Santa Barbara Film Festival Awards: 'Exam'

Exam by Stuart Hazeldine
Letters to Father Jaakob by Klaus Haro
Stuart Hazeldine's Exam (top); Kaarina Hazard, Heikki Nousiainen in Klaus Härö's Letters to Father Jaakob (bottom)

The Santa Barbara International Film Festival came to a close today. Held about in the coastal town 90 miles north of Los Angeles, the festival attracted a number of Hollywood personalities, including honorees Colin Firth and Julianne Moore. The information below about the Santa Barbara festival's award winners is from the SBIFF press release.

The Panavision Spirit Award for Independent Cinema, given to a unique independent feature that has been made outside mainstream Hollywood, went to Exam (US Premiere), directed by Stuart Hazeldine, and starring Luke Mably, Nathalie Cox.  Eight talented candidates have reached the final stage of selection to join the ranks of a mysterious and powerful corporation.  Entering a windowless room, an Invigilator gives them eighty minutes to answer one simple question. He outlines three rules they must obey or be disqualified.  Tensions rise as the clock steadily descends towards zero, and each candidate must decide how far they are willing to go to secure the ultimate job.  Winner received a camera package worth $60,000.

UK Director Stuart Hazeldine, who was present to accept the award, commented “We are absolutely thrilled that the first film festival in America that we've come to has embraced our film.”

The Best International Film Award goes to Letters to Father Jaakob (Postia pappi Jaakobille) from Finland and directed by Klaus Härö.  Leila Sten has spent a large part of her life in a Finnish prison. When her life sentence is pardoned, Leila is left homeless. She goes to live with an old priest, who promises to provide for her in return for her help. Father Jaakob finds solace in the letters he receives daily from burdened souls requesting his prayers, and since he is blind, Leila's task is to read these letters to him. When the letters stop, Jaakob questions the role that God has chosen for him, and Leila finds herself facing a dilemma.

Helena Arstila from the Consulate General of Finland in Los Angeles was on hand to accept the award:  “On behalf of director Klaus Härö, I have the honor and pleasure to accept this award.  Klaus is a wonderful storyteller who has been inspired by tales of the less fortunate throughout his life.  He has a unique capacity to portray human frailty and the good and the bad that all of us have in ourselves in all cultures, in all walks of life.  To receive the award here in Santa Barbara is a wonderful honor and I would like to thank you in his name for this distinction.”

The Nueva Vision Award for the best Spanish/Latin American film was awarded to The Wind Journeys (US Premiere), directed by Ciro Guerra and starring Marciano Martínez, Yull Núñez.  The film is a deceptively simple story: two men on a journey, each with common quests but finding unexpected truths.

Best East Meets West Cinema Award went to South Korea's Mother (Madeo), directed by Joon-ho Bong, about a mother who desperately searches for the killer that framed her son for a horrific murder.

Katalin Varga

Best Eastern Bloc Award went to Katalin Varga (US Premiere), directed by Peter Strickland. In the beautiful, otherworldly Carpathian Mountains a woman is traveling with a small boy in a horse and cart, looking to punish those who once abused her. For years, Katalin (Hilda Péter) has been keeping a terrible secret. Hitchhiking with two men, she was brutally raped in the woods. Although she has kept silent about what happened, she has not forgotten, and her son Órban serves as a living reminder. When her village discovers her secret, Katalin's husband rejects her. With nothing to lose, she is free to seek revenge on the perpetrators.

Best Documentary Film Award went to Enemies of the People, from UK/Cambodia and directed by Rob Lemkin.  The Khmer Rouge slaughtered nearly two million people in the late 1970s, yet the killing fields of Cambodia remain unexplained. Until now.  Winner received a Blu-Ray interactive authoring of the film by Mozaik Multimedia and Home Planet Productions, valued at $15,000.

Bruce Corwin Award for Best Live Action Short Film Under 30 Minutes went to Ana's Playground, directed by Eric D. Howell.  Film depicts just another day for children surrounded by armed conflict.

Bruce Corwin Award for Best Animation Short Film went to Urs, directed by Moritz Mayerhofer.  Urs takes his aging mother on a dangerous journey, carrying her up a mountain to find a better place for both of them.

The Fund for Santa Barbara Social Justice Award Sponsored by The Fund for Santa Barbara for a documentary film that addresses social justice issues also went to Enemies of the People, directed by Rob Lemkin (description of film above).Winner received $2,500.

The festival closed tonight with the World Premiere of Middle Men, directed by George Gallo.  Starring Giovanni Ribisi, Luke Wilson, James Caan, Kelsey Grammer and Kevin Pollack, the film chronicles Jack Harris, one of the pioneers of internet commerce, as he wrestles with his morals and struggles not to drown in a sea of conmen, mobsters, drug addicts, and pornstars.

The Jury for the 2010 SBIFF included:  actor/director Joel David Moore (Avatar and director, SBIFF Award winning film, Spiral); SBIFF originator Phyllis de Picciotto; actor Haaz Sleiman (The Visitor); USA Today Film Critic Claudia Puig; Andy Abrahams Wilson (director, Under Our Skin); actor Clifton Collins, Jr. (Capote), actor Anthony Zerbe (The Matrix); actor Dennis Franz (NYPD Blue); actor Jay Thomas; and actor/director/writer Perry Lang.

Photos: Letters to Father Jaakob (Olive Films); Exam (Bedlam); Katalin Varga (Libra Film)

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