Wednesday’s terror attack in Paris prompted the documentary filmmakers gathered at the eighth annual Cinema Eye Honors in New York to urge one another to create an artistic response to the tragedy.
“Very bad things happened today in Paris, and I don’t want to spend the evening without mentioning that at least,” said Dirk Wilutzky, a producer of the Edward Snowden documentary Citizenfour, which won four awards, including best director for Laura Poitras and best documentary feature of the year, at the nonfiction filmmaking celebration. “I think we all as documentary filmmakers have a big responsibility to react to this. There will be a lot of very simple answers in the next days about who is to blame and what is to be done, and I think we as documentary filmmakers can find better answers to it. We have a lot of work in front of us. … Please take this as a motivation to make more documentaries and make this world more understandable.”
The audience at the Museum of the Moving Image in Queens erupted into applause.
“One thing we were talking about when we were arriving: Is this the right day to celebrate?” asked Mathilde Bonnefoy, the film’s editor and a producer, who is from Paris. Bonnefoy went on to win the award for best editing. “Because we were all so shocked by the attacks in Paris, and we said to each other — actually it is because, as Dirk was saying, the documentary community, among others, can best react to these things — we’re very happy to be here with you tonight especially.”
The feeling of community permeated the event. An intimate reception of hors d’oeuvres and cocktails preceded the awards ceremony in the lobby of the museum. The abbreviated event clocked in at just over one hour, allowing the attendees to enjoy more time at the afterparty across the street at The Bulb Room at Studio Square.
Two major awards were given out the day before at a special lunch, which shortened the ceremony. The Heterodox Award, which honors a fiction film that employs nonfiction techniques, went to Boyhood and director Richard Linklater, and the Legacy Award went to Paris Is Burning, the 1990 documentary about New York’s drag scene in the 1980s.
The film’s director, Jennie Livingston, and editor, Jonathan Oppenheim, attended the evening’s presentation and handed out the awards for editing and directing. “Documentary editing is writing with people’s images and words,” Oppenheim said before giving the award to Bonnefoy.
“Filmmaking is transformation,” Livingston said. “It’s self transformation. It’s not knowing what you’re doing and then finding what you’re doing. And then the surprise comes when the audience realizes you didn’t know what you were doing and you found something.”
Other winners from the evening included 20,000 Days on Earth, Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard‘s film about singer Nick Cave, which took original score and cinematography. The cinematography category had a tie, and Orlando von Einsiedel‘s Virunga, about gorillas in the Congo, also won. The other category to boast a tie was graphic design, which went to Syd Garon for Jodorowsky’s Dune and Heather Brantman and Tim Fisher for Particle Fever.
The audience choice award, which was presented by a random attendee, went to Keep On Keepin’ On, about the jazz musician Clark Terry and his relationship with a young blind piano prodigy.
“I could watch a documentary every day for the rest of my life,” the presenter said. “They’re like the most fabulous multivitamins.”
Academy Award-nominated filmmaker Sam Green hosted the ceremony. Cinema Eye founding director A.J. Schnack, who has hosted the event in years past, came up and stole the microphone at one point, joking with Green.
Honors chair Esther Robinson took the stage later in the awards ceremony to thank the event’s sponsors. “We are part of an incredibly challenging world right now, and I don’t want us to lose track of that, because we have to enter that and we have to build work that speaks to the moment that we live in and allows us to transcend that moment,” she said. “It is no joke right now. It is no joke. But the thing that sustains me, that allows me to act with the bravery and the action that is necessary for our moment is the work in this room.”
Famed documentary filmmakers Albert Maysles and D.A. Pennebaker presented the final award for nonfiction feature. Without even reading the name of the film, Pennebaker simply said, “Ah, Laura,” and Poitras came up to accept the award for Citizenfour.
“In order to do the work that we do, it wouldn’t be possible without the people who open their lives to us, to document,” Poitras said, as Maysles and Pennebaker stood beside her holding her hands. She then dedicated the prize to her subject. “Edward Snowden, who made the decision to risk his personal freedom so that we could understand what our government is doing. And so this award is for him.”