By Peter Knegt | Indiewire June 22, 2009 at 1:13AM
Michael Palmieri and Donal Mosher's "October Country" led the winners at this year's SILVERDOCS Documentary Festival. The film - which documents the multi-generational story of a working-class family - won the SILVERDOCS Sterling Award for best US Feature. "We have chosen a film that has resonated with us long after we viewed it," the Sterling Award Jury said of "October" in a statement. "It is a film that is subtle and intuitively creative while presenting important social issues in a surprising way. It showcases an extraordinary fresh talent, which left us excited to see what they do next."
"October"'s award comes with a $10,000 cash prize, and was just one of many prizes announced last night as SILVERDOCS weeklong festivities came to a close. Lucy Bailey and Andrew Thompson's "Mugabe and the White African" won the Sterling Award for World Feature. "Mugabe" explores, through the lens of a 74-year-old white farmer, Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe's deeply controversial land seizure program, which intended to re-distribute white-owned farmland. "Our chosen film displays a moral conviction which grew from the vision behind it, became an integral part of the trusting relationship between the contributors and the filmmakers, and that powerfully elevates a resonant story to a global stage," the jury noted. "We want to commend the filmmaking team for the physical risks they took in their relentless pursuit of this story, and for having the wisdom and humility to simply give their characters the freedom to intimately express anguish, doubt and resolve."
Louise Psihoyos' Japanese dolphin slaughtering investigation "The Cove" won the festival's audience award. This comes with the film also winning audience awards in Sydney and Nantucket this weekend, and after the film also won at Sundance, Hot Docs, Seattle, and at Newport. That's a remarkably impressive streak.
Andreas Koefoed's "12 Notes Down" won both the Short Audience Award and the Sterling Award for best Short Film. "Down" documents a 14-year old star choir performer who, after his voice starts changing, has to decide when and how to make an unexpected yet graceful exit from choir.
Other winners included a special jury mention in the shorts category for Michael Angus and Murray Fredericks' "Salt," The Music Documentary Award went to "Riseup," directed by Luciano Blotta, the Cinematic Vision Award went to "Old Partner," directed by Lee Chung-ryoul, and the SILVERDOCS WITNESS Award - given to the strongest documentary about human rights violations or social justice issues - was given to Landon Van Soest's "Good Fortune."
The Award Winner for the Animal Content in Entertainment (ACE) Grant went to "Cinema Chimp," by David Grabias. The feature-length documentary profiles Cheeta, "star" of film and TV, as it explores the ethical debate over using non-human primate "actors" in the entertainment industry. The director will receive a $25,000 grant. The Writers Guild of America named writer-director Nicole Opper as the winner of the WGA Documentary Screenplay Award for her film "Off and Running," which focuses on an accomplished African-American teenager adopted by Jewish lesbians. The award carries with it a prize of $1,000 and the winner will be granted one-year free membership in the WGAW Nonfiction Writers Caucus or WGAE Nonfiction Writers Committee Membership.
"We are thrilled to celebrate the best that cinema has to offer and congratulate all of this year's award winners," Sky Sitney, Artistic Director of SILVERDOCS said in a statement. "We also thank our jurors who have had to wrestle long and hard in selecting winners among so many great films. We are pleased to recognize 'October Country' with the esteemed Sterling US Grand Jury Prize. The beautifully crafted film takes us on a complicated and surprising journey for one family over the course of a year. We are equally excited that the Sterling World Feature Award goes to 'Mugabe and the White African,' which takes us on a riveting journey inside Mugabe's regime through the lens of a white farmer in Zimbabwe."