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Hidden Letters - 31st Heartland International Film Festival award winners
Hidden Letters directed by Violet Du Feng and Qing Zhao

Hidden Letters from director Violet Du Feng and co-director Qing Zhao won the $20,000 Documentary Feature Grand Prize at the 31st Heartland International Film Festival (HIFF), with the other top prizes going to Our Father, the Devil from director Ellie Foumbi for the $20,000 Narrative Feature Grand Prize, and Wildcat from directors Melissa Lesh and Trevor Frost took the $5,000 Jimmy Stewart Legacy Award.

The Overall Audience Choice Award went to “Pinball: The Man Who Saved the Game,” directed by Austin Bragg and Meredith Bragg (USA).

The Indiana Film Journalists Association (IFJA) presented Women Talking,” directed by Sarah Polley (USA) with the IFJA Special Presentation Award and Pinball: The Man Who Saved the Game, directed by Austin Bragg and Meredith Bragg (USA) with the IFJA Directorial Debut Award. Pinball resonated with audiences and critics, winning both the Overall Audience Choice Award in addition to the Indiana Film Journalists Association Directorial Debut Award.

Butterfly in the Sky like Pinball: The Man Who Saved the Game received two awards at HIFF. Directed by Bradford Thomason and Brett Whitcomb, the documentary about Reading Rainbow took home the Richard D. Propes Documentary Social Impact Award ($2,000 Cash Prize) and the Documentary Audience Choice Award Winner.

“This year, we saw our filmmakers and attendees fully embrace the in-person festival experience again,” said Heartland Film President Michael Ault. “It has been an honor to showcase and celebrate these incredible independent films together in a theater, and I congratulate our winning filmmakers on their thoughtful and engaging films that resonated with our juries and audience.”

The 32nd Heartland International Film Festival is scheduled for October 5-15, 2023.

2022 HEARTLAND INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL AWARD WINNERS

Grand Prize for Narrative Feature ($20,000 Grand Prize)

“Our Father, the Devil,” Directed by Ellie Foumbi (USA)

Marie Cissé works as the head chef at a retirement home in small-town France. Her day-to-day life spent caring for residents and teasing a potential new romance is disrupted by the arrival of Father Patrick, an African priest whom she recognizes from a terrifying episode in her homeland. As he further endears himself to the residents and staff, Marie is forced to decide how best to deal with this reminder of her troubled past.

Grand Prize for Documentary Feature ($20,000 Grand Prize)

“Hidden Letters,” Directed by Violet Feng, Co-Director Zhao Qing (China, USA, Norway)

Hidden Letters tells the story of two Chinese women trying to balance their lives as independent women in modern China while confronting the traditional identity that defines but also oppresses them. Connected through their love for Nushu—a centuries-old secret text shared amongst women—each of them transforms through a pivotal period of their lives and takes a step closer to becoming the individuals they know they can be.

Jimmy Stewart Legacy Award ($5,000 Cash Prize)

“Wildcat,” by Directors Melissa Lesh and Trevor Frost (USA, Peru)

Back from war in Afghanistan, a young British soldier struggling with depression and PTSD finds a second chance in the Amazon rainforest when he meets an American scientist, and together they foster an orphaned baby ocelot. Special presentation of Amazon Studios.

Best Narrative Feature Premiere ($2,500 Cash Prize)

“The Grotto,” Directed by Joanna Gleason (USA) World Premiere

When her fiancé dies unexpectedly, Alice Kendall inherits half ownership of The Grotto, a struggling desert nightclub where she discovers eccentric performers and a heartbreaking secret. As Christmas approaches, Alice is on the brink of a leap of faith as forces both seen and unseen beckon her toward her future.

Best Documentary Feature Premiere ($2,500 Cash Prize)

“When My Sleeping Dragon Woke,” Directed by Chuck Schultz and Judah Lev Dickstein (USA) World Premiere

A little girl lives in a custodian apartment inside a New York Public Library, where her father stokes its coal furnace 24/7. Decades later, the actor Sharon Washington chooses the theater to write her modern-day fairytale filled with real and imagined dragons, family secrets, forgiveness, and a world of books.

Richard D. Propes Narrative Social Impact Award ($2,000 Cash Prize)

“Klondike,” Directed by Maryna Er Gorbach (Ukraine)

July 2014. The story of an Ukrainian family living on the border of Ukraine and Russia that finds themselves at the center of an international air crash catastrophe. Sundance Film Festival: Directing Award Winner, World Dramatic Competition.

Richard D. Propes Documentary Social Impact Award ($2,000 Cash Prize)

“Butterfly in the Sky,” Directed by Bradford Thomason and Brett Whitcomb (USA)

Butterfly in the Sky tells the story of the beloved PBS children’s series Reading Rainbow, its iconic host LeVar Burton, and the challenges its creators faced in cultivating a love of reading through television.

Indiana Spotlight Award ($2,000 Cash Prize)

“The B1G Story: George Taliaferro,” Directed by Tucker Gragg and Kevin Weaver (USA)

“The B1G Story: George Taliaferro” documents the life of football legend George Taliaferro, a pioneer whose sacrifices opened doors for generations of Black football players. The son of a steel worker in Gary, Indiana, George (1927-2018) earned regional recognition as a football prodigy for his ability to play seven positions with outrageous athleticism. But when George left the safety of his home community in 1945 to begin his college football career, he found himself unable to live in the dorms or eat in local restaurants. You know Jackie Robinson’s name. Jesse Owens’ too. See the film that adds George Taliaferro to the pantheon of athletes that broke racial barriers and influenced generations.

Horror Award ($2,000 Cash Prize)

“Anacoreta,” Directed by Jeremy Schuetze (Canada) World Premiere

An actress heads on a mountain trip with her boyfriend to meet his friends for the first time. As they head out it becomes clear that he is filming his latest project, and he has more planned than they realize.

Humor & Humanity Award ($2,000 Cash Prize)

“Wake Up, Leonard,” Directed by Kat Mills Martin (USA)

“Wake Up, Leonard” is a feel-good movie about feeling bad…and failing to “stay on the vibe.” It’s the painfully funny story of a broken-hearted seeker’s quest for wellness. An improvised feature shot mid-pandemic, “Leonard” explores mental health, queer love, self-acceptance, and whether it really is a wonderful life?

Overall Audience Choice Award Winner

“Pinball: The Man Who Saved the Game,” Directed by Austin Bragg and Meredith Bragg (USA)

Top-scoring film among all Heartland International Film Festival feature titles.

Writer Roger Sharpe has mastered one thing in life: pinball. But when a police raid destroys the only machines he can find in 1970s New York City, he learns the game is illegal. Roger reluctantly fights the ban while falling in love with a single mother. Inspired by true events.

Produced by MPI Original Films. Producers Rob Pfaltzgraff p.g.a., Lana Link, Stacey Parks, Summer Crockett Moore, Tony Glazer. Executive Producers Roger C. Sharpe and Nick Reid.

Narrative Audience Choice Award Winner

“Rally Caps,” Directed by Lee Cipolla (USA) World Premiere

A young baseball player has his dreams of pitching for a Little League travel team derailed by a devastating injury on the field. After a long recovery process, he goes off to summer camp with his older brother where he befriends a deaf catcher and his sister. Based on their own experiences of living with a disability, they help him overcome his anxiety and fear of returning to the mound.

Documentary Audience Choice Award Winner

“Butterfly in the Sky,” Directed by Bradford Thomason and Brett Whitcomb (USA)

Butterfly in the Sky tells the story of the beloved PBS children’s series “Reading Rainbow,” its iconic host LeVar Burton, and the challenges its creators faced in cultivating a love of reading through television.

Special Presentation Narrative Audience Choice Award Winner

“Close,” Directed by Lukas Dhont (Belgium, France, The Netherlands)

Leo and Remi are two thirteen-year-old best friends, whose seemingly unbreakable bond is suddenly, tragically torn apart. Winner of the Grand Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival, Lukas Dhont’s second film is an emotionally transformative and unforgettable portrait of the intersection of friendship and love, identity and independence, and heartbreak and healing.

Special Presentation Documentary Audience Choice Award Winner

“Wildcat,” Directed by Melissa Lesh and Trevor Frost (USA, Peru)

Back from war in Afghanistan, a young British soldier struggling with depression and PTSD finds a second chance in the Amazon rainforest when he meets an American scientist, and together they foster an orphaned baby ocelot.

Horror Audience Choice Award Winner

“Teine Sā- The Ancient Ones,” Directed by Matasila Freshwater, Mario Gaoa, Mario Faumui, Miki Magasiva and Vela Manusaute (New Zealand)

After centuries of slumber, the ‘Teine Sā’ –ancient spirit women of Polynesia– have been evoked to come into the world once again. Set in the modern day Pacific, ordinary women have encounters with these ancient spirit women who help them in their struggles and leave lessons in their wake.

Indiana Spotlight Audience Choice Award Winner

“The Best We’ve Got: The Carl Erskine Story,” Directed by Ted Green (USA)

The last man standing of the Brooklyn Dodgers’ “Boys of Summer,” Carl Erskine is also one of the great human-rights champions of our time, particularly in the areas of diversity, alongside Jackie Robinson, and inclusion. “He is living a perfect game,” broadcaster Vin Scully said. This film shows how.

IFJA Best Special Presentation Award

“Women Talking,” Directed by Sarah Polley (USA)

Best special presentation feature film, chosen by Indiana Film Journalists Association members.

Based on the best-selling novel by Miriam Toews, “Women Talking” follows a group of women in an isolated religious colony as they struggle to reconcile their faith with a series of sexual assaults committed by the colony’s men.

IFJA Directorial Debut Award

“Pinball: The Man Who Saved the Game,” Directed by Austin Bragg and Meredith Bragg (USA)

Best U.S. directorial debut narrative feature, chosen by Indiana Film Journalists Association members among Official Selection titles.

Writer Roger Sharpe has mastered one thing in life: pinball. But when a police raid destroys the only machines he can find in 1970s New York City, he learns the game is illegal. Roger reluctantly fights the ban while falling in love with a single mother. Inspired by true events.

Produced by MPI Original Films. Producers Rob Pfaltzgraff p.g.a., Lana Link, Stacey Parks, Summer Crockett Moore, Tony Glazer. Executive Producers Roger C. Sharpe and Nick Reid.

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