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International Documentary Awards: The alternative to Oscar?

November 30, 2009 |  6:35 pm

Documentary fans who felt snubbed by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' 15 choices for best documentary feature may find cheer in the winners of this year's International Documentary Association's IDA Documentary Awards announced today. Sascha Gervasi's crowd-pleasing "Anvil! The Story of Anvil," which to the surprise and dismay of many did not make the cut for the 2009 Oscar, took home the IDA music prize and remains in contention for the feature prize, which, along with the short documentary prize, will be announced at the ceremony itself Friday at the Directors Guild Theater.

If "Anvil" takes the feature prize, it will be a sweet victory for the underdog story; it's in competition against two films already in contention for the final five nominees in the Oscar category, those being "Food, Inc." and "Mugabe and the White African." The other nominees are "Afghan Star" and "Diary of a Times Square Thief" -- both also highly regarded documentaries that did not make the academy's list.

Another Oscar hopeful for this year, "Garbage Dreams," received the IDA/Humanitas Award, while the Continuing Series award was given to the PBS documentary program "POV," which begins its 22nd season this year and is the longest-running showcase on American television for independent documentarians. The Sundance Channel's "Architecture School" was awarded top honors in the Limited Series category. A complete list of winners is available after the break.

As an indicator for which way the Oscar documentary might go, the IDA, which has been celebrating nonfiction film and filmmakers since 1982, accurately picked the 2008 best documentary feature, "Man on Wire," which tied with "Waltz with Bashir" (a nominee for best foreign film that year) for the feature prize. It nominated the 2007 winner, "Taxi to the Dark Side," but gave the prize to the PBS/Nova production "Walk to Beautiful," and honored the 2006 winner, "An Inconvenient Truth," with the Pare Lorentz Award (given to a filmmaker who best represents the spirit of the acclaimed documentarian) while giving top prize to Oscar nominee "Iraq in Fragments." It does, however, seem to have a stronger appreciation for docs with wider appeal beyond critical circles.

In addition to the award presentation, the 2009 International Documentary Awards will also pay tribute to the legendary Errol Morris (Oscar winner for "The Fog of War") as well as "National Geographic" producer Nicolas Noxon and entertainment attorney and indie film advocate Michael Donaldson.

-- Paul Gaita

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The list of announced winners for the 2009 IDA Documentary Awards is as follows:

Executive Director: Simon Kilmurry
Vice President: Cynthia López
American Documentary, Inc.; PBS
Episodes Submitted: 
(Dir./Prod.: James Moll; Prod.: Christopher Pavlick; Exec. Prods.: Chris Malachowsky, Ryan Malachowsky)
Campaign (Dir./Prod.: Kazuhiro Soda)
Up the Yangtse (Dir.: Yung Chang; Prods.: Mila Aung-Thwin, Germaine Ying-Gee Wong, John Christou; Exec. Prods.:  Daniel Cross, Mila Aung-Thwin, Ravida Din, Sally Bochner)
"Architecture School"
Director/Executive Producer/Original Concept: Michael Selditch
Original Concept: Stan Bertheaud
Senior Producer: Rob Tate
Producer: Rachel Clift
Executive Producers: Lynne Kirby, Laura Michalchyshyn
Sundance Channel
"Anvil! The Story of Anvil"
Director: Sacha Gervasi
Producer: Rebecca Yeldham
Little Dean’s Yard; Ahimsa Films; Abramorama; VH1
"Garbage Dreams"
Cinematographer/Writer: Mai Iskander
Executive Producer: Tiffany Schauer
Editor/Co-Producer: Kate Hirson
Iskander Films in co-production with MotiveArt in association with Chicken &
Egg Pictures/Films Transit International
"The Final Inch"
Director/Producer: Irene Taylor Brodsky
Producer: Tom Grant
Vermilion Pictures;; HBO Documentary Films
"Wounded Knee"
Director/Producer: Stanley Nelson
Executive Producers: Sharon Grimberg, Mark Samels
Writer: Marcia Smith
Firelight Media; American Experience; WGBH; Native American Public Television
"The First Kid to Learn English from Mexico"
Director/Producer: Peter Jordan
Localfilms; Stanford University

FOR THE RECORD: A previous version of this post incorrectly credited the photo from "Anvil!" The credited photographer is Brent J. Craig.

Photo: from "Anvil! The Story of Anvil!" Credit: Brent J. Craig.