The Demons, directed by Quebec director Philippe Lesage
The Demons

The 59th San Francisco International Film Festival announced the winners of the juried Golden Gate Award (GGA) competitions at an event held at Gray Area.

This year the Festival awarded nearly $40,000 in prizes to emerging and established filmmakers.

The 2016 Golden Gate Awards New Directors jury was composed of film critic Justin Chang, producer Benjamin Domenech, and IFP’s Executive Director Joana Vicente.

Winner: The Demons, Philippe Lesage (Canada)
* Receives $10,000 cash prize

In a sunny, placid Montreal suburb in the late 1980s, before every child was attached to their parents by a cell phone, 10-year-old Félix (Edouard Tremblay-Grenier) grapples with the insecurities and confusion of impending adolescence. He harbors a crush on his teacher as a distraction from the uncomfortable sensation that everyone fits in perfectly at school except him. At home, Félix and his doting older siblings land in the middle of a scarily intense fight between their parents. Innocence is a fragile thing, easily dented and destroyed, and Félix surprises himself by inflicting cruelties on a younger boy. From the opening frames, documentary filmmaker Philippe Lesage infuses his exquisitely observed debut feature with an unsettling air of ambiguity and dread that portends greater crimes to follow. Nicolas Canniccioni’s calmly probing camera and Pye Corner Audio’s intense, judiciously placed score alert us to the incursion of an unseen danger into this pastel setting of swimming pools and playgrounds. The adults are caring but distracted, and their obliviousness—which extends to the end of the film, and presumably beyond—enables unexpected malevolent forces.  The Demons evokes the close escapes and inevitable traumas that speckle the path to adulthood, culminating in a gentle entreaty to love your children well.

In a statement, the jury noted: “The Demons is an extraordinarily perceptive and structurally daring exploration of childhood in all its terrors and anxieties, both real and imagined.”

Special Jury Prize: Mountain, Yaelle Kayam (Israel/Denmark)

The jury noted: “The film provides a rigorous and multifaceted character study that becomes a bold statement about the role of women in physical and psychological confinement.”

The GGA Documentary feature competitions jury was comprised of journalist, film critic and programmer Eric Hynes; Sundance Institute’s Director of the Documentary Film Program Tabitha Jackson; and documentarian Jeff Malmberg.

Cameraperson, Kirsten Johnson

Documentary Feature Winner: Cameraperson, Kirsten Johnson (USA)
* Receives $10,000 cash prize

Simultaneously an astute observation of nonfiction filmmaking’s dilemmas, and a wonderfully creative autobiographical collage, Cameraperson is a must-see for all documentary enthusiasts. As the cinematographer for acclaimed documentaries such as Citizenfour, Fahrenheit 9/11, and Darfur Now, Kirsten Johnson has seen the world from behind her camera lens. Here she assembles moments from 25 years of location shoots—including a birthing clinic in Nigeria, a Bosnian farm, a detention center in Yemen and a boxing ring in Brooklyn—and stitches together an illuminating, emotional patchwork memoir. It’s abundantly clear that Johnson loves her work and values the experience of filming with people from all walks of life. Along with editor Nels Bangerter and co-editor Amanda Laws, Johnson draws out the similarities of seemingly different people all over the world, and elicits the question of the observer’s responsibility to the observed. Rather than employ the obvious tool of narration, Johnson cannily places statements made by interview subjects and crew members into contexts that reflect the complex challenges she feels herself, as a professional who can chronicle extensively, but interfere minimally. Amid the exotic and the foreign, Johnson weaves her own home movies of her young children and Alzheimer’s afflicted mother, bringing her experience of her own personal world into focus.

The jury noted in a statement: “We honor Cameraperson for its compassion and curiosity; for its almost tangible connection to subjects and humble acknowledgment of its own subjectivity; for its singular enfolding of memoir, essay and collage; for its perfect expression of the vital collaboration between director and editor; and for its disarming invitation for us to participate in the meaning and construction of the work, and by extension the meaning and construction of documentary cinema itself.”

Special Jury Prize: Notes on Blindness, Peter Middleton, James Spinney (UK/France)

The jury noted: “We extend a special mention to Notes on Blindness, in recognition of an audaciously ambitious, formally inventive and yet fully realized film that somehow manages to translate an intensely interior experience into compelling, even revelatory cinema, ingeniously articulating what it means to see and be seen.”

The Return
The Return

Bay Area Documentary Winner: The Return, Kelly Duane de la Vega, Katie Galloway (USA)
* Receives $5,000 cash prize

In 1994, California voters enacted the Three Strikes law, mandating a sentence of at least 25 years to life for third-time felons. In 2012, voters amended that law with Prop. 36, which added a provision for non-violent offenders and the radical demand that currently incarcerated prisoners be re-sentenced. “Overnight,” the filmmakers explain, “thousands of lifers became eligible for release.” The Return chronicles what happens next—on an individual and statewide scale. Weaving together the confessional musings of newly freed men, interviews with cautiously hopeful family members and on-the-ground coverage of lawyers working to free eligible lifers, filmmakers Kelly Duane de la Vega and Katie Galloway (Better This World, SFIFF 2011) build a case against long prison terms for crimes driven by poverty, addiction and mental illness. Whether following Bilal Chatman—who served 11 years of a 150-to-life sentence—on his bike ride to work or Michael Romano—a lawyer who co-authored Prop 36 and heads Stanford’s Justice Advocacy Project—mustering resources to help clients transition to life outside of prison, the film illuminates the long, fraught, and joyful journey from incarceration to resettlement.

The jury noted: “We are honoring a film that starts where others would stop, that addresses the inhumanity of America’s criminal justice system through patient and humane observation, handling the complexities of its subjects not as matters to work around, but to embrace as a pathway to deeper feeling and understanding.”

The GGA Short Film jury consisted of festival programmer Laura Thielen; Fandor’s Vice President of Film Acquisitions Amanda Salazar; and independent media writer, producer and creative consultant Santhosh Daniel.

Narrative Short Winner: Night Without Distance, Lois Patiño (Portugal/Spain)
* Receives $2,000 cash prize

Documentary Short Winner: The Send-Off, Patrick Bresnan, Ivete Lucas (USA)
* Receives $2,000 cash prize

Animated Short Winner: Manoman, Simon Cartwright (UK)
* Receives $2,000 cash prize

Special Jury Prize: Glove, Alexa Lim Haas, Bernardo Britto (USA)

New Visions Short Winner: My Aleppo, Melissa Langer (USA)
* Receives $1,500 cash prize

Bay Area Short First Prize Winner: Extremis, Dan Krauss (USA)
* Receives $1,500 cash prize

Bay Area Short Second Prize Winner: In Attla’s Tracks, Catharine Axley (USA)
* Receives $1,000 cash prize

The shorts jury noted: “These well-wrought miniatures connected us to the world and our own humanity in urgent and unexpected ways. We were impressed by the 29 storytellers in competition, and we thank them for sharing their visions with San Francisco audiences. We look forward to seeing what they do next.”

The Family Film jury consisted of Betsy Bozdech, Executive Editor, Ratings & Reviews at Common Sense Media; animator and filmmaker Jim Capobianco; and animation director Simon J. Smith.

Winner: Bunny New Girl, Natalie van den Dungen (Australia)
* Receives $500 cash prize

The jury noted: “Bunny New Girl was recognized for its great, relatable message of acceptance and solidarity in a new community — as well as technical achievement, strong talent direction, and able storytelling that builds to a powerful and entertaining ending.”

Special Jury Prize: Simon’s Cat: Off to the Vet, Simon Tofield (UK)

The jury noted: “We recognize this film for its pure entertainment value, great observational comedy, laugh-out loud jokes, and clear cat knowledge.”

The Youth Works jury was comprised of bay area high school students Sophia Anderson, Karla Mandujano and Kyle Wolfe, with adult supervisor Aldo Mora-Blanco of Film School Shorts at KQED.

Winner: Elliot, Dennis Kim (South Korea/USA)
* Receives $1,000 cash prize — including $500 donated by Vancouver Film School. The winner will also receive a one week scholarship, including tuition and accommodation, to one of the Vancouver Film School’s Summer Intensive Programs.

The jury noted: “In another filmmaker’s hands, the story may have been an old hat. But in this filmmaker’s craft, what emerges is a meticulously crafted, well thought-out narrative that is engaging and beautiful to look at.”

Special Jury Prize: Lucky Numbers, Chester Milton (USA)
* Receives $500 cash prize donated by Vancouver Film School

The jury noted: “Lucky Numbers is a crowd pleasing black comedy that managed to balance humor and morbidity perfectly.”

The Google Breakthrough in Technology Award jury was comprised of members of Google’s Computer Science in Media and Industry Relations teams, including: Courtney McCarthy, Strategist in Computer Science in Media and Julia Hamilton Trost, Account Executive, Google Media Sales.

Google presents the Breakthrough in Technology Award for the best use or display of technology and innovation. The award honors filmmakers who go the extra mile to highlight the use of technology to solve a problem and make the world a better place, and aspires to promote diversity in tech while disrupting negative stereotypes in STEM fields.

Winner: From My Head to Hers, Maria Alvarez (USA)
* Receives $500 cash prize donated by Google Inc.

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