Nathaniel, concluding his report from the Indianapolis International Film Festival. I'm back in New York, sweet bustling megalopolis o' mine. I have to say a big thank you to the IIFF volunteers, particularly festival director Brian Owens who invited me. He took his long-time film obsession and really built something from scratch that more and more people come to enjoy annually and which continues to expand the cultural landscape of his home city. That's quite something. Well done.
Here's what went down as far as awardage goes from the three juries and audience.
American Spectrum Grand Jury Prize Feature -Pop Skull (trailer) directed by Adam Wingard is the first horror film to win the grand jury prize in this film festival's history. Hopefully Nick will give us more info on this particular competition.
Documentary Jury Grand Prize -Beyond Belief directed by Beth Murphy
is about two American widows who travel to Afghanistan after losing their husbands in the 9/11 attacks.
Audience Award Narrative Feature -Mongol directed by Sergei Bodrov
This was one of the Oscar nominees last year as you know and will be opening on June 6th. Though it was definitely a handsome production it's still maddening to think about ---all the nominees are --given that the great 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days didn't even make the finalist list for that category. (Yes, it's going to be really hard to let that one go) Mongol, a bio on the early years of Genghis Khan, has strong technical merit and it sure is epic. Yet, for all the blood and guts I think it played like comfort food for the festival audiences who had been wading through a sea of tiny budgeted slow paced films before its premiere late in the festival.
Audience Award Documentary -Trying to Get Good directed by Doug McIntyre & Penny Peyser is a jazz documentary about Jack Sheldon
You can see more jury prizes at the official site and festival goodies at the IIFF blog
World Cinema -My Section
I saw several good films that I'd recommend people see but few came without drawbacks or a shortfall that would make me hesitate before shouting "BEST". In the end, and I've heard this from other juries too, we ended up going with a compromise choice that shocked all of us in how comfortable we were arriving at it. You see, it's the furthest thing from a comfortable film. Our Grand Jury Prize went to a Russian entry from Aleksei Balabanov called Cargo 200. Plot descriptions don't do it justice but the title refers to the coffins that transported unfortunate Russian soldiers back from Afghanistan in the 80s. That said it's not a war film. We never meet a soldier and the film follows several disparate characters of various political and spiritual persuasions that all become entangled in the dead of night at a remote house where an ex con sells grain spirit. Bad shit goes down. It's partially a pitch black comedy, partially a political scream and partially... well, it's a wholly challenging film. Yet at the end of our deliberations the mutual admiration was clear: it was the cinematic vision that made it to the screen with the most force and the least compromise. So that's where our top prize went.
Our jury also gave a prize to the soulful lead performance from the Mexican family drama Burn the Bridges. Irene Azuelas (pictured) wonderfully plays a young woman who clings to her dying mother and wandering brother with self-negating and stubborn passion. Bridges was generally well liked among our jury (Cargo 200 being more divisive) but we all agreed that Irene was the key to the latter film's success. The other film that was warmly regarded by all was another from Mexico, It's Better if Gabriela Doesn't Die, which is about the writer of an outlandish telenovela and the cop who loves his show a little too much. That film was a hit with the audience, too. I think it stumbles drunkenly in its last act but it was the most purely enjoyable film in the world cinema section so the urge to hand it something didn't surprise or upset me.
I was halfheartedly pushing for something for the Italian film In Memory of Myself, which is about novice members of a Catholic monastery. I was caught up in its quiet spell, oddly menacing score, and especially its hypnotic choreographed camera movements. The other jurors thought it flat. Fair enough... it was a little sealed off and opaque. There was a faction of festival volunteers who were hoping we'd award the Spanish film In the City of Sylvia, another divisive entry, but we didn't bite. I'd write about the film but I fear sudden narcolepsy (...and I can sit through slow movies. I saw the four hour La Belle Noiseuse in theaters and two of those hours, I swear, were just Michel Piccoli sketching!) and besides, Nick already said it all in his review. We rarely see completely eye to eye on movies but "what he said" exactly in this particular case.
For short films our Grand Jury Prize went to the brief but elliptically potent drama Ten to Two which is about a sad day in the life of a driving instructor. Our jury also dug Spider (which won the audience award) and the exquisitely photographed but puzzling Son. [A notable aside: Son stars Nathalie Press (My Summer of Love) who also played a troubled mother in the Oscar-winning short film Wasp. So if this film ends up nominated you'll know she's an golden talisman for short filmmakers.] Finally, for animation we unanimously got behind Lapsus (pictured) which is about a curious nun of limited vocabulary. You can watch the first 50 seconds of this hilarious short on YouTube. It only gets better from there. Too bad ya can't see it all. Finis.