AFI Fest 2019 – Awards and Personal Faves

AFI Fest 2019 Presented by Audi has announced the winners of the Audience Awards, as well as the Grand Jury Prizes for short films. Following the awards listing, I?ll chime in with my own favorites from the festival.

Audience Award ? Feature  I AM NOT ALONE (DIR Garin Hovannisian)

Capturing the fury, emotion, and spontaneous expressions of freedom that overtook the streets of Armenia in 2018, Garin Hovannisian?s fascinating eye-witness documentary affords a unique glimpse into a revolution-in-the-making by offering unprecedented access to the grassroots movement that dared to challenge an entrenched regime, as well as the regime?s leaders themselves.

Audience Award ? Short LOST & FOUND (DIR Orlando Von Einsiedel)

A determined man, armed only with a megaphone, his determination, and an unshakeable smile, sets out to reunite lost children with their families in the Kutupalong refugee camp in Bangladesh, which now houses over 600,000 Rohingya Muslims.

Grand Jury Award ? Live-Action Short  EXAM (DIR Sonia K. Hadad)

Jury Statement: ?We are so excited to award the Grand Jury Prize to Sonia K. Hadad?s EXAM. EXAM stood out from the other films for its bold directorial style, anchored by a stunning lead performance. The result is a tense portrait that reaches past its specificity into the universal.?

A teenage girl delivers a package of cocaine to a client and gets caught in a weird cycle of events.

Grand Jury Prize?Animation SOMETHING TO REMEMBER (DIR Niki Lindroth von Bahr)

Jury Statement: ?We?re pleased to give the Grand Jury Prize in Animation to SOMETHING TO REMEMBER for its tender yet critical response to the world around us, and its perfect execution. This irresistible short transforms bittersweet anxieties into a modern lullaby ? we couldn?t take our eyes off of it.?

 A lullaby before the great disaster.

Grand Jury Prize?Documentary (tie) A LOVE SONG FOR LATASHA (DIR Sophia Nahli Allison)

Jury Statement: ?We are honored to award the Grand Jury Prize for Documentary filmmaking to A LOVE SONG FOR LATASHA. It?s haunting and poetic exploration of a young woman?s life cut tragically short allows its audience to experience an injustice long hidden by time and politics. This film is a portrait framed by beautiful imagery, loving recollection and astonishing storytelling that will linger with the audience long after the credit roll.?

A dreamlike archive in conversation with the past and the present reimagines a more nuanced narrative of Latasha Harlins by excavating intimate and poetic memories shared by her cousin and best friend. 

Grand Jury Prize?Documentary (tie) THE CLINIC (DIR Elivia Shaw)

Jury Statement: ?A gripping, harrowing peek into one corner of a vast epidemic, Elivia Shaw?s THE CLINIC is striking for the sensitivity and nuance with which it treats its subjects ? both the people who come to Dr. Marc Lashner?s mobile needle exchange looking for help, and the scrappy team of volunteers who do what they can to offer it.?

Amidst a devastating opioid epidemic, a needle exchange and free clinic operates in the shadows of Fresno, California. 

Darrel’s favorites from the festival

For me, A Hidden Life was far and away the most Impressive film I saw. It Is the story of a conscientious objector In Nazi Austria during World War II. Terrance Malick, who directed the film creates a film that Is visually stunning, spiritually edifying, and deeply moving. This film won the Prize of the Ecumenical Jury at the Cannes Film Festival. It will open In theaters December 13.

Of the films I saw that were submitted by their countries for Oscar consideration, my favorite was Antigone from Canada. An Immigrant family Is torn apart when one brother Is killed by police and another set for deportation. Antigone, their sister, hatches a plan to help her brother escape, but Is then caught up In the justice system herself. An updated reimaging of the Sophocles tragedy.

Hector Barajas in READY FOR WAR. Photo Credit: Courtesy of SHOWTIME.

My favorite documentary was Ready for War which told the stories of three (out of thousands) American veterans who have been deported in spite of their service to the nation. They are sent to Mexico where they have no family or connections. It is easy for drug cartels to recruit them. One of the vets profiled is a soldier for a cartel who values the skills the military taught him. Questions of justice, law, and patriotism play out.

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