Late last night the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences announced the four men who will be receiving special Oscars this fall at the 4th Annual Governors Awards dinner, and among the names is D.A. Pennebaker, a very deserving cinema legend who has been one of the leading figures in documentary filmmaking for the past fifty years.
Here’s the description of Pennebaker from the Academy’s press release, which highlights why he’s getting an Honorary Academy Award :
D. A. Pennebaker, a pioneer of modern nonfiction film, has directed more than 20 feature-length documentaries, including “Don’t Look Back,” “Monterey Pop,” “Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars,” “Moon over Broadway,” “Kings of Pastry" and "The War Room,” for which he received an Oscar® nomination. During his career of more than six decades, Pennebaker has inspired generations of filmmakers with his “you are here” style. He is considered one of the founders of the cinéma vérité movement, beginning with his collaboration on the seminal 1960 film “Primary.”
How appropriate that Penny (as everyone calls him) should be recognized for “extraordinary distinction in lifetime achievement” during a presidential election year since Primary (airing on DOC Channel Nov. 4) and The War Room are probably the two greatest campaign films ever made, and he also produced the very underrated Al Franken: God Spoke, which is a perfect look at the 2004 election year.
I actually thought I saw the filmmaker at the DNC last night and hoped he and wife/co-director Chris Hegedus were making a new documentary about an incumbent’s bid for re-election. Unfortunately I don’t think it was him.
As in the video above, here’s Penny on Documentary Channel from when we had a retrospective of his work:
This is pretty much the first time an Honorary Academy Award is being given to a documentary filmmaker. Two years ago one of the recipients was Kevin Brownlow, but I’m reminded that his recognition was primarily for his dedication to Hollywood preservation, though official terms cite it as being “for the wise and devoted chronicling of the cinematic parade,” which I’d say includes his film history docs.
Similarly this year’s Honorary Academy Award related to preservation goes to George Stevens, Jr. (yes, son of the actor), who was nominated for an Oscar for producing the 1963 documentary short The Five Cities of June. He’s more prominently known for founding the American Film Institute and the Kennedy Honors, but the Academy press release does also cite his “several years at the United States Information Agency, where he championed the work of young documentary filmmakers.”
Other documentarians who’ve received special Oscars in the past include Rey Scott, who basically won the Best Documentary Award for Kukan before the category was established, and William L. Hendricks, who was recognized specifically for his U.S. Marine Corp. film A Force in Readiness. I’d maybe include the award given to the March of Time newsreel agency as relevant, as well.
Here’s an appearance Penny and Chris made on Documentary Channel’s DocTalk series to discuss Kings of Pastry:
For the curious, the other of the three Honorary Academy Awards is going to stuntman-turned-filmmaker Hal Needham while the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award goes to studio exec Jeffrey Katzenberg for his philanthropy efforts.
Here’s one more clip of Penny from the DOC Channel retrospective: