The 27th SXSW Film Festival was cancelled due to COVID-19 concerns, but the Austin-based fest has opted to announce the recipients of its juried and special awards in an attempt to bring visibility to the projects. The Feature Film Grand Jury Awards honored six titles, and five of them are directed or co-directed by a woman.
Katrine Philp’s “An Elephant in the Room” took home the top prize in the Documentary Feature Competition. The film offers a look inside Good Grief, a New Jersey-based non-profit where children attend play and group sessions addressing how to cope and live with the loss of a loved one.
“One of the worst things after my dad died was the silence of people not knowing what to say, avoiding me, maybe struck with fear of how to talk about death and grief,” Philp told us. “I hope this film will make us all braver when we encounter people who have lost and I think the children in the film can help us with that. They are so amazing, brave, and sincere and I think we, as adults, can learn a lot from them.”
Alice Gu’s “The Donut King,” a portrait of a Cambodian refugee who launched a donut empire in LA, received Special Jury Recognition for Achievement in Documentary Storytelling.
With “The Donut King,” Gu told us she hopes to “help challenge any preconceived notions of what a refugee is, or looks like, and … put a human face on refugees and their potential, if given the chance.”
The Special Jury Recognition for Breakthrough Voice went to Jiayan “Jenny” Shi’s “Finding Yingying,” the story of a Chinese student who was kidnapped on a university campus and her family’s attempts to solve the mystery of her disappearance.
“When we think about a case like this, the media is likely to focus on the crime, investigation, or the perpetrator. They forget about the people left behind in the tragedy — and the person labeled only as the “victim” becomes dehumanized. ‘Finding Yingying’ is not the usual true crime film; it’s a story of a brilliant young woman, who is loved by her family and friends, a story of her grieving family trying to stay strong and find her while navigating a strange, foreign country,” Shi shared with us.
The Narrative Feature Competition celebrated Celine Held and Logan George with a Special Jury Recognition for Directing for “Topside,” a pic about a mother and daughter who live in the tunnels beneath New York City.
Held told us that she was drawn to tell the story after a personal experience working with mostly low-income students led her to “start reading a lot about the foster care system… and the sometimes inconsistent rules that affect low-income families more than anyone else. There are currently about 22,000 children who are homeless right now in New York City, living in supportive housing or homeless shelters — a huge number that I had no idea existed,” she explained.
Angel Kristi Williams’ “Really Love” was honored with a Special Jury Recognition for Acting, The romance stars Kofi Siriboe and Yootha Wong-Loi-Sing
“When we curated and announced our slate for the 2020 SXSW Film Festival, filled with an array of wonderful films we were excited to share with our unique audience, we had no idea of the unprecedented impact that Coronavirus would have on all our lives,” said Janet Pierson, Director of Film. “Our hearts were broken for all the filmmakers who invested so much time and talent in their work, hoping for a transformative experience at our event. We’re honored to at least be able to present our juried and special awards. We know that it’s no substitute for the actual festival’s vitality, enthusiasm, and potential for surprising outcomes — and that it is only available to a small fraction of our program — but we hope it will help garner some well-deserved recognition for these wonderful works.”
Head over to SXSW’s website to check out all of the award winners, and be sure to have a look at our SXSW preview to learn more about some of the films we were most looking forward to seeing at the fest.