“That’s all the twerking you’re going to get tonight,” Michael Moore cracked after shuffling to the stage at Tuesday’s night’s Cinema Eye Awards and offering his audience an image that summed up a lot of the films in competition: Startling. Amusing. Profoundly disturbing.
Dedicated to the best in the year’s documentaries -- Joshua Oppenheimer’s “The Act of Killing” was named the best doc of the year -- the Cinema Eyes were being handed out for the seventh time before a who’s who of the documentary world of New York (and elsewhere, too, it should be noted; editor Niels Pagh Andersen, of “The Act of Killing,” was in from Helsinki). “We’re all in this together,” Moore told the audience at the Museum of the Moving Image, warming up a crowd that had traveled to Queens through an Arctic Vortex to hear the winners announced in well over a dozen categories -- and who, Moore said, were a different kind of filmmaking animal. “That’s why there’s so little tension in the room,” he said. We think he might have been serious.
Sarah Polley was named best director for “Stories We Tell”; “Cutie and the Boxer” was recognized for Outstanding Debut for Heinzerling, Outstanding Graphics and Animation for Art Jail and Outstanding Original Score for Yasuaki Shimizu.
Nels Bangerter was named best editor for the all-archival “Let the Fire Burn.” Thelma Schoonmaker, delivering what might have been dubbed Best Back-Handed Compliment of the evening, said she could not have cut the improvisations in “The Wolf of Wall Street” if it had not been for her earlier work in documentary film. “We (Martin Scorsese and herself) just worshiped the cinema verite pioneers,” she said, “some of whom are here tonight...like Albert Maysles.”
Also in the house were Alex Gibney, Barbara Kopple, Lana Wilson, Martha Shane, Josh Fox and Morgan Neville, all candidates in various categories. Neville, whose “20 Feet from Stardom” is among the more popular docs on the Oscar short list, was predicting a loss for himself, just as the crowd was moving into the auditorium from the HBO reception in the museum’s cavernous lobby area -- where Debra Zimmerman of Women Make Movies had delivered a moving salute to the recently deceased doc icon Peter Wintonick.
“Dave Grohl sent out a big last-minute tweet,” Neville said with some resignation, referring to the drummer and producer/director of the music film “Sound City,” insinuating that Grohl’s last-minute gambit would draw the votes necessary to win the Audience Award, which was determined through on-line voting. (According to Cinema Eye’s Brian Geldin, more than 44,000 votes were cast for the award this year, which busted the record for the category, the previous high being just over 10,000.) It worked: “Sound City” won the audience prize -- which Grohl, appropriately, accepted virtually (via video acceptance).
Neville was quite happy, though, that Lisa Fischer, perhaps the most inspiring singer from “20 Feet,” was scheduled to perform inside. When she sang “Fever” she made everyone happy.
In keeping with the rough-and-tumble image that doc makers like to cultivate, the evening was run a bit like a high school assembly; “amateur night” was the description one nominee used to describe the goings on, having watched the museum’s chief curator, David Schwartz, carrying extra chairs into the theater like a maitre’d. But the winners were no doubt heartened. Maybe startled. Certainly entertained. And besides, doc people don’t really care about awards. Which is why there was so little tension in the room…
The Hell Yeah Prize
Josh Fox, for “Gasland” and “Gasland II”
Outstanding Achievement in Production
Signe Byrge Sørensen, “The Act of Killng”
Outstanding Achievement in a Nonfiction Film for Television
Lucy Walker, “The Crash Reel”
Barbara Kopple, “Harlan County USA”