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Laura Bispuri’s Transgender Odyssey ‘Sworn Virgin’ Wins Tribeca Film Fest’s Nora Ephron Prize

Laura Bispuri's Transgender Odyssey 'Sworn Virgin' Wins Tribeca Film Fest's Nora Ephron Prize

Italian director Laura Bispuri has won the third annual Nora Ephron prize at the Tribeca Film Festival

Awarded to female filmmakers “with a distinctive voice” since 2013, the recognition comes with a $25,000 cash prize. Bispuri earned the award with her transgender odyssey “Sworn Virgin,” about an Albanian woman who becomes a chaste man (per custom) to avoid marriage, then reclaims her female identity years later. In an interview with Women and Hollywood, Bispuri said of her film, “This story contains important and contemporary reflections about femininity and, in general, about the meaning of human freedom. I think this is an original story and it takes the viewer into a little known story, then invites the viewer to consider universal questions.”

The Ephron jury praised the film’s “confident, passionate, and beautifully nuanced vision that showed a real respect for the audience.”

The other prominent woman director who came away with a prize from Tribeca this year is Danish documentarian Camilla Nielsson, who won the Best Documentary Feature award for “Democrats,” about Zimbabwe’s struggle to pass a new constitution after a bloody election and finally oust dictator Robert Mugabe from power once and for all. In an interview with Women and Hollywood, Nielsson recalled, “I was hoping to tell a different story about African politics than one about corruption and victims with no real agency. Also, what drew me to the story was the two main characters. Two politically and ideologically opposed men, forced on a joint mission to save the country from decades of political and economic misery. They were given a Sisyphean task, and they invited me along for the ride.”

Here are Tribeca 2015’s female jury-award winners. Descriptions are courtesy of the festival’s press release. 

Best Actress in a Narrative Feature Film – Hannah Murray as Sara in Bridgend (Denmark). Winner receives $2,500 sponsored by Citrin Cooperman. The award was given by Sophie Barthes and Diana Mahiques, Business Development Manager, Citrin Cooperman.

Jury Comment: “An actress who captured the hopelessness of a lost generation. With bravery and guilelessness, this young actress led us in a descent into a world gone mad, as well as a journey into the protagonist’s own inner darkness.”

Best Documentary Feature – Democrats, directed by Camilla Nielsson (Denmark). Winner receives $25,000, sponsored by Netflix, and the art award “Immersion (From the Holy River Series)” by Prune Nourry. The award was given by Gloria Steinem.
Jury Comments: “For its choice of an important, universal subject; for filming in conditions where simply to be present is a triumph; and for prioritizing dignity, courage, and our common struggle for humanity, we give this year’s Best Documentary Feature award to Camilla Nielsson for Democrats.”
Special Jury MentionIn Transit , directed by Albert Maysles, Nelson Walker, Lynn True, David Usui, and Ben Wu. (U.S.A)

Albert Maysles New Documentary Director Award – Ewan McNicol and Anna Sandilands forUncertain (U.S.A). Winner receives $25,000 sponsored by Netflix, and the art award “Athena” by Elizabeth Colomba. The award was given by Alison Pill along with Philip Maysles and Sara Maysles.
Jury Comment: “This year we recognize a beautiful character study that explores violent natures, redemption, and what it takes to tame the self. A perfect balance of simplicity and mystery, this American story examines humanity, and how it can unwittingly destroy not just landscapes but livelihoods.”

Best Narrative Short – Listen, directed by Hamy Ramezan and Rungano Nyoni (Finland, Denmark). Winner receives $5,000 sponsored by Paul Hastings, LLP, and the art award “Caw (42)” by Robert Bordo. The award was given by Sharon Badal, Director of Short Film Programming and Initiatives Tribeca Enterprises, and Luke P. Iovine, III, Partner at Paul Hastings, LLP.
Jury Comments: “This year’s winner for Best Narrative Short was emotionally compelling and by far the most affecting of the pieces we screened, with the filmmakers displaying a clear emotional connection with the narrative. To say that we had a healthy debate is an understatement.”

Student Visionary Award – Catwalk directed by Ninja Thyberg (Sweden). Winner receives $5,000 sponsored by Creative Future. The award was given by Steve Buscemi, Debi Mazar,  Theo Rossi, and Brett Williams, director, Creative Community and Youth Outreach, CreativeFuture.
Jury Comments: “An effective look at peer influence not peer pressure.  A creative explanation of what young people are experiencing as a result of social media threads and trends. Beautifully shot, and cast with a profound message that promotes individuality and vulnerability amongst the girls and parents, this year’s Student Visionary Award goes to Ninja Thyberg for her film Catwalk.”

BOMBAY SAPPHIRE ® Storyscapes Award: Door Into the Dark created by Amy Rose and May Abdalla at Anagram (U.K.). Winner receives $10,000, presented by BOMBAY SAPPHIRE® Gin. The award was given by Andrew Golis, Shari Frilot, and Maria Dao, Brand Manager of House of Bombay Gin.
Jury Comments: “In an overwhelming media environment in which we struggle for control, we recognize a work that viscerally reconnects us with the value of letting go. It offers a meticulously crafted storyworld that allows us to cerebrally, emotionally, and quite literally leave our baggage behind and step into the void. In that void we become disoriented, take risks, make choices and find ourselves again, changed. Ambitious, simple, and profound, this work marks a fresh and promising direction for the field of immersive theater. It evoked a euphoria that stayed with us long after we left it.”

The Nora Ephron PrizeSworn Virgin, directed by Laura Bispuri and written by Francesca Manieri and Bispuri (Albania, Germany, Italy, Kosovo, Switzerland). Winner receives $25,000, sponsored by Coach. The award was given by Rachael Harris, Kevin Corrigan, Katja Blichfeld, Christine Lahti, Talya Lavie, and Iana dos Reis Nunes, vice president of public relations for Coach.
Jury Comments: “We are awarding a film that is exquisite in its broadness and its intimacy, with a truly original story that touches on gender identity and oppression in a way that members of this jury have rarely seen before. The film constantly surprised us and made us question our own positions through a confident, passionate, and beautifully nuanced vision that showed a real respect for the audience.”
Special Jury MentionBeing 14 directed and written by Hélène Zimmer (France).

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