Perfect pitch: The New Directors Award went to Israeli film 'Vasermil' at San Francisco International's Golden Gate Awards party. (Photo courtesy SFFS)

SF International's Golden Gate Awards: Alive and Cooking

Susan Gerhard May 8, 2008

Food scents and film sensibilities mingled at a Golden Gate Awards evening that saw the San Francisco International moving away from a stage-presentation format into a pungent party atmosphere at the California Culinary Academy Wednesday night. With kitchen scenes as backdrop, filmmakers received and celebrated awards in a variety of categories while taste-testing from a broad buffet.

Yung Chang, with Up the Yangtze, won the Golden Gate Award for Best Documentary Feature, presented by storied documentarian Rob Epstein (The Times of Harvey Milk). He got the opportunity to thank two of his uncles, Wilson and Howard, who were present at the party, and asked the audience to not forget the 4 million people who’ve been relocated by the Three Gorges Dam Project. His involvement with the people he filmed has continued after shooting, and he told that, after showing the film to one of his subjects, she said she "saw her fate" and decided to leave the quite possibly dead-end cruise-boat job she’d been working and go back to high school. The filmmakers are now helping her family financially.

San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival Director (and Flaherty Seminar curator) Chi-hui Yang presented Best Bay Area Documentary Feature to Faubourg Tremé: The Untold Story of Black New Orleans, by Dawn Logsdon. She and producers Lucie Faulknor and Lolis Eric Elie (who is also featured in the film) were present. Logsdon and Faulknor said afterward how happy they were to win an award in their first time out as director and producer, respectively. They’d just returned from screenings in the Discovery section at Tribeca.

Of the 11 films in juried competition for the New Directors Award, which comes with a $10,000 cash prize and gift of Avid Express software, Vasermil won. San Francisco Bay Guardian’s Johnny Ray Huston read the jury statement, which praised Israeli director Mushon Salmona for the film’s "energetic and fluid visual style, which supports and enhances a complex representation of teenaged and broader societal conflicts." Vasermil tells the story of three distinct adolescents (including a Russian immigrant and an Ethiopian Israeli) whose lives intersect on the soccer pitch and in the neighborhood. The new directors jury gave special mention to Wonderful Town by Aditya Assarat for its "musicality and its understated yet operatically framed view of past and impending tragedy."

The FIPRESCI jury—an international crew of Kim Linekin, George Perry, and Marco Spagnoli (from Canada, the UK, and Italy, respectively)—gave its prize to Ballast by Lance Hammer, stating that the film "gradually and assuredly pulls the audience in, without indulging in tricks and shortcuts, and builds to an extraordinary honest depiction of a difficult relationship." Linekin said it was the second time Ballast took a FIPRESCI prize; this month it also won in Buenos Aires. Hammer received the award live before returning to the Sundance Kabuki for a Q&A with the audience. A special mention went to Glasses by Naoko Ogigami for "the freshness and optimism of the comedy that glides along at an unexpectedly serene pace."

Time to Die
, featuring 93-year-old leading lady Danuta Szaflarska, who came to town for the Festival, won the second annual Chris Holter Humor in Film Award, which honors a film with humor and life-affirming qualities in memory the San Francisco native, teacher and filmmaker Holter. The award, which is determined by audience ballot, includes a $2,500 prize, and has been established by Holter’s partner, Ron Merk.

The French Thick Skinned by Jean-Bernard Marlin and Benoit Rambourg won Best Narrative Short. Canadian Madame Tutli-Putli by Chris Lavis and Maciek Szczerbowski won Best Animated Short. Best New Visions was Cabinet by Bay Area filmmaker Todd Herman. The Best Work for Kids and Families was When I Grow Up by Michelle R. Meeker. Best Youth Work was Writing History with Lightning: The Triumph and Tragedy of America’s First Blockbuster by Charlotte Burger.

In other awards: The Golden Gate documentary jury awarded a special mention to Forbidden Lie$ by Anna Broinowski, an epic story of a piece of non-fiction writing that turned out to be anything but. Best Documentary Short went to Christina A. Voros’s The Ladies. Best Bay Area Short was Cabinet by Todd Herman; second prize in the Bay Area Short competition was On the Assassination of the President by Adam Keker.

The Golden Gate Awards feature special television categories, and those awards went to Calavera Highway by Renee Tajima-Peña (TV Documentary Long Form), The Mystery of the Second Painting by Muriel Edelstein (TV Documentary Short Form ); and Operation Turquoise by Alain Tasma (TV Narrative Long Form).

The party gave San Francisco Film Society Executive Director Graham Leggat a chance to thank the largely Bay Area audience for their support and contributions to the Festival, which closes tonight with a screening of Alex Gibney’s Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson at the Castro and Vanity Fair Reel Relief party following.

Thanks to Michael Fox for additional reporting.

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