Diego Lerman’s A Sort of Family took home the top prize at the 2017 Chicago International Film Festival, the Gold Hugo, in the International Feature Film Competition. A Sort of Family, which had its U.S. premiere in Chicago, tells the story of a doctor’s desperate journey to adopt a baby girl.
The Silver Hugo for Best Director was awarded to Joanna Kos-Krause and co-director Krzysztof Krauze for Birds Are Singing in Kigali (Poland), and the Silver Hugo Special Jury Prize was awarded to Félicité, (Senegal, France, Belgium) directed by Alain Gomis. Iranian director Vahid Jalilvand took home top honors in the New Directors Competition with a Gold Hugo for No Date, No Signature, and the Silver Hugo was awarded to Milad Alami for The Charmer (Denmark).
The Roger Ebert Award, presented to an emerging filmmaker with a fresh and uncompromising vision by Chaz Ebert, was awarded to Colombian director Laura Mora for Killing Jesús, and the Chicago Award was taken home by Stephen Cone for Princess Cyd.
The Founder’s Award, given to one film across all categories that captures the spirit of the Chicago International Film Festival for its unique and innovative approach to the art of the moving image, was presented to Guillermo Del Toro’s The Shape of Water.
“All of the films competing for prizes this year were outstanding, and I salute our jury for rising to the daunting task of selecting those that received the top honors,” said Festival Artistic Director Mimi Plauché. “We are proud to honor such a diverse group of films, shining a spotlight on the extraordinary work being created by men and women throughout the world. This year’s honorees span the globe, featuring talent from almost every continent, as well as one who lives only a few miles from the theater.”
2017 Chicago International Film Festival Award Winners
International Feature Film Competition
A Sort of Family (Una especie de familia), Dir. Diego Lerman, Argentina.
This film amazed the jury in two ways that are difficult to achieve by themselves and even more difficult together. At a personal level, it delivers a journey of wrenching twists, maintaining tension while also enabling empathy with a complicated, sometimes reckless character in an impossible situation. At a political level, it draws attention to systemic abuses of women, especially poor women, that transpire all over our world. A Sort of Family synthesizes these two tracks seamlessly, with sterling craftsmanship and superb performances throughout.
Birds Are Singing in Kigali (Ptaki śpiewają w Kigali), Dirs. Joanna Kos-Krauze and Krzysztof Krauze, Poland.
This film sets itself a huge challenge, both artistic and ethical, of evoking a tragedy without simply re-staging its events or relying on sentimentality to move its audience. The tough, inventive direction allows such risks to pay off, alternating between realist and poetic styles in ways that achieve a tremendous emotional force, expanding the boundaries for how trauma can be commemorated on screen. The jury acknowledges with sorrow the many places around the globe where this story remains relevant, and honors Joanna Kos-Krauze as well as, posthumously, her late husband and co-director, Krzysztof Krauze.
Silver Hugo Jury Prize
Félicité, Dir. Alain Gomis, Senegal, France, Belgium.
This movie transports its audience to a vividly evoked community in Kinshasa, without indulging the stereotypes by which Africa is often depicted on screen. Instead, we meet a tenacious, complex heroine who insists on living by her own terms, even amid situations that deprive her of easy choices. The music in the movie is unforgettable, and its structure is itself musical, building in unexpected movements, interludes, and crescendos toward its rewarding conclusion.
Silver Hugo Best Actresses
Awarded ex-aequo to Jowita Budnik and Eliane Umuhire in Birds are Singing in Kigali (Ptaki śpiewają w Kigali), Dirs. Joanna Kos-Krauze and Krzysztof Krauze, Poland.
The only way to honor these two performances, so dissimilar in style yet perfectly in sync, is to award a joint citation. Each actress brought depth and power to the scenes that emphasized her character, making Anna and Claudine accessible to the audience without divulging all their secrets. When acting together, they conveyed a unique symbiosis, sometimes painful, sometimes comforting, that will bond these women forever.
Silver Hugo Best Actor
Awarded to Aleksandr Yatsenko in Arrhythmia, Dir. Boris Khlebnikov, Russia, Finland, Germany
The versatile Yatsenko, maintaining his fruitful collaboration with director Boris Khlebnikov, hits a new creative peak as a skillful but unreliable paramedic, eliciting the audience’s contempt at times and its sympathy at others. The actor finds endless degrees of human imperfection between these two poles, giving a performance that allows the whole movie to work.
Silver Plaque Best Screenplay
Awarded to Mohammad Rasoulof for A Man of Integrity (Lerd), Dir. Mohammad Rasoulof, Iran.
Early on, this film introduces us to many different facets of its main character’s life that barely seem to relate. Gradually and powerfully, the script teases out the connections, all of which culminate in a haunting finale. This structure requires patience and discipline from its writer-director Mohammad Rasoulof. In a festival full of modern spins on film noir, he gives us one of the best, set in an unlikely place.
Silver Plaque Best Cinematography
Awarded to Chayse Irvin for Hannah, Dir. Andreas Pallaoro, Italy, France, Belgium.
Hannah tells the story of a very guarded woman and is itself a guarded film, refusing to spell out the motives or contexts behind a lonely woman’s behavior. The images, then, must convey feelings and ideas that the screenplay and character will not. Through meticulous composition, unexpected framing, and a finely calibrated color palette, they do just that.
Best Art Direction
Awarded to Václav Novak for The Line (Čiara), Dir. Peter Bebjak, Slovakia, Ukraine, Czech Republic.
The jury marveled at the natural locations in The Line, all expertly chosen and photographed. The built environments, too, abound with subtle and character-revealing detail. Without calling undue attention to itself, the scenery always served the entertaining story, while colorfully avoiding the visual clichés one might expect from a tribute to film noir.
The Shape of Water, Dir. Guillermo Del Toro, USA
The Founders Award is personally presented by Festival Founder Michael Kutza to the single film he feels best embodies the spirit of curiosity, optimism and love of film that led to his starting the Chicago International Film Festival 53-year ago. “The Shape of Water is beautiful, inspiring and the epitome of why I love the movies,” remarked Kutza. “Del Toro is a master filmmaker, and this is one of his most magnificent films to date.”
New Directors Competition
No Date, No Signature (Bedoune Tarikh, Bedoune Emza). Dir. Vahid Jalilvand, Iran.
The Gold Hugo goes to Vahid Jalilvand’s No Date, No Signature (Iran) for the austere beauty of its imagery and the satisfying complexity with which this assured second feature explores dilemmas of guilt and grief in a medical examiner who may or may not have accidentally killed a small boy.
The Charmer (Charmøren), Dir. Milad Alami, Denmark.
The Silver Hugo goes to Milad Alami’s The Charmer (Denmark), a gripping, beautifully lensed drama that continues to haunt us with its portrayal of paranoia and frayed human connection. The journey of an Iranian man seeking courtship in Denmark culminates in a final sequence so startling and deftly executed that it is guaranteed to provoke debate for years to come.
Roger Ebert Award
Killing Jesús (Matar a Jesús), Dir. Laura Mora, Colombia, Argentina.
The Roger Ebert Award goes to Laura Mora’s Killing Jesús (Colombia), which contains the richest example of a quality Roger Ebert treasured in cinema. Mora’s lead heroine tracks down her father’s killer initially in pursuit of vengeance, until she realizes that his crime was merely a symptom of a corrupted society. The film is wise and perceptive in its suggestion that empathy itself can serve as a form of catharsis.
The Other Side of the Wall (Al otro lado del muro), Dir. Pau Ortiz, Spain, Mexico.
The Gold Hugo goes to The Other Side of the Wall, a film with two of the most riveting characters we’ve had the pleasure to see in a documentary. With intimate access, filmmaker Pau Ortiz tells the poignant story of a family in the midst of crisis, struggling to survive with their matriarch incarcerated. With extraordinary sensitivity, Ortiz presents their lives as an unflinching portrait of the ties that bind.
Mr. Gay Syria, Dir. Ayse Toprak, France, Germany, Turkey.
The Silver Hugo goes to Mr. Gay Syria directed by Ayse Toprak, a film that looks at the Syrian refugee crisis through the lens of the LGBT community. At times sad and at times humorous, she captures a slice of life of a community in transition.
BPM (120 battements par minute), Dir. Robin Campillo, France.
The Gold Q Hugo Film Award goes to BPM-Beats Per Minute (France) for its necessary honesty, unmatched portrayal of love and loss, but most importantly for embodying what it really means to make the personal political.
God’s Own Country, Dir. Francis Lee, United Kingdom.
The Silver Q Hugo Film Award goes to God’s Own Country (UK) for its simple yet robust exploration of masculinity, desire, and unspoken intimacy within our most important relationships.
Princess Cyd, Dir. Stephen Cone, USA.
Princess Cyd won for its clear tonality, lyrical storytelling, and graceful authenticity. With strong writing and relatable characters, director Stephen Cone crafts a very honest, very human story that features a capable and complex female lead. The entire cast plays a substantial role in bringing a subtle delicacy to this coming-of-age story, set against an intimate Chicago backdrop.
Documentary Short Film Competition
The Rabbit Hunt, Dir. Patrick Bresnan, USA.
No shot is wasted in this epic 12-minute observational documentary gem. It is truly our privilege to be invited on this journey as seventeen-year-old Chris and his family partake in a local right of passage as well as making ends meet while living in an industrial community in the Florida Everglades. Masterful and precise.
The Streets Are Ours: Two Lives Cross in Karachi, Dir. Michelle Fiordaliso, USA.
The Streets Are Ours: Two Lives Cross in Karachi chronicles two women who stand es examples of the ongoing struggle in Pakistan to open up creative and democratic spaces where people of all genders, sexual orientations, creeds and colors can express themselves freely and without fear. This film is a way to inspire people to voice their stories and to work with passion in order to overcome intolerance and silence.
The Painted Calf, Dir. David Pantaleón, Spain.
With its biblical soundtrack and the Canary Islands as a backdrop, this documentary is a reminder that film can say so much about a small place in the world simply through song, cinematography, and pacing. The Painted Calf is a special film because despite its simple story, the film transports the viewer visually, sonically, and most importantly patiently.
Animated Short Film Competition
Airport, Dir. Michaela Müller, Switzerland, Croatia.
Great art can make you feel like you are living an experience. Watching Airport gave us all the sensation we were in that space. A film that takes us to a place we don’t want to go in the most kinetic, sensual way possible. An ominous, topical film that is never heavy-handed.
Drop by Drop, Dirs. Xá, Laura Gonçalves, Portugal.
Great transitions and flow combine to create a moving portrait of diminishing returns.
Beyond Fields of Paper, Dir. Yiyi Ma, USA
Special mention to Yiyi Ma for her moving portrait of an artist in transition.
Narrative Short Film Competition
Night Shift, Dir. Marshall Tyler, USA.
The jury awards the Gold Hugo to Night Shift for developing a rich character whose Dantesque journey of colorful self-reflection inspires us to break free and gamble on ourselves.
A Gentle Night, Dir. Qui Yang, China.
The jury awards the Silver Hugo to A Gentle Night for it’s challenging look at familial complacency, which is exposed when cultural barriers are breached during a crisis.
Fucking Bunnies, Dir. Teemu Niukkanen, Finland.
The jury would like to offer special mention to Fucking Bunnies for its humorous take on finding common ground and celebrating our differences.