The 35th Starz Denver Film Festival, which ran November 1-11, announces its jury and audience award winners. Ursula Meier’s brilliant Swiss Oscar entry, “Sister,” Australia’s “The Sapphires,” following the formation of an Aboriginal girl-band in the 1960s, and “Rising from Ashes,” a documentary about Rwandan cyclists, all won top prizes. The complete list of winners is below.
STARZ PEOPLE’S CHOICE AWARDS
The Sapphires, directed by Wayne Blair
A pre-credits prologue sets the scene in 1960s Australia, where indigenous people-still called Aborigines-suffer abuse, persecution, and racial prejudice. Enter two sisters on their way to a small-town singing contest that they should win ably, but don’t. Social upheaval is sweeping the planet, and the young women, inspired by the U.S. civil rights movement, believe things can change for them.
Rising from Ashes, directed by T.C. Johnstone
Rising from Ashes tells the moving story of a team of passionate Rwandan cyclists who survived their country’s genocide, and of cycling legend Jock Boyer, who became their coach.
ASAD, directed by Bryan Buckley
A young Somali boy wrestles with the attraction of his village’s ocean-bound pirates against the needs of his family and war-torn community.
The Krzysztof Kieslowski Award for Best Foreign Feature Film
Winner: Sister, directed by Ursela Meier
Growing up in the shadow of the Jura Mountains in Switzerland, where skiing was a normal part of daily living for the middle and upper classes, the story pits Simon, a 12-year-old from the industrial valley below, against the wealthy culture of the ski resort at the top of the mountain.
In bestowing Ursula Meierwith the Krzysztof Kieslowski Award for Best Feature Film Award, the Jury stated: “A well crafted narrative that explores the highs and lows of a complicated familial relationship with authentic performances, supported by grand cinematography, pulls you into the unfamiliar world of a childhood thief whose only constant is the love shared between him and his “sister”.
The jury was comprised of Whitney Kimmel – Film Publicist, IDPR; Adam Roffman – Program Director, Independent Film Festival Boston; and Irena Kovarova – Programmer, Czech Film Center.
The Maysles Brothers Award for Best Documentary Film
Winner: Gregory Crewdson: Brief Encounters, directed by Ben Shapiro
Photographer Gregory Crewdson’s artwork has been called daring, complex, inventive, and rare. The Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art collect his stunning images. Yet his creative process remained a mystery until he agreed to allow director Ben Shapiro to film him on location. For a decade, Shapiro followed Crewdson through the small towns of Massachusetts, capturing both the lighthearted and darker sides of this creative genius.
In bestowing Ben Shapiro with the Maysles Brothers Award for Best Documentary Film, the jury stated: “A film that at first seems like a simple portrait of an artist, but actually touches on deep and complex issues facing suburban America today through provocative photographs.”
The jury was comprised of Danielle Renfrew Behrens – producer (Double Dare, Queen of Versailles); Paula DuPre Pesman – producer (The Cove, Chasing Ice); Mitch Dickman – director/producer (DNC Mediamockracy, Hanna Ranch).
The New Directors Award
Winner: Pincus directed by David Fenster
After becoming sole caretaker for his Parkinson’s-patient dad, slacker Pincus learns some life lessons despite himself. With a cast of mostly family and friends-including Fenster’s dad-Pincus is part fiction, part documentary and wholly authentic.
In bestowing David Fenster with the New Directors Award, the jury stated: “For its artful mix of fictional and documentary elements, its unsentimental depiction of terminal illness and thirtysomething underachievement, and its playfully deadpan look at alternative medicine and the quest for human connection, the New Directors Award goes to David Fenster’s Pincus.”
The jury was comprised of James Francis Flynn – Actor/Producer (Miss Ohio); Rob Nelson – Film Critic; Paul Zimmerman – Film Critic/Author (Virgin Noir).
The Spike Lee Student Filmmaker Award
Winner: Crossing directed by Gina Atwater
In 1960s Georgia, a black teenager defies the rules of segregation and his conservative father when he walks through the front door of his white employer’s home.
In bestowing Gina Atwater with the Spike Lee Student Filmmaker Award, the jury stated: “For it’s subtle, yet powerful, story of racial injustice and overall excellence in all aspects of its filmmaking, the jury awards The Spike Lee Student Filmmaker Award goes to Crossing, written and directed by Gina Atwater”
The jury also stated: “For his dynamic portrayal of a troubled Hasidic youth searching for his own identity in the film Where is Joel Baum, the jury would like to give a special prize for acting to Luzer Twersky.”
The jury was comprised of Jenny Chikes – Producer (The Foot Fist Way, Dead Man’s Burden); Tim Harms – Producer (The Vicious Kind, Sexting, BFF); Garret Savage – Editor (Ready, Set, Bag!, My Perestroika) / Director (various shorts).
The ASIFA-Colorado Best Animated Short Award
Winner: MacPherson, directed by Martine Chartrand
Inspired by a real-life friendship and featuring a first-rate musical soundtrack, MacPherson is the story of the relationship between Québec poet Felix Leclerc and Jamaican-born chemical engineer Frank Randolph MacPherson.
In bestowing Martine Chartrand with the ASIFA-Colorado Best Animated Short Award, the jury stated: “This year was extremely difficult for the ASIFA-Colorado Best Animated Short Award jury. The animations were all very well crafted and containing delicate stories that were handled wonderfully. However, the judges found that the vibrant images and interwoven poetry and music bringing to life an uncommon story using an uncommon animation technique of painted glass gave them the ability to claim the ASIFA-Colorado Best Animated Short Award for the film MacPherson, directed by Martine Chartrand.” The competition was sponsored by Mighty Fudge Studios.
The jury was comprised of Pat Mallek – Animator / Partner, Mighty Fudge Studios; Kim Mallek – Creative Director / Partner, Mighty Fudge Studios; Evert Brown – Animation Director; Ed Desroches – Media Arts Specialist; Wes Price – Illustrator.
Liberty Global International Student Short Award
Winner: Of Dogs and Horses (Germany), directed by Thomas Stuber
In a last-ditch effort to pay for his beloved dog’s surgery, Rolf bets everything he owns at the horse track. Of Dogs and Horses is a film about luck, courage, and the blind magic of desperate hope.
The jury stated: “For it’s inspired performances – both human and animal – its fatalistic humor, & the immersive world it creates, the jury gives the Liberty Global International Student Filmmaker Award to Of Dogs and Horses.”
The jury also stated: “For it’s stylish cinematography and its unflinching & nuanced portrait of a complicated man in a tense situation, we give a special jury prize to The Tobacco King (Zambia)”. Directed by Daniel Koehler, the provocative documentary explores race, history, and work in postcolonial southern Africa.
The jury was comprised of Penelope Rose Bartlett – Shorts Programmer, Chicago International Film Festival; John Korn – Shorts Programmer, Frameline/Sundance; Robert Leighton – SVP Programming, Liberty Global.
Feature Screenplay Winner: OJ’s Eleven, written by Lawrence Riggens
The jury stated: “A well crafted insight into a “conspiracy of dunces.” The unfolding of this story in all it’s absurd twists and turns is unthinkably based on true events. A look into the contagion of celebrity and the Faustian ordeals that come with it. The jury gives the inaugural Feature Screenplay Award to OJ’s Eleven.”
Shorts Screenplay Winner: Becoming Lana Liu, written by David Schroeder
The jury stated: “We love the collision of the East and West, traditional and popular culture. This script is economical and disciplined with wonderful snapshots and imagery. The title character is precisely articulated in an unpredictable way. The jury gives the inaugural Shorts Screenplay Award to Becoming Lana Liu.”