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High Falls Film Festival audience awards and wrap

Women were the power last week at the 6th annual High Falls Film Festival in Rochester, NY (Nov. 8-12).
High Falls is a festival with a difference - its mission. Susan B. Anthony lived in Rochester, as did George Eastman. The creators of High Falls chose to honor the founders of film and the women’s movement with a program that celebrates the achievements of women in the industry and to help correct the imbalance of employment for women (as Susan B. might have) in many areas.

On each night of the festival, High Falls honored exceptional women in the industry with the prestigious Susan B. Anthony “Failure is Impossible” Award, for women in the film industry who have persevered in their careers and triumphed over difficulties. This year, the festival saluted, for the breadth and distinction of their work, Opening Night director Agnieszka Holland (Copying Beethoven); actress Shirley Knight (Open Window), actress Famke Janssen (The Treatment); and producer Lauren Shuler Donner . For 2006, the Festival inaugurated the Elizabeth Cady Stanton “Thorn In The Side Award.” Named in honor of the friendship between Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, it is an apt prize for women in a collaborative medium who push each other to greatness. The first Stanton Award presentation was given to Telluride Film Festival co-founder Stella Pence. In addition, the Festival presents Audience Awards for Best Narrative Feature, Best Documentary, Best Short Film and from the Women of SoFA program.

The High Falls Film Festival Audience Award for Best Narrative is: is Germany’s Academy Award contender for Best Foreign Film and an extraordinary directorial debut by Floian Henckel Von Donnersmarck, The Lives of Others.

The High Falls Film Festival Audience Award for Best Documentary is: Ian Iñaba’s American Blackout. “The choice of this film about Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney says a lot about the state and strong political feelings in our country right now,” states Artistic Director Catherine Wyler. “It is a very telling audience selection.”

The High Falls Film Festival Audience Award for Best Short is: Sintonia, written and directed by Jose Mari Goenaga.

The High Falls Film Festival Audience Award from the Women of SoFA (RIT’s School of Film and Animation) program is: Sticks & Stones by Rehema Imani Trimiew.

What makes High Falls unique is their celebration of a women’s role in making movies. Every festival wants to bring in the director, producer or stars, and so does High Falls – but only if they are women. And it’s not limited to the “above-the-line” female talent- High Falls recognizes and honors the boundless contributions and dedication of production designers, cinematographers, visual effects supervisors, editors… the women who make the films.

It is a theme that kept coming up throughout the event, in panels, Q&A’s, acceptance speeches and dialogues; there are more women working now in the industry – both studio and independent and in chief positions – than ever before. And it is great! The talent that attended the festival ran the gamut from studio heavy (Lauren Schuler Donner) to stars (Famke Janssen & Shirley Knight) to cinematographers (Ellen Kuras), productions designers (Edwige Geminel) and a plethora of independent film directors, producers and writers.

The films and panels were very well attended with a number of sold out shows including the last minute addition of Barbara Koppell’s Dixie Chicks: Shut Up & Sing, which had the audience screaming, hooting and hollering throughout. They laughed and shuddered at the sold out late night screening of the Korean ‘horror’ flick, The Host; totally enjoyed the Opening Night film, Copying Beethoven; and were incredibly moved by the powerful The Lives of Others and Amy Berg’s documentary Deliver Us From Evil.

The weekend found attendees running between the films and panels. Among the fascinating talks were “Preview of Coming Distractions” with panelists producer Lauren Schuler Donner, Telluride’s Gary Meyer, Distributor Paul Cohen and moderator Amy Taubin; “Documentarians Speak Their Mind,” with Silverdocs Patricia Finneran, Aviva Slessin, Linda Hattendorf and Frank and Caroline Ahlfors Mouris.; the Production Designer Stuart Craig (Harry Potter films) gave an enlightening talk on what he does; and Ellen Kuras spoke on the art of cinematography. One of the highlights was the Conversation with esteemed critic Jack Garner, Susan B. Anthony “Failure Is Impossible” Award recipient Lauren Shuler Donner, and her partner (as well as husband), acclaimed director/producer Richard Donner.

There were ‘Coffee With’s…,” as well as a screenplay reading; Children’s Films and work from the Women of Rochester’s School of Visual Arts. All in all, the 6th High Falls Film Festival presented the talent, creativity and need for the continuing and ever-growing women who make movies!!

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