AFI FEST on Friday announced the winners of its 2020 audience award and jury prizes. The winners include “76 Days,” a documentary about Wuhan, China’s response to the pandemic, and “Pillars,” a short that explores Black girlhood in today’s America.
The festival, now in its 34th year, attracted its largest audience ever with a mostly virtual program, which opened up the festival to an audience of residents of all 50 states. It screened 125 titles, over half of which were directed by women, 39 percent directed by people of color, and 17 percent directed by members of the LGBTQ community.
“With an audience of more than double from last year, we welcomed over 200 filmmakers and guests from around the world for Q&As and panels,” said Michael Lumpkin, director AFI Festivals. “This year’s festival was truly a celebration of film across the country with festival goers joining us online from all 50 states.”
The audience award for documentary feature went to “76 Days,” from veteran Chinese-American documentarian Hao Wu, video reporter Weixi Chen, and a third anonymous co-director, a Chinese journalist.
The film, which also premiered at TIFF, is a reference to the 76-day long lockdown implemented in Wuhan, China in January, concentrating on the medical workers and patients at ground zero of the pandemic.
In his B+ review, IndieWire’s David Ehrlich wrote this about the film: “This fly-in-the-trenches look inside the outbreak is scattered and structureless in a way that makes it seem as if it’s simply taking notes for the history books of the future. But if Hao Wu, Weixi Chen, and their anonymous co-director’s film is more valuable as a time capsule than it is as a piece of cinéma vérité, it still puts a human face on an epochal horror that some people have refused to acknowledge even as it rages around them.”
MTV Films acquired North American rights for the documentary earlier this month and is planning an awards campaign.
The narrative feature audience award went to “Wolfwalkers,” an animated 17th century Irish tale from directors Tomm Moore and Ross Stewart, which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in September. The film, set against the backdrop of Oliver Cromwell’s colonization of Ireland, follows a young apprentice hunter (Honor Kneafsey) and her father (Sean Bean) who are sent to England to track and kill the last wolves that live outside the city walls. While in England, the young hunter meets a wild girl raised by wolves and learns that it is not the forest that should be feared, but the “townies.”
The film is the final installment of Moore and Stewart’s Irish folklore trilogy and was produced by the pair’s four-time Oscar nominated Cartoon Saloon studio. It will be released on Apple TV+ on December 11.
The audience award for short film went to “Lonely Blue Night” from writer/director Johnson Cheng, which stars Diana Lin (“The Farewell”). The short paints a portrait of a Chinese family following a mother’s decision to leave her daughter in the care of an American homestay.
It is currently available on HBO Max.
The shorts jury, made up of film critic Carlos Aguilar, filmmaker Sophia Nahli Allison, and Film Festival Alliance Executive Director Lela Meadow-Conner, honored five films.
Here are the winners and the jury statements:
Animation: “Tiger and Ox,” directed by Seunghee Kim
“With its economical, yet powerful use of the animated medium, this film tells a tender intergenerational story of the layered relationship between a mother and a daughter and invites us to engage in necessary conversations around gender and trauma.”
Live Action: “Pillars,” directed by Haley Elizabeth Anderson
“The filmmaker navigates the coming-of-age terrain with a mesmerizing point of view anchored in stunning performances by its young cast. The nuanced showcased in explored Black girlhood in today’s America resonated strongly with us.”
Both “Tiger and Ox” and “Pillars” are now eligible for Oscar nominations.
Special Mention: “Black Goat,” directed by Yi Tang
“Gifted with an original cinematic voice, the filmmaker reclaims the often-taboo transformation of a young girl’s body in a singular context. Harnessing magical realism to enhance this journey from shame to acceptance, this film both enchants and empowers.”
Special Mention: “Maalbeek,” directed by Ismaël Joffroy Chandoutis
“Departing from a tragic event, the director created a hybrid piece that is as immersive as it is moving and haunting. The reconstruction of a traumatic memory, both the personal and the collective, come to life in vibrant form.”
Special Mention: “Umbilical,” directed by Danski Tang
“Poignant and eye-popping, this animated vision speaks to the importance of understanding one’s family history and the inextricable connection between a mother and a daughter. Through beautifully abstract animation, the filmmaker expresses these complex themes in an affecting manner.”