WASHINGTON, D.C. — A pandemic-induced change to a film festival still brought about two winners in this year’s Signis jury competition at Filmfest D.C. in Washington.
The Lebanese movie “1982” took the Signis Award, and the Iranian film “Yalda: a Night for Forgiveness” was given the jury’s Special Commendation.
In past years, said jury member Mary Frost, jurors would see movie after movie at one of the multiplexes where Filmfest D.C. selections were being shown, then compare notes with jurors who had done the same at other theaters — as well as view an occasional “screener” DVD of a festival entry.
This year, like most everything else, things got turned around in a hurry.
Filmfest D.C., originally scheduled for in-person viewing in April, had to scrub that plan and go ahead with a somewhat reduced slate of films in October, according to Frost. One benefit was that jurors could see the same films — albeit from home on their computers. Still, even with an “all access” pass, there are only so many hours in the day.
“It’s always better in the theater,” Frost told Catholic News Service in an Oct. 16 phone interview.
Then another snag crept in: Viewers’ computers had to be registered in Maryland, Virginia or the District of Columbia. A frequent Signis Award juror who flies in from Europe to participate was thus shut out from watching Filmfest D.C. movies.
The Signis Award winner, “1982,” “draws us into the lives of middle school children and their teachers coming to terms with what counts most in their lives — love and friendship — as their world in Beirut, Lebanon, begins to come under Israeli bombardment and expanding civil war,” the jury said.
“What sets ‘1982’ apart from other war films is how first-time director Oualid Mouaness deftly orchestrates the growing tension in the lives of the children and the adults as once-distant violence draws ever closer. Without passing judgment on the political reasons for the violence, he delicately lays the foundation for how ordinary human relationships will sustain those whose lives are about to be changed forever by war.”
The Special Commendation winner, “Yalda: A Night for Forgiveness,” “tackles the universal issue of forgiveness in a unique way, while giving audiences a look at another world culture,” the jury said.
“A teenage bride who has accidentally killed her husband appears on a reality TV show on which she is expected to apologize to, and be forgiven by, the daughter of the man killed. If all goes as planned, the daughter will be awarded the blood money she is due, and the young widow will be free of legal consequences.”
Directed by Massoud Bakhshi, “Yalda” is “told briskly, with effective tension,” and “reveals how complex the human reality of forgiveness can be. At the same time, it suggests a critique of media manipulation of religious belief for the sake of entertainment,” the jury said.
The Signis jury at Filmfest D.C. seeks to honor movies that “best illuminate and celebrate what it means to be human in a diverse and challenging world.”
Filmfest D.C. is now home to the only Signis jury in North America, Frost said, since a film festival in Montreal has shut down. “We’re working on Toronto,” she added, “but this year was not a good year to try something.” Signis awards prizes at film festivals in 140 countries, including Cannes, France, and Venice.