Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival: 'For Sama' Wins Audience Award, 'Circus of Books' Takes U.S. Feature Doc Prize
Objector, Mossville: When Great Trees Fall and A Love Song for Latasha among other winners as festival wraps 28th edition
For Sama, the moving story of a woman's struggle to raise her baby daughter in the midst of Syria's civil war, has added another award to its impressive list of honors.
The film directed by Waad Al-Kateab and Edward Watts, based on Al-Kateab's own experience as a new mother in the besieged city of Aleppo, won the Matt DeCample Audience Choice Award at the Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival in Arkansas. Al-Kateab and her husband, Dr. Hamza Al-Kateab, who also appears in the film, attended the festival based in the historic spa town an hour from Little Rock.
For Sama has won best documentary awards at multiple film festivals around the world, including Cannes, SXSW, Traverse City, Guanajuato (Mexico) and Durban (South Africa).
The prize for Best U.S. Documentary Feature went to Circus of Books, directed by Rachel Mason. Her film tells the story of her ostensibly straight-laced parents, Karen and Barry Mason, who ran a pair of gay adult bookstores in Los Angeles. Growing up, Mason had no idea what kind of material her parents were selling, until high school classmates let her know.
"My friends revealed to me that this was their business," Mason told me back in July at the Outfest Film Festival in Los Angeles. "I thought it was really crazy because they are not the people that I thought would be at the center of a space that was cool and interesting."
"Mason is an alumnus of the Filmmaker Retreat program at HSDFF," the festival noted in a press release, "workshopping Circus of Books at Hot Springs last year before the film was picked up by Netflix."
HSDFF awarded its Best International Feature Documentary Prize to Objector, directed by Molly Stuart. The film held its world premiere at Hot Springs, programmed as the Centerpiece selection.
"Atalya Ben-Abba, a 19-year-old Israeli, is obligated to enlist in the armed forces," HSDFF wrote of the film in its festival guide. "But the more she learns about occupied Palestinian territories the more she is tempted to refuse conscription. In Molly Stuart’s debut feature we are offered a rare window into the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through the perspective of an indomitable Jewish woman making an uncommon sacrifice."
The director and her and subjects Atalya Ben-Abba and Amitai Ben-Abba were on hand for the world premiere at Hot Springs.
The HSDFF award for Best Southern Feature Documentary went to Mossville: When Great Trees Fall, directed by Alexander Glustrom. His film centers on a historic town in Louisiana's Bayou country that was settled by African Americans as a refuge from the region's intense racism. But in recent years the residents have been forced out of their homes to make way for expansion of petrochemical plants, in what the filmmaker views as a case of environmental racism.
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.