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South By Southwest Film Festival 2020: Jury Awards

While the annual SXSW Festival and Conference in Austin, Texas, has been cancelled due to Covid-19 concerns, the festival was able to continue with much of the competitive aspect of the event.

Juried competitions among films already submitted continued in the absence of public attendance. Janet Pierson, Director of Film for SXSW, commented: “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 honoured to at least be able to present our juried and special awards.”

While not a substitute for the entire festival experience, and while not including every possible submission, Pierson and the festival directors issued the results, in the hope it “will help garner some well-deserved recognition for these wonderful works.”

Feature films receiving Jury Awards were divided into Narrative Features and Documentary Features. Short films and production awards, including film design and screenwriting, were also included, often with separate, specialised juries in each category.

A selection of the more significant SXSW award winners…

Category 1 – Narrative Feature Competition

Best Narrative Feature: Shithouse – Director Cooper Raiff

Shithouse, directed by Cooper Raiff. (Credit: SXSW)

Raiff’s directorial debut and first feature screenplay, chosen from among ten finalists, is described by the festival jury as “refreshing and winningly sincere.” It is a simple tale of a lonely and depressed university student (played by the director), who makes an unexpected connection with a distraught older student. The jury was impressed with what they called “sweet, heart-on-sleeve sensibilities” of a film they compared to Richard Linklater’s 1995 love story, Before Sunrise. SXSW is the film’s world premiere.

Special Jury Recognition for Directing went to co-directors (and film co-stars) Celine Held and Logan George, for Topside, which was also a runner-up for the Narrative Feature award. The unreleased film is described as a “poignant story of survival and sacrifice” in which an urban mother and child lose their home; the jury call it “a gripping and emotional viewing experience.”

Special Jury Recognition for Acting was awarded to Really Love, directed by Angel Kristi Williams. A love story involving a struggling artist in Washington, DC, this film earns particular praise for its co-stars’ acting. The jury remarked, “The power and excitement in this modern romance comes from the chemistry and depth of its two leads, Kofi Siriboe and Yootha Wong-Loi-Sing. Their subtle performances and undeniable screen charisma give this love story its emotional stakes.”

Category 2 – Documentary Feature Competition

Best Documentary: An Elephant in the Room – Director Katrine Philp

An Elephant in the Room, directed by Katrine Philp. (Credit: SXSW)

Described by the jury as “heartbreaking,” this film deals with the theme of grief by following a group of children at a grief counselling centre in New Jersey, through the eyes of documentary filmmaker and cinematographer Philp (False Confessions). While tragic, the festival jury adds that “thanks to the director’s artistry and sensitivity, it is also inspiring, uplifting, and – especially in these troubled times – essential.”

Special Jury Recognition for Achievement in Documentary Storytelling went to cinematographer and novice director Alice Gu for Donut King. The “finely crafted and timely” film follows Cambodian refugee and US resident Ted Ngoy, as he works to overcome adversity and make a success of his small business.

Special Jury Recognition for Breakthrough Voice goes to first-time filmmaker Jiayan Jenny Shi for her “poignant” documentary, Finding Yingying, which depicts the disappearance of a young Chinese graduate student, who disappears in America, and her family’s efforts to recover her. Described by the festival jury as using “the care and steadfastness of a true-crime procedural, with a rare sensitivity to questions of cultural difference, family dynamics, and the immigrant experience.”

Category 3 – Music Videos

Mitski – A Pearl. (Credit: SXSW)

Winner in the category was the video for Nice to Have by American hip hop artist 070 Shake. Directed by writer and developing filmmaker Noah Lee, the video portrays the personal impact of a catastrophic traffic accident; described as “stunningly beautiful yet tragic” and “impressive in execution.”

The award for animated music video went to the video accompanying A Pearl by Japanese-American singer-songwriter Mitski. The simple but distinctive and compelling animated piece was created by the team of Saad Moosajee and Danae Gosset.

Special Jury Recognition for Direction in this category went to director Kevin Phillips, for the video of The Lumineers’ Gloria. Phillips’ video perfectly illustrates the song’s highly personal subject matter, the impact of addiction.

Category 4 – Special Awards

Legendary director Frank Oz received the Adam Yauch Hörnblower Award, which is presented by SXSW to honour filmmakers who work outside the artistic norm, for his film In and Of Itself. The documentary is Oz’s portrait of “conceptual magician” Derek DelGaudio, who elevates his one-man show from a series of card tricks and illusions to what one critic describes as “a powerful meditation on existential yearning and…a quest for meaning.”

The festival’s Final Draft Screenwriters Award, which seeks to promote new and unknown writers and filmmakers, went to Best Summer Ever, a musical set at a high-school dance camp in Vermont, starring Peter Sarsgaard and Maggie Gyllenhaal. The award goes to a five-man writing team of Michael Parks Randa, Will Halby, Terra Mackintosh, Andrew Pilkington, and Lauren Smitelli.

The festival’s Adobe Editing Award for excellence in film editing goes to Paul Rogers and David Darg, for their work on You Cannot Kill David Arquette, an eccentric, star-studded wrestling documentary.

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