Last week, we discussed the nominations for the documentary-oriented 2011 Cinema Eye Honors, which were announced at a fun pub party in East London and included many of the year's best docs. Basically, I like the way they do business. But one award wasn't announced that night, and it's a new and interesting one: the rather brilliantly named Hell Yeah Prize has been created to recognize strong films that can also claim to have made a measure of difference out in the real world.
I'm aware of, but have never seen, the inaugural recipient of the prize, the HBO Documentary Films trilogy "Paradise Lost" -- the first film of which was released back in 1996, and the third of which will premiere on HBO in January. But it seems a most worthy choice of winner to christen the award: over 16 years, the long-haul project tracked the miscarriage of justice involving the West Memphis Three, a trio of teenage boys who were falsely accused and convicted of child murder, and were finally released, after serving 18 years, earlier this year. The films, directed by Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky, reportedly played a key role in raising public and media awareness of the story, and keeping the case alive.
The first part of the trilogy was acclaimed on screens big and small, winning Emmy and Peabody Awards, as well as the National Board of Review's Best Documentary honor. This award, then, puts a nice cap on that, proving that cinema can be life as well as art.
The press release:
New York - The Cinema Eye Honors for Nonfiction Filmmaking today announced a new, periodic award called the Hell Yeah Prize, to be given to filmmakers who have created works of incredible craft and artistry that also have significant, real-world impact. The inaugural Hell Yeah Prize will be presented to Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky for their HBO Documentary Films trilogy Paradise Lost, which played a critical role in securing the release from prison of the wrongly prosecuted and convicted West Memphis Three.
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 screening of Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory will take place on January 10, also at the Museum of the Moving Image, and the film will have its HBO premiere later in January 2012.
“The mission of Cinema Eye is to prioritize outstanding artistry and craft in the field of documentary,” Cinema Eye Honors Co-Chair Esther Robinson said about the new award. “We wanted to find a way to recognize those films and filmmakers that excel at the highest levels to create great art and, as a result, also happen to affect change in the real world that is measurable. Joe and Bruce’s Paradise Lost trilogy - a two decade investigation of an outrageous case of wrongful prosecution and conviction - defines this award perfectly.”
“Joe and Bruce’s dogged determination to keep shining a light on this miscarriage of justice in Arkansas no doubt saved at least one of these young men from being put to death,” said Cinema Eye Honors Co-Chair AJ Schnack. “Their films inspired a global movement that refused to let the issue go away. The fact is that Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory truly stands on its own as one of the best films of 2011. We are honored to present this new award to these landmark filmmakers.”
“To be given the opportunity to work on a series of films that had such a tangible result as the release of the wrongfully convicted West Memphis Three from prison is enough of a reward for any filmmaker, so to be singled out for this inaugural Hell Yeah award is truly inspiring, “ said co-filmmaker Joe Berlinger.
Added Co-filmmaker Bruce Sinofsky: “We are truly grateful to the Cinema Eye Honors for providing this platform to celebrate the power of documentary filmmaking to make a difference in the world.”
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