IDA Documentary Awards: Willie Garson, 'Cries from Syria' Subject Highlight Important Issues

Courage Under Fire winners at IDA Awards - H Getty 2017
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The 33rd annual ceremony, hosted by Maz Jobrani, took place at Los Angeles' Paramount Theatre.

The International Documentary Association hosted the 33rd annual IDA Documentary Awards at Los Angeles' Paramount Theatre on Saturday night. The awards were started as a way to honor films that some felt the Academy Awards were ignoring.

“At that time we were really rebelling against the choices by the Academy which were very conservative," Awards founder and IDA executive director Simon Kilmurry told The Hollywood Reporter. “We tried to make them take a broader view of the filmmaking community because their choices were pretty conservative and stodgy at that time. And they’ve broadened tremendously.”

This year's awards were hosted by Iranian-American actor and comedian Maz Jobrani. The 2017 IDA nominees covered a wide range of topics, including police brutality, child abuse, the Vietnam War and subjects that spoke to America’s fragile national psyche.

Presenter Willie Garson may have best captured the sense of anxiety that seemed to run through the night when he said, “I just want to say as a Jewish member of liberal Hollywood, with an adopted, brown Mexican-American son, with many Iranian friends and Syrian friends and who got famous surrounded by strong confident women while playing a homosexual, I know that many of you agree that waking up every morning for the past year has been a nightmare.”

One of the night’s most moving moments came when four different filmmaking teams were given the Courage Under Fire award for their films about the war in Syria, with some crewmembers on those projects dying in the process of capturing the tragic conflict.

Bana al-Abed, a young Syrian girl who was a subject of the film Cries from Syria, told an emotional audience about her experience growing up in the country, “Syrian children are dying every day. They are suffering because there is no food or medicine. They can’t go to school. We are children. We don’t know what is the war. We need peace.”

Oscar-nominated filmmaker Lourdes Portillo was given the career achievement award for her 40-year body of work, including directing and producing more than a dozen documentaries, many of which are centered around the struggles of women in Latin America.

The IDA offers cash grants and provides legal and other resources to documentary filmmakers. In 2018 it plans to issue $1.2 million dollars in cash grants to documentarians.