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For first time, two films share top prize at Durham’s Full Frame Festival

Still from the film 'Last Day of Freedom.'
Still from the film 'Last Day of Freedom.' Courtesy of Full Frame

For the first time in the history of the Full Frame documentary festival, two films shared the festival’s top prize Sunday – the Grand Jury Award for feature-length documentary.

An agreement with sponsor the Reva and David Logan Foundation, means both films will receive the full award of $10,000. In the festival’s 18th year, its awards ceremony took place Sunday afternoon in the Durham Armory building.

“Kings of Nowhere,” from first-time filmmaker Betzabé Garcia, documents residents of a Mexican village who choose to remain after a flood leaves their homes semi-submerged.

“‘Kings of Nowhere’ represents its characters with dignity and depth, and does so at the highest levels of our craft,” said filmmaker Bernardo Ruiz, presenting the award from the Armory stage.

Also receiving this year’s Grand Jury Award, the documentary film “(T)ERROR” investigates ethical issues in the U.S. government’s war on terror through the story of a controversial counter-terrorism sting.

Accepting the award, co-director David Felix Sutcliffe earned a grim round of laughter from the audience: “We recently showed the film to a former FBI agent who quit the bureau after 9/11, in protest of what was happening there,” Sutcliffe said. “He called the film a colonoscopy on the domestic war on terror.”

The Full Frame Jury Award for Best Short went to “Last Day of Freedom,” a visually groundbreaking film that tells the story of a capital punishment case through a kind of digital rotoscoping technique that gives filmed images the appearance of line drawings and watercolor paintings.

By winning the Jury Award, the film automatically qualifies for Oscar consideration in the documentary short category. The film also won the festival’s Center for Documentary Studies Filmmaker Award, which recognizes films that take a particularly creative or original approach to contemporary issues.

First-time filmmakers Dee Hibbert-Jones and Nomi Talisman said they were overjoyed to simply be accepted by the festival, and didn’t expect any awards at all. “We literally danced in the kitchen when we heard we’d gotten into the fest,” Hibbert-Jones said.

The Audience Award for feature film, determined by audience ballot, went to “How to Dance in Ohio,” director Alexandra Shiva’s film about three young women on the autism spectrum preparing for their first formal dance. The Audience Award for best short film was presented to “Giovanni and the Water Ballet.”

Additional awards, along with winners:

Charles E. Guggenheim Emerging Artist Award, to first-time director Jennifer Redfearn for her film “Tocando la Luz” (“Touch the Light”), about three blind women in Havana, Cuba.

Full Frame Inspiration Award, to “The Storm Makers,” a devastating exposé of human trafficking in Cambodia.

Kathleen Bryan Edwards Award for Human Rights, to “Peace Officer,” concerning the militarization of American law enforcement.

Full Frame President’s Award, for best student film, to director Alejandro Alonso for “The Farewell.”

Nicholas School Environmental Award, to the Danish film “Good Things Await,” from director Phie Ambo. Honorable mention, to director Chad A. Steven’s film “Overburden,” concerning Appalachian coal mining.

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