IDA honors 'Walk' as top feature

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"A Walk to Beautiful" ran away with the top prize in the feature category at the 2007 International Documentary Assn. Awards gala benefit Friday.

The Distinguished Documentary Achievement ceremony at the DGA Theatre included many powerful messages, including one from a Hurricane Katrina survivor. And despite a back injury that prevented him from attending in person, Michael Moore delivered an IDA Career Achievement Award acceptance message calling for efforts to have documentaries embraced by exhibitors that was enthusiastically received.

"Walk" topped a field of nominees that included "Crazy Love," "Operation Homecoming: Writing the Wartime Experience," "Sicko" and "Taxi to the Dark Side."

"Walk," from director-producer Mary Olive Smith and executive producer Steve Engel, focuses on five women in Ethiopia who suffered devastating childbirth injuries and were then shunned by their family and villages. The film follows the trials they endure and their attempts to rebuild their lives.

"A Son's Sacrifice," from director Yoni Brook, producer Musa Sheed and executive producer Marco Williams, won in the short documentary category. The film follows the journey of a young American Muslim who confronts his roots.

The inaugural Alan Ett Music Documentary Award for exemplary creative use of music was presented to "We Are Together (Thina Simunye)," from director-producer Paul Taylor and producer Teddy Leifer.

Moore's sisters accepted his award, and one read a letter from the filmmaker. "All we have heard lately is how studios and distributors can't make money releasing documentaries in theaters," Moore wrote. "Why some of them can't get a distributor — or, even if they have a distributor, can't find an audience — is a riddle that must be solved because American audiences are missing out on some outstanding movies."

Moore went on to relate that on Thursday, the day before the ceremony, "Enchanted" was the No. 1 movie at the boxoffice, followed by "Fred Claus," which averaged $90 per screen; and "Bee Movie," which averaged $64 per screen. ("Enchanted" had a per-theater average of $215. "Fred Claus" ranked ninth for the day, and "Bee Movie" ranked 11th.)

"I'm going to offer (exhibitors) a chance to make more than $64 per screen — by showing nonfiction films," his message read. "I won't be satisfied until I see nonfiction film treated with the same respect as a cartoon about bees or a biopic on Santa Claus' brother."

Previously announced honorees included Ken Burns' longtime collaborator Buddy Squires, who received the outstanding documentary cinematography award; CNN's Christiane Amanpour, who received the Courage Under Fire Award; Jocelyn Shearer, who accepted the preservation and scholarship award on behalf of National Geographic Digital Motion; and "Darfur Now" director Ted Braun, who earned the Jacqueline Donnet Emerging Documentary Filmmaker Award.

Showtime's "This American Life" was honored as a continuing series, PBS' "The Supreme Court" was named for a limited series, "Sputnik Mania" earned the ABCNews VideoSource Award and Erin Hudson received the David L. Wolper Student Documentary Award for "Long Haul."

Katrina survivor Phyllis Montana LeBlanc accepted the Pare Lorentz Award on behalf of producer-director Spike Lee and producer Sam Pollard for "When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts."

She praised the courage of the filmmaker, describing the award as "a symbol of achievement in honor of a man who choose to smack the hell out of man's inhumanity to man."

"This story is not over, it is not finished," she said. "My only question for the wonderful faces that I stand before this evening is, when I go home tonight, will you remember my face? Will you remember New Orleans and the people that are still suffering and in need of your help today?"
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