The Chicago International Film Festival announces the winners of its 2021 competitions.
Celebrating its 57th edition October 13 – 24, 2021, the Chicago International Film Festival is North America’s longest-running competitive international film festival.
In a virtual ceremony live-streamed via the Chicago International Film Festival YouTube channel, the Festival awarded prizes in the following categories: International Feature Film Competition, New Directors Competition, International Documentary Competition, OutLook Competition, and Short Film Competitions, as well as the Chicago Award for an outstanding film in the City & State program.
The Gold Hugo in the International Competition went to MEMORIA, Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s beguiling, beautiful film following a Scotswoman (Tilda Swinton) living in Bogotá haunted by a noise that only she seems to hear. Along with a young sound engineer, her search for the origin of the mysterious sound takes her to the interior of the lush Colombian jungle where past, present, and future blur.
Picking up the Silver Hugo Jury Prize is DRIVE MY CAR, Ryuske Hamaguchi’s sprawling yet intimate, playful, and elegant meditation on the beauty of human connection and the transformative power of the journey. Notably, Hamaguchi has two films in this year’s competitions; his WHEEL OF FORTUNE AND FANTASY wins this year’s Silver Q-Hugo in the Festival’s OutLook Competition.
“This year, as audiences come back together after more than a year apart, it’s fitting that the Chicago International Film Festival jury has chosen to honor films that celebrate human connection,” said Chicago International Film Festival Artistic Director Mimi Plauché. “Gold Hugo winner MEMORIA will only be shown in theaters, on the big screen where audiences can experience it together. Our Silver Hugo winner, DRIVE MY CAR is about that core, necessary search for human connection. I can’t think of a better way to celebrate our film community, here in Chicago, across the Midwest, and around the world.”
New Directors Competition Gold Hugo-winning film BROTHER’S KEEPER, telling the story of a day when a child feels all alone in the world even though he is surrounded by hundreds of people, continues the exploration of themes the 57th Jury was drawn to, while the International Documentary Competition Gold Hugo went to SKÁL, exploring a young couple’s sense of place and belonging.
This year’s Chicago Award, presented to the director of an outstanding film in the Festival’s City & State program, went to Margaret Byrne for her documentary ANY GIVEN DAY. Through an intimate and compassionate lens, the film observes three people as they participate in the Cook County mental health court probation program. Crafted with love, respect, bravery, and deep empathy, the film de-stigmatizes mental illness and contemplates a better way to support those in need of treatment. The Chicago Award is accompanied by a grant courtesy of Panavision for an in-kind contribution of a camera rental package valued at $30,000, and a grant from Light Iron for in-kind post-production services valued at $15,000.
The complete list of honorees is as follows:
International Feature Film Competition
Dir. Apichatpong Weerasethakul
The Gold Hugo for Best Film goes to MEMORIA from Apichapong Weerasethakul, for its sense of cinematic poetry and humanism. In this profound and meditative film, the director creates a story that emphasizes the connections people have to the places that they live, to the past and present, and to the terrestrial and beyond. Tilda Swinton’s note-perfect performance embodies Weerasethakul’s faith in cinema, in science, in secular mysticism, and in the possibilities of cross-cultural empathy and understanding.
Silver Hugo – Jury Award
DRIVE MY CAR (Japan)
Dir. Ryusuke Hamagushi
Ryusuke Hamaguchi offers a story about a multilingual restaging in Japan of Anton Chekov’s Uncle Vanya to contemplate the associations between art, loss, and human connection. Through a film that is part road movie, part romantic melodrama, and part self-reflexive take on aesthetic craft, the director considers the role of control in the artistic process–when it should be exercised and when it should be relinquished–to produce a complex and thought-provoking study of human relationships in the wake of the death of loved ones.
Silver Hugo – Best Director
107 MOTHERS (Slovakia, Czech Republic, Ukraine)
With a strong background in documentary filmmaking, Peter Kerekes brings his unique eye for authenticity to his first fiction film. Set in a women’s prison in Ukraine for new mothers and their babies, he avoids the easy pitfalls of sentimentality. His unflinching presentation of institutional callousness is consistently cinematic, political, and moral. Through an austere mise-en-scene and a series of understated performances, Karekes creates and captures a somber environment leavened by rare moments of tenderness.
Silver Hugo – Best Male Performance
NOBODY HAS TO KNOW (France, Belgium, U.K.)
With subtlety and power, writer, director, and star Bouli Lanners embodies the story of a man who temporarily loses his memory through a stroke and struggles to understand who he was and who he might wish to become. Lanners’ intimate performance and his character’s transformation from a confused amnesiac to a man restored to his memories, is quiet and completely in keeping with the stark reserve of the Scottish community in which he lives.
Silver Hugo – Best Female Performance
NOBODY HAS TO KNOW (France, Belgium, U.K.)
Michelle Fairley offers audiences a dignified character who, along with actor Bouli Lanners, finds herself in a deeply conflicted, later-in-life love story. The flawed character she creates reveals her loneliness and sometimes unwise choices with grace and depth.
Silver Hugo – Best Screenplay
WHAT DO WE SEE WHEN WE LOOK AT THE SKY? (Germany, Georgia)
Capturing tiny moments of day-to-day life in the Georgian town of Kuitasi – including the point of view of a seedling – writer-director Aleksandre Koberidzedelicately creates a script that revels in the many different narrative and stylistic approaches that cinema affords the adventurous filmmaker. Be it breaking the fourth wall or documenting daily rhythms, the script produces a playful and absurdist fable that reflects the messy, gentle magic of life and love.
Silver Hugo – Best Cinematography
THE WORST PERSON IN THE WORLD (Norway)
Shooting on 35mm, Kasper Tuxen captures an intensified urban landscape of color and light to animate and deepen this contemporary romantic comedy. With a reliance on natural light for numerous scenes and carefully rendered interiors using artificial lighting, plus a standout scene when the heroine runs through streets where everyone is frozen in time, Tuxen fluidly demonstrates the rich capabilities of film as a medium while infusing THE WORST PERSON IN THE WORLD with a lively visual imagination.
Silver Plaque – Best Art Direction
CAPTAIN VOLKONOGOV ESCAPED (Russia, France, Estonia)
The art direction in CAPTAIN VOLKONOGOV ESCAPED creates one of its boldest and most expressive visual elements. It vividly conveys not just the historical period of 1938 during Stalin’s reign, but also the relentless horror of this murderous era, fusing style with unmistakable socio-political critique.
PRAYERS FOR THE STOLEN (Mexico, Germany, Brazil, Qatar)
Dir. Tatiana Huezo
In a media culture that abounds with stories about Mexican drug cartels that tend to focus on the men involved and the “macho” environments that support them, director Tatiana Huezo offers a different perspective. She concentrates on the women who work in the poppy fields for the cartel and whose daughters are often stolen by the cartel from their homes, never to be seen again. The story of how mothers try to protect their daughters and how those daughters come of age in these threatening and deadly circumstances offers a valuable and indispensable perspective on the costs of the drug trade.
New DIrectors Competition
BROTHER’S KEEPER (Turkey, Romania)
Dir. Ferit Karahan
The winner of this year’s Gold Hugo tells the story of a day when a child feels all alone in the world, even though he is surrounded by hundreds of people. In a snowbound boarding school somewhere in Eastern Anatolia, in a world that is based on punishment and humiliation, 11-year-old Yusuf is desperately trying to stay true to himself and his best friend, Memo. As the meticulously constructed plot comes to a surprising and utterly original turning point, we realize that it is even harder for him than we had thought. For its poignant portrayal of friendship and fidelity, fear and culpability, the Gold Hugo goes to BROTHER’S KEEPER by Ferit Karahan.
AMPARO (Colombia, Sweden, Qatar)
Dir. Simón Mesa Soto
The Silver Hugo goes to AMPARO (Colombia, Sweden, Qatar) by Simón Mesa Soto. Set in Colombia in 1998, the film’s captivating tale follows a single mother’s harrowing race against time as she attempts to rescue her son from enforced military service. Titled after the protagonist, AMPARO is both a moving portrait of a mother’s love and determination and gripping critique of the patriarchal society and unscrupulous characters she encounters in order to keep her family safe. This debut feature is masterfully rendered through Soto’s lens, which navigates the chaotic and corrupt setting of Medellin from a deeply intimate perspective.
International Documentary Competition
SKÁL (Faroe Islands, Denmark)
Dirs: Cecilie Debell and Maria Tórgarõ
Exquisitely filmed in the immersive landscape of a remote island in the North Sea, SKÁL explores the inner and outer landscapes of a young couple’s emerging lives within the newly expanding world of adulthood. This intimate, lyrical portrait comes in a richly poetic form that speaks to the insider/outsider dynamic that storytellers so often embody in order to gain new perspectives. The early experiences of exploring one’s sense of place and belonging is set against the yearnings and fears that come from choosing a creative life within a conservative community, offering a shorthand on how to be brave and open to a wider world.
BABI YAR. CONTEXT (The Netherlands, Ukraine)
Dir.: Sergei Loznitsa
This masterfully crafted study of a human catastrophe that stands out in WWII history for its barbarism illustrates the depth of war’s power to dehumanize a people as it disposes of them through the advent of unspeakable horrors; and yet, this is also a deeply human film. The use of archival footage confers human dignity in a profoundly moving, haunting, and impactful way within this unfolding human tragedy. Immersive, captivating, and deeply distressing, BABI YAR. CONTEXT makes clear: bearing witness to such past tragedies is the first step if we’re ever to see the world today in a true light.
GREAT FREEDOM (Austria, Germany)
Dir. Sebastien Miese
The Gold Q-Hugo goes to GREAT FREEDOM, a film masterful in its craft. The mise en scene, acting, cinematography, design, pace and script are all faultless. It is a film full of deep themes that percolate the human condition while effectively portraying the impact of this pertinent and important moment in history. We found the film to be beautiful and poignant, tackling complex emotion with absolute precision. It is specific yet at the same time feels metaphorical and universal, because GREAT FREEDOM is not only a film about injustices of a post-war era but it is also a tremendous and tender love story brilliantly navigated through the nuance of great filmmaking and acting. Its achievement is that the film makes us think about so much more than its subject matter and becomes a reflection on what it means to be free. It is a perfectly balanced blend of the personal and the political.
WHEEL OF FORTUNE AND FANTASY (Japan)
Dir. Hamaguchi Ryusuke
The Silver Q-Hugo goes to WHEEL OF FORTUNE AND FANTASY, a fascinating film about coincidences which open up our imaginations. The three stories in the film start with familiar situations but they all end up different from what was expected. The encounters depict poignant moments about human behavior – desire, revenge, deception, regret and jealousy. All the characters are unpredictable, yet authentic; they are full of anxiety but also filled with hope; and ultimately, their lies lead them to face the truth. Subtle and measured, this film about human connection is deeply and quietly affecting.
PARIS, 13th DISTRICT (France)
Dir. Jacques Audiard
A Special Mention goes to PARIS, 13TH DISTRICT for its absolute charm, its freshness, and for the superb interpretation of its actors. It is a romantico-carnal fresco superbly and fully mastered by Jacques Audiard’s brilliant eye and undeniable talent.
ANY GIVEN DAY (U.S.)
Dir. Margaret Byrne
Margaret Byrne’s ANY GIVEN DAY is a powerful and genuine portrait of what life is like while living with mental illness. Through an intimate and compassionate lens, the film observes the joy and struggles of three subjects as they participate in the Cook County mental health court probation program, and their friendships with the filmmaker as she confronts her own history of mental illness. Crafted with love, respect, bravery, and deep empathy, the film not only de-stigmatizes mental illness but also contemplates a better way to support those in need.
CLOSE TIES TO HOME COUNTRY (U.S.)
Dir. Akanksha Cruzynski
Receiving an honorable mention, CLOSE TIES TO HOME COUNTRY written, directed and starring Akanksha Cruzynski is a cheeky, funny, and heartfelt rumination on the invisible stories of many first generation immigrants trying to survive and find meaning in life while separated from their loved ones back home.
Animated Short Film Competition
AFFAIRS OF THE ART (U.K.)
Dir. Joanna Quinn
NUEVO RICO (U.S.)
Dir. Kristian Mercado
Documentary Short Film Competition
GREETINGS FROM MYANMAR (Norway)
Dirs. Sunniva Sundby, Andreas J. Riiser
LISTEN TO THE BEAT OF OUR IMAGES (France)
Dirs. Audrey Jean Baptiste, Maxime Jean Baptiste
Live Action Short Film Competition
Dir. Carlos Segundo
Dir. Rafael Manuel