RaMell Ross's 'Hale County This Morning, This Evening' is awarded Outstanding Nonfiction Feature.
The documentary community ascended upon the Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria, Queens last night for the 12th annual Cinema Eye Honors, a relaxed awards ceremony celebrating the multi-faceted production aspects of nonfiction filmmaking. In such a strong year for rich documentary work, the awards were spread out amongst a wide range of 2018's best offerings.
Hosted once again by Academy Award nominee Steve James (Hoop Dreams), the evening began on a light note, one that would maintain its presence throughout the evening.
Jokingly insisting that last year Academy members voted for Bryan Fogel's Icarus when they actually meant to vote for James's similarly sounding Abacus, James was nonetheless able to give an acceptance speech last night, winning the inaugural Outstanding Broadcast Series prize for his 10-part epic, America to Me, which can currently be viewed on STARZ.
"I feel like this was a chance to make a series that was about people who, in my own career, I've virtually ignored," James admitted, "which are people who don't live in desperate, besieged communities, who live in places where we tend to, in America, think that they must be fine, even if they're black and biracial because they live in a liberal community. And yet, and yet, racism runs deep in America."
Cinema Eye Founding Director AJ Schnack took to the stage to point out how many narrative films are unsuccessfully obtaining their inspiration from nonfiction work, calling out two recent flops from filmmaker Robert Zemeckis: The Walk (based on James Marsh's Man on Wire) and Welcome to Marwen (based on Jeff Malmberg's Marwencol). Schnack joked that next would be a fictionalized remake of Kirsten Johnson's Cameraperson starring Charlize Theron in 2020.
For the second year in a row, the Outstanding Nonfiction Feature prize went to a feature filmmaking debut, last year for Yance Ford's incredibly moving Strong Island, and this year for RaMell Ross's visually expressive act of experimental nonfiction, Hale County This Morning, This Evening. Both in part were produced by Joslyn Barnes, making her a back-to-back winner in the category.
Minding the Gap, the skateboarding drama/debut feature from Bing Liu (who admitted in one of his acceptance speeches that he didn't go to film school), took home three awards, for Outstanding Direction, Outstanding Editing, and Outstanding Debut. Liu also served as one of the story directors on America to Me, prompting his making an appearance on stage last night numerous times, finally admitting that whiskey was being served in the winners' room backstage and that he was beginning to feel very drunk. His film can currently be viewed on Hulu.
Sandi Tan's Shirkers, an investigative, pop-infused doc about a stolen film that was never completed, took home two prizes, one for its hypnotic, alluring score and one for its playful, consistently active animation. The film can currently be viewed on Netflix.
The husband and wife directing team of E. Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin took home three awards—Outstanding Production, Cinematography, and the Audience Choice Prize— for their mountain-climbing documentary, Free Solo. With last night's victories, Chin's Cinema Eye Award count went up to five for his career, making him the most awarded individual in Cinema Eye history.
As she asked everyone in the room to give themselves a round of applause for the tremendous work they had done over the past 12 months, Free Solo's Vasarhelyi accepted the Audience Award and, given the recent box office and critical acclaim of nonfiction work, offered a playful warning for her narrative brethren: "Watch out fiction films. We're coming for you!"
Whether or not fiction films should be scared remains to be seen, but as evidenced by the giving of the Legacy Award to the filmmakers of the 1980s PBS series Eyes on the Prize, the power of nonfiction has a long-lasting effect that we can only begin to imagine and put into context.