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DocuFest Unspools IDA Awards Winners

By Tom White


C. Karim Chrobog, director of War Child, winner ABCNews VideoSource Award at Q&A after DocuFest screening at Kodak Screening Room. Photo by Meg Madison.

In a wall-to-wall day of screenings that began at 9:00 and closed just after midnight, DocuFest, IDA's annual unspooling marathon of the Award-winning films, bowed to an appreciative crowd at the Eastman Kodak Screening Room. Most of the filmmakers were on hand to field questions from the audience, including Remy Burkel from Sin City Law, Karim Chrobog from War Child , David Novack from Burning the Future, Laura Waters Hinson from As We Forgive; Isabel Vega and Luis Colina for La Corona; and Maureen Ryan from Man on Wire.

David Novack, director, of Burning The Future: Coal In America, winner of Pare Lorentz Award at DocuFest Q&A. Photo by Meg Madison.
Burning the Future: Coal in America, the Pare Lorentz Award winner, addresses the environmental impact of one of America's leading sources of energy: coal. Focusing on West Virginia-coincidentally, the birthplace of Pare Lorentz-the film documents the appalling practices of Big Coal, including mountaintop removal, which is exactly what it sounds like: decimating the ecosystem on top for mining purposes; and coal slurry impoundments, a means of cleaning the coal that has resulted in toxicity and contamination in the water supply. The coal industry has created a severe health risk for much of West Virginia and the surrounding coal-dependent states. The film not only lays out the issues, with both coal representatives and environmental activists weighing in, but, but follows the activities of a corps of activists, who venture to the United Nations to have their cases heard. Novack explained in the Q&A that West Virginia Senators Byrd and Rockefeller have been silent on the mountaintop removal, a practice that started in the mid-80s and accelerated in the mid-90s. He also pointed out that the "surface miners" (those who engage in mountaintop removal) are afforded much better workplace conditions than the traditional underground miners. Finally, Novack pointed out that we on the West Coast are susceptible to pollution from coal processing plants all the way in China.


As We Forgive, the winner of the IDA/David L. Wolper Student Documentary Achievement Award, examines the process of forgiveness and reconciliation in Rwanda in the decade and a half since the horrific massacres there in 1994. This endeavor has proved a vital foundation on which to heal and rebuild the nation, and Hinson follows two victims and two perpetrators as they go through the painful process of reflecting on their tragic losses and their horrible crimes and then, through mediators, facing each other. IDA Interim Executive Director Eddie Schmidt remarked to Hinson how impressive the film was a student work, noting that as a student, he had made a doc about "busing trays in the school cafeteria." The key to the success of her film, she noted, was, as with countless docs, access-here, to one of the bishops who was a key player in seeing the truth and reconciliation initiative through at the grassroots level, and through her translator and driver, who, as Hinson put it "got the vision of the film." Hinson, who admitted she's "just learning about outreach in documentary filmmaking," has been screening the film at the US Congress, the State Department and the Library of Congress. In addition, she founded the Living Bricks Campaign in support of continuing the reconciliation effort in Rwanda.

Isabel Vega, director/producer with Luis Colina, editor of La Corona, winner Documentary Short at Q&A, Kodak Screening Room at DocuFest 2008. Photo by Meg Madison.

La Corona, from Amanda Micheli and Isabel Vega, followed As We Forgive, and although Micheli was not able to be there, it's worth noting that she's the first David L. Wolper Student Documentary Achievement Award winner to "graduate" to a higher honor. She earned the Wolper in 1996 for Just for the Ride, and she noted from the stage on Awards Night that many of those in the room back then who were key in helping launch her career were in the room 12 years later. La Corona covers a beauty pageant inside a Bogota, Colombia women's correctional facility. Vega said that the biggest challenge was getting the daily permission of the warden and the guards. "You're the last on the list, because no one wants to take responsibility for an American crew," she said. "You needed the warden's signature, and you had to have a guard with you at all times." They shot for four hours a day, for two months. "We would have liked to have made a longer film," Vega admitted, "but the structure was going to be the pageant, which had a built-in arc, so we decided to stay with the characters and let the narrative unfold within that structure."

Maureen Ryan, co-producer, of Man On Wire, IDA Awards Feature Documentary Winner (tie) with Eddie Schmidt, Interim Executive Director, at DocuFest Q&A. Photo by Meg Madison.

See more pictures of DocuFest 2008 on the IDA's Flickr Photostream.