Film by Hassan Fazili tells story of director and his family who fled Afghanistan under threat from Taliban
Sympathy for asylum-seekers is in short supply around much of the world of late. But a new documentary is helping people understand what it's like for a family driven from their home, harried by an uncertain fate.
Midnight Traveler, directed by Afghan filmmaker Hassan Fazili, won the McBaine Documentary Feature Award Sunday night at the San Francisco International Film Festival's Golden Gate Awards ceremony, a testament to the film's power to generate empathy among viewers.
Fazili faced death after the Taliban reacted with violent fury to his previous documentary, Peace, assassinating the subject of the film and putting a bounty on Fazili's head. He was forced to flee Afghanistan with his wife, also a filmmaker, and their two young daughters. The film documents their struggle to find refuge in Europe.
...Beautiful and compelling. A true achievement of filmmaking and parenting.
The jury called Midnight Traveler “an incredible document that is beautiful and compelling. A true achievement of filmmaking and parenting.” Jurors included Gina Duncan of the Brooklyn Academy of Music, Violet Lucca of Harper's Magazine and film programmer Sudeep Sharma. The award comes with a $10,000 prize.
Oscilloscope Laboratories, which acquired North American rights to Midnight Traveler, plans a theatrical release later in the year.
The McBaine Bay Area Documentary Feature Award went to The Seer and the Unseen, directed by Sara Dosa. SFFilm describes the film as a "magically real fable," adding, "The volcanic rock that covers most of Iceland is not just beautiful and protected in the Nature Conservation register, it is also purportedly the home to elves, trolls, and other hidden people. When a new road is set to be built through a lava field, environmentalists including Ragnhildur 'Ragga' Jónsdóttir—a 'seer' who can communicate with the elves—must fight to preserve the sacred rock while combating Iceland’s push to grow economically."
The Seer and the Unseen won a $5,000 prize. A $2,000 prize went to Where Chaos Reigns, winner of the Documentary Short award. Braulio Jatar and Anaïs Michel directed the film which jurors hailed “for its audacity, its haunting images and its ability to bring us closer to the crisis in Venezuela than anything we’ve seen thus far in America.”
A Special Jury Mention went to the short documentary Edgecombe, directed by Crystal Kayiza. Jurors in the shorts competition included film programmers Emily Doe and Jacqueline Lyanga and filmmaker Trevor Jimenez.
SFFilm, now in its 62nd year, opened April 10 and wraps on Tuesday, April 23.
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.