European filmmakers scored big at the AFI Fest awards this year, winning a clean sweep of all the major prizes, including The New Auteurs Grand Jury Award for Nele Wohlatz and the main audience awards for Houda Benyamina.
Nele won for The Future Perfect, a documentary-style feature about a quiet Chinese girl acclimating to life in Buenos Aires and Houda for Divines, the charismatic buddy tale of disaffected Parisian youth. Nele and Houda’s awards also recognize the achievements of female directors, despite an industry that still struggles with diversity. Below are the main winners listed and notes about the filmmakers and their films.
New Auteurs Grand Jury Award: THE FUTURE PERFECT
- From writer/director Nele Wohlatz.
- Nele is German but moved to Argentina in 2009 after studying scenography.
- Started out making documentaries. Likes to use real people as actors.
- The Future Perfect, “explores fractured relationships within culture, tradition and language in this whimsical romantic comedy”.
- Made the The Future Perfect based on her experiences as a foreigner living in Buenos Aires.
- Nele teaches German in a language school. Used the students to help her research the script.
- The main character Xiaobin is a non-actor who plays herself.
- Due to a limited budget, the film was shot over several months, often on weekends. Because of the lengthy time to shoot, the film has two cinematographers.
- The film won the Swatch Award for Best First Feature at Locarno, was nominated for best film at Lisbon & Estoril Film Festival and Mar del Plata Film Festival.
- The Future Perfect comes in at a short 65 minutes.
- Despite being shot like a documentary, Nele scripted almost every word.
- Nele prefers to base herself in Buenos Aires due to its low cost of production and growing government support of the film industry.
- Considers Abbas Kiarostami and Robert Bresson as influences. Two directors who like to meld fiction and documentary.
- Used Buster Keaton films to help direct Xiaoban in comic timing.
- Previous shorts include The Perfect Backpack (2014) and Ricardo Bar (2013)
New Auteurs Special Jury Mention for Acting: Oulaya Amamra for DIVINES
- Born in France. 20 years of age, sister is director Houda Benyamina. Parents are from Morocco.
- Oulaya was recently named on the 2017 Academy of the Caesar’s ‘Revelations’ list, which includes 34 promising actors.
- Plays the lead role Dounia, a French-muslim teenager struggling to understand her place in French society.
- Oulaya is trained in classical dance and considers theater her first love.
- She was selected to study at the prestigious National Conservatory of Dramatic Arts in Paris this year
- Divines won the Golden Camera at Cannes for director Houda Benyamina. It also won the Cinevision Awards at the Munich Film Festival
- Oulaya’s other roles of late include an the adaptation of the comic strip Tamara and in Mariam, from director Faiza Ambah.
Grand Jury Award – Live Action Short: ICEBOX
- Written and directed by Daniel Sawka, a Swede.
- Daniel is a graduate of the American Film Institute’s Directing Program. He is a classically trained actor who attended the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland.
- Icebox, which is Daniel’s AFI thesis film, is about Oscar, a young boy from Honduras who is caught trying to illegally enter the United States, where he endures a harrowing experience at the juvenile immigrant processing facility.
- Icebox screened in official competition at the Hamptons International Film Festival and Seattle International Film Festival, where it was nominated for best short film.
- In addition to shorts, Daniel has directed commercials and a TV-pilot in his native Sweden.
- The short was produced by Camille Cornuel with cinematography by Ian Holliday.
Grand Jury Award – Animated Short: PUSSY
- From Polish animator/writer/director Renata Gąsiorowska.
- Renata graduated from the School of Fine Arts in Krakow and is currently studying animation at the National Film School in Łódź.
- Pussy is an 8-minute animated short about a “young girl who spends the evening alone at home. She decides to have some sweet solo pleasure session, but not everything goes according to plan”
- The short also screened in competition at Leeds, Lago and Seville film festivals.
World Cinema Audience Award: LAND OF MINE
- From Danish writer/director Martin Zandvliet.
- Land of Mine is about a group of young German soldiers who are tasked to clear a Danish beach of dangerous land mines following the end of the Second World War.
- Martin is known for his 2011 feature A Funny Man, a biopic on the Danish actor and comedian Dirch Passer.
- Land of Mine screened at Sundance this year and the Toronto International Film Festival in 2015.
- The film is being released next year by Sony Pictures Classics.
- Martin’s wife Camilla Hjelm Knudsen was the cinematographer on Land of Mine. His young daughter also played a small role.
- Counts John Cassavetes, Martin Scorsese and William Friedkin as influences.
New Auteurs Audience Award: DIVINES
Breakthrough Audience Award: DIVINES
- Written and directed by Houda Benyamina, starring her real life sister Oulyama Amamra in the lead role of Dounia.
- Houda is French born, of Moroccan descent. She graduated from the ERAC acting school in Cannes.
- She won the Golden Camera and the SACD Special Mention for Divines at the 2016 Cannes International Film Festival. She also scored the Cinevision Award at Munich Film Festival for best film by an emerging director.
- Houda gave a spirited acceptance speech at Cannes, calling for more inclusion and diversity, particularly for women.
- The film was inspired by the 2005 Paris riots and was shot in and around a housing project located on the outskirts of the French capital.
- Houda compares her lead characters Douina and best friend Mamounia to the female equivalent of Robert De Niro and Harvey Keitel.
- Her first short film, Ma poubelle géante, attracted the attention of prolific French producer Marc-Benoit Créancier. Houda’s follow up, the short feature Sur la route du paradis, picked up numerous awards, including at the Arab Film Festival and the Dubai International Film Festival in 2011.
- Divines was also nominated for best first feature at London and Hamptons film festivals in 2016.
Watch Divines on Netflix (subscription required).