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DISPATCH FROM LOS ANGELES | “Acne,” “Dream” Lead AFI Fest Winners

DISPATCH FROM LOS ANGELES | "Acne," "Dream" Lead AFI Fest Winners

“What a week this has been,” AFI Los Angeles International Film Festival Artistic Director Rose Kuo said as the introduced Sunday’s festival awards presentation at the Roosevelt Hotel in Hollywood. “Just over a week ago, we didn’t know what [AFI’s] opening film would be, or who would be leading this country.” But without a doubt (and with “Doubt“), AFI Fest, and the American people, have come to a decision. And regarding AFI Fest’s 2008 awards, that decision fell on to Frederico Veiroj‘s “Acne,” which won the Grand Jury Prize for narrative feature, and Kief Davidson‘s “Kissim The Dream,” which won both the Grand Jury Prize for documentary, and tied for the documentary Audience Award.

Uruguian director Frederico Veiroj’s “Acne,” which made its U.S. debut at the festival after screenings at Cannes and Toronto, is a comedic drama centering on a 13 year old negotiating himself through bad skin, divorcing parents and interest in the opposite sex. “The film we have chosen to award was for its ability to take a universal story and tell it through particular eyes and still keep it something we can all relate to,” jury member Azazel Jacobs said before announcing “Acne”‘s win. “The director showed himself as someone completely in control of what he wanted to say and how he wanted to say it. And besides that, it was very funny.”

“Nirvana” director Igor Voloshin accepts a special jury mention from AFI juror Michelle Trachtenberg at the Roosevelt Hotel in Hollywood. Photo by Peter Knegt.

Jacobs’s fellow juror, actress Michelle Trachtenberg, announced a special jury mention in the feature competition. “My jury and I had a very difficult time picking the winner and we whittled it down to two,” Trachtenberg said. “We felt it very important to have a special mention to – I don’t really like to say the runner-up – but a movie that we all felt really, really strongly about. And that was Igor Voloshin‘s ‘Nirvana.'”

“Nirvana,” making its North American debut at the festival, is about a woman who leaves Moscow for St. Petersburg, hoping to escape her lonely existence and finding a world of drugs, sex and crime. An animated Voloshin was on hand to accept his award, which didn’t actually bear a trophy. “I guess you just get a hug,” Trachtenberg said to him as he took the stage.

“Thank you very much,” Voloshin said after he got his impromptu prize. “For me it’s important because a Russian film in a competition in Los Angeles… It’s a very important thing for Russian film. So I had a good time and thank you for much for festival times and sorry for my best English.” The audience cheered as Voloshin then yelled out, “I give you big emotions! Thank you!”

The audience award for best narrative feature went to Daniel Stamm‘s “A Necessary Death.” Stamm, an AFI graduate himself, partially shot the film in and around AFI campus. The film follows film students who use Craigslist to send out a call for a subject that is suicidal.

In the documentary category, the audience award resulted in a tie, with both Patrick Davidson‘s look at a group of international teenagers, “The World We Want” and Kief Davidson‘s “Kassim The Dream.”

“Kissim The Dream” director Kief Davidson and subject Kassim “The Dream” Ouma accept AFI’s Grand Jury Prize for documentary at the Roosevelt Hotel in Hollywood. Photo by Peter Knegt.

“Dream,” a portrait of Kassim “The Dream” Ouma, also won the Grand Jury Prize for documentary. Ouma was on hand to accept the award with Davidson. “Kassim is the former Junior Middleweight Boxing Champion of the World,” Davidson said as he introduced Ouma. “But Kassim was also kidnapped at the age of six. He was a child soldier in Uganda. He represents hundreds of thousands of children that have been abducted and he’s one of the fortunate few that have made it out. But even the child solider that do find a way out, they are still dealing with trauma. And the film very much deals with that. He’s a brave man, I just want to thank him”

Jan Louter‘s “The Last Days of Shishmareff,” which looks at a small Alaskan village that is actually melting due to the global warmind, won the jury’s special mention in the documentary competition.

In the shorts competition,Lagan Sebert and Sandra Sampayo‘s “Busco Personas: The Faces of Columbia’s War” received the audience award, James Lees‘ “The Apology Line” received a special mention from the jury, and the Grand Jury Prize for best short filmmaking went to Michel Lipkes‘ “The Legless Boy Cannot Dance.”

The 2008 AFI Los Angeles International Film Festival officially concludes tonight with the World Premiere of Edward Zwick‘s “Defiance.”

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