What: Intl. Documentary Assn. Awards
When: Friday, 8 p.m. (cocktails and hors d’oeuvres served at 6:30)
Where: Directors Guild of America HQ, Hollywood
Wattage: Al Gore, Jane Fonda, Morgan Freeman

Promising an injection of some much-needed pizzazz, Friday night’s Intl. Documentary Assn. Awards will offer some major star power (Morgan Freeman, Jane Fonda and Al Gore are slated as presenters) and suspense: Two winners, in the feature and shorts categories, will be announced live.

In recent years, the evening’s drama centered on whether the short docu winner’s speech would be longer than the winning film or if host Arianna Huffington would actually show up.

This year, more than 150 entries were received in the feature category. Unlike the Oscars, multicity theatrical runs are not a requisite. And for those films that may have faded from distribs’ radar screens, an IDA nod is often a much-needed leg up to eventual acquisition.

“Filmmakers vie for these awards; they have a prestige and cache,” declares Sandra Ruch, the IDA’s executive director. “Filmmakers consider them important, and they become part of their marketing materials.”

A win or nom from the IDA certainly spotlights those films that are up for other kudos. Several of the IDA’s feature contenders are on the Acad’s short list; peer credibility could propel them to the top of an Acad screener pile.

Non-pros also take notice of the kudos. While Davis Guggenheim’s “An Inconvenient Truth” is already a certified hit, the devoted indie fan base tracks kudos via the trades and Web sites like Film Threat and Ain’t It Cool News in anticipation of theatrical or DVD release.

“(The awards) are not important to the average American consumer, but independent film fans, without a doubt in my mind, know about these awards, and that’s who we’ll eventually be marketing to,” says Joe Amodei, president of Hart Sharp Video, a leading distrib of doc titles such as “Super Size Me.” He contends an IDA nom or win is “very much a part of acquisitions decisionmaking.”

Beyond marketing or acquisitions, filmmakers relish the peer recognition.

As career achievement honoree Haskell Wexler explains, “I’m extremely happy to get this award because I’ve made documentaries all my life, and I believe this is the time for doc filmmakers. Being part of that wave is a great compliment.”

Friday night’s awards gala also has a serious fiscal purpose as the IDA’s principal fund-raiser. (Last year, $40,000 was donated.)

Many challenges face the org, which now counts more than 3,000 members in 52 countries.

“Surviving as a nonprofit is always tough,” notes IDA prexy Diane Estelle Vicari. She points to the demise of Gotham sister org and fellow doc advocate the Assn. of Independent Video & Filmmakers.

Recent IDA successes include a fiscal sponsorship program, a push for copyright reform and an attempt to clarify the Smithsonian’s venture with Showtime that would seriously restrict access to curators and materials.

As helmer Lucy Walker (“Blindsight”) asserts, “The documentary community needs all the support and advocacy it can get.”

Ruch agrees: “The IDA is an icon — no other organization shepherds the doc genre.”