June 29, 2009

LAFF 2009: 'Those Who Remain', 'Soul Power' Take Top Honors

After a week marked by celebrity deaths and documentaries gone Bananas!*, the 2009 Los Angeles Film Festival has drawn to a close. Film Independent announced the award winners for this year's fest at a special event, presented by Target. And while normally I am not in the habit of mentioning who presents a particular program, Target sponsors the festival's Documentary Award (for Best Documentary Feature), which includes an unrestricted $50,000 cash prize for the winning film's director(s). So I'm happy to plug their name, as they have made the lives of documentarians just a bit easier over the past several years with this award.

This year the lucky winners are Juan Carlos Rulfo and Carlos Hagerman for Those Who Remain (Los Que se Quedan). The film, from Mexico, is an intimate and discerning depiction of the impact of migration on families left behind by loved ones who travel north emerges as a nuanced portrait of “the other side” of the immigration story.    

The Documentary Feature Competition jury was comprised of film critic David Ansen, writer-director Anna Boden, and director Darius Marder. This was the first time that international films were included in the narrative and documentary competition categories. In bestowing Juan Carlos Rulfo and Carlos Hagerman with the Target Documentary Award, the Jury stated: “With its generosity of spirit and lyrical grace that illuminates a human landscape with fresh eyes, Those Who Remain reminds us that documentaries can be both journalism and poetry.”

Trailer from Hot Docs for Those Who Remain

The award for Best Documentary Short Film went to Anna Gaskell’s Replayground, a humorous reenactment of a children's quarrel. The Shorts Competition jury was comprised of art director KK Barrett, producer Tracey Bing, and digital media artist and filmmaker Alex Rivera. The Jury stated: “The concept was so fresh and unexpected in its use of children’s visions of their playground actions as content for a play that they would then be entrusted to cast and direct. A case of a brilliant premise carrying a film.”

The Audience Award for Best Documentary Feature went to Soul Power, directed by Jeffrey Levy-Hinte. The film was produced by Leon Gast, Jeffrey Levy-Hinte and David Sonenberg. Featuring James Brown, Bill Withers, B.B. King, The Spinners, Celia Cruz and the Fania All-Stars, Muhammad Ali, Don King and Stewart Levine, this concert film documents “Zaire ’74,” the sister event to the famed Ali/Foreman “Rumble in the Jungle." Sony Pictures Classics will open the film in New York City and Los Angeles on July 10th, followed by release in other cities throughout the summer. For a full list of dates, click here.

Soul Power
Theatrical Trailer

Documentaries from Mexico proved popular with festival audiences as well as the Jury. This year the Audience Award for Best International Feature went to the film Born Without (Nacido Sin), from filmmaker Eva Norvind. Produced by Norvind, Nailea Norvind, and Donald K. Ranvaud, the documentary is a frank portrait of the lives and loves of José Flores – a street musician, actor, father of six, and Romeo who was born without arms and stands only three feet tall.  
Born Without Pic
José Flores and friend in Nacido Sin