Cinema Eye was founded in 2007 on three ideals: creating events to support and build a sense of community amongst those who make documentary films; recognizing the entire creative team of craftspersons that create these films; and recognizing excellence, innovation and boldness in the artistry of nonfiction filmmaking.
Cinema Eye was the first and remains the only international nonfiction award to recognize the whole creative team, presenting annual craft awards in directing, editing, producing, cinematography, original score and graphic design/animation. Cinema Eye presents and produces the annual Cinema Eye Weekend and Honors Awards Ceremony.
The Cinema Eye Honors recognize feature and short-length films and series with an emphasis on nonfiction work that is designed for public distribution, whether primarily theatrical, festival, broadcast or streaming. Cinema Eye seeks to encourage audiences to engage with nonfiction work that crosses all genres, whether observational, journalistic, activist, essayistic, light-hearted or provocative as well as those exciting works that blur the lines between nonfiction and fiction. Since its founding, Cinema Eye has sought to change the conversation that film critics, festivals and awards bodies have surrounding documentary film, shifting the emphasis from importance of topic to artistic craft.
The Honors Awards Ceremony is the culmination of Cinema Eye Weekend, a multi-day, multi-city celebration that acknowledges the best work in nonfiction film through screenings and events. The final days of Cinema Eye Weekend take place in New York City, where a series of events bring together many of the year’s most accomplished filmmakers.
Cinema Eye is led by a core team of filmmakers and programmers who are committed to the organization’s mission.
The inaugural Cinema Eye Honors were held at New York City’s IFC Center on March 17, 2008. Jason Kohn’s MANDA BALA (SEND A BULLET) received three awards that evening, including Outstanding Achievement in Nonfiction Feature Filmmaking. Alex Gibney followed up his Oscar win for TAXI TO THE DARK SIDE with the Cinema Eye for Outstanding Achievement in Direction. Gibney also served as a presenter at the event, along with filmmakers Barbara Kopple, Joe Berlinger & Bruce Sinofsky, Sam Pollard, Alan Berliner and Ross Kauffman.
The second edition of Cinema Eye was held at New York City’s TimesCenter on 41st Street on March 29, 2009. Ari Folman’s WALTZ WITH BASHIR received four honors, including Oustanding Achievement in Direction, and James Marsh’s MAN ON WIRE took three, including Outstanding Achievement in Nonfiction Feature Filmmaking. Presenters at the event included Al Maysles, DA Pennebaker & Chris Hegedus, Morgan Spurlock and musician/artist Laurie Anderson.
After two years of establishing the Awards Ceremony, Cinema Eye began an evolution in its third year that dramatically transformed the organization and created the bones of the Cinema Eye Honors that exists today. The Awards Ceremony moved from March to January and to the newly-remodeled Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria, NY; awards were added for Nonfiction Short, a Spotlight Award for films that have yet to receive proper attention, the Heterodox Award for narrative films and the Legacy Award for the films that inspired today’s filmmakers. With the help of our longtime sponsors at the Camden International Film Festival (and others), Cinema Eye became a multi-day event celebrating the nonfiction community as well the year’s creative and artistic achievements.
The third edition of Cinema Eye was held on January 15, 2010. Louie Psihoyos’ THE COVE received the top award for Outstanding Feature and Agnes Varda was presented with the Outstanding Directing Award for THE BEACHES OF AGNES. The Spotlight Award was presented for the first time (it went to Jessica Oreck’s BEETLE QUEEN CONQUERS TOKYO) and Cinema Eye presented its first Legacy Award to Ross McElwee for SHERMAN’S MARCH. McElwee also served as a presenter at the event, along with filmmakers Peter Davis, Barbara Kopple, Albert Maysles, Bill Plympton and Ellen Kuras.
The Fourth Annual Cinema Eye Honors were presented on January 18, 2011. Banksy’s EXIT THROUGH THE GIFT SHOP was named Outstanding Feature and Laura Poitras received the Directing prize for THE OATH. Lixin Fan’s LAST TRAIN HOME won three awards, including Cinematography and Production. Legendary filmmakers Al Maysles and Muffie Meyer accepted the Legacy Award on behalf of GREY GARDENS. Cinema Eye presented its first Nonfiction Short Film award (it went to THE POODLE TRAINER by Vance Malone) and first Heterodox Award, recognizing fiction films which imaginatively incorporate nonfiction strategies, content and/or modes of production.
That award went to Matt Porterfield’s PUTTY HILL. Previous Cinema Eye winners James Marsh and Louie Psihoyos were among the presenters, along with Morgan Spurlock, They Might Be Giants’ John Flansburgh and actor/filmmaker Harry Shearer.
In 2012, the 5th edition of Cinema Eye took place on January 11, with Steve James and Alex Kotlowitz’ THE INTERRUPTERS receiving the top two awards, Outstanding Nonfiction Feature and Outstanding Direction. It was the first time in Cinema Eye history that one film had won both awards. Frederick Wiseman accepted the Legacy Award on behalf of his debut film, TITICUT FOLLIES, and Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky received the first ever Hell Yeah Prize for their PARADISE LOST series of films, which inspired a groundswell of public outrage over the case of the West Memphis Three. Presenters at the 5th annual event included Michael Moore, Alex Gibney, Peter Davis, Andrea Meditch, Josh Fox, Nanette Burstein and Robert Krulwich.
The 6th Annual Cinema Eye Honors were held on January 9, 2013. Emad Burnat & Guy Davidi’s 5 BROKEN CAMERAS took home the award for Outstanding Nonfiction Feature, while Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady were named Outstanding Directors for DETROPIA. Michael Moore presented the Legacy Award to the 1993 political verite THE WAR ROOM, which was accepted by directors Chris Hegedus & D.A. Pennebaker and producers Wendy Ettinger and Frazer Pennebaker. Presenters included Susan Froemke, Jennie Livingston, Jonathan Caouette, Darius Marder and Marshall Curry.
In 2014, Cinema Eye returned to the Museum of the Moving Image on January 8, following several days of film screenings in Toronto, Los Angeles and New York as well as a number of events that honored the work of that year’s nominees. Joshua Oppenheimer and Signe Byrge Sørensen’s THE ACT OF KILLING was named Outstanding Feature Film and Outstanding Production. Sarah Polley received the award for Outstanding Direction for STORIES WE TELL, while Zachary Heinzerling’s CUTIE AND THE BOXER picked up three awards, including Outstanding Debut. Cinema Eye introduced an award for Nonfiction Filmmaking for Television, which went to Lucy Walker’s THE CRASH REEL. The Legacy Award was presented to Barbara Kopple for HARLAN COUNTY, USA, while the 2nd Hell Yeah Prize was given to Josh Fox for his GASLAND films. Presenters included Michael Moore, Jehane Noujaim and Chris Hegedus, Jennifer Fox, Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady, Thelma Schooonmaker and Steve James.
For the 8th Annual event, Cinema Eye welcomed the first annual Honors Lunch, where the Legacy Award was presented to Jennie Livingston’s PARIS IS BURNING and the Heterodox Award was given to Richard Linklater’s BOYHOOD. At the Awards Ceremony the next evening, Laura Poitras’ CITIZENFOUR took home four awards, becoming the first film in Cinema Eye history to win for Feature, Direction, Editing and Production. The Cinematography Award was shared by Orlando von Einsiedel & Franklin Dow for VIRUNGA and Erik Wilson for Iain Forsythe & Jane Pollard’s 20,000 DAYS ON EARTH, which also won for Nick Cave and Warren Ellis’ Original Score. Filmmaker Sam Green hosted the awards and presenters included Steve James, Lucy Walker, Alan Berliner, Jonathan Oppenheim, Timothy “Speed” Levitch, Dawn Porter, Albert Maysles and DA Pennebaker.
2016 saw Cinema Eye returning to the Museum of the Moving Image for the fifth straight year. Joshua Oppenheimer and Signe Byrge Sørensen became the first filmmakers to win a second Cinema Eye Honor for Outstanding Feature, following up their 2014 honor for THE ACT OF KILLING with the award for THE LOOK OF SILENCE. The film also received awards for Direction for Oppenheimer and Production for Sørensen, her second. Chris King won his third Cinema Eye Honor for Editing, following up wins for EXIT THROUGH THE GIFT SHOP and SENNA with this year’s award for his work on AMY. There was a tie for Cinematography honors between CARTEL LAND’s Matt Heineman and Matt Porwoll and MERU’s Jimmy Chin and Renan Ozturk. Laurie Anderson won the Original Score prize for HEART OF A DOG; Crystal Moselle received Outstanding Debut for THE WOLFPACK. The Legacy Award went to Chris Smith’s AMERICAN MOVIE. Filmmaker Steve James hosted the show and presenters included Alex Gibney, Liz Garbus, DA Pennebaker & Chris Hegedus, Martha Shane & Lana Wilson.
Cinema Eye celebrated its 10th year by announcing 20 films and 10 filmmakers that had defined the first decade, with many of those films screened at the Museum of the Moving Image in a lead-up to the tenth annual Honors. Kirsten Johnson’s CAMERAPERSON won the award for Outstanding Feature, as well as for Cinematography and Editing (the second time Nels Bangerter had won the latter award). Ezra Edelman’s OJ: MADE IN AMERICA picked up the Direction and Production awards. Outstanding Debut went to Nanfu Wang for HOOLIGAN SPARROW and Clay Tweel took home the Audience Choice Prize for GLEASON. At the Honors Lunch, the Legacy Award was presented to Rob Epstein for THE TIMES OF HARVEY MILK and the Heterodox Award went to Michal Marczak’s ALL THESE SLEEPLESS NIGHTS. Steve James returned to host the show for a second straight year, with presenters including Chris Hegedus, Joe Berlinger, Amy Berg and MAN ON WIRE subject Philippe Petit.
The 11th Cinema Eye Honors Awards Ceremony occurred on January 11 and saw Yance Ford’s STRONG ISLAND make history as the first film to win the awards for Outstanding Feature, Outstanding Direction and Outstanding Debut. The Editing prize went to Lindsay Utz for QUEST, with the team from LAST MEN IN ALEPPO winning Outstanding Production. Brett Morgen’s JANE won the Audience Choice Prize and also Outstanding Score for composer Philip Glass. At the Honors Lunch, Sean Baker’s THE FLORIDA PROJECT received the Heterodox Award and Leon Gast was presented the Legacy Award for WHEN WE WERE KINGS. The Awards Ceremony at the Museum of the Moving Image was hosted again by filmmaker Steve James, a 2018 nominee for ABACUS: SMALL ENOUGH TO JAIL. Presenters included Sheila Nevins, Roger Ross Williams, Julie Goldman, Nanfu Wang, Kirsten Johnson, Liz Garbus, Marshall Curry and Nathan Truesdell.
In 2019, a trio of films from debut feature filmmakers took many of the top awards: Bing Liu’s MINDING THE GAP took three awards, for Direction, Editing and Debut; Sandi Tan’s SHIRKERS received Honors for Graphic Design and Original Score; and RaMell Ross’ HALE COUNTY THIS MORNING THIS EVENING received the top Nonfiction Feature Honor. Chai Vasaryelhi and Jimmy Chin’s FREE SOLO also won three awards: Production, Cinematography and Audience Choice, making the filmmaking duo the winningest filmmaking team in CEH history. The Legacy Award went to the landmark PBS series EYES ON THE PRIZE. Filmmaker Steve James returned to host the awards for the fourth year in the row and also received the new Broadcast Series Honor for AMERICA TO ME. Presenters included Ezra Edelman, Caroline Waterlow, Yance Ford, Liz Garbus, Matt Heineman, Morgan Neville, Kimberly Reed, Dan Cogan and Anna Zamecka.
The 2020 Cinema Eye Honors Awards Ceremony will be held Monday, January 6. It will be the 10th year that the event has been at the Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria, Queens.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
How do films become eligible for Cinema Eye?
A full list of our rules and procedures, including film eligibility, can be found on our Rules Page.
Who is responsible for confirming Cinema Eye eligibility?
While the Cinema Eye team makes every effort to track festival screenings and theatrical receipts, it’s the responsibility of the filmmaker to make sure that Cinema Eye is aware of a film’s eligibility. The deadline for Cinema Eye eligibility for feature films is usually at the end of August. Deadlines for television entries will be in the spring. If you have questions, you can email contactATcinemaeyehonorsDOTcom.
Who nominates films for Cinema Eye?
Nominees for the Cinema Eye Honors nonfiction feature awards are determined in voting by the top documentary programmers from throughout the world. The 2020 Cinema Eye Nominations Committee included Beth Bennett (Seattle), Chris Boeckmann (True/False), Pamela Cohn (Dokufest Kosovo), David Courier (Sundance), Cara Cusumano (Tribeca), Bruno Dequen (RIDM), James Faust (Dallas), Jessie Fairbanks (Hot Springs), Ben Fowlie (Camden), Tom Hall (Montclair), Lane Kneedler (AFI FEST/DOCS), Jim Kolmar (SXSW), Amir Labaki (It’s All True), Artur Liebhart (Docs Against Gravity), Mads Mikkelsen (CPH:DOX), Meghan Monsour (Ambulante), David Nugent (Hamptons), Veton Nurkollari (Dokufest Kosovo), Janet Pierson (SXSW), Thom Powers (Toronto), Rachel Rosen (San Francisco), Shane Smith (Hot Docs), Abby Sun (True/False), Martijn te Pas (IDFA), Sadie Tillery (Full Frame), Basil Tsiokos (DOC NYC), and Jenn Wilson (Film Indepdendent).
Nominees for the Cinema Eye Honors short film awards were selected by a nominations committee that included Opal Bennett (DOC NYC), Meghan Costello (Hamptons), Cara Cusamano (Tribeca), Angie Driscoll (Hot Docs), Ben Fowlie (Camden), Claudette Godfrey (SXSW), Laura Good (Toronto), Doug Jones (Images Cinema), Ted Mott (Full Frame), Jenn Murphy (AFI Fest), Veton Nurkollari (Dokufest Kosovo), Dan Nuxoll (Rooftop), Rachel Rosen (San Francisco), Sudeep Sharma (Sundance), Abby Sun (True/False) and Kim Yutani (Sundance).
Nominees for the Broadcast Award were selected by a nominations committee of critics and programmers programmers that included Christine Davila, Bilge Ebiri, Kate Erbland, Steve Dollar, Joanne Feinberg, Tom Hall, Sheri Linden, Liz Shannon Miller, Andrea Passafiume and Andrew Rodgers.
Once there are nominees, who votes for the actual awards?
More than 800 people comprise Cinema Eye’s voting membership and typically approximately 200-300 of those members cast their votes in a given year. Invitations to vote are sent to the following individuals:
- The directors of each submitted feature film that particular year.
- All current and previous Cinema Eye nominees, winners, presenters, jury members, committee and board members.
- Top filmmakers, distributors, commissioners, grantors, curators, programmers, writers, critics, sales agents and publicists who specialize in the nonfiction field.
We encourage voters to view all of the nominated films in a given category before voting for a winner in a particular category. To help voters view films, we ask filmmakers and distributors to supply password-protected links to allow voters to watch films online.
Some Cinema Eye categories are decided by juries. In 2018, these include the awards the Spotlight Award and the Heterodox Award.
Is the Cinema Eye leadership team involved in nominating films for the Honors?
Only team members that serve on various nominations committee are allowed to vote for nominations. All other core team members do not vote at any stage of the nominations.
If you still have questions, please send us an email and we will do our best to answer them.