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Winners of 2023 CIFF competitions unveiled

The Calgary International Film Festival unveiled the winners of their juried competitions on Monday, with awards going to filmmakers from across Canada.

The 12 CIFF award winners received more than $60,000 in cash and prizes, alongside the Grand Jury selected short film becoming eligible for consideration at the Academy Awards as a result of that award.

The prize total was the highest ever for CIFF, said Brian Owens, artistic director for the film festival.

“The laurels mean a lot, but also the money and the gift certificates that are given out, and in the case of the YYC winner, the scholarship. They’re important pieces of moving a career forward,” he said.

“It’s really exciting to give them out this year, breaking the $60,000 barrier.”

He said that awards also tend to connect filmmakers to the festival, encouraging them to continue to submit work to be shown—and sometimes winning more awards.

“Ben Proudfoot came back actually and won the documentary short prize after winning with the queen of basketball a couple of years ago, and then The Queen of Basketball went on to win the Oscar,” Owens said.

“Literally this short [The Last Repair Shop], just world premiered at Telluride at the beginning of this month, and we’re the international premiere on it. So, that kind of shows you that when someone gets an award, then they keep coming back to you out of appreciation.”

Winners at CIFF take home top honours

Humanist Vampire Seeking Consenting Suicidal Person, directed by Quebec filmmaker Ariane Louis-Seize, received the top RBC Emerging Canadian Artist Award for her film that mixed elements of comedy, drama, and horror.

Louis-Seize had previously been nominated for her short film Wild Skin at the Canadian Screen Awards and for a Prix Iris by Quebec Cinema.

Hey Vickor! (Dir. Cody Lightning), CIFF’s closing film, along with Asog (Dir. Sean Devlin) received special jury prizes in the emerging Canadian artist category.

The top Canadian Narrative Feature Award, presented by Air Canada, was given this year to Suze, which was directed by Linsey Stewart & Dane Clark.

“Accepting validation is a challenging thing for a filmmaker, and we’re not supposed to draw any sort of value from it. However, these moments are nice to tell you you’re not completely wasting your time and your life,” joked Stewart after receiving her award.

“The whole team of Suze just thanks you for this, and we couldn’t have done this without our producers and everybody else.”

Actor Charlie Gillespie also received a jury prize for supporting performance for the film.

This was the first year that CIFF awarded a Canadian Narrative Feature Award.

Jury Members Andrew Connors, Michelle Thrush, and Lindsay MacKay said of the film that it was a pleasure to watch the journey of family dynamics in the film, that showed both humour and heart.

“The well-drawn characters and relationships were such a pleasure to watch unfold. Its exploration of generations was both sympathetic and hilariously accurate. The unexpected arcs and relationships were exciting to watch,” read the jury comments.

Prizes reflect international scope of the festival

Animalia, directed by Sofia Alaoui, took home the Best International Narrative Feature Award. Special jury prizes were given to Elliot Page for his performance in Close To You, and to Urresola Solaguren for her direction in 20,000 Species of Bees.

The festivals top Canadian Documentary Feature Award, presented by DGC, was awarded to Swan Song—a film about retiring National Ballet of Canada Artistic Director Karen Kain directing a final production of Swan Lake.

The film was directed by veteran documentarian Chelsea McMullan.

Speaking on the win, the jury made up of Jon Joffe, Elizabeth Klinck, and Laura O’Grady said that the documentary was inspired, and “a documentary for today and tomorrow.”

“This is a truly impressive performance documentary that moves away from traditional tropes with a cinema verité approach focusing on fantastic characters.”

Summer Qamp, directed by Jen Markowitz, was given a special jury prize under the Canadian documentary feature category.

Between the Rains, directed by Moses Thuranira and Andrew H. Brown took home the International Documentary Feature Award.

The festival also gave out it’s first Barcode XR Award for Outstanding Experience to A Highland Song, by inkle Ltd., a video game set in the highlands of Scottland.

Shorts important to build careers

Adam Keresztes, Programmer for Shorts with the Calgary International Film Festival, said that the shorts awards were especially difficult for this year.

“Talking to the juror there, [Robert Hilton] was just saying how like every film was amazing. He spoke about every single film in detail, and that he loved them all,” he said.

Deliberations, said Keresztes, typically take about two hours but turned into a four-hour session for 2023.

“They were having a tough time narrowing them down and and deciding on which ones should be considered the best or the award winner this year because they’re also fantastic,” he said.

He said that winning an award though was a big deal for filmmakers.

For youth filmmakers it could mean getting a scholarship to film school, or for other filmmakers, the financial backing to take the next big step on the next film.

“The Youth by Youth Short Film and Alberta Short Film Awards, were both sponsored by William F. White’s and they get a big gift card. They rent out equipment to make films,” said Keresztes.

“The Alberta short film winner Tank Standing Buffalo gets a $10,000 gift card to make his next film. So if you’re a shorts filmmaker wanting to go to that next level, that’s a huge amount that you can put towards your next film.”

The Grand Jury winner also getting to skip having to show their film in a standard showing in L.A. and New York to be considered for the Oscars was also a big deal.

2023 shorts winners

Palm Sunday, directed by Wes Andre Goodrich, took home the Short Film Grand Jury Prize for 2023.

“We’ve had many award winning films, Academy Award-winning films in the past. This year was really exciting because the film Palm Sunday, which is actually a student’s short film made on a budget, was actually a thesis film from college students in New York,” said Keresztes.

“So giving them this bump, it’s sort of allows them to avoid doing like their standard screening and paying the money to get their film in the theatre.”

Monstr, directed by Tank Standing Buffalo, received the NBCUniversal Alberta Short Film Devon Bolton Memorial Award.

Death to the Bikini!, directed by Sandra Hurd received the Live Action Short Film Award.

Best Animated Short Film went to Boat People, directed by Thao Lam and Kjell Boersma.

The Documentary Short Film Award went to The Last Repair Shop, which was directed by Oscar winning filmmaker Ben Proudfoot and Oscar nominated Kris Bowers.

Bowers said in a statement said that he would be donating his award prize to the Mr. Holland’s Opus Foundation, while Proudfoot thanked his family who live in Calgary for their support of the film.

Simone, directed by Aisha Amin took home the Student Short Film Award, while Sandra Hurd took home the Youth by Youth Canada Short Film Award for her film Operation Carl.