15th Yamagata International Documentary Film Festival – Awards 2017

We present the list of winners for the 15th Yamagata International Documentary Film Festival 2017 that took place from October 5th – 12th, in Yamagata City, Japan.

International Competition
Robert and Frances Flaherty Prize (Grand Prize)

Communion by Anna Zamecka – Poland | 2016 – 72 min.

A girl in Poland named Ola takes care of her alcoholic father and her 13-year-old younger brother who has autism. Seizing on the occasion of her brother’s Holy Communion, Ola devotes herself to bringing back their mother who has left home, and to reuniting the family. A record of a young soul facing up against the hardships of everyday life.

What the Jury said: An accurate film, accomplished in every aspect, that works with the characters in a transparent and radical way, taking the dramaturgy and the connection with the soul of the protagonist to the extreme. Getting inserted in the center of a family drama, it transforms the characters into very cherished beings. The film reveals a very gifted director in her feature film debut.



Mayor’s Prize

A Memory in Khaki by Alfoz Tanjour – Qatar | 2016 – 108 min.

Four individuals relate their mixed feelings about their homeland of Syria. For some, it is a repressive world in the color of khaki, while for others it is a violent one stained in red. The filmmaker, also Syrian, shares memories of his homeland and his sorrow at losing it.

What the Jury Said: “Salmon fight the stream to return to their birth location, to renew life. But if the river gets sold, the fish will jump ashore to her death . . .”—This is a quote from one of the protagonists of this incredibly powerful film, which serves as a metaphor on the condition of exile. The film speaks metaphorically about khaki, as a color, uniform, and as a symbol of oppression, in societies all over the world.



Awards of Excellence

Lone Existence by Sha Qing – China | 2016 – 77 min.

A filmmaker who has not left his home or spoken to anyone in years. The only thing sustaining him is his desire to observe with his camera the existences of others that project his hidden self.

What the jury said: A gaze is enough to reveal one’s thoughts and emotions—even without words or behavior. This holds true not only for what one looks at, but what one hears. For example, one’s mind is reflected in how and which sounds of the cacophony of the external world are heard. In this film, each precise shot and the skillfully constructed sound design modestly but exquisitely achieves this end. Subsequently, the film reaches a deep introspection on the fundamental solitude of humankind.



I am Not Your Negro by Raoul Peck – US | 2016 – 93 min.

Based on an unfinished manuscript by the late author James Baldwin, this film depicts the tumultuous modern history of the African American people. Even now nature of discrimination emerges from the writer’s words, documentary footage, film clips, and music.

What the jury said: I Am Not Your Negro is a seminal film which will endure long beyond the acclaim of the day. We recognize it for its passion and eloquence, for its articulate argumentation, for its extraordinarily sourced material, and for the elegance of its anger.


Special Prize

In the Intense Now by Joao Moreira Salles – Brazil | 2017 – 127 min.

Examining the passion of the people in footage shot in China in 1966 and in Paris and Prague in 1968, this film questions both the relationship between historical spectacle and an individual’s life, and the meaning of these cinematic documents.

What the jury said: A complex and beautiful film that builds a world of associations from the images, which makes us relive and at the same time think about the moments of history. Without having filmed a single image, the film is the sewing of materials that move from intimacy to the facts of history, generating in the viewer the pleasure and work of looking, re-watching, thinking, after the workers leave the factory.


New Asian Currents Awards
Ogawa Shinsuke Prize

Yellowing by Chan Tze-Woon – Hong Kong | 2016 – 128 min.

Taken from the viewpoint of the young people who participated in the Umbrella Movement in Hong Kong, the film offers access to their happiness, anger, sadness, and joy—through their everyday conversations amid clashes with police.

What the Jury said: In encouraging the spirit of resistance and allowing idealistic young people to voice out their concerns about current events, bravely standing in the line of fire to confront the forces of suppression and indifference, in order to create a just, free, and more tolerant society, the Ogawa Shinsuke Prize is awarded to Yellowing, by Chan Tze-Woon.


Awards of Excellence

The Slice Room by Song Yun-hyeok – Korea | 2015 – 69 min.

Redevelopment threatens the survival of the low-income housing projects known as jjok bang. Living in a jjok bang himself, the director reveals the shortcomings and hypocrisy of the South Korean welfare system.

What the Jury said: Patiently immersing himself in the day-to-day existence of society’s homeless underclass, and highlighting key emotional moments to show their humanity despite the misery of their lives, in order to create empathy for them, the Award for Excellence goes to The Slice Room, by Song Yun-hyeok.


Up Down & Sideways by Anushka Meenakshi, Iswar Srikumar – India | 2017 – 83 min.

Songs ring out across the valley, sung by villagers at work together in Nagaland, India, near the border with Myanmar. The fields, love, friendship, and even bitter memories . . . they have always been accompanied by music.

What the Jury said: Filming in difficult terrain that’s undergoing political strife, but overcoming barriers of racial enmity, language and cultural divide to produce a wonderful symphony of a happy people and their way of life, the Award of Excellence goes to Up Down & Sideways, by Anushka Meenakshi and Iswar Srikumar.


Special Menion

Bemseom Pirates, Seoul Inferno by Jung Yoon-suk – Korea | 2017 – 119 min.

Through their music, grindcore duo Bamseom Pirates puts the spotlight on South Korea’s social issues, giving a voice to the angst felt by the young people in South Korean society today. But one day in 2012, their close friend and producer is arrested on suspicion of violating the National Security Law . . . .

What the Jury said: By creating a kinetic rush with its energetic splash of multi-media visuals, sound effects, pop graphics and animation, and approaching documentary with a strong dose of fun and levity, the Special Mention award goes to Bamseon Pirates, Seoul Inferno, by Jung Yoon-suk.


City of Jade by Midi Z – Taiwan, Myanmar | 2016 – 99 min.

The filmmaker’s brother and his friends mine for jade as the conflict between the government’s armed forces and the Kachin Independence Army continues. The director’s monologue reveals the relationship between him and his parents, as the camera closes in on what is happening at the mining site.

What the Jury said: By undertaking a personal journey to explore the story of his brother, the filmmaker discovers personal truths about himself and his family. As the beneficiary of his brother’s sacrifices, he has become the jade treasure in his family. The Special Mention award goes to City of Jade, by Midi Z.



Citizen’s Prizes

Sennan Asbestos Disaster by Hara Kazuo – Japan | 2017 – 215 min.

This film is about a lawsuit seeking state compensation for asbestos-related damage in the Sennan area of Osaka. Filmmaker Hara Kazuo records the eight-year struggle of the plaintiffs and their lawyers. A dogged and dramatic depiction of their intense battle.

Directors Guild of Japan Award

Up Down & Sideways by Anushka Meenakshi, Iswar Srikumar – India | 2017 – 83 min.

From the beginnings with Robert Flaherty, visual anthropology was at the root of documentary film, but in our world today that is riven by serious ethnic and religious confrontation and conflict, the dangers associated with this genre have increased, as has the importance of the work.
In this film, made in the Nagaland state in India, where there is a history of cruel warfare and where conflict continues to this day, the bonds of people in the village are bolstered by cooperative labor and group singing, giving strength to communal society.
The film gives us the opportunity to experience life in the village and the rhythms of song. The filmmakers’ talents are displayed in the composition of every single frame of the film, their carefully measured distance from the subjects, the intelligence of the editing and the richness of the sound.
It is very rare to encounter a film that begins with the sound of laughter and ends with the sound of laughter. This film not only expands the possibilities of film, it expands our possibilities as human beings.

Categories: Awards

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