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Starting a new tradition, Cinema Eye, the organization that celebrates artistry in nonfiction filmmaking via their annual Cinema Eye Honors, has announced “The Unforgettables” – a list of this year’s notable and significant nonfiction film subjects. The focus of 15 films, these seventeen people (and one bull orca) were selected by votes from more than 80 of this year’s eligible filmmakers as well as Cinema Eye’s nominations committee, which is comprised of 25 of the world’s top documentary film programmers and curators.

“The characters in documentary films share their lives, their fears, their beliefs, their struggles and their joys with us,” said Cinema Eye Board Chair Andrea Meditch, who has been the Executive Producer on several films (Grizzly Man, Man on Wire and Buck among them) that have profiled unforgettable subjects. “These subjects enrich and enlighten us; they become our pathway into a wider world. They are the heart and soul of what we do.”

“Documentaries often live and die by the degree to which a subject will allow a filmmaker to come into their lives and record often private events for very public viewing,” said Cinema Eye Founding Director AJ Schnack. “With this list, we hope to encourage the discussion of the subject’s role in the filmmaking process and to publicly acknowledge the rich collaborations that often take place between subjects and filmmakers.”

Earlier this year, documentary filmmaker and critic Robert Greene wrote an article for Hammer to Nail calling on Cinema Eye to present an award recognizing “The Best Performances in Nonfiction Film.” And at the 2012 Cinema Eye Honors ceremony, much was made over the fact that Ameena Matthews, one of the subjects of Steve James’ The Interrupters, had been named by Time Magazine as giving one of the top ten “performances” in a motion picture that year.

“While it is provocative to call all subjects performers– it is not always an accurate description,” said Cinema Eye Honors Chair Esther Robinson, “but the conversation about their contribution to a film is well worth having.” Noting Albert Maysles’ 2011 Cinema Eye acceptance speech for Grey Gardens’ Legacy Award, where he saluted the active participation of the Beales, Robinson added, “Cinema Eye is unique in its commitment to recognizing the essential collaborations that make documentary possible, so what better place to recognize and celebrate our most intimate cinema-partners?”

Selections were made by open voting from this year’s eligible filmmakers and Cinema Eye’s nominations committee. While voters were given a list of eligible films to select from, no suggestions were made as to individuals in those films.

Anwar Congo / The Act of Killing
Lisa Fischer / 20 Feet From Stardom
Edwin Honig / First Cousin Once Removed
William Kamkwamba / William and the Windmill
Freda Kelly / Good Ol’ Freda
Kevin Pearce and David Pearce / The Crash Reel
Neil Platt / I Am Breathing
Michael Polley / Stories We Tell
Pug / 12 O’Clock Boys
Rafea / Rafea: Solar Mama
Susan Robinson and Shelley Sella / After Tiller
Chris “Wonder” Schoeck / Bending Steel
Ushio and Noriko Shinohara / Cutie and the Boxer
Tilikum / Blackfish
Nadezhda Tolokonnikova / Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer

Nominees for this year’s Cinema Eye Honors, including nominees for the first ever award for Nonfiction Film Made for Television, will be announced on Wednesday, November 6 at Film Society of Lincoln Center’s Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center.