Nostalgia for the Light, Chilean director Patricio Guzman's documentary that mixes celestial exploration with families searching for the remains of victims of the Pinochet regime, has been named Best Feature of 2011 by the International Documentary Association.
The award was handed out on Friday night during the IDA Awards ceremony at the Directors Guild in West Hollywood.
Typically, given a year in which there are no clear front-runners in the documentary awards race, Guzman's film did not make the shortlist in the Oscars doc category.
Nostalgia for the Light is, however, one of the nominees for the top prize at the Cinema Eye Honors, another major award for nonfiction films; in fact, it is the only film nominated in the marquee category at both the IDA Awards and Cinema Eye.
Enormously moving and wondrous to behold, it looks for a peaceful equilibrium in the universe that its creator's home country may never find in itself, Andrew O'Hehir wrote at Salon.
Accepting the award with a translator at his side, Guzman left the audience with a phrase that drew a big round of applause: A country that does not have documentary filmmaking is like a family with no photo album.
Other films nominated for the top IDA prize were Better This World, How to Die in Oregon, The Redemption of General Butt Naked and The Tiniest Place. None made the 15-film Oscar shortlist.
The IDA's winner for Best Short was Poster Girl, a Sara Nesson film that was nominated in the Documentary Short category at the last Oscars.
Les Blank was presented with a Career Achievement Award by director Werner Herzog, who said Blank's work was always defining America, in a way. (Blank responded with a story about Herzog's wild-man ways while filming Fitzcarraldo, which Blank documented in his film Burden of Dreams.)
Hell and Back Again director Danfung Dennis was given the Jacqueline Donnet Emerging Filmmaker Award.
The IDA Awards were hosted by filmmakers Tiffany Schlain, Josh Fox and the IDA's president of the board, Eddie Schmidt. The show was faster-paced and more streamlined than in previous years, but with the same ramshackle, let's-put-on-a-show vibe typical of its informal and untelevised proceedings.
In other awards previously announced by the IDA, Guanape Sur won the David L. Wolper Student Documentary Award, Position Among the Stars was given the Humanitas Documentary Award, The Pruitt-Igoe Myth won the ABC News Videosource Award, and The Last Mountain took home the Pare Lorentz Award.
Television awards went to the PBS series POV (Best Continuing Series), and to Planet Green's series Boomtown (Best Limited Series).