"Searching for Sugar Man," Malik Bendjelloul's film about the unlikely career revival of '70s rock singer Rodriguez, has been named the best documentary of 2012 by the International Documentary Association, whose IDA Documentary Awards took place on Friday night at the Directors Guild.
The Sony Pictures Classics release, which was recently shortlisted by the Academy and is also a nominee for January's Cinema Eye Honors, won over a field that also included "The Invisible War," "The Queen of Versailles," "The Central Park Five" and "Women With Cows."
The award reinforced the sense that in a strong year for docs, but a year in which none of the serious, issue-oriented films has managed to claim a frontrunner position, the last film standing may well be the one that is the most entertaining.
The IDA Award for best documentary short went to Daniel Junge's and Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy's "Saving Face," which won the Oscar for doc short in February.
In the television categories, Werner Herzog's "Death Row" was named best limited series, while "American Masters" was named best continuing series.
Other awards went to "La Camioneta" (David L. Wolper Student Documentary Award), "Harvest of Empire" (ABCNews Videosource Award), "Bitter Seeds" (Humanitas Documentary Award) and "The Island President" (Pare Lorentz Award).
In the Creative Recognition categories, cinematographer Peter Gerdehag was honored for "Women With Cows," editor Rodney Ascher for "Room 237," writer Keith Patterson for "Ann Richards' Texas" and composers Sixto Rodriguez and Malik Benjdelloul for "Searching for Sugar Man."
David France, the director of the AIDS documentary "How to Survive a Plague," was given the Jacqueline Donnet Emerging Documentary Filmmaker Award, while veteran documentary filmmaker Arnold Shapiro received the Career Achievement Award and the Sundance Institute's Documentary Film Program and Fund was given the Pioneer Award.
Past IDA winners include "Nostalgia for the Light," "Waste Land," "Anvil! The Story of Anvil," "Waltz With Bashir" and "Man on Wire." (The last two films tied in 2008.)
As befits a show that honored a number of hard-hitting, issue-oriented docs (the night's big winner excepted), the stage saw plenty of politically or socially-oriented comments. "The Island President" director Jon Shenk spoke of global warming, while "Central Park Five" director Ken Burns thanked the IDA for filing a court brief in support of his fight against New York City's demand for the raw footage and notes from his film, which details a notable miscarriage of justice in the city. "We, with the IDA's help, have told the city what they can do with their subpoena," Burns said.
And Werner Herzog, accepting an award for a television series that consisted of conversations with men on death row, concluded his comments by saying, "As a German, I am the last person to tell you how to handle your criminal justice system. I can only say I respectfully disagree."
The show was hosted by magician and comic Penn Jillette, who began his exuberant duties with the line, "Thanks for inviting carny trash to your classy little shindig here," and whose big act consisted of juggling two apples and a crystal IDA Award.
He dropped one of those objects into the front row — but thankfully, it wasn't the award.
Best Feature: "Searching for Sugar Man"
Best Short: "Saving Face"
Best Limited Series: "On Death Row"
Best Continuing Series: "American Masters"
David L. Wolper Student Documentary Award: "La Camioneta"
ABCNews Videosource Award: "Harvest of Empire"
Humanitas Documentary Award: "Bitter Seeds"
Pare Lorentz Award: "The Island President"
Best Cinematography: Peter Gerdehag, "Women With Cows"
Best Editing: Rodney Ascher, "Room 237"
Best Music: Sixto Rodriguez, Malik Bendjelloul, "Searching for Sugar Man"
Best Writing: Keith Patterson, "Ann Richards' Texas"
Career Achievement Award: Arnold Shapiro
Jacqueline Donnet Emerging Documentary Filmmaker Award: David France
Pioneer Award: Sundance Institute Documentary Film Program and Fund