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It's a wrap! AIFF announces winners for 2019

A popular theme among winning movies Sunday at the awards gala of the 18th annual Ashland Independent Film Festival was that you can dream big and make your most daring hopes come true, even in the face of soul-crushing adversity.

Among Audience Choices, "Princess of the Row" won the Varsity Best Narrative Feature. It tells the gritty but uplifting story of a 15-year-old girl floating in the foster child system of Los Angeles while trying to support and care for her wounded veteran father who suffers from severe PTSD.

Director Van Maximilian Carlson grew up near Skid Row and wanted to shine a light on the "shunned of society." He told the audience, "As we see them more, they become human and we begin to understand them, then can love them."

For Rogue Creamery Best Documentary Feature, audiences chose "The Weight of Water," the tale of a blind man lashing back at his dark world by kayaking the perilous Grand Canyon. The man, Erik Weihenmayer, already has climbed Mount Everest, but the Colorado River is much scarier as it can toss him into dangerous rapids roaring so loud he can't hear his guide shouting directions. His trip calls for immense courage and canny awareness.

For the Jim Teece Audience Award for Narrative Short, the winner was “Miller & Son,” about a transwoman mechanic who runs her dad's auto shop by day and lives out her womanly visions at night — but then faces a big challenge.

For Best Documentary Short, audiences picked “Forest on Fire,” an up-close account of Oregon’s Eagle Creek fire, started by a 15-year-old boy with a firecracker. It destroyed many scenic trails and trapped 150 hikers in the Columbia Gorge.

Juried choices were mostly different, with Best Narrative Feature prize going to “International Falls,” the tale of a small-town mom stuck in a boring job with a cheating husband in the frozen north. Why not change the story and put one’s biggest dream on the front burner, despite the many mistakes and obstacles that must ensue?

Juries chose “American Factory” for the Les Blank Best Documentary Feature. A Chinese billionaire wanders into rust-belt Ohio and hires 2,000 blue-collar workers while reviving a shabby factory. While workers glow with newfound hope, the digitally sophisticated Chinese are asking themselves if working-class victims of the Great Recession can handle it.

“Dust Devil” was the jury’s choice for Best Documentary Short. Broadway dancer Marta Becket creates a mystical, mythical stage for her life’s dancing dreams and performs every evening in a deserted town in Death Valley. For Narrative Short, the jury, like the audiences, went for “Miller & Son.”

Here are other juried choices:

  • Best Cinematography: “One Man Dies a Million Times,” in masterful black-and-white, about the siege of Leningrad, but set in modern times, where a seed bank must be saved to ensure a food supply for humanity.
  • Rogue Award: Alex Rivera & Christina Ibarra for “The Infiltrators,” “Sleep Dealer,” “Las Marthas”
  • Pride Award: B. Ruby Rich
  • James Blue Award: Alyssa Fedele & Zachary Fink for “The Rescue List”
  • Excellence in Documentary Feature Production: “Grit”
  • Excellence in Documentary Feature Editing: “Queen of Paradis”
  • Excellence in Narrative Feature Production: “One Man Dies a Million Times”
  • Narrative Feature Cinematography: “In Reality”
  • Narrative Short Production: “Men of Vision”
  • Documentary Short Production: “Forest on Fire”

Reach Ashland freelance writer John Darling at jdarling@jeffnet.org.

Audiences chose “The Weight of Water” as Best Documentary Feature at the 2019 Ashland Independent Film Festival.