Inside D.C. entertainment

Federal Writers' Project doc takes top honors at Peer Awards (video)

November 16, 2010 - 09:46 AM
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Soul of a People
Soul of a People was named "Best of D.C." (publicity photo)

Director Andrea Kalin was in a hallway at the National Press Club on Saturday night, having her photo taken with the bronze certificate for long-form documentary at the TIVA-DC Peer Awards, when she heard her name called in the ballroom. Another film of hers, produced by the company she founded, Spark Media, had won the silver. So she returned inside, accepted the certificate, and walked back out to the hallway for another photo. And then it happened again: her name, another film, for gold.

"So we kind of swept the category," says Kalin. "We had a good night."

Well, Spark almost swept the category: two other films won a silver certificate, too, and a second gold was handed out. The Television, Internet, & Video Association of D.C., an all-volunteer, non-profit networking and professional development organization, likes to give out certificates, awarding more than 170 of them in nearly 40 categories — recognizing talents as specific as "color correction." Some 350 films and videos were submitted, and all were either made by D.C.-area filmmakers or were about the region.

"It's a chance for industry professionals to get together and show off what they have," says Peer Awards chair Mike Sobola. "There are niche [awards]. There are other ones that are wider in scope, and smaller ones. We're kind of across the board, but our whole purpose is to allow people to submit and be judged by their peers."

Kalin took home "Best of D.C." honors with her film Soul of a People: Writing America’s Story, a feature-length documentary that aired on the Smithsonian Channel and told the story of the Federal Writers' Project run by the Works Progress Administration during the Great Depression. The FWP created guides, oral histories, ethnographies, and other works, employing famous writers such as Saul Bellow, Zora Neale Hurston, Ralph Ellison, Nelson Algren, John Cheever, Studs Terkel, Dorothy West, John Steinbeck, and Richard Wright. It's a fascinating moment in America's literary and political history, but one that doesn't lend itself to cinematic storytelling.

"Writing is a solitary, and not necessarily visual, medium," says Kalin. "What we did was focus on the gems that they uncovered, the voices that they uncovered — the authenticity of the people, the sense that everyone's got a voice and everyone's got something to say." But the film took some time. "Put it this way," she says. "It took longer than the Writers' Project," which lasted five years.

Here's a look at some of the award-winners:

Soul of a People: Writing America's Story (documentary over 30 minutes)

Career Builder: Ass Kick (commercial)

Liability (fiction, short)

Photo Trekker: Death Valley (public relations/marketing, $25-$50k, internet only – entertainment)

We Heard the Bells: The Influenza of 1918 (documentary over 30 minutes)

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