The Cinema Eye Awards: It's All About the Craft

It was a hard day. I woke early and
began four hours of chasing a toddler around while trying to deal with some
rendering issues over the phone. Nap time, and I hand off the little one to the
wife to put her down. I throw my camera into the car to go film an interview
for a friend. Rushed back to Brooklyn to pick
up my other daughter from ballet and the stress and fatigue have me aching all
over. Did I really want to drag my ass into the city to see a documentary
awards late March? With the IDA Awards, the Oscars and 500 festivals
in the US,
do we need another reason to have an awards event?

Maybe. The Cinema Eye Awards were
set up, as filmmaker AJ Schnack, one of the principal organizers, explained in
his opening remarks, to honor the craft of filmmaking--and as an angry response
to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences Short List, which he felt
didn't. As the room was filled with documentary filmmakers, that honoring felt
a tad self-congratulatory. However, much of the self-congratulation was mixed
with enough self-deprecation, and frustration, to take a good deal of the edge
off. Jason Kohn, whose film Manda Bala won the award for Outstanding
Achievement, summed it up this way: "When these movies don't get seen, you
feel like you're fucking losing. You feel like somebody else is winning and
that person is no good." It should be noted that Kohn said this with a
wide smile and not in reference to his own film, but to those brilliant docs that
don't get the attention they deserve.

In the end it didn't really feel as
if the awards meant as much as the nominations--or simply bringing all of the
filmmakers together to recognize how many good/great documentary films are
being made. As Schnack elaborated, he was driven by the spirit of Werner
Herzog, who strives to make films that illuminate an ecstatic truth, rather
than an accountant's truth.

Schnack's co-presenter and
co-conspirator, Thom Powers, who runs the Stranger than Fiction Film Series in
New York and programs the documentaries at the Toronto International Film
Festival, probably knew every person in the room personally, so his
presentation was particularly familial. While the delivery was relaxed and
casual, the evening was surprisingly well run; short speeches, nice tech and a
professional sheen that made it difficult to believe that this was an inaugural

In addition to doling out awards,
the show also took time to honor both Tony Silver and St.Clair Bourne, both of
whom had passed away in recent months. For Silver, the awards show organizers
screened the opening sequence of his breakthrough film Style Wars (available
via plexifilm). It was a fitting tribute. Filmmaker Nonso Christian Ugbode, who
had worked briefly with Bourne, put together a short clip reel of some of his
work, interspersed with a speech he had given. It, too, was a strong reminder
of the transformative power of film.

The creators of the event didn't go
crazy in terms of number of awards; producers, cinematographers, editors,
graphic techs and directors were all honored. The limited awards were a good
way to spread the love without overdoing it. The organizers also left room for
an expanded event in the future. I imagine that music will be in the mix for
next year as it played a prominent role in the ceremony.

In the middle of the evening,
Powers pulled out some chairs and pulled up filmmakers Alex Gibney, Esther
Robinson, Jason Kohn, and Pernille Rose Gronkjaer to discuss the state of
independent film. If there was any controversy in the evening, it was
introduced here as Powers pointed out that Robinson had balked at the fact that
all of the nominees for the top award were male. While Gibney expressed
excitement at the prospects for documentary film, Robinson took a more dour
view, pointing out that cable channels pay much less than it costs to make a
film. She further noted that the films being feted for the craft at this event
weren't the big money-makers.

In the end, the Cinema Eye Awards
program wasn't about adding laurels to posters, or bringing in dollars, or even
feeling self-important. They really were about reframing the way that the
documentary community considers craft. To that end, they were a necessary
reminder to many in the audience about why they were making films in the first

For the complete list of winners,
click here:


Michael Galinsky is a
photographer and filmmaker based in Brooklyn, NY.