As he took the stage to present the highest honor at the L.A. Film Festival, actor Jon Voight enthusiastically championed the efforts of the local event to promote filmmaking during a challenging time for the arts.
"It’s such a splendid thing to have the L.A. Film Festival in our community," Voight said at a gala to fete the festival’s award winners at the Hammer Museum Sunday morning. "It gives attention to films and brings filmmakers together to salute them while giving more opportunity for film to appreciated and seen."
Voight and others mingled during an elaborate brunch at the museum, where filmmakers and actors reminisced about the events of the last week and a half.
Voight was on hand to present Sam Fleischner and Ben Chace with the Target Filmmaker Award — which includes a hefty unrestricted $50,000 cash prize — for "Wah Do Dem" (What They Do), which tells the story of a boy who departs for a Carribbean cruise only days after his girlfriend dumps him.
It’s a film "that could feel anecdontal but through its musical shifts and tone, and its vision of the world as a newly optimistic place, [it] creates a strong and profound emotional narrative," were the words the jury — which was comprised of producer Albert Berger, "Rachel Getting Married" star Rosemarie DeWitt and film critic Elvis Mitchell.
The fest’s other big cash award was for Best Documentary Feature, and it went to "Those Who Remain" (Los Que se Quedan), a portrait of the impact migration has on families left behind in Mexico.
"Frozen River" star Melissa Leo presented the award and said the jury — which consisted of film critic David Ansen, writer-director Anna Boden and director Darius Marder — found the picture to have a "generosity of spirit and lyrical grace that illuminates a human landscape with fresh eyes … [and] reminds us that documentaries can be both journalism and poetry."
Upon hearing their names called, directors Juan Carlos Rulfo and Carlos Hagerman shrieked and embraced their families.
"As we were making this film, we were thinking about the audience for our movie," Hagerman said as he accepted the prize. "And the most priceless award any filmmaker can have is sitting side-by-side in a theater with the audience the film was made for."
"The Stoning of Soraya M.," a film about the brutality and violence woman can face in the Middle East, came away with the Audience Award. Director Cyrus Nowrasteh said the award could only help boost the film’s opening in 11 cities this weekend and thanked his co-creator and wife as well as actress Shohreh Aghdashloo, who "embraced difficult subject matter" almost immediately.
The most comical moment of the event came when high-schooler Sam Rubin won the festival’s new Dream in Color Award, which puts a short film from a high school student in the fest. Upon hearing his name called, Rubin dashed on stage, clutched his award and held it over his head. "Thank you, thank you, thank you Los Angeles!" he shouted.
Other awards included Outstanding Performance in the Narrative Competition for Shayne Topp in Suzi Yoonessi’s "Dear Lemon Lima," the Audience Award for Best Documentary Feature to Jeffrey Levy-Hinte’s "Soul Power" and the Audience Award for Best International Feature to Eva Norvind’s "Born Without" (Nacido Sin).
The L.A. Film Festival, which wrapped up Sunday evening with a showing of Hayao Miyazaki and Disney’s animated "Ponyo," kicked off June 18 with the world premiere of "Paper Man."
"We help filmmakers build audiences for their work, because movies don’t exist without passionate audiences — and we’re especially grateful for the L.A. filmgoing audience," Film Independent’s executive director Dawn Hudson said at the award ceremony.
First-time festival director Rebecca Yeldham — who last year won an audience prize for her film "Anvil" — said she’d had an "amazing" first year.
"The LA Film Festival aims to provide the filmmaker and the audience with a passion for film and understanding of the world," Yeldham said. "This is what happens when artists stick their necks out. We’re here in dedication to filmmaking."