Grand Jury Prize for Documentary results in tie
Garin Hovannisian's documentary I Am Not Alone, about the 2018 peaceful revolution in Armenia, has won the Audience Award at AFI Fest presented by Audi. The announcement of awards capped the 2019 edition of the Los Angeles-based film festival, which ran from November 14-21.
"On Easter 2018, a man puts on a backpack and begins to walk across Armenia," reads a description of I Am Not Alone. "His mission: to inspire a velvet revolution - and topple the corrupt regime that enjoys absolute power in his post-soviet nation." AFI Fest adds Hovannisian captures "the fury, emotion, and spontaneous expressions of freedom that overtook the streets of Armenia."
Unlike in Syria, for example, this revolution did not end in bloodshed, but with the resignation of President Serzh Sargsyan.
The Grand Jury Prize for Documentary resulted in a tie between short films A Love Song for Latasha, directed by Sophia Nahli Allison and The Clinic, directed by Elivia Shaw.
A Love Song for Latasha "weaves together the past and the present" to invest dignity in the story of Latasha Harlins, the 15-year-old African-American girl who was shot to death in Los Angeles in 1991 by a Korean-born owner of a convenience store. The store owner was convicted of voluntary manslaughter but got no jail time. The lenient sentence outraged many in the city's African-American community and has been cited as one of the incidents that provoked the explosion of civil unrest in L.A. in 1992.
"Its haunting and poetic exploration of a young woman’s life cut tragically short allows its audience to experience an injustice long hidden by time and politics," the jury said in awarding the prize. "This film is a portrait framed by beautiful imagery, loving recollection and astonishing storytelling that will linger with the audience long after the credit roll.”
The Clinic relates to a public health crisis causing tens of thousands of deaths annually across the United States. A city in central California has taken steps to help counter the disaster.
"Amidst a devastating opioid epidemic, a needle exchange and free clinic operates in the shadows of Fresno, California," AFI Fest wrote in its program.
"A gripping, harrowing peek into one corner of a vast epidemic," the jury noted, "Elivia Shaw’s The Clinic is striking for the sensitivity and nuance with which it treats its subjects — both the people who come to Dr. Marc Lashner’s mobile needle exchange looking for help, and the scrappy team of volunteers who do what they can to offer it.”
AFI Fest is an Academy Award-qualifying festival, so the wins for The Clinic and A Love Song for Latasha earn both films the opportunity to compete for the Oscar in the Best Documentary Short category.
AFI Fest will move up to October next year, making it a bigger player in awards season, which has kicked earlier and earlier in recent years. AFI Fest 2020 will run October 15-22.
Matthew Carey is a documentary filmmaker and journalist. His work has appeared on Deadline.com, CNN, CNN.com, TheWrap.com, NBCNews.com and in Documentary magazine.