A few hours ago, the folks at IDFA announced this year's prize winners and the winner of the festivals top prize, Best Feature Length Documentary, went to Lixin Fan's much buzzed-about LAST TRAIN HOME. Just a few days ago, Eugene Hernandez heralded that the film was the "one film to watch" from IDFA this year, and quoted one insider as saying the film joins "the canon of great docs". The film is expected to be announced next week as bound for Park City in January.
As described by Hernandez, "(T)he film is an exceptional observational documentary that charts a dramatic Chinese journey affecting just one family but representing the challenges facing a changing nation and a troubled world." Fan previously worked on the award-winning UP THE YANGTZE and that film's production team at Montreal's EyeSteelFilm came aboard LAST TRAIN HOME.
Hernandez' rave captured what had been a building groundswell of enthusiasm at the festival:
"Stunningly photographed and expertly constructed, “Last Train Home” features the work of a filmmaker who has immersed himself in the lives of his subjects - the Zhangs - to explore the story of their fractured family. Many moments in this intimate movie are incredibly striking and ultimately so symbolic of a much broader situation. The drama of the Zhang’s personal story - and their specific struggle to simply get back home for a few days in 2006 - is so poignant that at times the film feels like it must have been scripted for a group of incredibly talented unknown actors."
Other finalists for the Feature-Length award included Rob Lemkin and Thet Sambath's ENEMIES OF THE PEOPLE (UK/Cambodia) and John Appel's THE TRAIN, a Dutch film that picked up the festival's first Dutch Documentary prize.
The jury, which included BURMA VJ helmer Anders Østergaard, Tribeca topper Geoffrey Gilmore and French filmmaker Jean Marie Teno awarded a Special Jury prize to Judith Ehrlich and Rick Goldsmith's THE MOST DANGEROUS MAN IN AMERICA, their doc about Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon papers case, which premiered at Toronto and has been shortlisted for the Feature Documentary Oscar.
THE COVE, another film in the Oscar race (and noted by many, including yours truly, to be a frontrunner for a nomination), picked up the Audience Award, ending with a final score of 9.11. IDFA kindly posts its Audience Award totals as the week progresses, so one can follow which films are making a connection with Amsterdam crowds. THE COVE, which screened late in the festival, jumped to the top on the final day of balloting. Previously, the Dutch film THE RAINBOW WARRIORS OF WAIHEKE ISLAND led the results (it finished second) with American titles MONICA AND DAVID (directed by Ali Codina) and Susan Froemke's close behind (they finished 4th and 5th).
Surprisingly, perhaps, IDFA champ LAST TRAIN HOME didn't finish in the top 20 in audience balloting.
In other awards, the South Korean film IRON CROWS (directed by Bong-Nam Park) picked up the festival's Best Mid-Length Documentary (and finished third in audience balloting), while Ross McDonnell and Carter Gunn's COLONY received the First Appearance Prize. COLONY was another film that debuted at Toronto to much attention.
Marcin Janos Krawczyk's SIX WEEKS (Poland) was awarded Best Short Documentary. The Student Documentary award went to Germany's REDEMPTION (directed by Sabrina Wulff) and the Doc U! Prize (given by a jury of young people) went to THE YES MEN FIX THE WORLD.