Last night at the DGA in Los Angeles, the International Documentary Association presented its Feature Award to Sasha Gervasi's ANVIL! THE STORY OF ANVIL, shocking Gervasi, producer Rebecca Yeldham and Anvil's Lips Kudlow and Robb Reiner and delighting the crowd that had possibly expected a win for Robert Kenner's FOOD, INC.
Gervasi, stepping to the podium in disbelief, exclaimed, "Fucking hell...", before turning over the mic to Yeldham, who insisted that they really didn't believe they had a shot for the top prize (they'd won the Music Documentary prize earlier in the night). Gervasi returned and fought tears when he offered his thanks and said that ANVIL proved "a film doesn't have to be serious to be profound."
The shock for the ANVIL crew was almost spoiled by a publicity snafu - a press release had been sent out without the correct embargo information, leading to indieWIRE and The Wrap posting the winners of the event just as the awards were starting in Los Angeles.
But somehow the news barely made a dent inside the DGA theater (perhaps it was the venue's notoriously bad cell reception), where Ira Glass hosted the fast-paced (at 2 hours, 7 minutes certainly the speediest IDA Awards in memory) show. Highlights included an well-edited opening montage that summed up the docs of 2009, seemingly mostly featuring films that were not nominated for IDA Awards (BEACHES OF AGNES, BURMA VJ and BRUNO among them) and a tribute to Errol Morris from longtime collaborator Philip Glass.
The win for ANVIL marks the latest stage in one of the most curious documentary runs in recent memory. A sleeper favorite at the Sundance Film Festival in 2008, the film couldn't get the distribution deal it was looking for and mostly disappeared until later that year (save screenings at Hot Docs and the Los Angeles Film Festival), when it started to rack up festival awards (including Best Music Doc at CPH:DOX) and nominations (a Truer Than Fiction Award nod at last year's Spirit Awards and a Debut Feature nomination at Cinema Eye).
Then came its successful, self-financed theatrical run this year and one of the most unlikely campaigns for Oscar ever seen in the doc world - first screener sent to the Academy membership followed by star-studded receptions and TV appearances this fall. Not shockingly (no matter what your Twitter feed tells you), the film failed to make Oscar's shortlist (the Academy's bias against music films is established).
But now the film has won and the IDAs, looks to be a possible/probable winner at the Spirit Awards (where, in a first, it is nominated for Best Documentary after its TTF nomination last year) and may take a Cinema Eye Audience Award (where, also in a first, the film is nominated after a craft nod the previous year). Awards Daily's Sasha Stone revives the question of whether ANVIL might have a (way) outside for a Best Picture nomination.
Most of the IDA winners had been announced on Monday, but some folks who were nominated for various awards (and knew that they weren't going to win) showed up anyway, including THE COVE director Louie Psihoyos and YOUSSOU NDOUR: I BRING WHAT I LOVE helmer Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi.
For those watching the Oscar contest, it may be of note that the brief clip from GARBAGE DREAMS (which was actually a spliced-together condensed version of the protagonist's trip to the UK) received a very positive response from the crowd, and director Mai Iskander had a brief and effective acceptance speech prepared as she received the IDA's new Humanitas Prize.
Also, despite not winning the Feature prize, Robert Kenner of FOOD, INC. was on hand to present the Pioneer Award to Nicolas Noxon, who told amusing anecdotes about his earliest days working on the National Geographic specials and his conflicts with narrator Orson Welles. FOOD, INC. was also mentioned by Continuing Series award-winner Simon Kilmurry, previewing films that will screen on the PBS showcase next year.
The only other award that had not been previously announced was Best Short Documentary, which went to the Australian film SALT, directed by Michael Angus and Murray Fredericks (full disclosure: I was on the Short Jury for the IDA this year).