Fast Foreword: The Editor's Column, Spring 2008
By Tom White
It's that time again, when the members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences have bestowed the nominations for the best documentaries in the short and feature categories. But are they the best? Or have some deserving docs been overlooked?
Well, filmmaker/blogger AJ Schnack took one look at the Short List last November, and after fielding scores of e-mails about what was snubbed, felt compelled to do something about it. So, he and Thom Powers, the documentary programmer at the Toronto International Film Festival, worked with a corps of doc programmers to come up with a list of categories and films. Throw in sponsorship from IndiePix and The Wall Street Journal, as well as a venue (the IFC Center Cinema in New York City) and a date (March 18, 2008), and you have the inaugural Cinema Eye Honors for Nonfiction Filmmaking.
This is an impressive achievement, and it helps to shed more light on an art form that deserves all the kudos it can get. Now, in his blog, Schnack also dissed the IDA for standing with AMPAS "on the side of conventional and competent" and "ignoring the craft." Not necessarily so. The IDA Awards program has expanded dramatically over the years, introducing awards for cinematography and editing in 2005, and an award for best music documentary this past year. And while there is some overlap between the IDA and the Academy nods, so is there overlap among the guilds honors, the critics' kudos and the Sundance victors--and the Cinema Eye Honors. And among the films that did not make the Short List, IDA did honor My Kid Could Paint That and Manufactured Landscapes with spots on the Feature Documentaries Short List, and We Are Together with the first IDA/Alan Ett Music Documentary Award. And one category that Cinema Eye does not include is documentary shorts, which the IDA has recognized since 1994 and in the '90s led the charge to keep that category when the Academy's Board of Governors wanted to eliminate it.
Any awards program, no matter how established, will be subject to scrutiny. This goes for any art form. Look at the Nobel Prize for Literature: James Joyce, Marcel Proust and Franz Kafka failed to impress the Nobel Committee, while other, less laudable writers did. Awards aren't perfect because the people who toil many hours giving serious consideration to the entries and candidates aren't perfect, either. But awards are there to elevate their respective art forms and honor those individuals who have astonished and stunned us with something amazing.
How do we segue to the dearly departed St.Clair Bourne, himself an IDA Award winner in 2000 with his Paul Robeson: Here I Stand? We pay tribute to someone who left us way too soon, well before his work was done. I thank Tracie Lewis, Sam Pollard and Kathe Sandler for all their help and suggestions.
Yours in actuality,