Karaoke has become the ubiquitous after-hours activity on the North American festival circuit, but at Doc/Fest in Sheffield, England, they roll differently. The non-fiction film festival regularly throws a roller disco party in an old-school skating rink a few blocks from festival headquarters, and at last night’s event grown-up festival attendees squeamish about donning skates for the first time in decades (myself included) were given the added incentive of being present for the announcement of the nominees for the 2009 Cinema Eye Honors.
The non-fiction awards were previously held in Spring, with nominations announced at Sundance. This put them at a disadvantage for a number of reasons: post-Oscars, they felt like an afterthought to the higher-profile awards cycle, and post-Sundance and SXSW, the attention of industry had already mostly shifted to a new batch of films. And so the 2010 event will take place in January — the entire endeavor has been shifted two months up the calendar with the goal of playing a larger role in the wider awards conversation.
The set of nominees announced at the roller disco last night by Cinema Eye co-founder/co-chair/filmmaker/blogger AJ Schnack, co-chair/previously nominated filmmaker Esther B. Robinson, and Cinema Eye winning producer Simon Chin, will likely have some overlap with the Oscars and other honors. Certainly, it seems likely that The Cove and Food Inc, both nominated for the Cinema Eye for Outstanding Feature, will make the Academy’s final five, and it’s hard to imagine that other Cinema Eye noms such as The September Issue, Valentino: The Last Emperor and We Live in Public won’t have a solid shot at the shortlist.
The major categories mix doc box office hits with festival favorites, issue pics with localized labors of love, and newcomers (such as Jessica Oreck, the 20-something director of Beetle Queen Conquers Tokyo) with elder statespersons (such as Agnes Varda, the 80-something director of The Beaches of Agnes). Smaller films have a chance to win big. October Country, an impressionistic portrait of an upstate New York family and their ghosts, took five nominations including Outstanding Feature (and co-director/cinematographer/editor/composer Michael Palmieri became the first person in the history of the Cinema Eyes to be nominated five times in a single year), while 45365, which won the jury prize at SXSW before premiering over the summer on SnagFilms, took three nominations. In general, the Cinema Eyes are extraordinarily welcoming of personal/idiosyncratic/art film-style docs to an extent that the Oscars simply aren’t.
And of course, Oscar nominees generally don’t learn of the honor, as Palmieri and co-director Donal Mosher did, while on roller skates.