IDA Awards: Norman Lear Says Filmmakers Must Protect First Amendment in Trump Era

Norman Lear - Getty H 2016
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"If he or his administration in any way threatens the free speech rights of our documentary filmmakers," he said, "[we must] hunker down together and fight our asses off."

At the 32nd Annual International Documentary Association awards held at the Paramount Theater on Friday, Norman Lear stressed filmmakers' top priority as Donald Trump becomes the next president.

“As we enter a very dangerous time in our country, with a president-elect who does not seem to understand, much less cherish, the Constitution, I am happier than I am able to express that there is an International Documentary Association to fight for the first amendment," he said as he accepted the Amicus award with his wife Lyn. "It pains me to say this, but Donald Trump is, in many ways, a creature of the creative community. Reality TV made him a star and perhaps went a long way to making him a president. Our president. To the extent that that is true and we’re guilty, we have serious obligations.

"If, for example, he or his administration in any way threatens the free speech rights of our documentary filmmakers, the IDA and every supporter in this room must — will, I am sure — hunker down together and fight our asses off," he asserted.

Feelings on this topic were clearly running high all around, as an audience member yelled, “He’s a fascist!” during Lear’s speech.

Host Vivica Fox first kicked off the political conversation on a lighthearted note in her introduction to the show. Having once been a contestant on Celebrity Apprentice, she joked, “Maybe I should run for president in 2020, along with Kanye [West]. Apparently the only qualification you need is to be on a reality show and Celebrity Apprentice.”

Mette Hoffmann Meyer, winner of the Best Curated Series award for DR2 Dokumania wondered, “How this madman can walk into the White House” And while accepting the award for Best Limited Series, Moira Demos of Making a Murderer said, “It’s clear with our new president-elect, this is a threat to everyone around the world, but more than ever it's important to tell stories about America.”

Presenter Sal Masekela of VICE referred to Trump's Twitter as, "The 140 characters we get from our president-elect King Joffrey.” While Moby said of presenting with Effie Brown, "That's the first time I've stood behind a woman at a podium and it's made me feel creepily like Donald Trump.”

However, a good news announcement brought rousing applause to the theater. The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation will give a four-year $5 million grant to IDA for a new IDA Documentary/Journalism Project.

The night's best feature winner echoed the recently revealed Academy shortlist, as Ezra Edelman’s five-part film O.J.: Made in America scooped the biggest prize of the night. Also matching the Academy’s shortlist were IDA winners 13thFire at SeaCamerapersonHooligan Sparrow and I Am Not Your Negro. However, with many more award categories to choose from, the IDA also offered recognition to projects overlooked by the Academy, such as Making a MurdererStarless Dreams and Last Chance U.

Before the awards, the foundation’s Lauren Pabst told The Hollywood Reporter on the red carpet, “This is a chance for us to move into a new era with IDA, to focus on really supporting the independent voices that are so critical to the U.S. democratic discourse.”

Also the recipient of cheers and a standing ovation was Nanfu Wang as she collected the emerging filmmaker award for Hooligan Sparrow. The film uncovers the rape of a group of Chinese schoolgirls and their subsequent suppression. Wang told how a friend smuggled the footage out of China and how her family have been warned that she’s “being monitored” and should not speak negatively about China. “I realize people are afraid” Wang said. “They want me to be afraid too, but that's why I do documentaries. If enough people feel afraid they will refuse to tolerate it."

On the red carpet, Wang told THR how her subjects inspired her to keep going. “They live in China and face harassment and threats every day, but they are still doing what they do for years and they didn’t give up.” 

Director Orlando von Einsiedel and producer Joanna Natasegara picked up the best short award for their film The White Helmets, which documents the Syrian crisis. In crediting the IDA with giving much-needed support to documentary film makers, Natasegara told THR, “Awards like the IDA are vital for the community and actually documentary making in general, especially at this point in time where we are in the world is more crucial than ever that we get stories out.”

O.J.: Made in America director Edelman also spoke of the vital importance of the IDA, telling THR, “It’s important that documentary films have their own night and have their own event and the films are celebrated for all the diversity that exists within the form, be it short, feature, series, all these different things. The IDA, to me shines a necessary light on non-fiction film making.”

After her film 13th won the ABC News VideoSource Award, Ava DuVernay told of being inspired early in her career by honoree Stanley Nelson. As she presented Nelson with the Career Achievement award she said, "I met him in 2008, at a time when I was really uncertain of my own voice. I sat at his feet and I remember thinking, 'Gosh, this man is really rigorous’.”

Also honored with the Pioneer award was Ally Derks, who founded the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam 30 years ago. She told THR, “There are more important people in the documentary area than I am and don’t forget it’s always team work. You don’t do it alone.”