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Five Questions for AJ Schnack/Cinema Eye

Five Questions for AJ Schnack/Cinema Eye

The second annual Cinema Eye Honors takes place Sunday night at the Times Center in Manhattan. The event, which is co-chaired by filmmaker/blogger AJ Schnack & author/programmer Thom Powers and presented by Indiepix, strives to fill in any of the holes documentary fans may find from the other non-fiction awards. In what has essentially only been about a year, Cinema Eye has established itself as a respectable and noteworthy occasion. On the eve of this year’s awards ceremony (you can buy tickets here), I wanted to check in with co-chair Schnack about what the industry and the audience can expect:

Me: This is the second year for the Cinema Eye Honors, so how does it feel that this is officially NOT a one-off event and now a tradition?

Schnack: Last year, it just felt like this crazy express train that was barreling down the track and, you know, it was kind of impossible to predict what the show would be or how people would react to it. There’s definitely a sense this year of thinking about CEH as an annual event and how we want the ceremony and the awards themselves to evolve.

Me: How does the Cinema Eye awards differ from the Oscars, the IDA awards, the DGA awards, and other doc-oriented prizes?

Schnack: On a general level, I think our goal is really to take a broad look back at the last year in nonfiction – so, of course, there will be some overlap with films that were nominated or winners at the Oscars, Spirits and IDA awards. But because we remain the only award for nonfiction to present prizes for the various filmmaking crafts – cinematography, editing, music – I think that it really brings the entire community together to celebrate the great films of the past year. Also, I think our nominations process – at least in these first two years – has done a good job of including films that were maybe left out of previous awards. I think it’s great this year to see films like My Winnipeg, The English Surgeon and Bigger, Stronger, Faster*, among others, represented.

(At the launch party and reception announcing the nominees for the first Cinema Eye doc awards during Sundance 2008: AJ Schnack, Thom Powers, and Order Of Myths director Margaret Brown, who is nominated this year.)

Me: Why New York and not L.A. as the setting for the awards show?

Schnack: Because all the other big awards for docs – Oscars, Spirits, IDA and even the various guild prizes – take place in Los Angeles, which is kind of funny considering that New York has such a strong documentary community.

Me: How would you sum up this year’s big nominees?

Schnack: I think this year has really proved the argument we made last year about this being a transformative time in nonfiction filmmaking. If you just look at the five films nominated for the top award – you have a fully animated film, a film that casts actors as the filmmaker’s family, another film with extensive recreations – it just shows the breadth of creative approaches to nonfiction. It was a truly tremendous year for nonfiction filmmaking.

Me: You’re an acclaimed documentary filmmaker yourself. What happens when your next film becomes eligible for the Cinema Eye awards?

Schnack: Well, my next film is Convention, and even if it were to qualify for Cinema Eye, I would pull it from consideration. I’m perfectly happy facilitating the event as co-chair.

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