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2015 LA Film Fest: Women Directors Win World Fiction Award, Audience Awards and More

2015 LA Film Fest: Women Directors Win World Fiction Award, Audience Awards and More

Female filmmakers left a major impression on juries and audiences at the 2015 Los Angeles Film Festival. We were already impressed by the number of women-directed projects selected to screen at the festival — 40% of features in competition this year. Yesterday’s awards ceremony demonstrated that, when given the opportunity to enter the race, women are more than capable of holding their own. (Oscars, take note.) 

Beata Gårdeler received the World Fiction Award for “Flocken,” a disturbing look at a young girl who is stigmatized by her community after reporting a sexual assault that takes place in her small Swedish village. The World Fiction jury also awarded a special mention to Sara Blecher’s “Ayanda and the Mechanic.” Set in Johannesburg, the film focuses on a young designer who gets more than she bargained for when she takes over her deceased father’s business, a garage that refurbishes cars.  

The Documentary jury awarded a special mention for directing to Holly Morris and Anne Bogart for “The Babushkas of Chernobyl.” Morris and Bogart also produced the doc, which takes place in the “dead zone” around Chernobyl’s Reactor No. 4, and is shockingly enough the home of a community of elderly women. 

Can You Dig This” director Delila Vallot took home the LA Muse Award. Vallot’s first feature-length documentary follows four people trying to launch an urban gardening revolution in South Centreal Los Angeles, one of the largest food deserts — and home to some of the most famously dangerous neighborhoods — in America.

In an interview with Women and Hollywood, Vallot revealed that her experience as a child visiting her dad in South LA is what drew her to the story. She explained, “I remember how uneasy and anxious I felt every time I was there — it was a huge difference from my life in Hollywood with my mom. When I found out about Ron Finley, the ‘gangster gardener’ working to try and bring change to this neighborhood, I wanted to see if it could really work. Gardening really is one of the simplest, most basic concepts. I wanted to further explore how people in tough environments can use this practice to create positive results for themselves.”

Elsa Biedermann was recognized with a special mention from the LA Muse Jury for her role as a supporting actress in “French Dirty,” a thirtysomething’s life-crisis film about a man who sleeps with his best friend’s girlfriend. Shadow and Act’s review singled out Biedermann’s performance: “Special mention must be given to Elsa Biedermann, who plays Josephine, a French tourist. Just as the film confidently approaches a terminally cliche-ridden genre, Biedermann pulls off a winning performance that is in essence a key archetype of the romantic comedy: the ‘manic pixie dream girl.’ This character type has been justly derided, but Biedermann works magic. She nearly steals the film and her presence is the not-so-secret weapon of ‘French Dirty’ … Her character seems familiar, but it deftly dodges all the cliches you’ve come to expect.”

The Audience Award for Best Fiction Feature Film went to “Pocha (Manifest Destiny),” co-directed by Kaitlin McLaughlin. The drama, which also received a special mention for directing from the Zeitgeist jury, portrays a young woman caught between two worlds: the United States and Mexico. McLaughlin told Women and Hollywood that as soon as she heard her creative partner/co-director Michael Dwyer had been working on a project inspired by his experience speaking with deportees, she “immediately envisioned a film from a young woman’s perspective” and a protagonist who is “strong,” “adaptable” and ultimately “determined not to be a victim.”  

Natalie John’s “I Am Thalente” and Lillibet Foster’s “Be Here Now” shared the honors for the Audience Award for Best Documentary Feature Film. The former focuses on professional skateboarder Thalente Biyela, while the latter captures “Spartacus: Blood and Sand” star Andy Whitfield’s battle with non-Hodgkin lymphoma. (Whitfield passed away in 2011.)

If you’ve been reading Women and Hollywood’s new feature that highlights webseries by and about women, you know that there’s plenty of talented women behind exciting work in the medium. The Audience Award for Best Web-series went to “The Genderton Project.” Co-directed by Anna Martemucci, the comedy series depicts the interconnected stories of a group of young gay men heading out of town for a wedding, a housewife who decides to kill herself and a sex worker hired for a recently bar mitzvah’d boy who eventually becomes his nanny. 

The festival also made a clear effort to encourage budding talent by offering a number of grants to emerging writers, directors and producers. 

Writer/director Elena Greenlee and producer Márcia Nunes received the Alfred P. Sloan Fast Track Grant for their project “Dark Forest.” Films that deal with science and technology-related themes and characters are eligible to receive the grant, which includes a $20,000 production grant and year-round support from Film Independent. 

Marisha Mukerjee’s “Open House” won the Make ’em LAFF internet talent competition, a collaboration between LAFF and Funny Or Die. The competition seeks content creators of color and underrepresented voices who specialize in comedy. Mukerjee’s next video will be produced by Funny Or Die. 

A press release for the festival notes, “Grants were also awarded to Imani Peterkin and Maya Suchak, winners of the Ed Elias Future Filmmaker Grant for Best Narrative Film for Falling; Grace Hoffman and Michelle Miles, winners of the Ed Elias Future Filmmaker Grant for Best Documentary Film for Beatrix; and Katie Speare, winner of the Ed Elias Future Filmmaker Grant for Best Animated or Experimental Film for Mask.”

See all of the female winners from the 2015 LAFF below:

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World Fiction Award 

Winner: Flocken, directed by Beata Gårdeler
Country: Sweden
Screenwriter: Emma Broström
Producers: Agneta Fagerström Olsson, Annika Hellström
Cast: Fatime Azemi, John Risto, Eva Melander, Malin Levanon, Jacob Öhrman
Film description: Breathtaking cinematography captures the desolation of a tiny Swedish village when a tight-knit community turns against a 14-year-old girl and her family after she reports being sexually assaulted by a popular classmate. North American Premiere
 
The World Fiction Jury awarded special mentions to:

Ayanda and the Mechanic, directed by Sara Blecher
Country: South Africa
Screenwriters: Trish Malone
Producers: Terry Pheto, Busi Sizani, Robbie Thorpe
Cast: Fulu Moguvhani, OC Ukeje, Nthati Moshesh, Kenneth Nkosi, Jafta Mamabolo, Thomas Gumede, Sihle Xaba, Venessa Cooke
Film description: Within a multi-African Johannesburg community, a young hipster-designer saves her deceased father’s prized garage by refurbishing classic cars – until family secrets and a corrupt legal system threaten her passionate resolve. World Premiere
 
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The Documentary Jury awarded a special mention for directing:

The Babushkas of Chernobyl, directed by Holly Morris, Anne Bogart
Producers: Holly Morris, Anne Bogart
Featuring: Valentyna Sochenok, Hanna Zavorotnya, Maria Shovkuta
Film Description: In the radioactive “dead zone” surrounding Chernobyl’s Reactor No. 4, a defiant community of elderly women cultivates an existence on some of the most toxic land on Earth. World Premiere.

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LA Muse Award 

Winner: Can You Dig This, directed by Delila Vallot
Producers: Rafael Marmor, Christopher Leggett
Cast: Ron Finley, Mychael “Spicey” Evans, Kenya Johnson, Quimonie Lewis, Hosea Smith
Film Description: In South Central Los Angeles, one of the largest food deserts in the US, inspirational stories of new gardeners reveal the beginnings of an urban gardening revolution and the lasting impact of planting seeds for a better life. World Premiere.
 
The LA Muse Jury awarded a special mention to Elsa Biedermann for her role as a supporting actress in:
French Dirty, directed by Wade and Jesse Allain-Marcus
Screenwriters: Peter K. Hagen, Wade Allain-Marcus
Producers: Jason Wolf, Mel Jones
Cast: Wade Allain-Marcus, Melina Lizette, Arjun Gupta
Film Description: After committing the carnal sin of sleeping with his best friend’s girlfriend, Vincent must deal with the consequences of his betrayal and hope that his bond with his brother-from-another-mother can withstand the blow. World Premiere
 
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Zeitgeist Award 

The Zeitgeist Jury awarded a special mention for directing to:
Pocha (Manifest Destiny), directed by Michael Dwyer, co-directed by Kaitlin McLaughlin
Producers: Alicia Dwyer, Kathleen Dwyer
Cast: Veronica Sixtos, Julio César Cedillo, Roberto Urbina, Jorge A. Jimenez, Sandra Santiago, Jessie Garcia, María del Carmen Farías
Film description: When a young woman is deported to Mexico, she must choose between reconciling with her estranged father or partnering with a local smuggler to return to the US. World Premiere
 
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Audience Award for Best Fiction Feature Film

Winner: POCHA (Manifest Destiny), directed by Michael Dwyer, co-directed by Kaitlin McLaughlin
Producers: Alicia Dwyer, Kathleen Dwyer
Cast: Veronica Sixtos, Julio César Cedillo, Roberto Urbina, Jorge A. Jimenez, Sandra Santiago, Jessie Garcia, María del Carmen Farías
Film Description: When a young woman is deported to Mexico, she must choose between reconciling with her estranged father or partnering with a local smuggler to return to the US. World Premiere.
 
This award is given to the fiction feature audiences liked most as voted by a tabulated rating system. Select fiction feature-length films screening in the following sections were eligible for the Audience Award for Best Fiction Feature: U.S. Fiction, World Fiction, Zeitgeist, LA Muse, Nightfall, and Premieres.
 
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Audience Award for Best Documentary Feature Film

Winner: I Am Thalente, directed by Natalie Johns
Producers: Colin Kennedy, Oualid Mouaness, Selema “Sal” Masekela, Jason Bergh, Julia Lebedev
Featuring: Thalente Biyela, Tony Hawk, Kenny Anderson, Guy Mariano, Lance Mountain
Film Description: One of the most promising young skaters in the world, Thalente Biyela, navigates growing up within the demands of professional skateboarding from the skate parks of Durban, South Africa to Venice, California. World Premiere.
 
Winner: Be Here Now, directed by Lilibet Foster
Producers: Lilibet Foster, Sam Maydew
Featuring: Andy Whitfield, Vashti Whitfield
Film Description: After landing the lead role in Spartacus: Blood and Sand, Andy Whitfield learns he has non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Armed with resilience, courage and the adoration of his family, he prepares for the battle of his life. World Premiere.
 
This award is given to the documentary feature audiences liked most as voted by a tabulated rating system. Select documentary feature-length films screening in the following sections were eligible for the Audience Award for Best Documentary Feature: Documentary, LA Muse, and Premieres.
 
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Audience Award for Best Web-series 

Winner: The Genderton Project, directed by Anna Martemucci, Victor Quinaz
Description: A modern group of young gay men head to Palm Springs for a gay wedding weekend, when their story is interrupted by the tale of a 1960’s Pasadena housewife whose life is anything but a piece of cake in this gender-swapped comedy.
 
This award is given to the web-series audiences liked most as voted by a tabulated rating system. Web-series selected for the Episodic program in the Launch section were eligible for the Audience Award for Best Web-series.

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