Posted on Monday, November 24, 2008 by Brenda Tucker
The International Documentary Association (IDA) has awarded independent filmmaker, writer, producer, and director (The Times of Harvey Milk) Rob Epstein, current Media Arts Program cochair* and professor, its prestigious 2008 Pioneer Award. The award signifies Epstein's far-reaching contributions in film direction, and will be presented in a ceremony with other distinguished IDA award recipients at the Directors Guild of America in Los Angeles December 5, 2008.
The IDA Pioneer Award acknowledges filmmakers who have amassed a history of producing films that effect change within the documentary genre. The award-selection process begins with juries of peers who view all the submissions and then nominate persons in each category for final review by a blue-ribbon panel. All distinguished IDA award winners will be honored.
Epstein possesses a seemingly insurmountable array of filmmaking accolades: two Academy Awards for Best Documentary, six Emmys, and three George Foster Peabody Broadcasting Awards, to list just a few!
The first Academy Award was awarded in 1985 for The Times of Harvey Milk (with Richard Schmiechen), a groundbreaking film that also earned an IDA Award, a Peabody, an Emmy, the New York Film Critics Award, as well as the Boston Society of Film Critics Award, among others. (Gus Van Sant's most recent feature film, Milk, revisits this unforgettable time in San Francisco's history.)
The second Oscar was awarded in 1990 for Common Threads: Stories from the Quilt (with Bill Couturié ), a film that also received the Sundance Film Festival's Freedom of Expression Award and the GLAAD Media Awards' Vito Russo Film Award, among other coveted film-industry acknowledgments.
Filmmaker Jeffrey Friedman and Epstein received the FIPRESCI Award (aka the International Critics Prize) at the 2000 Berlin Film Festival for Paragraph 175 (2000), a documentary that pays tribute to the tens of thousands of gays and lesbians who were persecuted during the Holocaust.
Epstein's career as a filmmaker began as one of six members of the Mariposa Film Group that directed the landmark documentary Word Is Out (1977), which conveys personal stories of being gay in the decades before the gay rights movement. He went on to develop a body of work that today is world renowned; his films have premiered at film festivals worldwide—Venice, Toronto, Telluride, New York, Sydney, Hong Kong—often procuring the coveted Audience Choice award for Best Documentary (or equivalent).
Other celebrated and industry-awarded films in Epstein's trajectory include The Celluloid Closet (HBO, 1995), which earned an Emmy for Best Directing; Where Are We? Our Trip Through America (PBS, 1993); and The AIDS Show (1986, 1986). His contributions to television include Ten Days That Unexpectedly Changed America: Gold Rush (The History Channel, 2006); Crime & Punishment (NBC, 2002); and Underground Zero (Cinemax's "Isaiah's Rap," 2002).
Epstein has received a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Rockefeller Fellowship, as well as grants from the California Council of the Humanities and the National Endowment for the Arts. He also received a $10,000 grant from the Sundance Film Festival.
An elected member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Board of Governors and a voting member of the Director's Guild of America, Epstein also serves on the board of San Francisco-based Yerba Buena Center for the Arts.
Prior to teaching at CCA, Epstein taught in the graduate film program at Tisch School for the Arts at New York University. His films are in distribution through Sony Pictures Classics, New Yorker Films, and Netflix. He also is a partner in Telling Pictures, a San Francisco-based production company.
Epstein is currently at work on Howl, a feature starring James Franco, that memorializes Alan Ginsberg's groundbreaking poem of the same name.
Learn more about the 2008 IDA Awards.
Read Rob Epstein's comments on the Huffington Post regarding Harvey Milk and Proposition 8.
* As of 3/15/2010 CCA's Media Arts Program was renamed the Film Program, with Rob Epstein as chair.