Org fetes range, assortment of films

Documentary filmmakers take center stage tonight at the 21st annual Intl. Documentary Assn. Awards.

From seminal filmmakers and lifetime achievement honorees D.A. Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus to talented newcomers, the IDA’s laurels honor the breadth and diversity of the increasingly popular genre.

“We’re getting increased submissions and those submissions are getting better every year,” says Sandra Ruch, IDA exec director, pointing to the overlap of seven features nominated by the IDA (including Pare Lorenz Award nominee “March of the Penguins”) that also appear on Oscar’s shortlist.

“It’s a great sign for the documentary that there are 15 films on the Academy’s shortlist that are worthy of a nomination,” Ruch maintains.

Helmer Lynne Littman, chair of the IDA Awards committee, says the feature kudo decision-making process was invigorating this year due to the level of sophistication and intelligence in subject matter and execution of work submitted.

Explaining that each year has its own flavor, “we saw not only the promise of digital filmmaking made good but a real outward turn of filmmakers looking at the world,” says Littman. Many socially and politically conscious films were nominees, including “Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room,” “Street Fight,” “Why We Fight” and IDA feature co-winner “Favela Rising.”

Also this year, two award categories were added that herald the often-unsung contribution of docu editors and cinematographers.

Littman is proud that the IDA considers films that might not have received much recognition or been widely distributed. “There’s a sense that there’s no other agenda for our organization than to support and bring documentaries to the fore,” she says.

The IDA Awards are also the primary fund-raiser for the nonprofit org. Along with membership and sponsorship fees, they keeps the association afloat, says Ruch. Funds raised underwrite staffing, the IDA’s International Documentary magazine and Web site, and enable a program that sponsors 400 films.

Elevating the org’s profile this year were membership screenings in Los Angeles, Gotham and San Francisco. Also in 2005, the org for the first time backed a Gotham Docu Day at the Directors Guild of America’s New York branch, screening all of the Acad-nominated docs followed by Q&As with filmmakers.

In a project that has significant impact on award season eligibility, the IDA continues to subsidize multiple-city qualifying runs for Academy consideration via the InFact theatrical showcase. Last year’s Acad winner, “Born Into Brothels,” qualified through the initiative.

Debut helmer Matt Mochary, co-director of “Favela Rising,” notes that the IDA Awards have a rep among filmmakers for recognizing integrity. He credits the org for guiding him and co-director Jeff Zimbalist through the award consideration process. “The IDA is like having a wiser, more experienced sibling,” Mochary says.

Vet filmmaker Lyn Goldfarb (PBS’ “California and the American Dream”) salutes the org for its advocacy for the art form. “With the growth in documentary films and so-called reality programming, it’s important that the IDA continues to maintain the vision, the values and the aesthetics of documentary film,” Goldfarb says.

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