The mood at the Cinema Eye Documentary Awards, sponsored by IndiePix ( and held tonight at the IFC Center in Manhattan, was highly congratulatory and occasionally downright giddy – presenter Barbara Kopple’s demand that awards co-chair AJ Schnack (director of Kurt Cobain About a Son) accompany her reading of the names of nominees with music, a capella, was a highlight. The presence of Kopple along with other nonfiction-film luminaries — presenters included Academy Award-winning producer/director Alex Gibney, Paradise Lost directors Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky, and Born Into Brothels director Ross Kauffman — helped give a sense of long-time-coming legitimacy to the event, which aimed to help right some perceived wrongs in the mainstream film community’s treatment of documentary filmmakers.

Co-chair Thom Powers, who programs documentary films for the Toronto Film Festival, kicked off the event by invoking memories of Primary (1960), the landmark political-campaign documentary whose creative team, now octogenarians (Robert Drew, Richard Leacock, D.A. Pennebaker, Albert Maysles), are still hard at work in the field. He gave props to Berlinger and Sinofsky for their debut film, Brother’s Keeper, while lamenting that “distributors didn’t get it.” That was a theme of the evening — that documentary filmmaking is long, hard work, performed with meager budgets, and with the hope of making a pittance from a film’s successful release. In a panel discussion midway through the show, Esther B. Robinson, the director of A Walk Into the Sea: Danny Williams and the Warhol Factory (a nominee for outstanding achievement in a debut feature) complained that the premiere showcase festival in the U.S., Sundance, supports and encourages “lyrical” work in narrative film, but rewards mainly political documentaries with spots in its program.

And Pernille Rose Gronkjaer, director of The Monastery: Mr. Vig & the Nun (nominated in two categories) underscored the tough nature of the business. “So many producers and directors are on the verge of dropping out,” she said, noting a widening gap between the “amazing work” being done in docs and the declining budgets broadcasters and others have for acquiring and exhibiting them. “How do we support the people who make these movies happen?”

But then there were the awards themselves, recognizing the achievements not only of the films and their directors, but also of the graphic designers and animators, the producers, the cinematographers, and the editors — trophies were handed out in a total of nine categories. The evening’s program included video tributes to the late filmmakers St. Clair Bourne and Tony Silver, but the mood in the room remained fairly joyful, appreciative and communal from start to finish.

Here are the winners in each category. For a full list of nominees and the names of all the winners, please check the Cinema Eye web site:

Outstanding Achievement in a Debut Feature
Billy the Kid (Jennifer Venditti, director)

Outstanding Achievement in Graphics & Animation
Chicago 10 (Curious Pictures)

Outstanding Achievement in Cinematography
Manda Bala (Send a Bullet) (Heloisa Passos)

Outstanding Achievement in Editing
Manda Bala (Send a Bullet) (Doug Abel, Jenny Golden, & Andy Grieve)

Outstanding Achievement in Producing
Ghosts of Cite Soleil (Seth Kanegis, Tomas Radoor & Mikael Rieks)

The Audience Choice Award (voted on by the general public)
The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters (Seth Gordon, director)

Outstanding Achievement in an International Feature
The Monastery: Mr. Vig & the Nun (Pernille Rose Gronkjaer, director and Sigrid Dyekjaer, producer)

Outstanding Achievement in Direction
Taxi to the Dark Side (Alex Gibney)

Outstanding Achievement in Nonfiction Filmmaking
Manda Bala (Send a Bullet)