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Pennebaker, Stevens Feted at Academy's Governors Awards

By Tom White

Above Photo: Todd Wawrychuk / ©A.M.P.A.S.

In a de facto preamble to the Oscar-cast on February 24, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences staged the fourth annual Governors Awards this past Saturday, December 1, at the Ray Dolby Ballroom of the Hollywood and Highland Center in Hollywood.

Among the four honorees, DA Pennebaker earned an Academy Honorary Award for his undeniable impact on the documentary form. As the inscription on his Oscar says, he "redefined the language of film and taught a generation of filmmakers to look to reality for inspiration." Senator Al Franken, the subject of the 2006 film Al Franken: God Spoke, directed by Nick Doob and Chris Hegedus, Pennebaker's wife and filmmaking partner, shared introductory remarks with Academy Governor Michael Moore, who lauded Pennebaker as a pioneer who, "with a group of his friends [that would be Richard Leacock, Albert Maysles and Robert Drew], invented the modern documentary. Nonfiction film could be daring, provocative and, dare I say it, entertaining." Moore cited Pennebaker and Leacock's innovations in synch sound and camera portability. "This was anarchy, madness," Moore exclaimed. "They constructed their movies as movies, as works of art, as works of cinema."


Michael Moore handing the Academy Honorary Award to DA Pennebaker. Photo: Todd Wawrychuk / ©A.M.P.A.S.


Following a tribute reel that featured clips from classics like Dont Look Back, Monterey Pop, The War Room, The Kings of Pastry and a host of others, Pennebaker, mounting the stage with a spryness that defied his 87 years, returned Moore the favor of his remarks:"Knowing that Michael's on the case, I sleep better." He expressed his gratitude for the Oscar-he and Hegedus were nominated in 1994 for The War Room-noting that "People in New York never expect to go to Oscarland...But between here and New York, there's finally some kind of a bridge, and you guys somehow consider us fellow filmmakers" Of Hegedus, he said, "I realized that she could be the partner I was always looking for, who was driven by the same passion for a certain kind of film that I was. When we make films, when you're shooting them, it's great fun because there's nothing but problems to be solved. You're great pals. But then, when sit down at the Streenbeck or whatever editing machine there is, then it begins, you get divorced about four times a week."

IDA honored Pennebaker and Hegedus in 2005 with a Career Achievement Award. For an article from the December 2005 issue of Documentary, click here.

Also honored that evening was George Stevens Jr., renowned for helping to found the American Film Institute and the Kennedy Center Honors. His 1984 film George Stevens: A Filmmaker's Journey, about his father, was among the first to win an IDA Documentary Award. Stevens Jr. was also mentor to 2000 IDA Career Achievement Award honoree Charles Guggenheim, whose son Davis returned the favor by creating a short film about Stevens for the Governors Awards. Documentary also runs in the Stevens family: Son Michael has produced numerous AFI LIfe Achievement Award tributes to the likes of Martin Scorsese, Clint Eastwood, Steven Speilberg and Robert Wise, while daughter Caroline has executive-produced such films as Sons of Perdition, Devil's Playground and Cat Dancers, among many others.


George Stevens Jr. Photo: Todd Wawrychuk / ©A.M.P.A.S.


The documentary community was amply represented at the Governors Awards, with R.J. Cutler, Kirby Dick, Amy Ziering, Freida Lee Mock, Terry Sanders, Haskell Wexler, Nick Broomfield, Joan Churchill, Alan Barker and Rob Epstein providing enough docu-wattage at tables 405 and 406 to offset the billion-dollar effulgence emanating from Hersholt Humanitarian Award winner Jeffrey Katzenberg's table.