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Cinema Eye Honors: No Losers Here

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cinema-eye-honor-2014-the-act-of-killing-oppenheimer-award

The Act of Killing (POV 2014) won the award for Outstanding Achievement in Nonfiction Feature Filmmaking at the 2014 Cinema Eye Honors.

The best part of the Cinema Eye Honors, which took place last night at the Museum of the Moving Image, was the warm-up party, when you could just stand there, and you could survey a vast swath of the documentary community in one room. I couldn’t stop myself—maybe I need to cut down on Homeland and Walking Dead—from wondering if you wiped everyone out, how long it would take for the documentary world to recover.

As I waded past filmmakers (Alex Gibney, here; Liz Garbus, there; Ross Kauffman, here; etc.), I spoke to Cinema Eye nominees who didn’t care a bit about who was about to win. “So many people here are my friends, so if I don’t get it, a friend probably will. And I’m rooting for them,” said Jason Osder, director of Let the Fire Burn, who was up for Outstanding Debut Film. The common refrain was that this was a family of friends, so there could be no losing here (emcee AJ Schnack later cracked that the only loser was Seaworld, the subject of the critical Black Fish).

January marks the end of a tiring year of touring the festival circuit for a lot of the people on hand, and the beginning of a new year of filmmaking or presenting of new films. (Sundance is just weeks away). Of course, there are those lucky few, or 15, films still up for a possible Oscar, but I’m sure their filmmakers won’t mind trekking up the red carpet, if called upon.

The truth is, for the nominees, the award show is the end of a days’old, skull-and-bones, drinking crawl that their Cinema Eye hosts have taken them on. Any competitive streaks had been beaten out of them by drink and karaoke.

The show got off to a nice start with a humble-brag surprise:  Michael Moore sauntered out and told of how he got his start in documentary filmmaking, thanks to George Bush (the first). He even did a little jig. “That’s all the twerking you’re going to see,” he joked.

The big winners, if we can call them that, were The Act of Killing, which won the top prize, and  Sarah Polley, who won best director, for Stories We Tell. Zachary Heinzerling’s Cutie and the Boxer also did quite well, picking up three awards (best debut, graphics and original score). Highlights of what turned into a very long evening (unless they’re going to provide white powder enhancements in the bathroom, Cinema Eye is going to have to figure out a way to cut it down from 3 and half hours) included legendary feature editor, Thelma Schoonmaker, giving out the editing award, and a clip of Barbara Kopple winning her Oscar, in 1976, for Harlan County, USA, when she picked up her Cinema Eye Legacy Award.

The Audience Award was interesting. The prize went to Sound City, the rock doc made by Foo Fighters frontman Dave Grohl. Schnack said that there were more than 40,000 online votes, compared to the previous high of 11,000. While this is a strong indication that documentary is becoming more accepted into popular culture—and that Cinema Eye is a part of that—the fact that Sound City won is a distinct reminder that documentary is a relatively small subculture. There’s no way that last night’s audience assembled in that room would have ever voted for Sound City as its favorite film. It was an insider’s crowd, and that’s alright, but watching Dave Grohl doing a taped acceptance jig made the crowd assembled look even more fringe. (Again; and that’s ok.)

The evening had its share of awkward, slow moments, and weird, funny ones, along with several poignant speeches, but I was most taken with what Act of Killing director, Joshua Oppenheimer, had to say when he accepted his honor. The film is incredible, but it rides a sharp edge, by embracing, in a way, the perpetrators of mass murder in Indonesia. But I learned last night, according to Oppenheimer, that it was after he made a film with the victims, that he was asked by them to approach the killers. That, and learning that he had watched Harlan County, USA at the beginning stages of Act of Killing, both helped allay my concerns about the film, and point out how his groundbreaking film is a crowning achievement in the evolution of documentaries.

Here’s the complete list of winners, provided by the Cinema Eye Honors:

Outstanding Achievement in Nonfiction Feature Filmmaking

The Act of Killing
Directed by Joshua Oppenheimer
Produced by Signe Byrge Sørensen
Presented by Steve James

Outstanding Achievement in Direction

Sarah Polley
Stories We Tell
Presented by Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady

Outstanding Achievement in Editing

Nels Bangerter
Let the Fire Burn
Presented by Thelma Schoonmaker

Audience Choice Prize

Sound City
Directed by Dave Grohl
Presented by John Flansburgh and Robin “Goldie” Goldwasser

Outstanding Achievement in Production

Signe Byrge Sørensen
The Act of Killing
Presented by Jennifer Fox and Ross Kauffman

Outstanding Nonfiction Film for Television

The Crash Reel
Directed by Lucy Walker
Produced by Julian Cautherley and Lucy Walker
For HBO Documentary Films: Executive Producer Sheila Nevins and Supervising Producer Sara Bernstein

Outstanding Achievement in Nonfiction Short Filmmaking

A Story for the Modlins
Directed by Sergio Oksman
Presented by Kirsten Johnson and Darius Marder

Outstanding Achievement in Cinematography

Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Véréna Paravel
Leviathan
Presented by Kirsten Johnson and Darius Marder

Heterodox Award

Post Tenebras Lux
Directed by Carlos Reygadas
Presented by Jeremy Saulnier and Angela Tucker

Outstanding Achievement in an Original Music Score

Yasuaki Shimizu
Cutie and the Boxer
Presented by Jeff Reichert and Farihah Zaman

Spotlight Award

The Last Station
Directed by Cristian Soto and Catalina Vergara
Presented by Jeff Reichert and Farihah Zaman

Outstanding Achievement in Graphic Design and Animation

Art Jail
Cutie and the Boxer
Presented by Chris Hegedus and Jehane Noujaim

Outstanding Achievement in a Debut Feature Film

Zachary Heinzerling
Cutie and the Boxer
Presented by Chris Hegedus and Jehane Noujaim

Legacy Award

Harlan County, USA
Directed and Produced by Barbara Kopple
Presented by Kristi Jacobson

Hell Yeah Prize

Josh Fox
Gasland and Gasland, Part 2
Presented by AJ Schnack

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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