Morgen wins for directing Jane, first primetime Emmy win of his career
The Oscar eluded Strong Island director Yance Ford earlier this year, but he can now boast of a prestigious win at the Emmy Awards.
Ford's film about the racially-charged death in 1992 of his brother William Ford Jr. won the Exceptional Merit in Documentary Filmmaking honor as the second night of the Creative Arts Emmys unfolded in Los Angeles.
"Black lives mattered in 1992 and they matter in 2018," Ford said from the stage, where he was joined by fellow winner Joslyn Barnes, producer of the film, and cinematographer Alan Jacobsen.
The Exceptional Merit category is a juried award, meaning it goes through an even more intensive judging process than for "regular" Emmys. Strong Island went up against Matthew Heineman's City of Ghosts; What Haunts Us, directed by Paige Goldberg Tolmach, and Jane, directed by Brett Morgen.
Morgen by no means left the ceremony empty-handed for his work on the film about primatologist and conservationist Jane Goodall. He won Outstanding Directing for a Documentary/Nonfiction Program, the first primetime Emmy victory of his long career. His director of photography, Ellen Kuras, won the Emmy Award for Outstanding Cinematography for a Nonfiction Program, an honor she shared with the late Hugo van Lawick, who shot the original material of Jane Goodall doing her research into wild chimps in Gombe, Tanzania back in the 1960s.
In something of a surprise, Outstanding Documentary or Nonfiction Special went to The Zen Diaries of Garry Shandling, directed by Judd Apatow. It was up against formidable competition, including the Oscar-winning documentary Icarus directed by Bryan Fogel..
Backstage, Apaptow paid tribute to Shandling, his late friend and mentor, who gave Apaptow his first directing opportunity, on an episode of The Larry Sanders Show.
"It's very sad. I miss him every day," he said of Shandling, who died in 2016. Asked how he thought Garry would have reacted to the Emmy win, Apatow said, "I think he would have been thrilled."
Wild Wild Country, the breakout hit from Netflix, won the Emmy for Outstanding Documentary or Nonfiction Series. The multi-parter tells the story of the founding of Rajneeshpuram in rural Oregon in the early 1980s, a spiritual community presided over by Indian guru Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh and his chief lieutenant, Ma Anand Sheela. The series directed by brothers Chapman and Maclain Way triumphed over the PBS series American Masters, BBC America's Blue Planet II, HBO's The Defiant Ones, and Showtime's The Fourth Estate.
Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown entered the evening a sentimental favorite after the host's death by suicide in June. The food and travel show won half a dozen Emmys on the night, among them Outstanding Informational Series or Special and Outstanding Writing for a Nonfiction Program.
Parts Unknown airs on CNN, home as well to United Shades of America with W. Kamau Bell. That show won Outstanding Unstructured Reality Program, along with an award for picture editing.
At the age of 92 Sir David Attenborough won Outstanding Narrator for his work on the documentary series Blue Planet II. Among his competitors in that category were 96-year-old Carl Reiner, nominated for his work on If You're Not in the Obit, Eat Breakfast, and 81-year-old Morgan Freeman, who narrated the documentary March of the Penguins 2: The Next Step.
The Creative Arts Emmys were held Saturday and Sunday at the Microsoft Theatre in downtown Los Angeles, with most of the documentary awards presented Sunday. An edited version of the show, combining highlights from both nights, will air Saturday on the FXX network.
The Primetime Emmy Awards, where most of the acting categories will be presented, air live on NBC on Monday, September 17.
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.