February 28, 2012

RECAP: DocuDay LA 2012

Just one day before the glitz and glamor of the star-studded Oscar ceremony, the WGA Theater in Beverly Hills hosted DocuDay, the IDA's all-day event boasting back-to-back screenings of all documentaries nominated for Oscar – both the features and the shorts. The first screening, Shorts Program 1, started at 9am to a packed house. That's what we love about documentary film lovers—they don't mind driving across town to see the year's best non-fiction works, even at 9 in the morning!

From left to right: The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom: Editor Aki Mizutani, Associate Producer Nicole Visram, Producer Kira Carstensen, Director Lucy Walker; Incident in New Baghdad: Subject, Ethan McCord and Producer/Director James Spione, and Composer Emile Menshché; God is the Bigger Elvis: Director Rebecca Camissa, Producer Julie Anderson, Editor Geeta Gandbhir, Associate Producer Nancy Stanton Talcott.

The first screening featured Incident in New Baghdad, God is the Bigger Elvis, and The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom, three documentary shorts that rely on contemporary and archival footage to tell the stories of a US Army Specialist with PTSD who now speaks out against the wars in the Middle East, a former movie star who left Hollywood to become a Benedictine nun, and the cherry blossom as a symbol for hope in post-disaster Japan, respectively.

From left to right: The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom: Associate Producer Nicole Visram, Producer Kira Carstensen, Director Lucy Walker; Incident in New Baghdad: Subject, Ethan McCord

The teams from each of the three films were well represented, with the producer, director, associate producer, and editor from The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom, the director and subject of Incident, and the director, producer, associate producer, and editor from Elvis, all onstage to discuss their films. Both shorts programs definitely saw more female participants onstage for the Q&As, with all the feature filmmakers being men. IDA's Web Producer Katharine Relth asked the filmmakers what inspired them to tell their stories and what kind of cameras they shot on before opening the conversation to eager members of the audience.

One of DocuDay's wonderful sponsors, Zagat set up a lounge in the lobby of the WGA Theater to support the next edition of their 2013 Zagat Survey. This survey is a business based on a simple premise—that the shared opinions of thousands of avid consumers with real experiences are inherently more accurate than the opinions of just one or two critics. To kick off their 2013 Los Angeles / So. California Restaurants Survey, they gave DocuDay attendees the opportunity to win a year of movies including a year subscription to NetFlix and $300 to Arclight Theaters just for sharing their thoughts on restaurants in Los Angeles.

From left to right: Directors/Producers: Bruce Sinofsky, Joe Berlinger, Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory

The next film screened was Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory, a feature film by Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky. The third and final film of the series, these three projects have played a crucial role in keeping the case in the public eye and in helping the defendants to be released from prison. At the Q&A, which was moderated by IDA's Treasurer Laurie Ann Schag, Berlinger and Sinofsky discussed the genesis of the project and the development of the three films, which was helped along tremendously by HBO. The two mentioned that they didn't think this film could have been made today—subjects and families would have been much too savvy. And with the current 24-hour news cycle and the prominence of reality TV and viral video, the filmmakers probably couldn't be more accurate.

Homegirl Café provided delicious snacks to hungry movie-watchers in between screenings. Our favorite was the turkey sandwich with dulce de mango and chipotle salsa. A division of Homeboy Industries, Homegirl Café is a social enterprise that assists at-risk and formerly gang-involved young women and men to become contributing members of the Los Angeles community. Through training in restaurant service and culinary arts, Homegirl Café aims to empower young people to redirect their lives, giving them hope for their future.

from left to right: Directors/Producers: Marshall Curry, Sam Cullman, If A Tree Falls

Featured in the afternoon was If A Tree Falls, a remarkable story about the rise and fall of an Earth Liberation Front (ELF) cell which focuses on the transformation and radicalization of one of its members. In December 2005, Daniel McGowan was arrested by US Federal agents in a nationwide sweep of radical environmentalists involved with the ELF—a group the FBI once called America's "number one domestic terrorism threat." Part coming-of-age tale, part cops-and-robbers thriller, the film interweaves a vérité chronicle of Daniel on house arrest as he faces life in prison, with a recounting of the events that led to his involvement with the group.

At the Q&A following their film, director Marshall Curry mentioned that when the film first come out it was viewed mostly as a quaint, historical documentary showcasing a social movement long buried by time. But as the events of the Occupy movement started breaking out across the US, audience members and critics began to see the parallels, and the film took on a whole new life. Curry called his film "a cautionary tale" for both activists and law enforcement officials alike. 

clockwise from foreground: Press Officer Captain Jill Wolf, Ashley Harris, Sergeant Ethan Harris, Director Danfung Dennis, Producer Mike Lerner, Hell and Back Again

From his embed with US Marines Echo Company in Afghanistan, photojournalist and filmmaker Danfung Dennis reveals the devastating impact a Taliban machine-gun bullet has on the life of 25-year-old Sergeant Nathan Harris in Hell and Back Again. The film seamlessly transitions from stunning war reportage to an intimate, visceral portrait of one man's personal struggle at home in North Carolina, where Harris confronts the physical and emotional difficulties of re-adjusting to civilian life with the love and support of his wife, Ashley.

Nathan Harris arrived at the Q&A with Dennis and his wife Ashley, who all received a standing ovation at the end of the film. Most of the audience's questions were for Nathan, who was humble and in good spirits as he discussed his experiences getting injured, and watching the film with his wife for the first time.

As one of the sponsors of the event, Canon representatives were on site showcasing their newest development, the Canon Cinema EOS System. This new camera system, "built from the ground up for the serious filmmaker [...] is inspired by and created for the industry." To completely understand everyone filmmaker's wants and needs, Canon consulted hundreds of people in the business to create this innovative new system, which they proudly showcased to DocuDay LA attendees in the lobby of the WGA Theater for the entirety of the event. The table was absolutey jam-packed with people between each and every screening, who were able to sample the new technology and test out some of the cutting-edge cameras. 

The Barber of Birmingham: Darren Armstrong, grandson of subject James Armstrong, Subject Shirley Gavin Floyd, Consulting Producer Abby Ginzberg, members of the filmmaking team, Director Robin Fryday. Saving Face: Producer Daniel Junge, Subject Dr. Mohammad Jawad, Director Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy

The second shorts program of the day featured Saving Face and The Barber of Birmingham: Foot Soldier of the Civil Rights Movement, two films that stir deep emotions and inspire social change for all watching. Saving Face tells the stories of two acid-attack survivors: Zakia and Rukhsana, their arduous attempts to bring their assailants to justice, and the charitable work of London-based, Pakistani-born plastic surgeon Dr. Mohammad Jawad, who strives to help these women put this horrific act behind them and move on with their lives. Barber of Birmingham tells the story of Mr. James Armstrong, a rank-and-file "Foot Soldier" and proud proprietor of Armstrong's Barbershop, a cultural and political hub in Birmingham, Alabama, since 1955. On the eve of the election of the first African-American president, Mr. Armstrong, the barber of Birmingham, sees his unimaginable dream come true.

Saving Face: Producer Daniel Junge, Subject Dr. Mohammad Jawad, Director Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy

Oscar® and Emmy®-nominated filmmaker Daniel Junge and Emmy®-winning Pakistani director Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy appeared onstage with Dr. Jawad to discuss their project and the work that can be done to ensure that this issue continues to have a voice. (Saving Face would eventually go on to win the Oscar® for Best Documentary Short at the next night's ceremony.) 

Pina: Director Wim Wenders

The final director in attendance for a post-screening Q&A with "the legend" Wim Wenders, sat with IDA Board President Marjan Safinia to discuss his 3-D film Pina. A DocuDay first, every member of the audience was handed an exclusive pair of 3D glasses with which to view the film, which was absolutely stunning from every seat in the WGA Theater.

Pina: Director Wim Wenders; IDA Board President Marjan Safinia

Marjan asked Wenders about the inspiration behind this film, which he said was over 20 years in the making. A personal friend of Pina Bausch's, the filmmaker never quite knew how to capture the choreographer's extraordinary pieces on screen to give them the same effect that they had in person. After Pina's death in 2008, Wenders went to a screening that answered all his problems, where he saw a film shot on a 3D camera. The technology wasn't very expensive, he said, and with the help of everyone in the company and some of his students, he was able to complete the film within a few years time.

For Undefeated, the final film of the evening, the lobby was absolutely packed with people waiting to get in to see this final film of the night. Although DocuDay didn't see filmmakers T.J. Martin and Daniel Lindsay in attendance, the film went on to receive the Oscar® for Best Documentary Feature the next night.  

From 7:30 in the morning to the shut-down of the theater that night, our fearless volunteers were there to make the day possible by helping with ticket sales, seating, and general event coordination. From the bottom of our hearts, we say THANK YOU for your time and dedication!

Special thanks again to our sponsors Canon, Zagat, and C&S Insurance, and congratulations to all the nominees and newly-announced winners! This day wouldn't have been possible without your loving and generous support.