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A Brief History of Cinema Eye

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 was held Monday, January 6, the 10th year that the event has been at the Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria, Queens. Steven Bognar and Julia Reichert’s AMERICAN FACTORY won both the Outstanding Feature and Direction Honors. Todd Douglas Miller’s APOLLO 11 also won two awards, for Outstanding Editing and Score. HONEYLAND took the Cinematography Prize, while THE CAVE and FOR SAMA tied for Outstanding Production. For the first time, Cinema Eye presented awards for Broadcast Cinematography and Broadcast Editing. Those prizes went to Beyoncé Knowles-Carter’s HOMECOMING and Tom Jenning’s APOLLO: MISSIONS TO THE MOON. The Legacy Award was presented to Godfrey Reggio for his debut masterpiece KOYAANISQATSI. Cinema Eye-winning and Oscar nominated filmmaker Yance Ford hosted the event. Presenters included Chai Vasaryelhi, Betsy West and Julie Cohen, Alex Gibney, Sheila Nevins, Jeff Orlowski, Lindsey Utz, Jehane Noujaim, Karim Amir, Shevaun Mizrahi, Alan Jacobsen and Ondi Timoner.

Due the the global COVID-19 pandemic, the 14th Annual Cinema Eye Honors was a virtual event with awards presented from around the world. Alexandre Nanau’s COLLECTIVE was named Outstanding Nonfiction Feature, while Kirsten Johnson received the Directing prize for DICK JOHNSON IS DEAD. Garrett Bradley’s TIME received two Honors, for Outstanding Debut and Editng. David France’s WELCOME TO CHECHNYA received the awards for Production and Broadcast Film. Jesse Moss and Amanda McBaine took home the Audience Choice Prize for BOYS STATE. Outstanding Broadcast Series went to Liz Garbus for I’LL BE GONE IN THE DARK, and Bill & Turner Ross received the Heterodox Award for BLOODY NOSE, EMPTY POCKETS. Presenters included Callie Crossley from Boston; Mila Aung-Thwin and Katie McKay from Lac Hughes, Quebec; Maite Alberdi and Marcela Santibanez from Santiago, Chile; Diane Quon and Zak Piper from Chicago; Toni Kamau from Nairobi, Kenya; Sigrid Dyekjær and Kirstine Barfod from Copenhagen; Elizabeth Lo from Hong Kong; Lucy Walker from the California Desert; and Steven Bognar and Julia Reichert from an Ohio corn field.

After a postponement due to a surge in the Omicron variant, the 15th Annual Cinema Eye Honors were held in person at the Museum of the Moving Image on March 1, 2022. Top honors for Nonfiction Filmmaking went to Jonas Poher Rasmussen’s FLEE. This marked the third time producer Signe Byrge Sørensen won this award, having previously won for both THE ACT OF KILLING and THE LOOKING OF SILENCE. Jessica Kingdon’s ASCENSION won three awards for Outstanding Debut, Cinematography and Score. The Legacy Award went to Cheryl Dunye’s THE WATERMELON WOMAN. Two new awards were presented: Outstanding Achievement in Sound Design went to Leslie Shatz & Jahn Sood for THE VELVET UNDERGROUND and Outstanding Anthology Series went to Martin Scorsese and Fran Lebowitz’s PRETEND IT’S A CITY. Presenters included Callie Crossley, Marshall Curry, Carol Dysinger, Liz Garbus, Steve James, Barbara Kopple, Penny Lane and Nanfu Wang. Category nominees were announced on video by Cinema Eye winners and honorees from the first 14 years of Cinema Eye.

On January 12, 2023, the 16th Annual Awards Ceremony opened with a tribute to filmmaker Julia Reichert. Shanek Sen’s ALL THAT BREATHES received the honors for Nonfiction Feature and Cinematography. Laura Poitras received her third honor for Outstanding Direction, this time for ALL THE BEAUTY AND THE BLOODSHED. Sara Dosa’s FIRE OF LOVE won three awards – Editing, Original Score and Visual Design, while Daniel Roher’s NAVALNY was recognized for Outstanding Production as well as receiving the Audience Choice Prize. The Anthology Series honor went to HOW TO WITH JOHN WILSON, making that series the first to win honors in back-to-back years (it won for Broadcast Editing in 2022). The ceremony also celebrated CRUMB, the 2023 Legacy Award Honoree. The Legacy Award was present later in the year (in July) at Vidiots in Los Angeles. Presenters included Simon Lereng Wilmont, Cecilia Aldarondo, Zeshawn Ali, Brandy Burre, Omar Mullick, Angelo Madsen Minax, Caroline Waterlow, Nel Bangerter, Monica Hellström and Jeff Reichert.

In 2024, Cinema Eye returned to Manhattan for the first time since 2010, celebrating the nominees and honorees of the 17th Annual Honors at the New York Academy of Medicine in East Harlem. Sam Green’s 32 SOUNDS was honored in three categories – Nonfiction Feature, Original Score and Sound Design. For the first time, there was a tie for Outstanding Direction, with honors to both Maite Alberdi for THE ETERNAL MEMORY and Kaouther Ben Hania for FOUR DAUGHTERS. Michael Harte was recognized for Outstanding Editing for STILL: A MICHAEL J. FOX MOVIE and the team from 20 DAYS IN MARIUPOL was honored for Outstanding Production. BOBI WINE: THE PEOPLE’S PRESIDENT received the Audience Choice Prize in the largest vote ever in Cinema Eye history – more than 150,000 votes were cast by film fans around the world. Other Honors went to KOKOMO CITY (Debut), SMOKE SAUNA SISTERHOOD (Cinematography) and GOING TO MARS: THE NIKKI GIOVANNI PROJECT (Visual Design). In the Broadcast Categories, Heloisa Passos made history when she was honored for Outstanding Broadcast Cinematography for NOTHING LASTS FOREVER, her second Cinema Eye Honor and first since she was recognized at the first ceremony in 2008. THE 1619 PROJECT took home the honor for Anthology Series. The ceremony consisted of two acts and was led by seven esteemed documentary producers as the evening’s GUIDES – Mila Aung-Thwin, Diane Becker, Sigrid Dyekjær, Julie Goldman, Marilyn Ness, Kellen Quinn and Sabrina Schmidt-Gordon.