‘A Film Unfinished’ and ‘In the Name of the Family’ take top prizes at Hot Docs

Other big winners at fest awards show include Marwencol director Jeff Malmberg and John Zaritsky's Leave Them Laughing.
May 10, 2010

While the skies were opening outside, the cream of the crop for this year’s Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival was honored Friday night at the Isabel Bader Theatre during the annual Hot Docs Awards presentation.

Hosted for the second year running by Jian Ghomeshi, host of CBC Radio’s Q, the ceremony featured the bestowing of 10 awards and over CDN$72,000 in cash prizes to winning filmmakers. The evening kicked off with an acknowledgment by Ghomeshi of the fest’s continuing popularity – this year’s edition of Hot Docs, featuring 170 films from 2,200 that were submitted, pulled in a 10% increase over last year’s remarkable 43% rise in attendance.

The best international feature award went to Yael Hersonski’s A Film Unfinished, which examines an unfinished Nazi propaganda film, discovered after World War II, about life in Warsaw’s Jewish ghetto. The propaganda piece, which included real and staged shots, has been used over the years in documentaries and news programming. As part of its statement, the jury called Hersonski’s work ‘a film for the ages.’ The award includes a $10,000 cash prize from Hot Docs.

The special jury prize for an international feature went to The Oath, Laura Poitras’ portrait of a former bodyguard of Osama Bin Laden. As part of the award, the film receives a $5,000 cash prize from Hot Docs.

Toronto filmmaker Shelley Saywell’s In the Name of the Family received the nod for best Canadian feature, the top prize for Canadian films in competition at the fest. The film takes a close look at recent ‘honor killings,’ in which young women were killed by members of their families, and the beliefs behind the events. The jury said the film offered ‘an intimate take on the challenges of immigration for young people, and generational conflicts that can go terribly wrong.’ The award, sponsored by the Documentary Organization of Canada, includes a $15,000 prize courtesy of the Brian Linehan Charitable Foundation.

John Zaritsky’s Leave Them Laughing claimed the special jury prize for a Canadian feature. The Canada-U.S. copro shines the spotlight on Carla Zilbersmith, a comedian afflicted with Lou Gehrig’s disease, who, while she doesn’t perform live anymore, has continued to flip the finger to the disease with her stinging wit. In his acceptance speech, the soft-spoken Zaritsky dedicated the award to his star, who he acknowledged was ‘in the last days of her life.’ The award comes with a $10,000 cash prize from the Brian Linehan Charitable Foundation.

Renowned UK doc-maker Kim Longinotto was the recipient of the Outstanding Achievement Award for a body of work that includes such acclaimed films as 1995′s Shinjuku Boys and 2008′s Rough Aunties. Longinotto, who by her own admission doesn’t trot the boards at international doc fests often, seemed genuinely surprised by the Toronto fest’s popularity. ‘I’m so glad I came,’ she enthused.

The Don Haig Award, sponsored by documentary and presented to emerging Canadian doc makers, went to Toronto’s Philip Lyall and Vancouver’s Nimisha Mukerji, the team behind last year’s acclaimed 65_Red Roses. The film documented the story of Eva Markvoort, a young woman afflicted with cystic fibrosis, as she waited in hospital for a lung transplant. Sadly, Markvoort passed away in late March. In accepting the award, which includes a $20,000 cash prize from documentary, the filmmakers saluted Markvoort, saying ‘she received a lot of love from all corners of the globe.’

The HBO Emerging Artist award went to Jeff Malmberg, director of Marwencol. The film tells the story of Mark Hogencamp, a victim of a brutal beating who creates his own therapy by building an incredibly detailed miniature World War II-era town in his backyard.

The Lindalee Tracey Award, given annually to a Canadian filmmaker whose work illustrates a ‘passionate point of view, a strong sense of social justice and a sense of humour,’ went to 20-year-old Toronto filmmaker Ayanie Mohamed, whose last film was made on a very modest budget – $40. The award will help Mohamed recoup that investment: he receives a $6,000 cash prize and $3,000 in film stock from Kodak Canada.

The best mid-length documentary nod went to Tomer Haymann’s I Shot My Love, a study of the challenges faced by two lovers, one Israeli and one German. The best short documentary award, sponsored by Playback, went to Swedish director Jonas Odell for Tussilago, which deftly combines animation with its narrative to tell the story of a young girl caught up in a web of intrigue due to a relationship with a West German terrorist. Both awards include a $3,000 cash prize from Hot Docs.

There are still more awards to come, as The Hot Docs Audience Award and audience top ten favorite films of the 2010 Festival, determined by audience ballot, will be announced today.

About The Author
Daniele Alcinii is a news reporter at realscreen, the leading international publisher of non-fiction film and television industry news and content. He joins the rs team with journalism experience following a stint out west with Sun Media in Edmonton's Capital Region, and communications work in Melbourne, Australia and Toronto. You can follow him on Twitter at @danielealcinii.