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Iranian film wins top prize at Full Frame festival

“Starless Dreams” directed by Iranian filmmaker Mehrdad Oskouei.
“Starless Dreams” directed by Iranian filmmaker Mehrdad Oskouei. Raleigh

After four days of film screenings, Q&As and panel discussions, the 19th annual Full Frame Documentary Film Festival presented awards at a barbecue Sunday in downtown Durham.

The festival’s top prize – the Reva and David Logan Grand Jury Award – went to the feature-length documentary “Starless Dreams,” which documents the suffering of young women in an Iranian juvenile detention center. The film also won the Full Frame Inspiration Award.

Iranian filmmaker Mehrdad Oskouei, director of “Starless Dreams,” was unable to attend the festival. Full Frame programming manager Emma Miller read a message from the director: “My responsibility as a filmmaker to encourage positive and effective social changes is to increase public awareness,” Oskouei wrote. “I am convinced that a documentary filmmaker should at times show images of humanity suffering with the hopes of putting an end to this. All of my films have been made with this firm belief.”

The jury also awarded a Special Mention prize to director Clay Tweel’s film “Gleason,” about a former professional football player diagnosed with ALS.

Established in 1998, Full Frame has grown from a small specialty film series into one of the largest and most respected documentary festivals in North America. More than 90 feature-length and short films were exhibited at this year’s event, held at the Durham Convention Center, the adjacent Carolina Theatre and other downtown venues.

Other awards presented Sunday were:

▪ The Full Frame Jury Award for Best Short – “Clínica de Migrantes,” directed by Maxim Pozdorovkin. The short film chronicles the work of a volunteer-run medical clinic in a Latino neighborhood in Philadelphia.

▪ The Full Frame Audience Award (feature documentary) – “Life, Animated,” about an autistic boy and his family who learn to communicate through Disney film characters and dialogue. It was chosen through viewer ballot.

“Our screening here was the best screening we’ve ever had,” said director Roger Ross Williams, accepting the award. “I hope this film serves as a testament to the beauty and power of people living with autism. They have so much to offer society and offer the world.”

▪ The Full Frame Audience Award (short film) – “Pickle,” directed by Amy Nicholson, which gives a lighthearted look at a couple who cares for pets with odd afflictions.

▪ The Kathleen Bryan Edwards Award for Human Rights – “Kiki,” directed by Sara Jordenö, about LGBTQ youth activism and ballroom culture.

▪ The Charles E. Guggenheim Emerging Artist Award – Karolina Bielawska, a first-time director, for her film “Call Me Marianna,” about a Polish transgender woman.

▪ The Center for Documentary Studies Filmmaker Award, sponsored by Duke University – Rokhsareh Ghaem Maghami, for the film “Sonita,” which tells the story of an Afghan refugee in Iran who dreams of becoming a rap star, even as her parents attempt to sell her off as a young bride.

▪ The Full Frame President’s Award, also sponsored by Duke – “The Mute’s House,” about a deaf Palestinian woman and her 8-year-old son living in an abandoned apartment building in the district of Hebron.

Festival director Deirdre Haj elicited the event’s most enthusiastic ovation when she thanked Full Frame’s 300-plus volunteer organizers.

“They absolutely, positively are the people who work the hardest and are thanked the least,” Haj said.

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