Mr. SOUL!, My Octopus Teacher, MLK/FBI and St. Louis Superman among other winners
Kirsten Johnson's Dick Johnson Is Dead has been named the best nonfiction film of the year at the Critics Choice Documentary Awards.
Johnson also was named best director by the critics group, in an announcement made by press release today instead of an awards ceremony, a break from tradition forced by the Covid-19 pandemic.
In Dick Johnson Is Dead the director attempts to come to terms with her aging father's mental and physical decline by staging his death in a variety of ways. The film, winner of a special award at Sundance for innovative nonfiction storytelling, is streaming on Netflix.
"Oh my goodness, I am just insanely honored to be named as best director," Johnson said in a video posted to YouTube on Monday. "This was a film of 'we' -- he [my father], he and I, we, the entire team that made it. Everyone was incredibly emotionally brave as we attempted to face the fear of death together and embrace what cinema can do for us."
This was a film of 'we...'
Best First Documentary Feature went to Melissa Haizlip for her film Mr. SOUL! which tells the story of her late uncle, Ellis Haizlip, the host and producer of a talk and variety show that aired on public television in New York from 1968-1973. The innovative program showcased Black arts and featured prominent guests including Patti LaBelle, Sidney Poitier, Harry Belafonte, Stevie Wonder, Al Green, Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, Muhammad Ali, and Jesse Jackson.
Read: Groundhog Day, Harold and Maude: Director Kirsten Johnson on her cinematic inspirations for Dick Johnson Is Dead
MLK/FBI was chosen as Best Archival Documentary. Sam Pollard's film interrogates the campaign of intimidation and harassment conducted by the FBI under J. Edgar Hoover against the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Another Civil Movement hero, John Lewis, is the subject of Dawn Porter's documentary John Lewis: Good Trouble, which was named Best Historical/Biographical Documentary.
"It's a real pleasure to get that award," Pollard said of receiving Best Archival Documentary. "We were ecstatic when we heard the news."
Boys State, directed by Jesse Moss and Amanda McBaine won Best Political Documentary, while Best Science/Nature Documentary went to My Octopus Teacher, directed by Pippa Ehrlich and James Reed.
Two of the categories at the Critics Choice Documentary Awards resulted in ties. Best Sports Documentary was shared by Ali & Cavett: The Tale of the Tapes, directed by Robert Bader, and Athlete A, the film by Bonni Cohen and Jon Shenk that examines the sexual abuse scandal that brought shame upon USA Gymnastics.
Best Music Documentary was shared by Beastie Boys Story, directed by Spike Jonze, and The Go-Go's, directed by Alison Ellwood.
St. Louis Superman was named Best Short Documentary. The film directed by Smriti Mundhra and Sami Khan and produced by Poh Si Teng, centers on Bruce Franks Jr., a #BlackLivesMatter activist and battle rapper who became a state legislator in Missouri. Franks, whose older brother was shot to death in front of him when he was a child, used his time in office to argue that gun violence should be treated as a public health emergency.
In a video acceptance speech from Phoenix, Arizona, Franks spoke of the movement to combat systemic racial injustice in America.
"...What I will tell you about is the political persecutions that are going on right here in Phoenix for those who are uplifting their voices, for those who are standing against injustices," he said. "This is the reason why we say Black Lives Matter, this is the reason why we say we must defund the police. And this is the reason why we will be in the streets until the world understands that ya'll gonna stop killing us."
Matthew Carey is a documentary filmmaker and journalist. His work has appeared on Deadline.com, CNN, CNN.com, TheWrap.com, NBCNews.com and in Documentary magazine.