Skip to main content

IDA Staff Pick Their Memorable Moments from 2015

By KJ Relth

IDA Amicus Award honoree Tony Tabatznik with actor and activist Danny Glover.

It's the most wonderful time of the year: the time for publishing year-end lists! But we're not so interested in doing a "Best of 2015" list -- our own IDA Awards has that terrain well-covered. So instead, we turned to our colleagues here at IDA to weigh in on their most memorable moments of 2015. After much reflection and rumination, we've compiled the highlights from screenings, festivals, our own IDA programs, and community events to share with you, our community. While we couldn't include everything -- we would have a dissertation on our hands! -- we're happy to present the IDA staff's favorite moments from the past year.


Edwina Brandon, Director of Development and External Affairs

Part of the IDA Screening Series, Becoming Bulletproof helped celebrate people like my niece and inspired me to help her pursue her dream of acting. All she’s wanted to do her entire life is be an actor, and she’s done everything she can to be included, from being dressed as a tree and placed in the background to dressing up like a giant bird and running across the stage. When we watched Becoming Bulletproof together, it lit a fire in her that I haven’t seen in a long time. That fire continues to blaze today.

Also part of the IDA Screening Series, Something Better to Come opened my eyes. At the age of 50, I was entirely naïve to the fact that people actually live in garbage dumps. As disheartened as I was at the beginning of the film, I found myself drawn in by Yula: her feistiness, her courage, and her persistence. She is one of the most inspirational people I have ever witnessed. She was born with nothing and overcame the most devastating odds to find the happy and dignified life she desired.

I have long been a huge Amy Winehouse fan. As such, I knew she lived a sad life. But I had no idea how deep her depression and loneliness went. Amy provided insight into her lyrics, giving me a much deeper appreciation for them. But the film also greatly saddened me and made me a bit angry. I’ve also questioned why society feels the need to feed off the privacy of celebrities. I personally believe it’s an invasion and goes too far. This movie does a remarkable job of showcasing the damage the paparazzi can do to a celebrity and truly makes me question who was really responsible for the death of Amy Winehouse. This documentary made me miss her music and long for more.


Rodney Fayton, Controller

I have two bittersweet moments; saying goodbye to Michael Lumpkin after working with him for four years, and welcoming Simon Kilmurry to lead the organization to greater heights.


Mary Garbesi, Finance Coordinator

One of my most memorable documentary moments this year was gathering together during lunch with my colleagues to watch IFC's Documentary Now! series, starring Fred Armisen and Bill Hader. This well-crafted series pays loving homage to such doc classics as Grey Gardens and The Thin Blue Line. I appreciated its sharp satire about how how we represent ourselves on camera and how reality is presented to audiences, often in formulaic ways that are ripe for poking fun at. Who knew documentaries could be so funny?!

From IFC's 'Documentary Now!'

Lisa Hasko, Filmmaker Services Manager

One of the things I like best about documentary is when a film challenges a belief I'm holding onto and inspires me take a more nuanced look at an issue. That happened this year while I was watching submissions for the David L. Wolper Student Documentary Achievement Award. While there were many high-caliber films, one stood out as so beautiful and challenging that I knew instantly it had to be The One. It was The Archipelago, by director Benjamin Huguet. Using the crisp chill of the natural landscape and through the films' quiet stillness, the director showed, rather than told, the cultural importance of whale hunting for the people on the Faroe Islands. In the lead-up to the awards show, I regularly annoyed IDA's events department by begging to know who would win the Wolper Award. I'm glad they didn't tell me, because the excitement I felt when it was announced as the winner was worth the wait.


Ken Jacobson, Director of Educational Programming and Strategic Partnerships

Being shaken out of my slumber at 9am on a Sunday morning at Sundance by Brett Morgen's hilarious introduction of Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck, followed by the film itself, which is brimming with Brett's artistic brilliance. I decided right then and there that we had to have Brett do an IDA Conversation. Cut to three months later at the Landmark in LA, sitting in the front row for Brett's IDA Conversation with Sundance's Trevor Groth. As I watched a clip of one of the amazing animated sequences in Montage of Heck, I found the layers of ambiguity that I had missed the first time.

During IDA's Conversation Series in July, Amy Ziering and Kirby Dick told the amazing story of how they showed a cut of The Invisible War to someone in the military who had refused to participate in the film while he remained in the military. After seeing the cut, he was so moved by what he saw that he chose to resign from the military rather than miss out on the opportunity to appear on camera. The resulting interview proved the transformative power of documentary beyond any question.

While it’s technically not a doc moment, seeing the Academy's newly restored print of Satyajit Ray's Apu Trilogy at the Aero Theater in LA was a highlight. This masterpiece of social realism cinema stands apart. A joyful, painful experience that never fails to reach me at the deepest emotional level and renew my passion for film.


Amy Jelenko, Events Manager

I am inspired, humbled, and overall so grateful to have the opportunity to work with so many incredible filmmakers whose work is energizing audiences and bringing stories to light. Some highlights that come to mind are Glenn Greenwald talking with Marjan Safinia for the Q&A following the screening of Citizenfour at Docuday 2015. It was amazing, inspiring and frightening to get his first-hand account of domestic spying on citizens.

For the Screening Series, the Sachal Jazz Ensemble performing after the screening of Song of Lahore was amazing. The audience was clapping, dancing and enjoying themselves. This beautiful story came alive in front of our eyes!

At the IDA Awards, I love that Bob Odenkirk took a selfie with Ted Sarandos after a heartfelt and very meaningful Pioneer Award presentation, while Tony Tabatznik spoke about his love for documentary film and the profound importance of supporting a free media. I was pleased to see an absolute array of incredible filmmakers, including Gordon Quinn, receive recognition and well-deserved honors at the ceremony and after party. The heartfelt award presentations by celebrities and documentary stars just affirmed the universal importance of supporting this vital work.

IDA Pioneer Award honoree Ted Sarandos of Netflix takes a selfie with Bob Odenkirk

Andrew Kaiser, Development Manager

So many amazing moments in an incredible year for docs, and for the IDA. I'd have to say that sitting shellshocked, at total loss for words after watching Joshua Oppenheimer's The Look of Silence at Cinefamily was a pretty intense experience. On the other end of the spectrum, howling with laughter throughout Morgan Neville's and Robert Gordon's fabulous Best of Enemies was a major highlight as well. Perhaps not coincidentally, both Joshua and Morgan led excellent Master Classes at the IDA this year. My role in securing funding for this program was a huge source of pride.


Simon Kilmurry, Executive Director

Watching Frederick Wiseman pitch his upcoming film In Jackson Heights at the Hot Docs Forum, and subsequently watching Wiseman's amazing film at TIFF. I was so thankful that he did not cut it from three hours to 52 minutes as was suggested by a panelist at the Hot Docs Forum! Another TIFF experience: meeting and hanging out with Princess Shaw and hearing her sing. What a joy! See her in Ido Haar's beautiful new film Thru You Princess, produced by the wonderful Liran Atzmor. Look for it in theaters in 2016. I was happy to see great friends win Emmys for their work: Jason da Silva and Alice Cook for When I Walk, and Martha Shane and Lana Wilson for After Tiller. So good to see good people get their deserved honors! And meeting the Patels! I just want to take them home. Such wonderful people.


Jina Lim, Corporate Relations and Advertising Manager

​Binge-watching episodes of The Jinx with mountains of JetBlue snacks on my flights to and from LA has to be one of my favorite documentary moments of this year!


Katharine Relth, Communications Manager

The IDA was asked to co-present a screening of one of the documentaries at this year's edition of AFI FEST in November. The community-focused fest is not known for its extensive doc programming, so when the IDA was asked to choose the film they would like to co-present, I was pleased that almost the entire staff got behind No Home Movie, the final film by Belgian filmmaker Chantal Akerman. Still grieving from her sudden death no more than a month before the film’s premiere in Los Angeles, I was reassured to be part of a team so willing to champion the work of an avant-garde, feminist filmmaker with such a distinct point of view. I joined a full screening on a Friday afternoon on the opening day of the Fest, where those who made it through all 115 minutes of Akerman’s deliberate and devastating film were left with not just the poignant imagery of her mother and her declining health, but the haunting and beautiful ghost of a filmmaker too soon gone from this world.

Another 2015 highlight was an experience I sought out on my own, completely unaffiliated with the IDA. I will never forget the warm night in July when I joined a handful of friends at The Cinefamily to see A Poem Is A Naked Person, Les Blank's intimate Leon Russell studio / concert doc that was filmed from 1972 to 1974 but never saw a proper release until this year. It was a magical experience in a half-empty theater that I wanted to replicate as soon as it was over. Can I just have the joy and warmth of A Poem Is on a never-ending loop, please?

IDA Board President Marjan Safinia with Glenn Greenwald of 'Citizenfour'

Ranell Shubert, Program Assistant

As the Awards Coordinator, I have privileged access to the hundreds of films submitted to the IDA Awards. It’s astounding how high the bar for exemplary filmmaking is raised every year. I wanted to highlight a couple films not on that list that stood out to me this year.

Albert Maysles' final film, In Transit, takes us on a three-day cross-country ride on Amtrak’s busiest long distance train route, the Empire Builder. Each small vignette with the riders on the train creates a microcosm of the American story, and remind us how diverse and beautiful this country really is. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to see an Amtrak train without thinking about the world of stories contained within.

Another stand-out film for me was Almost There, by Chicago filmmakers Dan Rybicky and Aaron Wickenden. I would recommend this film to anyone looking to make their first character piece. Almost There follows the filmmakers in their well-intentioned efforts to lift outsider artist Peter Anton out of his deplorable living situation; along the way they face myriad ethical issues. The film is a testament to Dan’s abilities as an educator and is a paradigm case study of the delicate balance of the filmmaker/subject relationship. As a former student of Dan’s, I myself have been challenged and inspired by him. It’s a delight to see how well that part of his nature comes across on screen.

Another favorite from this year is by German director Julian Reich, Warrior Father King, which follows two UFC fighters in their struggle to make their mark in the brutal sport of mixed martial arts. Not only does the film explore the heartbreak and triumphs of these passionate fighters, but it also tells a story of friendship and redemption in a surprisingly emotional and heartfelt way.


Tom White, Editor, Documentary Magazine / Content Editor,

There were two scenes that broke my heart in Amy. Both featured Tony Bennett, who, throughout his long, storied career, had his own struggles in and out of fame. The first scene was the Grammys, in which Winehouse, on a soundstage in London, thousands of miles away from the awards in Los Angeles, showed genuine awe when Bennett strode to the stage to present the award for Album of the Year. And it was not the fact that she won that elated her, but the fact that her idol, the artist who inspired her to sing with heart and soul, was giving it to her. And for that one moment, she forgot about the pain and the drugs, and felt truly anointed. The second scene was when they met face to face in the studio to record “Body and Soul,” a song that predated her by seven decades, but suited her like a well-worn coat. She struggles through takes, but Bennett is so patient and compassionate and disarming. He’s more than a mentor; he's her peer. A soulmate, even.

It was also a wonderful thing to behold an artist who is so generous with sharing his process, his vision, his self as Joshua Oppenheimer was in his Master Class. Some choice outtakes: "The human capacity for evil depends on our ability to lie to ourselves."…"When we boast we feel small." …”I don't think of myself as a storyteller; I think of myself as an explorer." …“Robert Bresson once said, “Let sound be the score."…Oppenheimer imparted such wisdom about the responsibility of an artist, the joy and pain of creativity, and the impulse to sense the signs and tropes and metaphors all around us that I came away as inspired—if not more so—as I was beholding his diptych masterpiece, The Act of Killing and The Look of Silence.