IDA Executive Director Michael Lumpkin opened with some remarks, including a great moment when Schmidt acknowledged two of the Spirit Award nominees for Best Documentary: The Order of Myths and Up The Yangtze.
What followed was a series of clips from the nominated shorts and features, plus comments and thanks from the filmmakers following each presentation. It was a powerful display, given the weighty content of the films nominated this year. In fact, the only segment that drew laughter was a clip from Werner Herzog’s feature Encounters at the End of the World. Unfortunately, Herzog was the only filmmaker not in attendance to speak. The most rousing segment, not surprisingly, was from Man on Wire (the favorite to win the Oscar). Particularly, when director James Marsh and producer Simon Chinn were joined onstage by the film’s subject Philippe Petit. Ever the showman, Petit spent time fixing the IDA banner as it hung crooked and quipped to Tomlin that he was impressed by her “modesty” when she decided to take the short path to the microphone rather than walk the entire stage and take her time. If anyone knows a thing or two about walking with confidence, it’s Petit.
All of the nominees appeared giddy, casual, and genuinely thankful. Many of the documentary feature nominees mentioned that they felt a sense of family amongst them, and acknowledged that only one of their films would go home with the prize. However, unlike some of the other categories at the Oscars, the documentary section embodies the spirit of the old adage: “It’s an honor just to be nominated.”