With Oscar season so invariably focused on the new and the now, it's refreshing when the occasional awards body casts a look backward to slightly older releases -- though they don't tend to go back 44 years. Trust the conscientious folks behind the Cinema Eye documentary awards to take up that cause with a Legacy Award for classic individual documentaries that, in their view, still carry resonance and influence today. This year's recipient: Frederick Wiseman's 1967 debut feature "Titicut Follies."

I've never had an opportunity to see Wiseman's film, an exposé of the grim conditions at a Massachusetts prison for the criminally insane, but it'd be interesting to see on what note he started his prolific and still-productive career. I'm familiar only with the director's later works, peaking with his staggering Paris ballet study "La Danse." His work of late has been preoccupied with human movement and performance; his latest, "Crazy Horse," about the titular Paris nightclub, continues in that direction. It opens in the US in January, neatly coinciding with the Cinema Eye presentation.

Edited press release after the jump. 

New York - The Cinema Eye Honors for Nonfiction Filmmaking today announced that the 2012 Legacy Award will be presented to the landmark 1967 documentary, Titicut Follies, a stark and graphic portrayal of the conditions that existed at the State Prison for the Criminally Insane at Bridgewater, Massachusetts. Filmmaker Frederick Wiseman will accept the award on behalf of the film at this year’s Cinema Eye ceremony.

“It’s hard for me to believe that Titicut Follies was shot forty-six years ago,” said Wiseman. “I’m thrilled to receive the Cinema Eye Legacy Award but it is tough for me to deal with the implications.”

The award will be presented on January 11, 2012 at the 5th Annual Cinema Eye Honors ceremony to be held at the Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria, New York. A Stranger Than Fiction screening of Titicut Follies will be held the following week, on January 17, at the IFC Center, on the eve of the opening of Wiseman’s latest film, Crazy Horse, which debuts at New York’s Film Forum on January 18, before rolling out to theaters nationwide.

“Few filmmakers - in fiction or nonfiction - have created such an enduring body of work that is also, uniquely, their own as Frederick Wiseman,” said Cinema Eye’s Advisory Chair Andrea Meditch. “The legacy of Titicut Follies stands as a beacon to all of today's filmmakers for its unflinching honesty and the lingering power of John Marshall's camera and Wiseman's editing."

"Titicut Follies is a remarkable film, both for its unwavering look at a failed institution and as the template for the decades of Wiseman films that would follow,” said Laura Poitras, the Chair of the Cinema Eye Filmmaker Advisory Board, which voted to give the Legacy Award to Titicut Follies. “As filmmakers, we look to Wiseman as an inspiration and we are honored to salute the debut film of this vital American auteur."

This is the third year that Cinema Eye will present a Legacy Award, intended to honor classic films that inspire a new generation of filmmakers and embody the Cinema Eye mission: excellence in creative and artistic achievements in nonfiction films. The Legacy Award celebrates the entire creative team behind the chosen film. This year marked the first time that Cinema Eye’s newly established Filmmaker Advisory Board voted on the recipient of the award. Previous Legacy Awards went to Ross McElwee's Sherman’s March and the Maysles Brothers’ Grey Gardens.

A limited number of tickets for the 5th Cinema Eye Honors are now available and include a post-ceremony reception. Tickets: $75 public / $50 Museum members. Call 718-777-6800 to reserve tickets or order online at http://www.movingimage.us/visit/calendar/2012/01/11/detail/cinema-eye-honors. 

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