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FOCAL Awards 2023 Shortlisted Nominees

2024 shortlisted nominations

Barbara Gregson for Meltdown: Three Mile Island


Meltdown tells the story (previously unexplored in documentary format) of three engineers who, in 1983, risked everything to blow the whistle about a looming nuclear apocalypse during the cleanup at the Three Mile Island nuclear plant. Their actions, which cost the men their careers, likely spared the eastern seaboard from calamity.

Archival highlights

Dealing with archival research is a challenge on any film or series. This one in particular was a very daunting project, as the event took place 42 years ago - and even though it was a national and global story, the coverage of it was at a very local level being that it took place in central Pennsylvania. On top of all of that, we began production just when the pandemic hit, so the archival research was a Herculean task, being that most services were closed and had limited access for many months. What was uncovered were hours of material that no one really had seen, and we were able to provide a context to a story that many new very little about. News was delivered quite differently in 1980, and we had the challenge of needing to provide great depth to the story and the controversy we were able to unravel. Barbara's diligence, skill and resourcefulness enabled us to create a very compelling and complete retelling of the event. The archival was invaluable and the depth of it was applauded by all that were involved.

Vanessa Gonzalez-Block for The U.S. and the Holocaust


THE U.S. AND THE HOLOCAUST is a three-part, six hour series directed by Ken Burns, Lynn Novick and Sarah Botstein that examines America’s response to one of the greatest humanitarian tragedies of the twentieth century. With successful broadcasts in the United States and Europe, it is set to become a generational moment for viewers of all kinds, similar to Schindler’s List and Shoah.

Americans consider themselves a “nation of immigrants,” but as the Holocaust unfolded in Europe, the American government proved unwilling to open its doors to more than a fraction of the hundreds of thousands of desperate people seeking refuge. Combining first-person accounts of Holocaust survivors with interviews of leading historians and writers, this series delves deeply into the human consequences of public indifference, bureaucratic red tape and restrictive quota laws in the United States.

Inspired by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’s “Americans and the Holocaust” exhibition and supported by its historical resources, the film tackles urgent questions that confront democracies around the world today: what are our obligations to refugees seeking help, how should governments and individuals respond to regimes that manipulate the truth, and how do immigration policies reflect deep rooted tensions over national identity?

Archival highlights

A documentary film about the Holocaust presented unique problems of representation, which have been foregrounded by recent scholarly approaches to ways of seeing and understanding. As THE U.S. AND THE HOLOCAUST begins in Episode One, home movie footage made by a Jewish family in Europe shows scenes of daily life. A woman (secular or religious, we do not know), barely pregnant, smiles at the camera and looks out a window, while the narrator provides numbers and statistics – two very different, but equally essential – means of quantifying the enormity of loss wrought by Nazi terror.

The use of home movie footage, prevalent throughout the series and made possible through our extensive research in archives and personal collections in the United States and Europe, serves not only to humanize the victims, but to establish the primacy of perspective as a mode of understanding. The erasure of Jewish life can be measured only if we come to understand this absence as a presence, one that cannot be replaced but only reimagined through film.

Later in the series, in a much different scene, we see Jewish victims being forced to walk to a pit in Libau, Latvia and unceremoniously shot. A dog scampers and barks but few of the participants in the murders register any reaction. This is the only known documentary footage to depict taking of life during the so-called Holocaust by bullets, when Nazi agents and local collaborators murdered two million Jews as Germany invaded the Soviet Union in 1941. But what haunts us about the footage is not merely the documentary evidence that it provides, but the type of knowledge that it obscures. Who filmed this horrific scene and what were their intentions? Were they participants in the murder or mere passersby? Were they documenting atrocities or celebrating them? Each possibility presents its own horrific implications. There is no space for moral comfort.

As viewers, we, too, become complicit as we witness these scenes. How do we watch such moments without contemplating our own passivity in response to terrible moments in the present? Would we have behaved differently than the murderers or the person doing the filming? In this sense, the visual language of the film pushes us to complete a circle, imagining events of the past as if we were participants. The purpose is not one of judgment but to allow us to contemplate the responsibility that comes with our knowledge, in the past and in the present.

Rich Remsberg & Gideon C. Kennedy for Light & Magic


The six-part series tells the story of the characters and techniques that began as a ragtag group of misfits assembled to work on George Lucas’ Star Wars and went on to build Industrial Light & Magic (ILM) and the visual effects industry as we know it.

Archival highlights

I had the pleasure of working with Archival Producers Rich Remsberg and Gideon Kennedy on the 6-part Disney series Light & Magic. The show explores the formation and early days of Industrial Light & Magic, the ragtag VFX shop originally put together to create the special effects for Stars Wars that then went on to have an outsized influence on the film industry. Having worked with Rich in the past, I knew from the very start that I wanted him on the team for what we knew would be a massive archival lift.

From the beginning, Director Lawrence Kasdan envisioned this series to be closely focused on the people behind the story, not just the technology involved in these iconic moments in movie history. This actually made gathering archival a significantly bigger job, because it broadened the scope of our series and took it outside the realm of the “officially” documented, often sending it into the esoteric. Rich and his team recovered piles of home movies, photo albums, hometown news coverage, student films, and more. To give just a small example of their success, George Lucas, only one of our dozen+ main characters, has been rather well documented… That didn’t stop Rich from uncovering long unseen footage of Lucas before he was famous, a wonderful interview with his high school English teacher, and BTS of Lucas serving as Francis Ford Coppola’s “assistant” on The Rain People. And this was all on top of his delicate handling of childhood archive provided directly by the Lucas family.

In my own experience, the sheer volume of archival sources set this series apart. The show was fortunate enough to have Lucasfilm as a partner, so from the jump we had access to their archive which, while amazing, was woefully disorganized and frequently undigitized. But we were also intent on building a world larger than the studio lot, so there was an enormous amount of contextual archive to find, something for which Rich has a special knack. From industrial archives to local historical societies, no stone was left unturned. Additionally, our main story spanned decades, primarily from the mid-70s to the mid-90s, but with forays further into the past and present to dig into the lives of our characters and to explore the origins of VFX and the directions in which they are going today. Aside from original interviews and some finished film clips, the entire series was built and scripted from archive. It was a truly heavy lift, and done with grace and good humor.

For more than a year, Rich and crew would update the story and production team at least once a week on new finds and ongoing searches. At first, much of this search was self-guided or only loosely bound by general topics. These early results helped shape editorial and Rich showed a knack for thinking creatively and laterally, with constructive suggestions for the creative team. As the show took shape, our archive requests became increasingly specific, sometimes to the point of absurdity. Rich and Gideon always delivered. If anything, they left our director with the impression that all one had to do was imagine the perfect piece of archive, say it aloud in front of Rich Remsberg, and it would exist.

Along with this volume of archive comes a lot of clearance work, and there too they were methodical and extremely reliable, working with editorial down to the last minute when replacements were needed, and making sure everything was up to Disney’s exacting standards. He was truly an integral member of the team; without him the series would not be what it is.

Much more could be said about Rich and Gideon. I haven’t even gotten into the details of Rich’s nationwide quest to find original prints of the Star Wars trilogy (which he did, of course). Suffice it to say that I’ll be working with him again. He is an excellent archive producer, with a true joy for the calling and for the material. I highly recommend them for the Jane Mercer award.


Christopher St. John

Jessica Berman-Bogdan for Moonage Daydream


MOONAGE DAYDREAM: A cinematic odyssey exploring Bowie's creative, spiritual and musical journey. From the visionary mind of Brett Morgen, Moonage Daydream features captivating, never-before-seen footage and performances spanning David Bowie's 54-year career.

Archival highlights

Moonage Daydeam was a five year, forensic, audio-visual research odyssey that included hundreds of research sources ranging from record company archives to private collections. Not only did Jessica locate a significant amount of never-before-seen material, she also supervised the technical aspects of transferring a great deal of this material to a digital medium.

Jessica established and maintained the production database which organized a few thousand elements and made it convenient for Brett to understand the array of material he had to work with.

Moonage Daydream is narrated completely in David Bowie's own words. Sourcing all of this narration was a feat in itself.

Moonage Daydream is a two hour and fifteen minute film comprised solely of third-party material. Not only did Jessica locate new Bowie-centric material, she brought in all of the tangential audio-visual storytelling elements which were considerable.

Unraveling an EDL is challenging on a good day. The dedication and focus Jessica exhibited in securing the master material deserves it's own level of recognition.

Making a critically acclaimed and financially successful experiential film about a rock and roll icon is a serious undertaking. Being the Archival Producer on that film deserves recognition of the highest honors, which is why I'm nominating Jessica Berman-Bogdan for FOCAL Researcher of the Year.

Watch Moonage Daydream trailer here:


Directors Statement from Brett Morgen:

It is a honor to submit to you, Jessica Berman- Bogdan, for consideration as Researcher of the year. Jessica Berman Bogdan was the first person hired onto Moonage Daydream in 2016, and was the last person working on the film in 2022. Jessica was asked to organize and source the entirety of the David Bowie archives, possibly the largest collection of materials from any solo artist, with well over a million assets. The Bowie archive had amassed this collection without any source information. In addition, I asked Jessica to seek out every piece of media related to David Bowie not housed in the archive. This of course, was an impossible task that could never be fully realized. But Jessica approached it as a winnable challenge, as she always does, and found every know piece of media.

We did not have a staff of researchers and producers assisting Jessica. Jessica did all the research and archive work herself. Moonage Daydream was arguably one of the most challenging research assignments an archivist could be handed, and for her to have successfully completed the work by herself in a feat worth celebrating.

In addition to the inherent challenges with sourcing all known media, Moonage Daydream is the first archival film completed in Imax. After finding an element, Jessica had to search the globe for the most pristine masters, and oversee all transfers to 4k.

I have worked with Jessica for over twenty years. She is the only person to have worked on every film I have made starting with The Kid Stays in The Picture. We have collaborated in such groundbreaking archival films as Chicago 10, Crossfire Hurricane, Cobain:Montage of Heck, and Jane. I have witnessed and observed Jessica’s work and worth ethic over the years and she always delivers. But Moonage Daydream was something else. She told me on day one that this would be the most challenging job of her career, and the film she would be remembered for. And she approached it with more passion and integrity than I thought possible. She worked selflessly for years when we ran out of funds and was by my side every step of the way.

The work Jessica performed on Moonage Daydream was the most successful work of our 20 year collaboration. The film has been praised by audiences and critics around the world for its treatment of archival materials. Moonage Daydream was the first documentary to be released around the globe on the same day in IMAX…in over 40 countries, making this the biggest and most successful archival film of the year.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely, Brett Morgen

Lizzy McGlynn for Lowndes County and the Road to Black Power


The passing of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 represented not the culmination of the Civil Rights Movement, but the beginning of a new, crucial chapter. Nowhere was this next battle better epitomized than in Lowndes County, Alabama, a rural, impoverished town with a vicious history of racist terrorism. In a town that was eighty percent Black but had zero Black voters, laws were just paper without power. This isn’t a story of hope but of action. Through first person accounts and searing archival footage, LOWNDES COUNTY AND THE ROAD TO BLACK POWER tells the story of the local movement and young Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) organizers who fought not just for voting rights, but for Black Power in Lowndes County.

Archival highlights

When we first embarked on the journey of crafting Lowndes County and the Road to Black Power with director Sam Pollard, he was very eager to work with archival producer Lizzy McGlynn. Through their previous collaboration on Sam’s film, CITIZEN ASHE, and from Lizzy’s extensive and impressive work on SUMMER OF SOUL, Sam knew that if there was anyone who could tackle the seemingly impossible task of finding pertinent material for the film, it was her.

When we developed this film alongside Dema Paxton Fofang, we expected the film would have to be almost fully animated to account for what we assumed would be the lack of available material. As soon as Lizzy came onto the project, she embarked on an immediate deep-dive on relevant material, ranging from the freedom struggle, Kwame Ture/Stokley Carmichael, and the SNCC. When Lizzy then found unreleased footage that Jack Willis had documented, particularly about tenant farmers in Selma, Alabama shortly after the Voting Rights Act of 1965, we discovered a treasure of material that immediately transported the team in that time. Our editor Viri Leiberman was blown away with the successive troves of material that Lizzy unearthed from this project, and it unlocked an understanding of the context that put image to words of the powerful testimony and insight of the lived experience of our interviewees, informing a roadmap to crafting the film. Because of the wealth and specificity of the material, we were able to create an intimacy in the film that evokes a verite of an untold story that immediately becomes proximate and undeniable.

As we’ve shown the film around the country, our audiences frequently comment that the material brought them into a historic context that felt personal, transformative, and unforgettable.

One key example of this was when Lizzy unlocked the footage of Ruby Sales’ powerful and arresting testimony of the murder of Jonathan Daniels. This was the ticket to unlocking this pivotal scene in the film, and we cannot imagine the film’s gravity without it.

Lizzy’s unrelenting drive for digging deeper and finding the right materials was singular— but it was also her experience in cultivating relationships that allowed the possibility of negotiating clearances. Her methodology and ability to organize complicated logging systems made accessible our understanding of the material and ever a teacher and mentor, she generously trained up our emerging associate producers to support every aspect of the archival process - from research to organization to negotiation in an effective and streamlined way.

Lizzy has consistently stunned us and our audiences with the fruits of her labor, and we could not recommend her more highly for this well deserved recognition.