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AFI/Discovery Channel Documentary Festival awards

SILVERDOCS: AFI/Discovery Channel Documentary Festival announced its distinguished award winners, culminating the weeklong Festival activities that included screening 108 films representing 63 countries, free outdoor screenings and live performances, and a five-day concurrent International Documentary Conference attended by over 650 filmmakers, film and television executives and media professionals. Winning filmmakers received over $70,000 in combined cash and in-kind prizes.


With a generally perceived strong program on tap this year, the decisions of the juries were particularly difficult ones to come to. With such a mix of subjects, themes and filmmaking styles, the real winner were SILVERDOCS audiences and the documentary field itself, which now is as varied in tone and content as its feature film cousin. Arguably, some of the best writing, editing, cinematography and direction are to be found in documentary films this year.

This year's SILVERDOCS Sterling Award for a US Feature went to THE GARDEN directed by Scott Hamilton Kennedy. The film documents a 14-acre oasis rising out of the ashes of the 1992 Los Angeles riots. The director will receive $10,000 cash and $5,000 in film stock from Kodak. The Sterling Feature Jury praised the film for “its tenacity in storytelling in the face of injustice, and the filmmaker's singular vision in bringing a gripping, dramatic, and important story to the public eye.” Honorable Mention went to TROUBLE THE WATER by Tia Lessin and Carl Deal. The film weaves together first person footage and the filmmakers’ own chronicle of loss and survival following the cataclysmic events of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

The Festival made a commitment this year to honor international documentary production with SILVERDOCS Sterling Award for a World Feature. The winner this year was THE ENGLISH SURGEON directed by Geoffrey Smith, which tells the story of British neurosurgeon Henry Marsh, who performs surgery in the Ukraine with the crudest tools. The director will receive $10,000 cash and $5,000 in film stock from Kodak. The jury acclaimed the film as “the most poignant and inspiring film we saw - a film that profiles two human beings who dare to step outside the system to do something extraordinary, and becomes a delicate, deep, and respectful exploration of life, death friendship and hope." Honorable mention went to THE RED RACE directed by Chao Gan, which chronicles Chinese passion for gymnastics against the backdrop of the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics.


The SILVERDOCS Music Documentary Award presented by Gibson Guitars went to THROW DOWN YOUR HEART directed by Sascha Paladino. The film is the inspiring story of banjo virtuoso Bela Fleck's enthralling journey through Africa to uncover the roots of the Banjo and to play with native musicians. The fitting prize in the category was a Gibson Les Paul Standard guitar, valued at $3,700. Honoring the best in cinematography, the SILVERDOCS Cinematic Vision Award went to THE ORDER OF MYTHS directed by Margaret Brown. The film explores the oldest and still segregated Mardi Gras in the U.S. The filmmaker will receive $2,500 cash.


The SILVERDOCS WITNESS Award in honor of Joey R. B. Lozano was given to Festival favorite PRAY THE DEVIL BACK TO HELL by Gina Reticker. The film is an inspiring story about the thousands of Liberian women who peacefully ended the civil war that claimed over 250,000 lives. Through non-violent protests and organizational acumen, the film demonstrates the power of women and the potential for conflict resolution in one of the world’s most troubled corners. The award is given to the strongest documentary about human rights violations or social justice issues. The filmmaker will receive $5,000 cash.


The American Film Market/SILVERDOCS Award for a film that shows exceptional market promise went to KASSIM THE DREAM by Kief Davidson, which chronicles the career of Kassim Ouma, a former Ugandan child soldier who defected to the U.S. and became a world champion boxer. The filmmaker will be presented passes to the American Film Market this fall, airfare, five nights hotel and pre-arranged meetings with potential partners ($5,000 value).


The Writers Guild of America, West and the Writers Guild of America, East have named writer-director Anna Broinowski as the winner of the first-ever WGA Documentary Screenplay Award for her film FORBIDDEN LIE$, which investigates accusations that author Norma Khouri fabricated her biographical tale of a Muslim friend who was murdered for dating a Christian. The award carries with it a prize of $2,500 and the winner will be granted one-year free membership in the WGAW or WGAE Nonfiction Writers Caucus.


The award winners will receive special encore screenings today as part of the final day of SILVERDOCS. The Festival is also bring back “by popular demand” such audience favorites as FOOTBALL UNDER COVER, STRANDED: I'VE COME FROM A PLANE THAT CRASHED ON THE MOUNTAINS, ALL TOGETHER NOW, UNDER OUR SKIN and MAN ON WIRE.

The Festival has its last official event this evening at the Newseum, the first U.S. museum devoted to the history of print and electronic journalism, will the rare screening of ROBERT KENNEDY REMEMBERED by documentary pioneer Charles Guggenheim. Made for the August, 1968 Democratic National Convention just two months after Kennedy’s tragic assassination, the film conveys the essence of the man and the myth. The film will be followed by a panel discussion, featuring AFI founding director George Stevens Jr., journalist and former Kennedy press secretary Frank Mankiewicz, filmmaker Grace Guggenheim and film critic Ann Hornaday.

A fitting ending to a great week of inspiring and provocative films in a Presidential campaign season that already is historic and life-changing. Hats off to Patricia Finneran, Sky Sitney, Jody Arlington and the entire SILVERDOCS team for producing a quality event that will continue to resonate for us in the days and weeks ahead.
Sandy Mandelberger, SILVERDOCS Dailies Editor

Silverdocs dailies

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