Skip to main content

2011 IDA Documentary Awards Recap [PHOTOS]

By KJ Relth

After months of anticipation, documentary filmmakers and fans of non-fiction gathered at the Directors Guild of America Theater on the night of Friday, December 2, 2011, for the 27th annual IDA Documentary Awards. Awards chosen by special committees, including a select group of IDA Members who voted on the Best Short and Best Feature winners, were presented by hosts Josh Fox (Gasland), IDA Board President Eddie Schmidt (Producer, This Film is Not Yet Rated), and Webby Awards founder and filmmaker Tiffany Shlain (Connected: An Autoblogography about Love, Death & Technology).

The lobby of the DGA Theater began to fill up as soon as the doors opened around 6:30pm. The red carpet was swarming with all the big names in documentary – aside from the night’s nominees and honorees, we spotted several big names in the world of non-fiction, including Kirby Dick, Mel Stuart, Michael Donaldson, Betsy McLane, and Ondi Timoner. Displayed above the heads of the attendees were banners featuring our Platinum Sponsors ESPN Films and Ménage à Trois.

As guests took their seats in the spacious DGA Theater, they were greeted by the tunes being turned out by Lucy Walker, the Academy Award-nominated filmmaker who brought her DJ skills from her film school days just for the occasion. Her beats continued throughout the ceremony, with special songs selected for each winner and honoree.

Upon entering the theater, guests were also left to wonder what was happening on stage. Before the ceremony began, the audience saw a tent pitched in front of an enlarged image of the famous Hollywood sign. Once the ceremony began, we learned that the hosts were hiding out in the tent, ready to attend an “Occupy Hollywood” demonstration, complete with a protest sign, a banjo, and a potentially threatening police officer.

After emerging from the tent, Eddie asked “Okay, I’m confused. Are we the 99% or the 1%?” After Tiffany reassured him that “We tell the stories of the 99%,” Josh countered with “Yeah, but we only make 1% of the money.”

This banter between the three hosts continued for the rest of the program, the three stopping to reflect on the more poignant moments brought through in the themes of the films being honored over the course of the evening.

The serious nature of some portions of the evening, of course, didn’t stop the hosts from honoring the Creative Achievement Award winners through a banjo performance from Josh and an interpretive dance from Eddie. The winners included Il Castello for Best Cinematography, Senna for Best Editing, and Better This World for Best Music.

Our fearless leader Michael Lumpkin – or as Eddie referred to him, “the heart and soul of the IDA” – took the stage at one point during the night to thank all of our sponsors and partners who make the dreams of the IDA into reality. He also gave a loving shout out to the caterers of the night’s event, Homegirl Café, whose treats and snacks kept the after-party going until we left the lobby kicking and screaming.

Each year, the IDA recognizes the achievements of a filmmaker who has made a significant impact at the beginning of his or her career in documentary film. A newcomer to the filmmaking world, Jacqueline Donnet Emerging Filmmaker Award winner Danfung Dennis was confident as he took the stage to give thanks to all the people who encouraged him tackle the hours and hours of footage he brought back from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. He noted that without their encouragement, this footage might still be hidden away on countless hard drives.

IDA’s Career Achievement Award was presented to Les Blank by his friend and sometimes subject Werner Herzog. This award is given to a filmmaker who has made a major impact on the documentary genre through a long and distinguished body of work. For over 40 years, Les Blank has created films about the lives and music of passionate people who live at the periphery of American society. In previous years, IDA has bestowed its Career Achievement Award on documentary luminaries such as Sheila Nevins, Michael Apted, Ken Burns, Albert Maysles, Haskell Wexler, Michael Moore, Errol Morris, and last year’s recipient, Barbara Kopple.

Accepting the Award, the legendary Blank, one of America’s most original documentarians, reminisced on being scared out of his wits while in the jungle with Herzog making Burden of Dreams.

Also announced in the ceremony was the Best Short Award, which honored the inspirational Poster Girl. Directed by Sara Nesson (pictured above), Poster Girl is the story of Iraqi veteran Robynn Murray on her journey to reclaim her humanity after facing the brutalities of war. Accepting the award with Sara Nesson was the film’s producer Mitchell Block.

Longtime Chilean filmmaker Patricio Guzman took the stage with an interpreter to accept the Best Feature Award for his film Nostalgia for the Light. Set in the Atacama Desert, the driest place on Earth at almost 10,000 feet above sea level, Guzman's masterpiece was honored for melding the celestial quest of astronomers searching the most distant and oldest galaxies with the earthly one of women, surviving relatives of the disappeared, searching even after 25 years for the remains of their loved ones.

In one of the more memorable speeches of the evening, Guzman ended his acceptance speech with the following:

"A country without documentaries is like a family without a photo album."

All of us at the IDA would like to take another opportunity to say thanks to our very generous sponsors for supporting the documentary film community: ESPN Films, Menage a Trois Wines, ABCNews Videosource, Documentary Channel, Authentic Entertainment, ITVS, OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network, POV, Kodak, Stella Artois, Chainsaw, The Standard, DGA, VeeV and Indie Printing. Thank you sponsors for supporting the documentary film community!

For a full list of the 2011 winners and honorees, head over to the Awards page.