The Preacher is a provocative exploration of religion and politics, love and hate, life and death amid the conflicts of Egypt today. The director's accomplishments in cinematography, acting and fulfillment of a complex story are even more impressive when considering the challenges of making this film during this time in that country. The film raises some of the very large questions present in many societies today while not losing sight of the fascinating individual characters and the gripping story they are telling.
Special Circle Jury Award: A Window to Rosalia
This is a humble, quiet film about a humble, quiet character. The film unfolds in a way challenging to many filmmakers, and yet this director trusts the audience to take the time to develop the story and characters very delicately. In Leone's hands, each scene unfolds slowly, with intention and beauty.
Signis Award: The Net
The SIGNIS Jury assembled for Filmfest DC 2017 has elected to present its SIGNIS Award to the Korean film The Net. This tense drama by Kim Ki-duk tells the story of a poor North Korean fisherman, Nam Chul-woo, who drifts into South Korean territory when his fishing nets clog the propeller of his outboard motor. He finds himself entrapped in the political nets of the two Koreas, both of which suspect him of being a spy. Remaining true to his country, and totally dedicated to his family, Nam Chul-woo becomes the innocent victim of the relentless security apparatus of two enemy nations. The universal impact of his story questions the true meaning of freedom and the price of oppressive political control at the expense of the individual human being.
First Feature Award: Behind the Clouds
Jurors: Felix Angel, Judy Hallet, Kerric Harvey
All six films in this category were impressive first efforts, combining to create a very strong field that addresses a wide diversity of themes and issues. This was a difficult decision because each of the films was extraordinary, each wonderful in its own way. It was also an unusual occasion in that five out of the six directors were women, a remarkable circumstance that goes against the prevailing trend of film as still being a male-dominated field.
However, the jurors for the First Feature Award are happy to announce that this year's winner, by unanimous decision, is Behind the Clouds, for its almost magical ability to reinterpret the classic "love against all odds" genre and re-invent as a quietly radical story of geriatric courtship.
Although it presents itself as a dark romantic comedy Behind the Clouds actually offers an elegantly crafted exploration of a subject that is as difficult as it is complex. A gracefully adept screenplay is brought to vivid cinematic life through the interconnections among an array of engaging and believable characters, unfolding with consistent symbolic nuancing but never becoming heavy handed as it unfurls into a charming – and surprising – tale.
With the deft use of filmic language, a stand-out screenplay, superb music and sound design, and exquisite application of the filmmakers' craft, Behind the Clouds delivers a multi-layered exploration of love, loss, and hope among three generations of strong female characters.
In addition, pitch-perfect performances by the female and male leads and a glorious supporting cast add up to a film that appeals to all ages. Thought-provoking, meaningful, and profound in a thoroughly enjoyable way, this is a film that brings us back to places we thought we already knew – most conspicuously, into the deep recesses of the human experience as we confront it at all ages – and teaches us new things about both the place itself and our journey to it.
Behind the Clouds looks like it's a film about aging gracefully at times, awkwardly at others. And in many ways it is. But it is really a poetic reminder that aging is not the end of life, but a potentially exuberant part of life.
Congratulations on a fabulous film, and thank you very much.
Short Film Awards: The Law of Averages and Visions of an Island
There were 20 short films in two programs this year. Many of these shorts have received exposure or won awards in significant national or international venues.
The focus of our shorts award is to support the wider recognition of emerging talent.
This year, the Short Film Awards are being given to two filmmakers.
For the well produced and directed drama of a daughter and mother struggling against each other, and the pain of helplessness in the face of loss, the award for Narrative goes to Elisabeth Rose for The Law of Averages. This is also a first solo scriptwriting project for Elisabeth.
And for his poetic, visionary and liberated expression of the complex relationship of homeland and landscape, and the reclamation of native language and culture on a remote Aleutian island, the award for New Form goes to Sky Hopinka for Visions of an Island. Sky is a Ho-Chunk Nation national and a descendant of the Pechauga Band of Luiseno Indians.
We are grateful for the space Filmfest DC creates to celebrate the value of short-form work bringing a spotlight to the power inherent in well-executed economy, and the beauty of spare visual storytelling.
Justice Matters Award: 150 Milligrams
The eight very different films in the Justice Matters series provoked much discussion among our jury. A film can have social impact on a personal level, by engaging us with individuals whose story moves us emotionally, or at a broader level by raising awareness of large-scale issues. We selected two films with very different modes of impact, one as our Award-Winner, and one for Honorable Mention.
150 Milligrams, a David-vs-Goliath story of a crusade to reveal the damage caused by a powerful drug company, is an excellently executed narrative of the difficulties of committing truth. It humanizes the scrupulous hard work of a tiny team who uncover 1000 deaths caused by "alternative facts." It is heartening to see Science winning this battle, especially in the current political climate, and the potential impact of this story is broad.
The Good Postman drew us in to the moving story of Ivan, the postman in a small dying village in eastern Bulgaria. The compelling characters, the humor and the deep humanity of this beautifully made film create its impact. It is a microcosm of universal issues: the refugee crisis, the plight of rural areas and the complexities of a local election.
It was a difficult decision but our final choice for the Justice Matters Award is: 150 Milligrams, from France, Director Emmanuelle Bercot. And Honorable Mention goes to: The Good Postman, from Finland/Bulgaria, Director Tonislav Hristov.