Morgan Neville's Won't You Be My Neighbor? takes audience award
Hale County This Morning, This Evening had a very good evening at the Gotham Independent Film Awards in New York. The film by RaMell Ross was named Best Documentary at the ceremony Monday night, besting a field that included Morgan Neville's Won't You Be My Neighbor? and Sandi Tan's documentary Shirkers.
Hale County's victory was all the more impressive because the documentary didn't boast theatrical distribution on the scale of Neighbor -- which was released wide by Focus Features -- or the international platform of Tan's film, which is streaming on Netflix.
What do I want to say, now that everyone’s looking?
Hale County attempts to reframe the depiction of African Americans in film by presenting a holistic view of a community in rural Alabama. Stirring imagery lends a rich, poetic feel to lives that are often reduced to caricature in much of cinema.
Accepting his award Ross thanked, among others, producers Joslyn Barnes and Su Kim, and his protagonists, Quincy Bryant and Daniel Collins, two young men working diligently in pursuit of their dreams.
"What do I want to say, now that everyone’s looking?" Ross joked from the podium. He followed that with these observations: "If we look back to history, technology — the technology and photography and film — sort of was the main catalyst for racism, perhaps. And so we should really think deeply about the way in which the medium itself offers a visualization which is reductive and sort of feeds the psychological event of one’s encounter with it... Second of all, when someone is being represented by someone else you’re putting a costume on them. So when you’re representing yourself you’re choosing your own clothes. So let’s let black folks choose their own clothes, por favor."
It was the second straight year a documentary produced by Barnes won the top honor at the Gotham Awards. She also produced last year's winner, Strong Island, directed by Yance Ford.
Neville, whose film about children's television pioneer Fred Rogers has made over $22 million in theatrical release, did not leave the ceremony empty handed. Won't You Be My Neighbor? won the audience award, which the filmmaker said he wasn't expecting.
"To say this is a surprise is an extreme understatement,” Neville told the crowd at Cipriani in Manhattan. He added he was pleased to see audiences turning out to see documentaries, noting, “A year ago, it seemed like you couldn’t pay people to go see them in theaters.”
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.