Awards ceremony tops off festivities

The seventh annual Ashland Independent Film Festival celebrated the completion of half a week of films with an awards dinner Sunday night at the Historic Ashland Armory.

In attendance were many filmmakers, community members and sponsors. Rows of tables, decorated playfully with film strips of outtakes, filled the auditorium. Organic Nation Vodka, a new distillery in Ashland, made its debut with martinis, and many Ashland restaurants collaborated for the buffet-style dinner. Punctuating the end of the dinner line was Omar's, with a tiered granite slate displaying pieces of sushi.

The master of ceremonies for the night was Warren Etheredge, president of Lockspring Pictures and a founding faculty member of The Film School. Etheredge broke the ice with his comedy and kept things moving smoothly between award announcements.

The awards

The ceremony culminated with a presentation of the lifetime achievement award to documentarian Albert Maysles.

Maysles, 81, has earned two Emmys and an Academy Award nomination for his long career.

Tom Olbrich, executive director of the film festival, called Maysles "a poet with a camera."

"I have received many honors; none of them have touched me as deeply and soulfully as what I've received here," Maysles said. "The audience here in the screenings knows exactly when to laugh and when to cry. There's not much I can add, except to thank you, and I want to come back here again."

Winning the John C. Schweiger Award for Best Feature film by the festival's jury was "August Evening." The film profiles an aging undocumented worker and his young widowed daughter-in-law as their lives are thrown into commotion. Director Chris Eska said during his acceptance speech he had only been in Ashland for six hours and already he had called his girlfriend and made plans to come back this summer.

The best cinematography award was given to Yiannis Samaras for "Chronic Town." Samaras was not able to attend, but the director, Tom Hines, accepted in his absence.

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Helen Hunt receives the Rogue Award on Friday in Ashland.

Orville Hector | Daily Tidings

"Yiannis had gone to great lengths for this film, carrying the camera on his shoulder for the majority of this feature length film," Hines said. "At the Sundance Festival, Yiannis had received a very hurtful review from a critic, so winning for best cinematography here is really going to mean a lot to him."

Joanne Feinberg presented the award for best documentary: short subject, which went to "A Son's Sacrifice," the story of a young American Muslim who struggles to take over his father's slaughterhouse in New York City.

The award for best short film: dramatic went to "I Want to be a Pilot," a film about a 12-year-old boy growing up in the second-largest slum in Africa.

Many in attendance were looking for actress Helen Hunt. Etheredge joked that it had become like "Where's Waldo" with everyone looking for her. As it turned out, Hunt had received the Rogue Award on Friday and was not in attendance.

Winning for best ensemble of actors was "The New Year Parade." Director Tom Quinn said that he was pleased with the community members here that walked up to him on the street and complimented him on the actors in the film.

"It is rare at a film festival that a community is so open and approachable," Quinn said. "The actors in the film worked for three years for free with no prior acting experience. They were loyal and believed in the film."

Special jury mention was give to "Superheroes" for best animated short.

Best student film was awarded to Dee Rees for "Pariah," a story about a lesbian teenager from the Bronx who unsuccessfully shuffles multiple identities to avoid rejection from her friends and family.

Best documentary feature length was given to "Please Vote for Me," a film about a third-grade class in China experimenting with democracy.

The special jury award for best documentary feature was given to "One Minute To Nine," the story of a Grants Pass woman whose home life of regular abuse and domestic violence erupts into her murdering her husband.

The winner of the audience award for best short film was "Aquarium."

The John C. Schweiger audience award for best dramatic feature was given to "The Cake Eaters," a film directed by Mary Stewart Masterson.

The Rogue Creamery audience award for documentary feature was "American Outrage," a story about the trials and tribulations of two Native American women.

"We knew this film would be perfect for Ashland because of the sensitivity here," director George Gage said.

The festival began on Thursday and, by Sunday evening, 16,000 tickets had been distributed, with a day of sales remaining. The previous record was last year's total of 15,000. Again this year, approximately three quarters of the festival's films had packed houses.

Many of the films will have encore presentations today at the Varsity Theatre.

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