Coming to a climax after a week full of screening premieres, information sessions, special events and networking parties, the 2009 SILVERDOCS Documentary Film Festival, co-presented by the American Film Institute and The Discovery Channel, announces its award winners on Sunday, spreading the wealth amongst a diverse group of documentary titles. This year, the Festival screened over 120 films representing 58 countries and included more than 1000 filmmaker and media professional attendees at the concurrent International Documentary Conference, with its particular emphasis on youth, education and next generation media artists. Winning filmmakers received over $70,000 in combined cash and in-kind prizes.
The SILVERDOCS Sterling Award for a US Feature went to OCTOBER COUNTRY (http://www.octobercountryfilm.com), directed by Michael Palmieri and Donal Mosher. The film documents the multi-generational story of a working-class family coping with poverty, teen pregnancy, foster care and the ineffable horrors of child molestation and war, chronicling the family from one Halloween ceremony until the next one a year later. With rarely seen intimacy, sensitivity and respect, this vibrant documentary examines the forces that unsettle the working poor and the violence that lurks beneath the surface of American life. The directors will receive a $10,000 cash award.
The SILVERDOCS Sterling Award for a World Feature was won by MUGABE AND THE WHITE AFRICAN (http://www.mugabeandthewhiteafrican.com), directed by Lucy Bailey and Andrew Thompson. The UK documentary explores, through the lens of a 74-year-old white farmer, Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe’s deeply controversial land seizure program, which intended to re-distribute white-owned farmland. In 2008, Mike Campbell, one of the few remaining white farmers in Zimbabwe to have held fast in the face of the violent “land reform” program, took the unprecedented step of challenging President Robert Mugabe before the SADC International Court (SADC – South African Development Community) to defend his farm, which is also home to 500 black workers and their families. The film made its US Premiere at SILVERDOCS, with the directors returning home with a $10,000 cash prize.
The SILVERDOCS Music Documentary Award, presented by Gibson Guitars, went to RISE UP (http://www.riseupmovie.com/), an Argentine production, directed by Luciano Blotta. The film chronicles three Jamaican musicians as they fight for a place in the overcrowded reggae field. With music and appearances by legends Lee “Scratch” Perry, Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare, and a slew of soon-to-be superstars, the film offers an atmospheric tour of the dangerous streets, back alleys and crowded dance halls of Kingston and the countryside. These artists demonstrate the raw power of hope and courage in a land which is largely unseen, but certainly not unsung. Gibson Guitars presented a Gibson Les Paul Studio to the winner.
The SILVERDOCS Cinematic Vision Award was given to the South Korean film OLD PARTNER directed by Lee Chung-ryoul. The film captures the peculiar yet touching relationship between an old farmer, living in a remote South Korean village, and his 40-year old ox. The film, which made its world premiere at the Pusan International Film Festival and has since become a major hit in its native South Korea, also was featured in the World Documentary Competition at the Sundance Film Festival. The filmmaker will receive $2,500 cash and $4,000 of in-kind services from Alpha Cine.
The SILVERDOCS WITNESS Award, in honor of Joey R. B. Lozano, was received by the American documentary GOOD FORTUNE by Landon Van Soest, which made its world premiere at the Festival. The film examines two multi-million dollar international aid projects in Africa that may actually be undermining the very communities they seek to help. The award is given to the strongest documentary about human rights violations or social justice issues. The filmmaker will receive a cash prize of $5,000.
The SILVERDOCS Sterling Award for a Short Film was given to the Danish film 12 NOTES DOWN, directed by Andreas Koefoed. This engaging short film documents 14-year old star choir performer, Jorgis, after his voice starts changing and he decides to make an unexpected yet graceful exit from choir. The filmmaker will receive $5,000 cash. Special Jury mention was given to the Australian eco-doc SALT, co-directed by Michael Angus and Murray Fredericks, which chronicles photographer Murray Frederick’s journey into the remote salt flats in South Australia.
SILVERDOCS audiences are especially enthusiastic ones, so Audience Awards from this Festival carry with them as important a prize as the juried onees. In a fierce competition that ran across the various program strands, the Feature Audience Award was received by THE COVE, an American documentary directed by Louie Psihoyos. The film follows Richard O’Barry, the man who made the dolphin “Flipper” a household name, as he and his team try to stop Japanese fishermen from slaughtering dolphins for human consumption. The film, which won similar Audience Award prizes at Sundance and HotDocs, is an indictment of human greed and arrogance, a tale of redemption and a desperate call to action. The Short Audience Award went to the Danish film 12 NOTES DOWN directed by Andreas Koefoed, which also won the juried prize.
Other awards were also announced at the Festival’s closing awards ceremony, including a Animal Content In Entertainment Grant of $25,000 to the American film CINEMA CHIMP by David Grabias; and a $1000 cash prize from the Writers Guild of America, West and the Writers Guild of America, East for Best Documentary Screenplay, which was awarded to American writer-director Nicole Opper for her film OFF AND RUNNING, the story of an African-American teenager adopted by Jewish lesbian parents. Fore more information on these and other films at this year’s exemplary SILVERDOCS Documentary Film Festival, visit: www.silverdocs.com