The AFI Fest held an awards brunch on Thursday morning at Hollywood's Roosevelt Hotel to announce the winners of four audience awards, two short-film prizes and two short-film honorable mentions. All of the honored films, a feature paired with a short, will screen Thursday.
All the audience awards were decided by balloting as audiences left the theater after each film's screening. The world cinema prize went to Takia Waititi's "Boy" from New Zealand. The New Auteurs award went to Cheol-soo jang for "Bedevilled" from South Korea. The Young Americans award went to "Littlerock" by Mike Ott. The Breakthrough award, which comes with a cash prize of $5,000, went to "Hamill," directed by Oren Kaplan.
"The audience awards are so exciting," said Jacqueline Lyanga, seeing through her first year as director of the festival. "It's great for filmmakers, for distributors and for films that don't have distribution, it shows there is an audience for these films. That was part of the reason we wanted to have audience awards. I think in terms of supporting filmmakers we've done our jobs."
Decided by a jury comprised of filmmaker Kyle Patrick Alvarez, actress and director Katie Aselton, actress and director Greta Gerwig and programmer Todd Luoto, the short-film prizes went to "Quadrangle," directed by Amy Grappell, for live action short and "Marcell the Shell With Shoes On," directed by Dean Fleisher-Camp, for animated short. Honorable mentions went to the shorts "Photograph of Jesus," directed by Laurie Hill, and "The High Level Bridge," directed by Trevor Anderson.
"Hamill," which had its world premiere at AFI Fest, is a fact-based drama inspired by the life of Matt Hamill, a deaf UFC fighter. The film was shown fully subtitled for hearing-impaired audience members.
"I know people say this about any group of people, but they are wildly underrepresented in cinema relative to how many deaf and hard-of-hearing people are in the world," said Kaplan, who makes his feature debut with "Hamill." "Most of the movies in the festival they can't go see because they don't know what people are saying. Our movie they can. To enable a new segment of the L.A. audience to come and see a movie in the theater feels great.
"The thing about the audience awards and the sold-out screening is we know there is an audience for this movie," added Kaplan, "and we think it extends past the deaf audience and the UFC audience."
"Littlerock" filmmaker Mike Ott, a CalArts grad, was a bit more succinct. "I'm still trying to take it all in," he said of his prize. "I'm so excited."
The 2010 edition of AFI Fest wraps up Thursday night with the Los Angeles premiere of "Black Swan." Lyanga addressed any concerns that the festival had played out as a succession of one-off events rather than a more cohesive sequence of programing.
"Our goal is to make each screening the best experience possible for the filmmakers and for the audience," Lyanga said. "So I think you can have great events and still have a festival that engages the community in dialogue over the course of eight days. But we're still re-inventing the wheel, we're playing with it and we'll see what we come up with for next year."
-- Mark Olsen
Photo from "Hamill" courtesy of AFI Fest