Mexican director Francisco Vargas Quevedo's "The Violin" (El violin) won the San Francisco International Film Festival's Skyy Prize, while Israeli duo Shahar Cohen and Halil Efrat's "Souvenirs" took best documentary feature (West Coast premiere), capping the Golden Gate Awards ceremony Wednesday evening for the festival's landmark 50th edition. SFIFF's golden year closes Thursday May 10th with Olivier Dahan's Edith Piaf biopic, "La vie en rose." Picturehouse will release the feature beginning June 8.
"The Violin" centers on Mexican peasant Don Plutarco, who ties the bow of his violin on his maimed arm in order to play. A brutal Mexican army captain, who has been sent to repress a band of peasant guerillas, is seduced by Don Plutarco's music. But there is more to the crippled old man than the soldiers realize because his son, Genaro, is also a rebel hiding in the jungle. Risking his life, Don Plutarco uses his influence with the captain to secretly aid the rebels.
"Souvenirs," meanwhile, began as a result of a proposal from co-director Shahar Cohen's father: to make a film about the legendary Jewish Brigade of World War II. His father, Sleiman, served with the brigade throughout Europe, and at a reunion of brigade veterans his son is intrigued by jokes that his father may have left behind flesh-and-blood "souvenirs" with two Dutch girls in postwar Amsterdam. Crammed together in a tiny car, father and son re-trace his wartime route from rural Italy to the Netherlands. Raised strictly, Shahar was never close with his father, but their relationship develops as the film rolls on. Meanwhile, Shahar pursues the possibility of having siblings and his search uncovers the many faces of children left behind in wartime.
Also taking home prizes Wednesday night were Cuban director Pavel Giroud's pre-revolution-set "The Silly Age" (West Coast premiere), which took SFIFF's "Chris Holter Humor in Film Award" and Robert Arnold's "The Key of G" (North American premiere) took the Bay Area Documentary Feature prize. Documentary short went to James Longley's ("Iraq in Fragments") "Sari's Mother" and Betsy Bayha's "Outsider: The Life and Art of Judith Scott" took the prize for Bay Area Doc Short.
Radu Jude's "The Tube with a Hat" won best narrative took the Golden Gate prize for best narrative short and Bay Area non-doc short went to "Muse of Cinema" by Kerry Laitala. Jonas Odell's "Never Like the First Time!" won animated short and "Dear Bill Gates" by Sarah J. Christman took the New Visions nod. Finally, Bill Plympton's "The Fan and the Flower" received a "Work for Kids and Families" prize and the Youth Work nod went to "Focus" by Edward Elliott.
The festival's audience prizes for best narrative and documentary features will be announced later. SFIFF opened April 26 with Emanuele Crialese's "Golden Door."