NOFF 2017 That’s a Wrap

Dan Gilroy, Closing Night, and Jury Award Winners

Oct 22, 2017 By Zach Hollwedel
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After nine incredible (and exhausting) days chockablock with films, parties, roundtables and events, the 28th New Orleans Film Festival came to a close this past Thursday. The first half of the festival began with The Florida Project and a rooftop after party that offered panoramic views of New Orleans' Central Business District. That Wednesday Opening Night segued into the first full day of programming, including a rotating eight-hour slate of music videos, feature and short blocks, and Thursday evening's screening of Marshall, a Thurgood Marshall biopic. Friday was even more densely programmed, including the locally shot horror film, Fat Tuesday, and a full schedule of pitch sessions, which bestowed winning filmmakers with tens of thousands of dollars in both camera equipment and direct production support. Coming off of a jam-packed, ambitious 14-hour plus Saturday, the second half of the festival had a lot of momentum and energy to sustain. And sustain, it surely did.

The festival's only Sunday brimmed with documentaries. From multiple short blocks-Louisiana shorts, documentary shorts, and myriad narrative short categories-to incredible features such as For Akheem (one of my personal favorites of the year), the documentaries curated at the 28th NOFF were consistently some of the best I have seen at any festival. That's not to say the features weren't just as powerful. Gary Oldman is already generating Oscar buzz for his portrayal of Winston Churchill in Darkest Hour, which was one of Sunday evening's most in-demand tickets. The rush line stretched around the Prytania Theatre Uptown, as crowds expectantly awaited one of the festival's nine spotlight films. Oldman did not disappoint; he was unrecognizable as himself, having fully transformed into the legendary British Prime Minister.

On Monday the 16th, the festival revealed its 2017 Jury Award Winners. Twenty awards were made to 19-films. The Icelandic suspense thriller, Rift (review forthcoming), took home both the Apex Post Award for Best Sound in a Feature Film, as well as the Special Jury Prize for Narrative Feature. Other winners include: the Narrative Feature Jury Prize Winner, Victor's History, which had its world premiere at the festival; Ask the Sexpert won the Documentary Feature Jury Prize; On Our Watch and Woke were the Jury Prize and Special Jury Award winners for the Louisiana Feature category; and Julia Pott's Summer Camp Island took home the Special Jury Award for Animation. The full list of winners follows at the end of this post.

As was the case with Sunday, Tuesday was laden with documentaries. Among them, both Love and Saucers and The Joneses stand out, matched in their subjects' candor, but divergent in focus. Love and Saucers chronicles the late-recalled memories of David Huggins and his artworks they inspire. Huggins, in his early 70s, had been living a normal life, until he began recollecting the years-long sexual relationship he had with an extraterrestrial when he was in his late teens and early 20s. As the memories return to him, they flood his creative energies, compelling him to paint image after image of his courtship with an otherworldly being. The Joneses is an intimate portrait of a close-knit Mississippi family, led by matriarch Jheri Jones, who transitioned from male to female nearly two decades ago. Her struggles with her gender identity, as well as her strained relationship with her late ex-wife, alienated her from her now-grown four sons for years. Though those relationships have been largely mended, deeply rooted tensions and insecurities continue to confront the family, even while two of Jheri's boys reside with her. Jheri and those two sons were in attendance at the film's screening and answered questions from the audience about the impact Jheri hopes to have on young members of the trans community, as well as her and her family's experience being so open and honest on camera (an experience about which Jheri admits she was initially very hesitant). The evening concluded with an elegant soiree at The Pontchartrain Hotel, with local jazz band Bon Bon Vivant providing the live music.

Bon Bon Vivant

A last-minute addition to the festival, Roman J. Israel, Esq. first premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival this year-to lukewarm reception. Also featuring Colin Farrell, the film stars Denzel Washington as the titular defense lawyer in Los Angeles who winds up in a heated situation. The film, which hadn't been screened since, was met with critical response to its plotting, pacing, and character shortcomings, faults that writer-director Dan Gilroy recognized. Gilroy, who was on the red carpet at NOFF and participated in an audience Q&A afterward, was accepting of the notion that consensus of critique is a powerful indicator that a film needs improvement. And thus, improve the film is exactly what he and Denzel did. Following the Toronto reception, which Gilroy dubbed his "test screening," the director and leading man returned to the editing room and rejiggered the film. They sliced over ten-minutes out of it and reordered scenes. The version of the film that screened at NOFF was so drastically reworked that Gilroy considers it the defacto premiere of the (new cut of the) film.

Dan Gilroy

The festival came to a close on Thursday with reprises of Ask the Sexpert and the much-demanded Mudbound. Festival producers surprised and delighted attendees with a late addition of I, Tonya, in which Margot Robbie plays infamous figure skater, Tonya Harding. Hollywood insiders are already circulating rumors that Allison Janney could be up for a Best Supporting Actress nomination for her work as LaVona Golden, Tonya's abusive mother. The festival's closing night film, Call Me By Your Name was a standout. From Luca Guadagnino, director of I Am Love and A Bigger Splash, the coming of age film showcased the impressive talent of young polyglot Timothée Chalamet in a same sex relationship with a slightly older student played by Armie Hammer.

Call Me By Your Name

The New Orleans Film Festival continues to grow and improve with each consecutive year. Of everything that defines it, the most impressive is its dedication to supporting emerging and independent filmmakers, especially those from Louisiana. Of the 230+ films in this year's lineup, over 33% were shot in Louisiana. Louisiana-based filmmakers have special categories and awards dedicated solely to them. And independent filmmakers the world over are eligible to take part in the festival's support offerings, which include the aforementioned pitch sessions, as well as roundtables on budgeting and raising funds for films, navigating distribution, and best approaches to successful networking. In fact, the NOFF should be the desired destination of any independent filmmaker, not only for these and other opportunities, but also for the access filmmakers are granted at the festival itself. Filmmakers-recognizable among all attendees for their beaded passes-get special access to all films on the schedule and have a VIP lounge reserved just for them. Stocked with food from local restaurants and beer from local breweries (so, so much beer), the filmmaker VIP treatment is something all festivals ought to mimic. After all, while a grand celebration for cinephiles of all capacities-from industry vets to weekend enthusiasts to popcorn munching audience members-the New Orleans Film Festival is a preeminent and Academy Award qualifying experience for independent filmmakers. Festival producers never lose sight of this; in fact, they continue to raise the bar for what it means to be a filmmaker in contention at the New Orleans Film Festival.

While I'm sad it's over, I take comfort in the fact that it's barely 360 days until we get to do it all again. That's right-mark your calendars; the 29th New Orleans Film Festival is set for October 17-25, 2018. Be sure to keep checking the New Orleans Film Society for updates, and I'll see you next year!

NOFF 2017

JURY AWARD WINNERS

NARRATIVE FEATURE
Jury Prize Winner: Victor's History (dir. Nicholas Chevalier)
Special Jury Award: Rift (dir. Erlingur Thoroddsen)

DOCUMENTARY FEATURE
Jury Prize Winner: Ask the Sexpert (dir. Vaishali Sinha)
Special Jury Award: Olancho (dir. Chris Valdés and Ted Griswold)

LOUISIANA FEATURE
Jury Prize Winner: On Our Watch (dir. Jonathan Evans)
Special Jury Award: Woke (dir. Iman Shervington)

NARRATIVE SHORT
Jury Prize Winner: Miss World (dir. Georgia Fu)
Special Jury Award: American Dream (dir. Alexia Oldini)

DOCUMENTARY SHORT
Jury Prize Winner: The Rock (dir. Hamid Jafari)
Special Jury Award: Commodity City (dir. Jessica Kingdon)

ANIMATION
Jury Prize Winner: The Noise of Licking (dir. Nadja Andrasev)
Special Jury Award: Summer Camp Island (dir. Julia Pott)

EXPERIMENTAL SHORT
Jury Prize Winner: Turtles Are Always Home (dir. Rawane Nassif)
Special Jury Award: Memory of August (dir. Margaret Rorison)

LOUISIANA SHORT
Jury Prize Winner: Alone (dir. Garrett Bradley)
Special Jury Award: August (dir. Caitlin Greene)

SPECIAL AWARDS

Apex Post Award for Best Sound in a Feature Film
Winner: Rift (dir. Erlingur Thoroddsen)

Cinematography Award: Louisiana Narrative Feature
Winner: Hate Crime (cinematographer: Jon Philion)

Cinematography Award: Louisiana Narrative Short
Winner: Tourist (cinematographer: Justin Zweifach)

#CreateLouisiana Tribeca Film Institute Travel Grant
Winner: #streetpunksofyagon | Maja Holzinger, Yamil Rodriguez, Zuzanna Borucka



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