The 5th Annual Cinema Eye Honors, a celebration of the best in documentary film, was held last night at the Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria, Queens. The ceremony was relaxed and fun, more a coming together of great artists in the documentary field than a narrow competition for awards. Hosted by filmmakers A.J. Schnack (“Kurt Cobain About a Son”) and Esther Robinson (“A Walk Into the Sea: Danny Williams and the Warhol Factory”), the ceremony handed out awards but also paid tribute to landmark filmmakers such as Frederick Wiseman, for his 1967 film “Titicut Follies,” and the duo of Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky, for their “Paradise Lost” trilogy and the landmark efforts in justice that it helped to bring about.
Both of the top prizes, Outstanding Achievement in Direction and Outstanding Achievement in Nonfiction Feature Filmmaking, went to Steve James and Alex Kotlowitz’s “The Interrupters.” A film that has appeared on many film critics’ “best of 2011″ lists, it is a gripping look at three community activists known as Violence Interrupters who work to end street violence in their Chicago neighborhoods.
The first ever Hell Yeah award was given to Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky, most notably because the human rights advocacy sparked by their “Paradise Lost” films led to three innocent men–the West Memphis Three–being released after serving years in prison for the deaths of three children. The surprise presenter was one of those men, Jason Baldwin, who had a casual warmth and a relaxed, open smile. For somebody who had spent many years behind bars for a crime that he did not commit, he did not show any resentment, just a desire to enjoy life and see the world. Baldwin made a poignant statement that when he was released from prison, he enjoyed getting to know Berlinger and Sinofsky as real people, meeting their families, no longer being filmmaker and subject, but now equal friends. “The Paradise Lost” films were noted by the filmmakers as an example of documentary filmmaking making a real difference.
Some winners were predictable in an understandable way. For Nonfiction Short Filmmaking, the award went to Tim Hetherington’s “Diary.” A noted photojournalist, Hetherington was killed in the Libyan conflict in April. His mother accepted on his behalf.
Mike Mills’s “Beginners” won for the Heterodox Award, which recognizes a narrative film that is influenced by documentary filmmaking styles. Of the five nominees, it was the only relatively mainstream film, compared to smaller films like “My Joy” and “The Mill and the Cross.”
Frederick Wiseman was presented with the Legacy Award for “Titicut Follies,” a look at the harsh life inside a state prison in Massachusetts. Wiseman’s film oeuvre has spanned the range from ballet to boxing to the Air Force to state politics. The award was created to honor past documentaries that were landmark influences for many future filmmakers, fulfilling an achievement in artistry and nonfiction storytelling. Wiseman spoke eloquently, stating that “Making these movies is a great adventure. I’m extremely pleased and proud to have this award for this first film I did.”
A small moment that was a personal standout occurred when Cindy Meehl and her crew won the Audience Choice Prize for “Buck,” a documentary about a cowboy and his deep relationship with horses. “It takes a lot of women to make a film about a cowboy,” commented one of the filmmakers.
The other winners were as follows:
Outstanding Achievement in Production:
Gian-Piero Ringel and Wim Wenders, “Pina”
Outstanding Achievement in Editing
Gregers Sall and Chris King, “Senna”
Outstanding Achievement in Cinematography
Danfung Dennis, “Hell and Back Again”
Tatiana Huezo Sánchez, “The Tiniest Place”
Outstanding Achievement in an Original Music Score
John Kusiak, “Tabloid”
Outstanding Achievement in Graphic Design and Animation
Rob Feng and Jeremy Landman, “Tabloid”
Outstanding Achievement in a Debut Feature Film
Clio Barnard, “The Arbor”
This coverage was originally posted on Cinespect.