Filmfest DC is back for its 29th year with an exciting new program of over 70 features, documentaries, and shorts representing the best in new cinema from around the globe.
Both films exemplify the goal of the Circle Award. They tell terrific stories, beautifully acted, visually compelling, well and uniquely told by filmmakers early in their careers and very deserving of greater attention and support. These are filmmakers to watch in coming years.
Margarita, with a Straw
The jury unanimously voted to give the Best First Feature award to director Luis Javier M. Henaine for his film Happy Times (Tiempos Felices). The film was impressive on many levels. The well-written script provided a story of significant complexity, going well beyond light comedy to universal truths. Happy Times evoked the film traditions of Mexico with the light touch of the surreal wedded to a sincere exploration of human relations. The acting was consistently excellent. The editing was accomplished and all the technical aspects of the film demonstrated a high level professional achievement. We think it likely Happy Times will find a world wide audience and that Mr. Henaine has a bright career ahead of him.
The jury had a tough time, and after considerable debate, it decided to make not one but two cash awards. This special one-time award for runner up is for This is My Land, directed by Tamara Erde (France). The jury said: "It embodies the spirit of Justice Matters and presents the timeless and essential nature of education as the root to peace and conflict resolution."
The winner of this year's award is Limited Partnership, directed by Thomas Miller (USA). The jury said: "Limited Partnership personifies the meaning of the historical end of the defense of marriage act on the precipice of an historical argument to be heard by the supreme court this Tuesday. The message is one of the endurance of love over policy and as Richard and Tony told us in the film, ultimately, love wins."
Me and Earl and the Dying Girl
The Signis Award at Filmfest DC 2015 goes to Me and Earl and the Dying Girl. This American film directed by Alfonso Gomez-Rejon provides a coming-of-age story with a twist about an unlikely friendship between two adolescent boys and a girl suffering from leukemia. Exceptional screen writing—incorporating rich allusions to film classics, and unexpected humor— moves beyond genre in relating a deeply human story of compassion and self-discovery.
Two additional films received SIGNIS Commendations:
The story of Today, directed by Reza Mirkarimi, unfolds as a taciturn taxi driver assists a pregnant, battered woman to get hospital care, despite considerable risk to himself. The minimalist style of this compelling story, set in modern-day Iran helps us come to understand the emerging compassion of its main character.
The Dark Horse, directed by James Napier Robertson, tells the true story of a New Zealand chess player Genesis Potini, who, despite his mental illness, plays an inspiring role model for the youngsters of his Maori community, where gang brutality rules the scene. Cliff Curtis convincingly plays the role of the man who faces his own personal struggle to help these fragile adolescents achieve an enduring sense of their own human dignity.
Juliet Burch co-curated this year's Short Cuts programs with Linda Blackaby. The selection included some films that have already received the highest accolades (including an Oscar winner) along with some wonderful newer pieces that are less well known. The Short Cuts Award shines a light on filmmakers who are less well known whose works, in their subtlety and economy provide the viewer with a rich, emotionally resonant experience that expands with contemplation.
The Secret World of Foley
Honorable Mention goes to a film in which a stressed middle class woman soars past the breaking point when she can't find her car, but, then, receives help from an unexpected source. With humor and warmth the story takes us from a highly relatable private moment of vulnerability into an interdependent world where trust is possible. Congratulations to Hanna Maylett and First World Problems.
The Short Cuts Award goes to a film of two vanishing ways of life – sea fishing off the coast of a remote village and artistry in the sound studio. The high art (and hard work) uses a surprising set of ordinary objects and tools here to create the sounds of hauling in crab traps, of cleaning fish, of a waterman's clothing as he walks on a rocky beach. This beautiful visual tale of the world of sound stands as a tribute to the art and craft of filmmaking. Congratulations to Daniel Jewel and The Secret World of Foley.
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