By Sarah Sluis
Before presenting the award for Outstanding Achievement in Direction at last night's Cinema Eye Honors, legendary filmmaker Albert Maysles wryly noted that "in documentary filmmaking, God is really the director."
With that acknowledgment, the award went to Ari Folman, who used animation to recreate his experiences in the 1982 Lebanon War in Waltz with Bashir. Held at the sleek, modern Times Center on West 41st street, an "upgrade" from the IFC Center downtown where the first awards were held (and many of the documentaries screen), host AJ Schnack called the venue"Disney-fied."
Winning awards not only for Direction, but also Graphic Design and Animation, Music Composition, and International Feature, Waltz with Bashir came away with the most awards of the evening. Accepting an award for the fourth time, art director David Polonsky humbly joked, "This is getting awkward. I'm not Ari
Folman. I did the drawings."
Man on Wire followed Bashir with three awards, including top honor Outstanding Achievement in NonFiction Feature Filmmaking. Shy editor Jinx Godfrey accepted the award for editing, and Simon Chinn for production.
Up the Yangtzee, which took five years to complete, won the Debut Feature category as well as the Audience Choice award, though director Yung Chang noted that he had "cheated" a little, harnessing the power of chain emails to rack up votes in China.
The award for cinematography went to Peter Zeitlinger for his work on Werner Herzog's feature Encounters at the End of the World. While Zeitlinger had planned on attending, the loyal cinematographer was called away by Herzog at the last minute--apparently not unusual for someone who has been ordered to float down a river holding a camera--twice--to get a shot.
In the middle of the ceremony, AJ Schmack hosted a roundtable with directors Ellen Kuras (The Betrayal), Margaret Brown (The Order of Myths), James Marsh (Man on Wire) and Jody Shapiro, the producer/cinematographer of My Winnipeg. Brown talked about the polarizing response she has received for her film, which follows the black and white kings and queens of Mardi Gras during the first year they acknowledge each other's presence. A screening in Mobile, Alabama, where the shooting took place, inspired both walkouts and interactivity, a "surreal" experience where people talked at the screen as the movie was "taken back to the audience."
Kuras, who took twenty-four years to complete The Betrayal, her first directorial project, admitted the film's long gestation had marked her: now all anyone asks her is what she will direct next. Kuras emphasized how much she likes her role as cinematographer as well as director. "I wouldn't just direct the next romcom. I want to focus on having an aesthetic; ideas I want to explore."
For Marsh, Man on Wire was about redemption, "a way to salvage what I could of my career" after his film The King was panned at the Cannes Film Festival. He noted a difference between the "passionate, respectful" documentary filmmakers and the "unpleasant, hostile, competitive" independent filmmaking community. As for his next project? It's his firm ambition to "blunder on from one foolhardy adventure to the next."
Shapiro revealed the casual, collaborative camerawork on set with Guy Maddin. Deflecting a compliment about his cinematography credit on the film, he noted that "Guy's the kind of person who will just ask someone to hold up a light quickly to shoot a cutaway. He doesn't care. For the snowstorm [scene], we just grabbed the hand-cranked Bolex because that's what was there. We used Super 8 cameras, and during any scene three to four cameras would be rolling."
As the second annual event wrapped up, the filmmakers left the Times Center and reconvened at Arena, where a DJ played dance-friendly music and nominees enjoyed hors d'oeuvres and cocktails. While the drinks were free, many of the presenters who mangled names promised to apologize and "buy" a drink for the fellow nominees later, discuss their new projects and enjoy the "passionate, respectful" company of their colleagues.