The documentary film community gathered virtually on Facebook Tuesday night to chat and cheer each other on at the annual Cinema Eye Honors Awards. Oscar ballots are due Wednesday at 5pm PT, and many documentary branch voters were on the livestream.
At the start of the evening, as we waited for the pre-taped presentation to begin, “Crip Camp” nominee Jim Lebrecht congratulated “The Dissident” director Bryan Fogel for his BAFTA nomination that morning. International Documentary Association chief Simon Kilmurry was on the chat, along with Sundance artistic director Tabitha Jackson and Kirsten (KJ) Johnson.
She took home the directing prize for “Dick Johnson is Dead,” one of nine Netflix films nominated and among three winners for the streamer, including “Rolling Thunder Revue” and non-fiction short “Love Song for Latasha.”
Many filmmakers sent in videos introducing themselves, from Martin Scorsese in New York (“Rolling Thunder Revue” won an editing award) and Gianfranco Rosi in Italy (“Notturno”) to scarved 91-year-old Frederick Wiseman (“City Hall”) that were displayed throughout the awards show, providing vivid windows into exotic landscapes. One editor filmed himself on a sled hurtling down a snowbank.
Among the Cinema Eye “Unforgettables,” the often-heroic subjects of 2020’s non-fiction films, were Dick Johnson, who thanked the Cinema Eye Honors via video; Sergio Chamey, the subject of Chilean filmmaker Maite Alberdi’s “The Mole Agent,” which took home the prize for Best Original Score; Greta Thunberg, the subject of agitprop biodoc “I Am Greta;” Fox Rich and her family, stars of Garrett Bradley’s “Time,” which won two prizes, for first-time feature director Bradley and editor Gabriel Rhodes; and Romanian journalist Catalin Tolontan, whose “courage and determination has saved lives,” said “Collective” producer Bianca Olana. “I hope he continues to do what he does for a long time.”
Documentary filmmakers revealed the awards from all over the world, from freezing Lake Michigan in Chicago to Copenhagen’s The Little Mermaid. At the end of the show, Julia Reichert and Steven Bognar, winners of last year’s top non-fiction feature prize for “American Factory,” which went on to win the Oscar, described themselves as “out standing in their field.” Which they were.
The winner of the night was Alexander Nanau’s “Collective,” which looks to be a frontrunner for the final documentary feature Oscar nominations. The winners sent their thanks via chat. Also building momentum are Cinema Eye Honors winners and shortlisted Oscar contenders “Welcome to Chechnya” and “Boys State,” which earned DGA nominations this week, as well as “The Truffle Hunters,” which also scored a slot at the PGA awards, along with “Dick Johnson is Dead” and “Time.”
Here are the 14th Annual Cinema Eye Honors winners:
Outstanding Achievement in Nonfiction Feature Filmmaking
“Collective” Directed by Alexander Nanau, Produced by Alexander Nanau, Bianca Oana, Bernard Michaux and Hanna Kastelicová
Outstanding Achievement in Direction
Kirsten Johnson “Dick Johnson is Dead”
Outstanding Achievement in Editing
Gabriel Rhodes “Time”
Outstanding Achievement in Production
David France, Alice Henty, Askold Kurov and Joy Tomchin, “Welcome to Chechnya”
Outstanding Achievement in Cinematography
Michael Dweck and Gregory Kershaw “The Truffle Hunters”
Outstanding Achievement in Original Music Score
Vincent Van Warmerdam “The Mole Agent”
Outstanding Achievement in Graphic Design or Animation
Jenna Caravello, Arthur Jones, Nicole Stafford and Kylin Woodrow “Feels Good Man”
Outstanding Achievement in a Debut Feature Film
“Time” Directed by Garrett Bradley
Audience Choice Prize
“Boys State” Directed by Jesse Moss and Amanda McBaine
Outstanding Achievement in Nonfiction Film for Broadcast
“Welcome to Chechnya” Directed by David France (HBO)
Outstanding Achievement in Nonfiction Series for Broadcast
“I’ll Be Gone in the Dark” Series Directed by Liz Garbus, Episodes Directed by Liz Garbus, Myles Kane, Josh Koury and Elizabeth Wolff (HBO)
Outstanding Achievement in Editing in a Nonfiction Film or Series for Broadcast
David Tedeschi and Damian Rodriguez “Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story” by Martin Scorsese (Netflix)
Outstanding Achievement in Cinematography in a Nonfiction Film or Series for Broadcast
Thorsten Thielow “I’ll Be Gone in the Dark” (HBO)
“The Earth is Blue as an Orange” Directed by Iryna Tsilyk
Outstanding Achievement in Nonfiction Short Filmmaking
“A Love Song for Latasha” Directed by Sophia Nahli Allison
“Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets” Directed by Bill Ross and Turner Ross
A.J. Schnack, founding director of Cinema Eye Honors, told the audience that over the summer he was trying to figure out what Cinema Eye “could and should look like,” he said. One thing he decided to pursue was the Stay Focused Initiative, “a commitment to 12 films and their emerging filmmakers who we do not want to forget when the calendar turns over. They lost out on festival runs and in-person premieres, and we want to make sure there are opportunities for these films long after the award season is over.”
Each filmmaker sent a video snapshot for their films, including “P.S. Burn This Letter Please,” “Through the Night,” “Landfall,” “Jacinta,” “Stray,” “Bulletproof,” “Down the Dark Stairwell,” “Sisters with Transistors,” “American Sector,” “Mayor,” “Two Gods,” and “Socks on Fire.” All 12 will eventually play at the Eagle Theatre, the new home for the Vidiots Foundation, which is partnering with Cinema Eye and XTR “to create spaces for documentaries in L.A.”
“Real life is often more fascinating than what you can make up,” Kirsten Johnson tells her father Dick in her movie. Indeed.