‘nîpawistamâsowin’ and ‘Hope Frozen’ Lead Hot Docs Winners

nîpawistamâsowin: We Will Stand Up
Photo by George Hupka

By Pat Mullen

Tasha Hubbard’s nîpawistamâsowin: We Will Stand Up officially dominated Hot Docs 2019. After receiving the opening night gala slot and polling well in the ongoing Audience Award rankings, Hubbard’s doc scooped the jury prize for Best Canadian Feature. Hubbard received the honour at tonight’s awards ceremony hosted by Garvia Bailey, which saw over $75,000 in prizes distributed.

nîpawistamâsowin: We Will Stand Up offers a personal examination of the shooting death of 22-year-old Cree man Colten Boushie and the more deeply rooted systemic inequities that cause violence against Indigenous people in Canada to this day. Of the film, the jury remarked, “This filmmaker has created a lasting document that brings together past and future to illuminate oppression and resilience. As an investigation of a specific injustice, the film leaves no stone unturned while infusing the narrative with a deeply felt, creatively authentic point of view.” nîpawistamâsowin received a cash prize of $10,000 sponsored by DOC and Telefilm Canada. The film has its final Hot Docs screening on Sunday morning and also plays Vancouver’s DOXA Festival. Read more about nîpawistamâsowin in the article Justice for Colten.

“This recognition of the film and the story it tells is overwhelming and I am filled with gratitude. Colten Boushie should be remembered for the kind, young man he was, and his hope for a better future for the next generation deserves to be realized. His family’s courage to push for justice should inspire us all. Finally, I am also very thankful for the commitment of my collaborators and support systems,” said Hubbard in a statement.

The Canadian features jury also gave the DGC Special Jury Prize to Prey, directed by Matt Gallagher, which explores a landmark suit against the Catholic Church for systemic cover-ups of sexual abuse crimes. Prey received a cash prize of $5,000. The jury provided an honourable mention to River Silence, directed Rogério Soares.

On the international front, the award for Best International Feature went to Hope Frozen, directed by Pailin Wedel. The Thai doc offers a thoroughly objective portrait of a family’s faith in science as they cryogenically freeze their young daughter with hopes she will one day be cured by cancer. The jury praised Hope Frozen for its “ethically complex and existentially challenging dilemma of grief.” The film received a cash prize of $10,000 and is now eligible for the Best Documentary Feature Oscar without having to do the conventional theatrical run, provided it meets general rules.

Waad al-Kateab and Edward Watts continued their impressive run for For Sama by winning the Special Jury Prize – International Feature Documentary. The award comes after For Sama scored both the jury prize and audience award at SXSW and was selected as one of few feature docs at Cannes. The film received a $5,000 cash prize with the jury citing the film’s “unflinching lens on the horrors of war, accompanied by a tender portrait of a young family born out of conflict, and the courageous community that surrounds them.”

The awards ceremony also saw two emerging filmmakers take the spotlight. Emily Gan received the Emerging Filmmaker Award for her doc Cavebirds. The eclectic film about the hunt for bird spit scooped a cash prize of $3,000, sponsored by Vistek, with the jury noting Gan’s “profound connectivity with a long tradition of diasporic cinema.” They also called it a “quiet personal reflection on the complexities of migration and belonging, told through poetic details and poignant autobiographical reflection.”

Italian filmmaker Nuno Escudeiro won the International Emerging Filmmaker award for The Valley with the jury praising the film’s “refreshing and clear-eyed portrayal of a small French community responding to an urgent humanitarian crisis at its doorstep with humility and generosity.” The film offers an intense study of a group of committed citizens who develop a network to assist refugees in establishing claims for asylum. The Valley also received a $3,000 cash prize.

Jaśmina Wójcik’s wonderfully original Symphony for the Ursus Factory took the award for Best Mid-Length Feature. The jury’s decision was unanimous. Calling the film “arresting and innovative,” the jury awarded Symphony for the Ursus Factory, noting they were “transfixed by its outstanding direction which allowed subjects to explore their pasts in a unique and sincere manner. In this film we explore the ruins of industry through a dynamic soundscape and rhythmic montage which brought neglected spaces back to life.”

On the shorts front, Arturo Aguilar’s Spanish-Mexican co-production Call Confession won Best International Short Documentary Award while Tenzin Sedon’s Kora: A Circle of Life won the Betty Youson Award for Best Canadian Short Documentary. Both films are now eligible for the Oscar for Best Documentary, Short Subjects. The Docs for Schools Award went to Lily Zepeda’s Mr. Toilet: The World’s #2 Man, which spotlights humanitarian Jack Sim and his humorous effort to bring clean sanitation to impoverished corners of the globe.

Hot Docs also honoured Peter Raymont with the Don Haig Award, Julia Reichert with the Outstanding Achievement Award, and Julia Ivanona with the Focus On Award in honours announced previously. The Rogers Canadian Prize will be announced on Sunday to honour the top Canadian audience favourite while the overall audience vote-getter will be announced after the festival.

Visit the POV Hot Docs Hub for more coverage from this year’s festival.