The HIFF Awards Competition honors emerging directors from around the world in narrative feature, documentary feature and short film competitions, including categories for both narratives and documentaries.
Juried by world-class filmmakers and industry professionals, these competitions represent the important, provocative premieres by cinema’s next wave of filmmakers.
This year’s jury includes Michael H. Weber, screenwriter of 500 Days of Summer and The Fault in Our Stars; Dan Guando, head of U.S. Production and Acquisitions at The Weinstein Company; Josh Charles, star of television’s The Good Wife and Masters of Sex; Marshall Fine, renowned author, journalist and film critic; and Sarah Lash, acquisitions consultant at Conde Nast Entertainment. (Detailed bios here.)
NARRATIVE FEATURE COMPETITION
Colombia | East Coast Premiere | Director: Ciro Guerra
Inspired by the real experiences of explorers in the Amazon, EMBRACE OF THE SERPENT (Colombia’s submission for the Oscars®) centers on the relationship between Karamakate, a shaman of an extinct tribe carrying secrets and traditions, and two scientists in search of a sacred plant, capable of immense healing. Opting for powerful black and white cinematography, director Ciro Guerra tracks their parallel stories over 40 years with trips deep into the jungle. Winner of the top prize at the Cannes Directors Fortnight, the film intimately captures the thirst for knowledge and the ravages of colonialism that have destroyed the harmony and balance at the heart of the indigenous way of life.
France | US Premiere
Marco (Alban Lenoir) is a young Neo-Nazi and skinhead who, along with his friends, terrorizes the lower-class suburbs of Paris hoping to clear out the “scum” that is polluting the pure, white landscape of their beloved country. Spanning almost 3 decades in Marco’s life as he struggles to understand his own anger and brutal actions, this evocative and moving portrait—the sophomore effort from writer-director Diastème—offers a rare and unsettling look into the rise of xenophobia in France. With a brilliant performance by Lenoir, this poignant drama distinguishes itself as a unique and powerful work by an emerging talent.
Italy/France/USA | North American Premiere | Director: Jonas Carpignano
Ayiva (Koudous Seihon) seizes the opportunity to leave Burkina Faso and find a better life for his daughter in Jonas Carpignano’s gripping feature debut, MEDITERRANEA. Joined by his best friend Abas (Alassane Sy), they embark on the treacherous journey by boat to Italy, only to find that getting to dry land is merely half the battle. Expanding on his award-winning short, A CHJÀNA (HIFF 2014), Carpignano artfully presents a complex portrait of immigration with both urgency and a humanist approach to understanding life on the margins. Inspired by real events and Seihon’s personal journey, MEDITERRANEA offers a profound and intimate look at the migrant crisis.
Iceland | East Coast Premiere | Director: Grímur Hákonarson
Brothers Gummi (Sigurður Sigurjónsson) and Kiddi (Theodór Júlíusson) live side-by-side but have not spoken in forty years. Stubborn and competitive, they only communicate via handwritten notes delivered by their loyal sheepdog Somi. When a deadly virus threatens their prize-winning sheep and livelihood, they are forced to come together to save their unique family breed, and themselves, from extinction. Winner of the Un Certain Regard Award in Cannes, RAMS (Iceland’s submission for the Oscars®) details the hardships of daily farm work in remote Iceland with humanism and humor. Stunningly combining otherworldly landscapes and powerful performances, director Grímur Hákonarson expertly builds this gentle comedy to reveal a deeper and emotionally moving tale.
USA | East Coast Premiere
Director: Matt Sobel
Accompanying his parents to a Nebraskan family reunion couldn’t be more uncomfortable for Ryder (Logan Miller), a gay Californian teenager. For his mother’s sake he agrees to act “normal,” but nonetheless attracts some unwanted attention from his conservative relatives. The only one who seems to like him is 9-year-old Molly (Ursula Parker), but a strange encounter between the two of them raises many questions and places Ryder at the center of a long-buried family secret. A superbly acted drama from first-time filmmaker Matt Sobel, Take Me to the River reveals itself through Ryder’s perplexed point of view, unfolding in an atmosphere of mystery and trepidation.
The Narrative Competition is sponsored by The Wall Street Journal.
DOCUMENTARY FEATURE COMPETITION
United Kingdom/Romania/Germany | New York Premiere
Director: Ilinca Calugareanu
In the 1980s, the last decade before the revolution overthrew communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu, Romania was marred by intense austerity, isolationism and a pervasive cultural blackout. For the oppressed population, a new form of escapism emerged: illicit video nights in which smuggled Western films were shown. The majority of the films were dubbed by the same person, Irina Nistor, one of the most recognizable voices in pre-revolution Romania. First-time director Ilinca Calugareanu’s endearing and entertaining documentary shows how the magic of film created an awakening that helped to instill the seeds of the revolution.
France | East Coast Premiere
Director: Jean-Gabriel Périot
Covering a decade of worldwide political unrest (1965-1975), A GERMAN YOUTH is a compelling portrait of the Baader-Meinhof Group (a.k.a The Red Army Faction), a radical movement which drew into its orbit not only disillusioned students, but also established journalists and intellectuals as well as important filmmakers such as Michelangelo Antonioni, Jean Luc Godard and RW Fassbinder. Culled together from a fascinating pastiche of agitprop, news broadcasts, interviews, student films, and other archival footage, A GERMAN YOUTH provides the context for an ideology that shaped an entire generation.
USA | East Coast Premiere
Director: David Shapiro
MISSING PEOPLE follows Martina Batan, the director of a prominent New York art gallery, as she investigates her young brother’s long unsolved murder while obsessively collecting and researching the violent work and life of Roy Ferdinand, an outsider artist from New Orleans. Driven by both a hunger for closure and an inexplicable fascination with Ferdinand as an artist, Martha’s journey is truthfully captured by David Shapiro’s brave approach to this unusual and personal story. As Martina struggles to process the information she has dug up, the inevitable collision of these parallel narratives leads to a chain of dramatic events.
USA | World Premiere
Director: Jon Fox
Orphan. Entrepreneur. Recluse. Genius. Megalomaniac. Inventor Joseph Newman is all of the above. A controversial figure in the scientific community, Newman rose to notoriety with “The Newman Device,” an electromagnetic machine that he claimed produced more energy than it took to power it. What should have been a revolutionary discovery was stopped by a lengthy and disheartening legal battle with the United States Patent Office. In his enthralling debut, filmmaker Jon Fox deftly seeks to understand the enigmatic inventor—through intimate discussions with Newman’s colleagues and, surprisingly, with the man himself.
Finland, Denmark | New York Premiere
Director: Michael Madsen
Michael Madsen’s engrossing new documentary imagines an event that has yet to happen—an alien invasion on Earth. Leading us on a captivating journey through surreal, slow-motion, dream-like tableaus intercut with interviews with scientists from NASA, SETI (Search For Extraterrestrial Life Institute) and experts from the UN, THE VISIT takes an imagined encounter and stimulates the implications and the potential response from humankind. With questions such as “What makes you happy?,” “Do you know what is good and what is evil?,” “How do you think?” and of course, “Why are you here?,” Madsen constructs an unsettling scenario that forces us to reconfigure our insular mentality and reflect on humanity.
The Documentary Competition is sponsored by Investigation Discovery (ID) Films.
US Premiere | Turkey/France
Director: Ziya Demirel
New York Premiere | UK
Director: Eva Riley
North American Premiere | Spain
Director: Ian Garrido
New York Premiere | UK
Director: Jörn Threlfall
North American Premiere | Italy
Directors: Federico Di Corato, Alessandro De Leo
|LAST DAY OF FREEDOM
New York Premiere | USA
Directors: Dee Hibbert-Jones, Nomi Talisman
|PEBBLES AT YOUR DOOR
East Coast Premiere | Denmark
Director: Vibeke Bryld
|WOMEN IN SINK
New York Premiere | Israel/UK
Director: Iris Zaki
|BACON & GOD’S WRATH
US Premiere | Canada
Director: Sol Friedman
|TAKE ME TO THE MOON
North American Premiere | Spain/China
Directors: Oriol Martínez, Enric Ribes