Joan Churchill, ASC will receive the
International Documentary Association (IDA) Award for Outstanding Documentary
Cinematography. She will be feted at the 21st Annual IDA Distinguished
Documentary Achievement Awards Gala Benefit at the Directors Guild of America
Theater on December 9, 2005.
"Joan Churchill is an extraordinary visual storyteller who is in the process
of creating an important body of work," says IDA Executive Director Sandra
Ruch. "She is being recognized for her unique achievements as an author of
compelling images that have told some of the important stories of our times."
Ruch says that IDA Board of Directors decided to create an award recognizing
cinematographers because critics and the public generally overlook their
contributions to the collaborative process of storytelling.
Churchill has compiled some 50 cinematography credits since the early 1970s,
including such award-winning films for cinema and television screens as
Aileen: Life and Death of a Serial Killer, Soldier Girls, Asylum and Lily
Tomlin for which she received directing credits as well. Her recent projects
include Bearing Witness, a feature length documentary directed by Barbara
Kopple and Bob Eisenhardt about female journalists working in combat zones in
Iraq; and Home of the Brave, directed by Paola di Florio about the death of
Viola Liuzzo, the only white woman killed in the Civil Rights movement.
Churchill says her style is "experiential. I love shooting in unstructured
environments where you have no control. You learn how to listen and follow
what's happening with a subjective camera that actively participates in the
story so the audience can experience it as you do, by a process of discovery.
It's an attempt to create a primary document in the same sense that a diary is
one. For me that process is the most fascinating thing imaginable, and it's
very much in the narrative style. I know I may not change the world with my
films, but you can get people thinking and asking the hard questions."
Churchill is a second-generation filmmaker. Her father Robert Churchill was a
pioneering producer and distributor of educational films. She had no
intentions of following in her father's footsteps but after taking a UCLA
summer class in filmmaking, she got hooked. Although she was recognized as a
shooter at UCLA Film School, she didn't think she could get any work
professionally since the reality was that paying jobs for female
cinematographers were rare. After graduation, she worked as an editor.
Churchill began getting calls from former male classmates asking her to shoot
their documentaries. Churchill says that giving up editing was not an easy
decision, because there were no guarantees that she could make a living as a
cinematographer. There were long stretches of time when she explored the
Southwest in her van, waiting for work.
Churchill says that her breakthrough came in 1971 when she shot Punishment
Park, a low budget fiction film with director Peter Watkins. It was a story
about Vietnam anti-war protesters who were given a choice of going to jail or
running a 17-mile gauntlet in the California desert. The film was shot in
During the early 1970s, Churchill worked on such classic documentaries as
Gimme Shelter, Pumping Iron, Jimi Plays Berkeley, and An American Family, a 13
hour PBS TV series. In 1974, she was invited to teach at the National Film
School in England where she took up residence for 10 years. A long-term
collaboration began with Nick Broomfield resulting in a number of highly
She and Broomfield got a grant from the British Film Institute to produce a
film in 1975 about the police in northern England dealing harshly with
children who committed minor crimes. Juvenile Liaison caused a furor and was
only shown publicly once at the London Film Festival, although the police
changed their tactics following a screening for Parliament.
Tattooed Tears, their first American film in 1978, focused on a maximum-
security prison in California for youthful offenders. The film won a Dupont-
Columbia Award for Outstanding Journalism.
Next they collaborated on Soldier Girls, shining a spotlight on the treatment
of female U.S. Army recruits during basic training. It won the 1982 British
Academy of Arts and Sciences Award. They then followed Lily Tomlin around for
20 months filming her mounting a Broadway show, "The Search for Signs of
Intelligent Life in the Universe." It was shown widely theatrically throughout
Churchill is compiling an extremely eclectic body of work, ranging from music
(Arrested Development in the House), to politics (The Leader, Tea & God),
history (Home of the Brave), social issues (Residents) and human affairs (One
Generation More). She has frequently been cast in multiple roles as producer,
director and cinematographer, and she spent one year personally negotiating
deals with theatrical exhibitors for one of her films.
"Joan Churchill is a complete filmmaker, who has earned the respect of her
peers and made a difference in the world," says IDA President Richard Propper.
"She exemplifies the values and spirit of non-fiction filmmakers around the
The annual IDA Awards Gala is designed to recognize and inspire the pursuit of
excellence. Eastman Kodak Company has sponsored the ceremonies since their
inception in 1984.
IDA traces it roots to an informal meeting of about a dozen filmmakers in Los
Angeles in 1982. They defined a need for a non-profit organization that served
as a forum where non-fiction filmmakers could share ideas and discuss and
advocate issues of common interest. The organization has some 2,500 members in
50 countries today. For additional information about the IDA, visit
www.documentary.org or call 213-534-3600, ext. 0.
Churchill Will Receive IDA Cinematography Award
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