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1997 IDA Distinguished Documentary Achievement Awards

By IDA Editorial Staff

A man looks down at a young child with a tube in his nose, from Thierry Michel's 'Donka, X-Ray of An African Hospital  (Donka, radioscopie d'un hopital africain).'

Distinguished Documentary Achievement Awards


SCARY MAN (Vogelvrij)
Albert Elings and Eugenie Jansen

Hoarse from shouting and tired from chasing, people invented the scarecrow to assert their superiority and prove that they were more clever than the birds. But that rag doll quickly became a symbol of the never-ending battle between man and bird. From time immemorial, people have tried to scare off the birds—a cat in a cage, fake birds of prey, laser guns, even sound tapes of bird distress calls. All to no avail. Geese in the meadow, gulls on a rubbish heap, sparrows in a glasshouse, pigeons in the city, rooks at a cemetery, starlings on a runway... there's scarcely a breed of bird that doesn't plague humanity. Scary Man describes the current state of affairs in Holland, where the battle continues daily, as the tons of bird meat per cubic kilomete of airspace increases. Will the final solution to the "bird problem" ever be found?

EUGENIE JANSEN studied at the Dutch Film and Television Academy in Amsterdam and at the Escuela Internacional de Cine y Television of Cuba. Films include Koekoekskinderen, a 30 min. fictional thesis film for the Dutch Academy.

ALBERT ELINGS studied audiovisual arts at the Academy of Visual Arts in Breda and documentary film at the Dutch Film and Television Academy in Amsterdam. Films to his credit include Eyes Like Yours, Living Apart and The Vision and the Image.

Produced and Directed by Tim Schwab and Christina Craton
A presentation of Independent Television Service
Distributed by First Light Films International
21 min.

In a consumer culture, what is it that we are really consuming? The Burning Barrel begins with the personal recollections of an almost middle-aged man who throughout his life has spent at least one afternoon a week burning garbage in a remote and increasingly abandoned prairie landscape: a half century of gross national product is encapsulated in shots of the barrel as its flames engulf old catalogs and magazines, pounds of junk mail and various free samples wrapped in wasteful packaging. A meditation on the spiritual costs of the consumer culture, the film combines wry humor, intimate bittersweet home movies and found footage over the past forty years to encourage viewers to reflect on the materialism that is overwhelming cultures worldwide.

Partners for more than twenty years, CHRISTINA CRATON and TIM SCHWAB are the co-founders of First Light Films International, a Montréal-based production company specializing in nonfiction films. Their films, known for their painterly use of landscape, evocative use of oral histories, wry humor and non-polemic style, include The Artist and the Wolves, Ghosts along the Freeway, Ghost Dance and Letters from America:The Life and Times of O.E. Rolvaag.


(Donka, radioscopie d'un hopital africain)

Produced by Les Films de la Passerelle
Written and Directed by Thierry Michel
Photography by Luc Frisson
Music by Marc Herouet
86/58 min.

The Donka Hospital was built in 1959, at the close of the colonial period in Africa; it was constructed on the European model, with little consideration for the exigencies of African life. Situated on the continent's west coast, in Conakry, Guinea, Donka is the country's most important medical facility: a university hospital, it is run as a public establishment with funding from the state—and like many African hospitals, it suffers from the lack of available drugs, the inability of patients to pay, and the total absence of modern technology. And yet, the hospital is run as a self-sustaining unit, paying its way as its patients struggle against disease. As one doctor put it: "Should one refuse to work because conditions are below the absolute minimum? Or should one try nevertheless to save those who can be saved in the prevailing conditions?"

Born in Belgium, in 1952, THIERRY MICHEL studied at the Institut des Arts de Diffusion, in Brussels, where he is currently a professor. He has directed both documentaries and fiction films, and his credits include: Les derniers colons (The Last Colonials, 1995), Somalie, l'humanitaire s'en va-t-en guerre (Somalia, Humanity at War, 1994), Zaïre, le cycle du serpent (Zaire, the Cycle of the Snake, 1992) and Gosses de Rio (Kids from Rio, 1990).


Produced by Dan Gifford and Amy Sommer Gifford
Directed by William Gazecki and Dan Gifford
Written by Dan Gifford, William Gazecki and Michael McNulty
Photography by William Gazecki and Rick Nyburg
Distributed by SomFord Entertainment
136 min.

In the tradition of the 1960s exposés of govemment lying about the Vietnam War and Watergate, Waco: The Rules of Engagement exposes massive government deception in causing the fiery deaths of Branch Davidian men, women and children, in Waco, Texas, on April 19. Contrary to repeated federal law enforcement and Congressional claims that the Davidians set the fires and committed mass suicide, the film documents the government's firing incendiary devices into the volatile mix of deadly chemicals already injected into the building. The story is told by technical experts, distinguished academic scholars and the participants themselves, including a home video made by the people under seige. The film raises disturbing questions about the abuse of human and civil rights by the authorities and the complicity of the media.

DAN GIFFORD has had many years of experience in broadcast journalism for ABC News, the McNeil/Lehrer NewsHour and CNN. He studied at John Hopkins University and The Peabody Conservatory, and has appeared as an actor for theatrical and television movies.

WILLIAM GAZECKI won an Emmy for post-production sound mixing on St. Elsewhere along with nominations for his work on Hill Street Blues and other programs. He studied at UCLA, USC and the American Film Institute, and has wide experience as a video editor.

The IDA/David L. Wolper Student Award

Produced by Michael S. Smith and Tyrone E. Smith Written
Directed by Michael S. Smith
Photography by Michael S. Smith, Khamisi Norwood and Michael Mechanic
Original Music by Hobo Junction
45 min.

After his murder in a drive-by shooting, Jesse Rahim Hall's family and friends try to make sense of his tragic loss. Interviews are punctuated by visual essays, to the accompaniment of "original hip hop beats, a little jazz and a touch of gospel." Jesse's Gone taps into the rediscovery of the sensibility that Black life is not a sub-set of living but simply one of life's shades of gray. The film takes the viewer beyond mere news of more violence, another death. It avoids the politics of blame and the nihilism of gangsta posturing. And it shows how a few people from the "other side of the tracks" attempt to transcend the tragedy of life and death with grace and humanity.

Jesse's Gone is the first motion picture by 32 year old MICHAEL S. SMITH, a native of Grand Rapids, Michigan, currently living in Brooklyn, New York. The documentary was completed as his Masters thesis for the Graduate School of Journalism at the University of California-Berkeley. Having discovered that his mild dyslexia hampered his dream of becoming a print journalist, he turned his efforts to television and worked under the tutelage of Jon Else and the late Marlon E. Riggs. Viewing himself as an artist/journalist/filmmaker, he has no plans to limit himself to any one genre or occupation.

The IDA/David L. Wolper Student Achievement Award

Mark Becker Stanford University

Jules at Eight aims the spotlight at jazz/blues guitarist Julian Lage, who at the ripe old age of eight moves easily from the second grade playground to live musical gigs. A strikingly poised musician, Jules is also just a kid.

MARK BECKER began producing films while studying at Stanford University's graduate program in documentary film. His other films have been recognized at the Silver Images Film Festival in Chicago, the Fine Arts Festival in San Francisco, Cinequest: the San Jose Film Festival, the Boston Film Festival and the Palm Springs International Film Festival. He also works as a cinematographer and editor.