Tom RostonIndependent journalist Tom Roston checks in and writes about the world of documentaries in his column, Doc Soup.

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Cinema Eye Honors: A Cabaret Party for Nonfiction Film Lovers

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The 2014 Cinema Eye Honors event will take place Wednesday, January 8th, at the Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria, New York.

Anyone who thinks the documentary film community is filled with stiffs should head out to Cinema Eye Honors this Wednesday, January 8th, at the Museum of the Moving Image in New York City. I’ve been to the awards show twice, and it’s really more of a cabaret party for non-fiction film lovers. The show is sold out but I hear there’s a waiting list, so you might want to tweet at them (@cinemaeyehonors) and try to finagle your way in.

In its sixth year, the event has really come into its own, being increasingly referenced during the buildup to other more established award contests, holding pre-screenings on both coasts, finding a great home at the Museum (which is awesome in itself — I recommend the flip book installation), and piling up sponsorships from POV to premiere sponsor, HBO, and leading distributors, including A & E Indie Films, Radius TWC, and some of the top festivals.

Where the show stands out is in its actual award categories. You can see that this is more of a celebration than a competition or industry pissing contest. And a smart one at that. (Cinema Eye was sprung from a desire to shift the focus from the topics to the craft of making documentaries.) In addition to best Nonfiction film, Editing and other technical categories, there is the Spotlight Award for films that have been neglected so far, the Hell Yeah Prize, which goes to a filmmaker who has inspired action (this year, it goes to Josh Fox, for his Gasland films about fracking), and the Unforgettables, which honors the most “notable” and “significant” subjects.

The latter category is so spot-on. It’s an honor that asks questions about the honorees as much as it celebrates them — how can nonfiction subjects be awarded for being themselves? That’s like saying they’re actors! Or does it make them characters of their own creation?! And doesn’t that mean that some terrible people will be…rewarded? By honoring the subjects, Cinema Eye is knocking the fourth wall down, and making us all complicit in the process of making and viewing non-fiction film. I think it’s brilliant.

And equally awesome is the Heterodox award, which features the narrative (read: fiction) films that have most imaginatively incorporated nonfiction elements. This year’s nominees: Computer Chess, Escape from Tomorrow, Interior. Leather Bar. , Neighboring Sounds and Post Tenebras Lux. Again, this is a category that makes you think as much as it provides an opportunity to applaud cutting edge filmmaking.
I’ve recently started a campaign trying to get the far more mainstream, big money, Golden Globe Awards to incorporate documentaries as a category. In addition to a petition, I think the best way to get the Hollywood Foreign Press Association to get a whiff of how timely it is to recognize docs is for them to check out Cinema Eye this Wednesday.

They’d get to see what a blast docs can be.

I should add that I am well aware that there are often more sides to such things, so I’m always wary of being a booster. If you’re a filmmaker or doc watcher with a different view of Cinema Eye, please provide a comment below.

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Tom Roston
Tom Roston
Tom Roston is a guest columnist for POV's documentary blog. He comes to us as a ten-year veteran of Premiere magazine, where he was a Senior Editor, and where he wrote the column, Notes from the Dream Factory. Tom was born and raised in New York City. He graduated from Brown University and started his career in journalism at The Nation and then Vanity Fair. Tom has also written for The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, GQ, New York, Elle and other publications. Tom's favorite documentaries are: 1. Koyanisqaatsi - Godfrey Reggio 2. Hoop Dreams - Steve James 3. The Up series - Michael Apted 4. Crumb - Terry Zwigoff 5. Capturing the Friedmans - Andrew Jarecki