g The Film Panel Notetaker: Nonfiction Films Get Their Due at Cinema Eye Honors

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Nonfiction Films Get Their Due at Cinema Eye Honors

***FEBRUARY 2, 2010 UPDATE: As of this morning, Cinema Eye Winners "Burma VJ," "The Cove," and "Food, Inc" received Academy Award nominations for Best Documentary Feature. Congratulations and good luck to all!

The stellar third annual Cinema Eye Honors for Nonfiction Filmmaking, produced by founding sponsor Indiepix, came back to the TimesCenter in New York City with a new co-hostess, Esther Robinson, along with co-host and Cinema Eye veteran AJ Schnack, who delighted us mid-way through the ceremony with an audience participation Mad Lib. Always the charmer, about half-way through the show, Schnack carried in a bucket of Kentucky Grilled Chicken after showing a clip of the nominated Food Inc., where a woman reveals the horrible conditions of chicken coup where chickens are overfed for mass-consumption. At the beginning of the show, during a pre-taped introduction, Stranger Than Fiction’s Thom Powers hilariously expounded on the glorious nominees, while preggers wife Raphaela Neihausen goes into labor. Lots of humor abounded throughout the ceremony, keeping things running fresh and smooth. While an occasional long-winded acceptance speech may have slowed things down a little, overall, the third outing of the Cinema Eye Honors was one of the best so far. It is superbly wonderful that there is an awards show of this caliber like no other recognizing nonfiction filmmaking, with such presenters as Albert Maysles, Barbara Kopple, Amir Bar-Lev, Carl Deal, Tia Lessin, Doug Block and more.

Top prizes went to “The Cove” for Outstanding Achievement in Nonfiction Feature Filmmaking and “October Country” for Outstanding Achievement in a Debut Feature Film.  

So what does it take to win a Cinema Eye Honor, you might ask? “Burma VJ” co-editor Thomas Papapetros told me exclusively at one of the after parties, “I got crapped on by a bird and won!” Not once, not twice, not even just three times, but a total of four times did Papapetros get a present from the sky on four different occasions, sealing “Burma VJ”s many festival wins. The first time he was crapped on by a bird was in Amsterdam during IDFA, and the film took home the top prize. The second time was in Copenhagen during CPH:DOX, and the film won. The third time he was actually home in Denmark, but he won an editing award at Sundance that same day. And finally, he got his latest gift in New York, before receiving his latest accomplishment, Outstanding Achievement in Editing at the Cinema Eye Honors. I guess getting crapped on by a bird is good luck after all, as they say, but in all seriousness, “Burma VJ” deservedly received all of its accolades on its own merit.

For the past two incarnations of the Cinema Eye Honors, Thom Powers had moderated roundtable discussions with some of the nominated filmmakers. This year instead of a panel, Thom conducted a brief Q&A with Cinema Eye Legacy Award honoree, “Sherman’s March,” by filmmaker Ross McElwee. Barbara Kopple introduced McElwee saying that in “Sherman’s March,” McElwee’s very outspoken, passionate, and direct friend Charleen decided she was the perfect woman for him, and they would grow old together and told him to shut the camera off saying “this is not about art, it’s about your life.” Kopple said that personally nailed it for her as what McElwee is all about and how much art he puts into his life being so honest and real, a pure filmmaker. Later on, Powers pointed out that McElwee will be at Stranger Than Fiction on February 2 showing two films, “Charleen” and “Backyard.” (I know where I’ll be that night.)

For the Q&A, Powers said he was shocked to read about “Sherman’s March” that for a two and a half hour film, McElwee only shot 25 hours of footage, which by today’s standards is something a filmmaker might accomplish in 2 days…has McElwee’s discipline changed at all moving from film to video and what was it like shooting so little footage? McElwee said he grew up shooting 16mm film. With the discipline it enforces as a crew of one person, he had to develop a way of shooting very little film. After his last film completed in 2004, he finally made the decision to switch to digital video. He said the easiest thing to do, especially for young filmmakers, is to overshoot everything. Powers next mentioned a scene in the film where McElwee’s father asks him how certain things that he shot would be useful for the film. “What’s remarkable about ‘Sherman’s March’…is that it was such a landmark film for opening up this kind of personal documentary,” Powers said. As McElwee was making it, what did he think was going to be useful, how was he choosing what to film? McElwee said that you might get the impression that it’s about nothing but him searching for a woman, but the challenge to him was to weave together several different themes and keep them into some sort of equilibrium moving forward. It’s a matter of developing a kind of intuition, thinking this might be amusing, it might turn up to be funny or poignant. It’s developing a set of radar. Spontaneity is important. 

The following is complete list of last night’s Cinema Eye Honorees:

Outstanding Achievement in Nonfiction Feature Filmmaking: “The Cove,” directed by Louie Psihoyos, produced by Paula DuPre Pesman and Fisher Stevens

Outstanding Achievement in a Debut Feature Film: “October Country, directed by Michael Palmieri and Donal Mosher

Outstanding Achievement in Direction: Agnes Varda, “The Beaches of Agnes”

Outstanding Achievement in Production: Paula DuPre Pressman and Fisher Stevens, “The Cove”

Outstanding Achievement in Cinematography: Brook Aitken for “The Cove”

Outstanding Achievement in Editing: Janus Billeskov-Jansen and Thomas Papapetros for “Burma VJ”

Outstanding Achievement in Grapic Design and Animation: Tie: Big Star for “Food, Inc” and “RIP - Remix Manifesto”

Outstanding Achievement in Original Music Score: “October Country”: Danny Grody, Donal Mosher, Michael Palmieri and Kenric Taylor

Outstanding Achievement in an International Feature: “Burma VJ,” directed by Anders Ostergard, produced by Lise-Lense Moeller

Audience Choice Prize: “The September Issue,” directed by RJ Cutler

Spotlight Award: “Beetle Queen Conquers Tokyo,” directed by Jessica Oreck

Cinema Eye Legacy Award: “Sherman’s March, directed by Ross McElwee

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