USA Film Festival 1995: Awards

Dallas, Texas–The highlight of the 26th edition of the USA Film Festival, which concluded last Thursday, April 25, with a screening of Phil Joanou's actioner, Heaven's Prisoners, was its annual National Short Film and Video Competition, which this year included no less than 500 submissions from all over the country.

The jury, headed by this reporter, and comprising Strand Releasing co-president Marcus Hu, actresses Marcia Gay Harden and Ann Magnuson, and documentarian Ahrin Mishan, named “Spark” as Grand Prize Winner and first place in the Fiction category.

Directed by L.A. based and AFI graduate, Garret Williams, Spark is a beautifully-executed exploration of the relationship of a young African-American couple, stuck in a small desert town when their car breaks down. The b&w, 38-minute short was screened last month at the New Directors/New Films series in New York.

Three other shorts, each carrying a $1,000 cash prize, were recognized as best in their respective categories. Jessica Yu's Breathing Lessons, a moving expose about poet-journalist Mark O'Brien, who has spent the last 30 years inside an iron lung, was singled out in the Non-Fiction division.

Two shorts, each boasting a one minute duration, shared the Animation Award: Sofia Nunez's feminist I Am the Happy Idiot, a disturbing look at spousal abuse and self-esteem, and Where Do Cows Go Ed Gavin's darkly comic computer animation, marked by vivid imagery and whimsical narration.

Elizabeth Subrin, a Chicago-based filmmaker, won the Experimental Award for Swallow, a self-reflexive meditation on manic depression and anorexia, which underlines the role of language in dealing with social problems, past and present.

The Advertising Promotional Award was given to Aimee Wonsetler for If Door Knobs Could Bite, a short about child abuse. The Texas Award, dedicated to the memory of USA Film Fest co-founder, Dr. G. William Jones, went to Patsy Cravens for her documentary, Coming Through Hard Times.

An inventive comic spoof of the horror genre, Evil Demon Golf Balls from Hell, directed by Rian Johnson, was singled out as Best Student Short, and The Liar, co-directed by Peggy Case and Mary Brennan, received the Family Award.

In an impressive year, in which most of the winners were women, the jury also declared special citations for Britta Sjogren's A Small Domain, Laura Colella's Statuary, Carrie Blank's Trouble, and Peacemaker, a film about a Dallas communal effort of children, families, and schools to fight urban violence.

Festival co-directors Anne Alexander and Alonso Duralde estimated that over 13,000 film viewers attended this year's event, which opened with a sell-out screening of Charles Matthau's old-fashioned The Grass Harp, based on Truman Capote's story. Fine Line will release in November the long-on-the-shelves film, which stars the director's father, Walter, Jack Lemmon, Piper Laurie and Sissy Spacek.

Other sell-out events included the Great Director Tribute, which this year honored Oscar-winning filmmaker Sydney Pollack, who introduced several of his pics, including They Shoot Horses, Don't They Tootsie, and Out of Africa. Audiences packed the house to hear the acclaimed director-producer discuss his films and his work as an actor in Woody Allen's Husbands and Wives and others.

However, without a doubt, the most eccentric happening was the screening of Boom!, a notorious 1968 flop starring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, which was chosen and introduced by enfant terrible John Waters, of Pink Flamingos and Serial Mom fame.