Ameena Matthews, The Interrupters

Accepting the award for The Interrupters: Subject Ameena Matthews takes the mic, with award presenter Michael Moore, director Steve James and author/producer Alex Kotlowitz behind her. The Interrupters won Outstanding Achievement in Nonfiction Filmmaking and Direction, the night’s two top awards at the 5th Annual Cinema Eye Honors for Nonfiction Filmmaking.

On a rainy evening in Queens, New York, a group of documentary luminaries got together to celebrate the 2012 Cinema Eye Honors, a five-year-old awards show for nonfiction filmmaking. It was, indeed, a star-studded affair.

Walking in to the museum’s lobby last night, I was immediately blinded by the sheer docu-star power. Filling the lobby for the cocktail hour were such filmmaking icons as Albert Maysles, Frederick Wiseman, Michael Moore, Steve James, Bruce Sinofsky and Joe Berlinger, the latter two of the team behind the Paradise Lost trilogy.

Cinema Eye Honors 2012

Inside the Museum of the Movie Image for the 2012 Cinema Eye Honors

Shortly afterward, guests filed into the museum’s auditorium for the awards ceremony, the organization’s fifth. A.J. Schnack and Esther Robinson, Cinema Eye Honors co-chairs and the evening’s co-hosts, had a great chemistry. While Schnack’s goofy asides brought many laughs, it was Robinson who brought just the right amount of solemnity to the occasion.

The Interrupters filmmaker Steve James, who presented the Audience Choice prize to the Buck team and who also won for both Outstanding Achievement in Direction and Outstanding Achievement in Nonfiction Feature Filmmaking, exclaimed that tonight he didn’t care about the Oscars, referring to the absence of his film The Interrupters on the Oscar nominee shortlist. A look around the auditorium confirmed his feeling. A generation of amazing storytellers filled the seats including Alma Ha’rel (Bombay Beach), Marshall Curry (If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front), Asif Kapadia (Senna), Danfung Dennis (Hell and Back Again), Cindy Meehl (Buck) and many, many more. There is a strong sense of camaraderie among documentary filmmakers.

Other evening highlights included Frederick Wiseman accepting the Legend Award for his first film, Titicut Follies, as well as a touching acceptance speech by Tim Hetherington’s mother for her late son’s film, Diary which won Best Short. Another touching moment came when Jason Baldwin, one third of the West Memphis 3, brought his heroes, filmmakers Berlinger and Sinofsky up to the stage to accept a new “Hell, Yeah!” prize. Both Sinofsky and Berlinger were clearly moved.

Frederick Wiseman

Frederick Wiseman accepts the 2012 Cinema Eye Honors Legacy Award for his documentary Titicut Follies.

The full list of Cinema Eye Honors 2012 winners

Outstanding Achievement in Nonfiction Feature Filmmaking

The Interrupters
Directed by Steve James
Produced by Alex Kotlowitz and Steve James
Presented by Michael Moore

Outstanding Achievement in Direction

Steve James
The Interrupters
Presented by Alex Gibney

Audience Choice Prize

Directed by Cindy Meehl
Presented by Robert Krulwich

Outstanding Achievement in Production

Gian-Piero Ringel and Wim Wenders
Presented by Peter Davis and Andrea Meditch

Outstanding Achievement in Editing

Gregers Sall and Chris King
Presented by Peter Davis and Andrea Meditch

Outstanding Achievement in Cinematography

Danfung Dennis
Hell and Back Again
Presented by Kirsten Johnson and Darius Marder

Spotlight Award

The Tiniest Place
Directed by Tatiana Huezo Sánchez
Presented by Kirsten Johnson and Darius Marder

Heterodox Award

Directed by Mike Mills
Presented by Kimberly Reed and Alrick Brown

Outstanding Achievement in Nonfiction Short Filmmaking

Directed by Tim Hetherington
Presented by Nanette Burstein and Josh Fox

Outstanding Achievement in an Original Music Score

John Kusiak
Presented by Nanette Burstein and Josh Fox

Outstanding Achievement in Graphic Design and Animation

Rob Feng and Jeremy Landman
Presented by Jeff Malmberg and Chris Shellen

Outstanding Achievement in a Debut Feature Film

Clio Barnard
The Arbor
Presented by Jeff Malmberg and Chris Shellen

Hell Yeah Prize

Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky
The Paradise Lost Trilogy
Presented by Jason Baldwin

Legacy Award

Titicut Follies
Directed by Frederick Wiseman
Presented by Steve James

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Guest blogger Adam Schartoff is a freelance film journalist living in Brooklyn, New York. He's the founder and programmer of the Brooklyn-based film series Filmwax.