The Winner: Grace Jones: Bloodlight and Bami (USA) directed by Sophie Fiennes
Wajib (Palestine, Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Colombia, France, Germany, Norway) directed by Annemarie Jacir
Wajib is a film that appears to have little plot beyond a father and son spending a day hand-delivering wedding invitations to family and friends in Nablus. Through outstanding writing, directing, acting and editing, this slice-of-life film opens to us a whole world, a tapestry of little dramas...of connections, concerns, conflicts and complexities within individuals, families, communities and, indeed, the whole of a society and a country. Wajib explores the universal question of how do you do the thing that you are supposed to do in a changing world?
The Guilty (Denmark) directed by Gustav Möller
This film takes a well-known genre, the detective story, beyond its usual boundaries to a much more confined space—just two rooms. In those two rooms and with just one actor in nearly all the scenes, the film demands the audience to engage their minds and imaginations to see what is happening outside that confined space. With excellent writing, directing, acting, cinematography and editing, the film explores violence, power and guilt with powerful, sometimes devastating, effectiveness.
No: A Flamenco Tale (Spain) directed by Jose Luis Tirado
This film is original, spirited, fresh and courageous. Tirado and his collaborator and star of the film - flamenco dancer Noemi Martinez Chico - create an experience that lingers with the viewer long after the film itself comes to an end. Their dance opera follows the main character—who is actually named "No"—as she dances her way through an "ordinary" day in the city of Seville, and, at the end of it, finds herself extra-ordinarily transformed. Through the use of experimental visual techniques and evocative sound design that remind us of the work of Jaques Tati, No moves from urban isolation and drudgery toward her own self-appreciation and into a vibrant connection with others. As this unfolds, flamenco and other styles of dance operate as a unique form of dialogue. Watching No: A Flamenco Tale feels like walking into a dance designed by Gaudi and reminds us of the power and the potential of cinema.
Hotel Salvation (India) directed by Shubhashish Bhutiani
We admire the film's rendering of complicated intergenerational relationships and the challenges of negotiating transitions on both the personal and cultural levels. "Hotel Salvation" begins with the premise that "Death is a process" and proceeds to illustrate the degree to which life is, too. The journey is kicked off by the main character's decision to die, and leads the viewer through a series of filmic experiences that include well stylized and expertly selected settings in which the meaning of this mortal decision is examined through the lenses of religion, tradition, family dynamics and humor. Hotel Salvation also gives the audience a feeling for physical and psychic space that allows for poetic and documentary-style treatment. This film makes visual — and palpable — aspects of the human journey that are usually invisible and inaccessible. It even has some surprising things to say about gender roles. In the end, although it deals with death, "Hotel Salvation" is also about how to fully live life.
Naila and the Uprising (Palestine) directed by Julia Bacha
A common theme in the Justice Matters series is that nonviolence and equality are essential to social justice movements and peacebuilding. The jury award this year goes to Naila and the Uprising for exemplifying these qualities.
This statement is on behalf of Just Vision, the team behind Naila and the Uprising: We are honored to receive the CrossCurrents Foundation Justice Matters Award, and we'd like to thank the Filmfest DC jury members for recognizing our film among this year's powerful line-up. This film is a testament to the remarkable courage, creativity and resilience of the women who organized on the frontlines of the nonviolent civil resistance during the First Intifada, putting their lives and bodies on the line to advocate for their rights, freedom and dignity. It is particularly meaningful for this story to be recognized today, as we've seen Palestinians in Gaza organizing nonviolently for the last 6 weeks, as well as the ongoing efforts of communities across Israel and Palestine who are working to build a rights-respecting future for everyone in the region. We hope this film can be an inspiration to them and for those striving for justice across the globe. Thank you.
Outside In (USA) directed by Lynn Shelton
Through compelling story-telling, beautifully scripted and filmed with cinematic economy, Outside In tells a story of yearning and hope. Incarcerated unfairly as an 18-year-old, a prisoner released 20 years later finds himself an outsider, trying to re-enter the world of family and love and community relationships from which he feels barred.
Again, this year I had the great pleasure of co-curating the festival's Short Cuts programs with Linda Blackaby. The selection included some already highly regarded films, (including top awards at Sundance) along with some wonderful newer pieces that are not yet well-known.
The Short Cuts Award shines a light on filmmakers who may be less well known and whose works, in their subtlety and economy provide the viewer with a rich, emotionally resonant experience that expands with contemplation.
Honorable Mention goes to French-Taiwanese filmmaker Pang-chuan Huang's film, Return. In Return, The filmmaker combines still photography and artful moving images to describe his train journey across two continents to embrace his grandfather's war-torn past.
This year's Short Cuts Award goes to artist Brent Green's peculiar, agitating and beautiful animated film, A Brief Spark Bookended by Darkness, which he describes as a "tale about love in an increasingly dark world". In under five minutes, Brent transforms the deepest expression of existential angst into a splendid & celebratory visual and musical poem. Hand-drawn animation and artful foley sound create a rhythm and pulse that blurs the dividing line between our visual and auditory experiences and between our own internal and external worlds. This film leaves you with the unique feeling that you have stepped inside the artwork. Our congratulation, Brent!
And if my description of this film has sparked your interest, Brent, along with percussionist Brendan Canty (of Fugazi fame) will be incorporating the film into a live performance art piece at the National Gallery's East Building Auditorium at 3:00 PM on June 30. So mark your calendar.
And congratulations once again to Brent Green, Fimfest DC's 2018 Short Cuts Award winner!