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1995 IDA Distinguished Documentary Achievement Award: Nominees

By IDA Editorial Staff

A man wearing glasses with a closed-lip smiles holds a gun up to his temple.


Producers: Lynn O'Donnell and Terry Zwigoff
Director: Terry Zwigoff
Cinematographer: Maryse Alberti
Editor: Victor Livingston
Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics

Crumb is an intimate, funny, and deeply disturbing portrait of the life and work of renowned underground cartoonist and artist Robert Crumb. Shot over a period of six years, the film uses unexpurgated interviews with Crumb, his family, colleagues, critics, and ex-lovers, along with footage of his work, to document the obsessions and uncompromising creativity of an individual who helped define the counterculture of the 1960s and '70s. Called "the Breughel of the 20th century" by art critic Robert Hughes, Crumb is a searing social critic who renders the familiar, painfully funny circumstances of life's rich pageant with scintillat-ing precision.

As much about the Crumb family as about the artist himself, Crumb is especially incisive and affecting in its portrayal of Robert's brothers, Charles and Max, who were less successful in overcoming the dysfunctional circumstances of their early home life. The film unflinchingly explores this part of Crumb's experience, as well as engaging the sexual issues that lie at the heart of the artist's work, raising uncomfortable questions about motivation and censorship. In many ways a quintessential American portrait, Crumb is both an unlikely success story and a reminder of the tensions and sadness that lie beneath the surface of a complacent culture.

Terry Zwigoff (Producer/Director) is the critically acclaimed director of the documentary Louie Blue, a portrait of the obscure and eccentric blues musician and artist Howard Armstrong. A friend of Robert Crumb's for 25 years, Zwigoff played in Crumb's band, the Cheap Suit Serenaders, and published several of his comics during the 1970s. He originally decided to make a film about the notoriously shy artist because, as he says, "I didn't want someone else to do it wrong. I wanted to make a film as dark and funny and detailed and honest as Crumb's own work." Zwigoff is also the director of the feature documentary A Family Named Moe, on the history of Hawaiian music.

San Francisco-based Lynn O'Donnell (Producer) produced Steven Okazaki's first feature film, Living on Tokyo Time. She has also produced a number of documentaries for public television, including The Voice of Tango: Memories of Carlos Gardel, The State of the Language, and The Poet Remembers, a profile of Nobel Prize-winning poet Czeslaw Milosz.

89 MM From Europe

Producers: Janusz Skalkowski and Wojciech Szczudlo
Director: Marcel Lozinski Writer: Marcel Lozinski
Cinematography : Jacek Petrycki and Arthur Reinhart
Sound: Maigorzata Jaworska
Editor : Katarzyna Maciejko-Kowalczyk
Distributor: Studio Filmowe Kalejdoskop and Direct Cinema Limited

At Brest-Litovsk, the border between Poland and the former Soviet Union, European railway tracks end and Russian tracks begin. The former are 1,435 mm wide; the latter, 1,524 mm. Because of this 89 mm difference, every day workers have to change several thousand train car wheels so that international trains can pass through. As the Belarus workers perform their task, passengers from France, Germany, Holland, and elsewhere observe their labors from the train windows. Observing both the laborers and the observers, 89 MM from Europe documents this odd and somewhat absurd situation, a pungent metaphor for the relations between two connected but different worlds.

Janusz Skalkowski and Wojciech Szczudlo (Producers) have been executive producers in the State Documentary Film Studio in Warsaw since 1978. They have produced more than 50 films for Polish television, including works by Marcel Lozinski (Director), Tadeusz Palka, and Marek Piwowski. In 1988, together with producers Zbigniew Domagalski and Piotr Sliwinski, they established the first independent private film studio in Poland, Studio Filmowe Kalejdoskop, to work with the top filmmakers in Poland.


Producer and Director: Lourdes Portillo
Co Producer: Michelle Valladares
Cinematographer: Kyle Kibbe
Editor: Vivien Hillgrove
Sound: Jose Araujo
Distributor: Xochitl Films

Early one Sunday morning, filmmaker Lourdes Portillo received a phone call informing her that her beloved Uncle Oscar had been found dead of a gunshot wound to the head in Chihuahuas, Mexico. His widow has declared the death a suicide. Most of his family, however, suspect murder and point to a number of possible suspects: his business partner, his ranchhand, the widow herself. In an attempt to investigate her uncle's death and to better understand his life and her own, Portillo returns to the land of her birth.

Part mystery story, part cultural history, part autobiography, The Devil Never Sleeps is a lyrical personal journey in which the filmmaker is both investigator and subject and the "truth" is elusive at best. Using elements as disparate as clips from TV soap operas, 8mm home movies, family photographs, and stylized visual reminiscences, Portillo weaves a narrative that explores the politics and passions of northern Mexico and the internecine drama of her own family. What she discovers is that the Anglo concept of the "facts" may not apply in the desert region of her homeland and that, as the natives say, when evil is lurking, the devil never sleeps.

Born in Chihuahua, Mexico, Lourdes Portillo (Producer/Director) moved with her family to Los Angeles when she was 13. Her formal film training began with an apprenticeship at the National Association of Broadcast Engineers and Technicians in San Francisco and continued at the San Francisco Art Institute. After graduating in 1978, she used an American Film Institute Independent Filmmaker Grant to create her internationally praised film After the Earthquake/Despues del Terremoto, about a Nicaraguan refugee living in San Francisco. Since then, she has worked in a rich variety of forms, from television documentary to satirical video-film collage, though her focus has remained the search for Latino identity. Her 1985 film, The Mothers of Plaza De Mayo, the product of a three-year collaboration with writer/director Susana Munoz, was nominated for an Academy Award. In 1989, she completed La Ofrenda: The Days of the Dead, an affectionate portrait of the macabre Mexican and Chicano holiday, in which she challenged the notion that "documentary is always associated with injustice." Columbus on Trial (1993), an ironic commemora­tion of Columbus's "discovery" of America made with a grant from the NEA Interarts Program, screened at the London and Sundance film festivals and was selected for the 1993 Whitney Museum Biennial. In 1994, Portillo was awarded a Guggenheim fellowship in recognition of her contributions to filmmaking.


Producer: Susan MacKinnon
Director: Lawrence Johnston
Cinematographer: Dion Beebe
Distributor: Ronin Films Australia

In the mid-1930s, on the streets of Sydney, Australia, a word began appearing. Always the same, written in chalk in elegant copperplate script, the word eternity would materialize overnight like frost. Sometimes it would last a few days, weeks, even months, depending on the weather. Eventually it was washed away by the rain or blown away in the wind, but its memory lingered in the minds of many. In 1956, when the writer's identity was discovered, he was nicknamed "Mr. Eternity." He would continue to write the word until his death in 1967.

Eternity explores this unusual urban phenomenon, how the repeated action by an individual over a span of 40 years singularly influenced a city. Bringing together people from all walks of life who were affected by these sightings, the film presents their meditations on the mysterious word and their recollections of the strange tale of Mr. Eternity.

Susan MacKinnon (Producer) has been working as an independent producer for six years and has won numerous awards for documentaries and educational films. You Must Remember This (1991), a one-hour documentary about Alzheimer's disease that she wrote and coproduced, was nominated by the Australian Film Institute as Best Television Documentary and received the Special Jury Prize from Japan's International Educational Program Contest, among other honors. In 1993, she produced and codirected Loaded: The Gun-Lover, which screened on the Australian Broadcasting Company's True Stories and was voted one of the most popular documentaries at the Sydney Film Festival.

Lawrence Johnston (Director) began his career as a film repairer at 20th Century-Fox in Queensland, Australia, where he had the opportunity to study many films from their huge library. Eventually he escaped from Queensland to attend Melbourne's Swinburne Film and Television School. His graduating film, Night Out, won international acclaim and was an official selection at the 1990 Cannes Film Festival.  Johnston currently has two features in development through the Australian Film Commission. He began shooting the prison drama Life, by Melbourne writer John Brumpton, in June.


Producer and Director: David Grubin
Narrator: David McCullough
Distributor: WGBH/The American Experience

A masterful four-and-a-half hour biography made for the PBS series The American Experience, FDR examines the elusive public and private persona of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. It traces the life of the legendary leader from his privileged childhood through his death in office in 1945, presenting a reverent but not uncritical portrait of an incredibly popular president who led the nation out of the Great Depression and through World War II.

FDR uses archival materials and vivid recollections-from biographers, descendants, political aides, and such intimate sources as a former White House butler and Roosevelt's physical therapist-to explore not only Roosevelt's extraor­dinary political career but the forces that shaped his character and the impact of his personality on American life. Offering a frank and in-depth look at such topics as Roosevelt's problematic marriage and his struggle with polio (and the Herculean effort expended to keep his condition secret), as well as the public triumphs of the New Deal and the Allied military victory, the film is an absorbing account of a president who reshaped America and the world.

An award-winning producer, director, writer, and cinematographer, David Grubin (Producer/Director) has made documentaries for television and commercials and films for clients ranging from IBM and Exxon to Harvard University. His documentary films include LBJ, a biography oF Lyndon Johnson that was chosen as one of the best documentaries oF 1992 by the New York Times and other publications, and Healing and the Mind with Bill Moyers, winner of an Emmy and many other awards, including an award from the American Psychological Association. His wide­ screen, quadraphonic-sound film, It’s an Electric Life, was featured at the Electric Energy Pavilion at the New Orleans World Exposition. Grubin's other honors include a Peabody Award, a Guggenheim Fellowship, the Edward R. Murrow Award from the Overseas Press Club, and awards from Columbia University and the Writer's Guild of America.