08 May, 2009

European (And Other) Winners At San Francisco FF

by Sandy Mandelberger, North American Editor

European films were among the big winners at the San Francisco International Film Festival, which ended yesterday evening after two weeks of film premieres and special events. On 6 May, the Festival, the oldest in North America, announced its Golden Gate Awards, which included cash prizes of close to $100,000 for the lucky winners. The Best Investigative Documentary prize, with a cash award of $25,000, was given to BURMA VJ: REPORTING FROM A CLOSED COUNTRY, by Danish director Anders Østergaard. The film, which chronicles the human rights abuses in Myanmar/Burma, also won the Joris Ivens Award at the International Documentary Film Festival in Amsterdam, one of the world’s most prestigious documentary film events.

The Best Documentary Prize, including a $20,000 cash award, was given to the Swiss documentary NOMAD’S LAND, by director Gaël Métroz. The film looks at the lifestyles and cultures of nomadic tribes in Asia, Africa and Europe. The film had its international premiere this past summer at the Locarno Film Festival. Winner of the Best Bay Area Documentary Feature prize, with a cash award of $15,000, was local filmmaker Jim Granato for his feature debut D TOUR, a portrait of a San Francisco rock band.

Eleven films from around the world were in competition for the Festival’s prestigious New Directors Award, a $15,000 cash prize given to a first-time filmmaker whose work exhibits a unique artistic sensibility. The jury chose director Bosnian director Aida Begic's SNOW, an intimate and effecting look at the aftermath of the 1990s war in a small mountain town. SNOW, which had its world premiere at last year’s International Critics Week sidebar of the Cannes Film Festival, went on to win the Grand Prix in that showcase, as well as awards the Hamptons and Thessaloniki film festivals. Begic was nominated for a European Film Award as Best Newcomer for her sensitive work.

The FIPRESCI jury, comprised of Mihai Chirilov, Rob Nelson and Charles-Stéphane Roy, awarded the Critics Prize to the American indie film EVERYTHING STRANGE AND NEW, by local San Francisco filmmaker Frazer Bradshaw. The film, which had its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival, is an unflinching portrait of a family under the stress of the downward economic climate. The San Francisco International Film Festival is one of only three festivals in the United States to host a FIPRESCI jury and award a FIPRESCI prize.

The Festival’s enthusiastic audiences also voted for their favorites, giving Audience Awards to the American films DON’T LET ME DROWN, a Latino themed narrative by Cruz Angeles, and SPEAKING IN TONGUES, a heated debate on bilingual education by local Bay Area filmmakers Marcia Jarmel and Ken Schneider. The controversial film made its World Premiere at the Festival earlier this week.

The Festival used its awards ceremony as a platform to announce a new filmmaking grant sponsored by the San Francisco Film Society and the Kenneth Rainin Foundation. The SFFS/KRF Filmmaking Grants support films that through plot, character, theme or setting significantly explore human and civil rights, antidiscrimination, gender and sexual identity and other urgent social justice issues of our time. The first grant of $35,000 has been awarded to Richard Levien to develop the script for LA MIGRA, a family drama about a young girl’s struggle to save her illegal immigrants from deportation. Levien has had his short films presented at over a dozen film festivals. The SFFS/KRF Filmmaking Grant will disburse over $3 million over the next five years to assist independent filmmakers with script development, preproduction and postproduction support. For more information on the Festival, visit:

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