Before this year’s Venice Film Festival comes to a close with Saturday’s announcement of the official selection awards, the fest’s autonomous sections got the ball rolling Friday with their own prizes.
Coming out on top in the Venice Days program was Russian director Philipp Yuryev’s debut feature “The Whaler Boy,” an offbeat story of a teenage whale hunter on the Bering Strait, who sets out to meet the webcam model with whom he’s become obsessed.
The film received the Director’s Award — which carries a cash prize of €20,000 ($23,668) for Yuryev and Paris-based sales agent Loco Films — from a jury headed by Nadav Lapid, the Israeli auteur who won last year’s Berlinale Golden Bear for “Synonyms.” Unusually, the jury’s extended deliberations were live-streamed to the public. In a statement, Lapid praised Yuryev’s film for “[depicting] a world that has not yet been explored with such cinematic precision and such confidence.”
Two other Venice Days selections received special mention from the jury: American director Merawi Gerima’s first feature “Residue,” an experimental, mystery-fueled study of a Black community in Washington D.C., and “Conference,” the latest from rising Russian talent Ivan I. Tverdovskiy (“Jumpman,” “Zoology”), which examines intimate family tensions against the backdrop of national tragedy.
A separate jury, meanwhile, awarded Serbian director Ivan Ikić’s sophomore feature “Oasis” the Europa Cinemas Label award for best European film in the Venice Days lineup. A tender ensemble character study of teenagers with learning disabilities, the film was inclusively cast with non-professional actors and shot on location in the residential facility where they live. Athens-based Heretic Outreach is handling sales.
Over in the independent Venice Critics’ Week section for debut features, a jury of film critics including Variety’s Jay Weissberg handed the €5,000 ($5,917) Grand Prize to Turkish director Azra Deniz Okyay’s “Ghosts,” which intertwines the stories of four residents of a gentrifying Istanbul neighborhood over the course of a day.
The jury’s statement singled out the film for treating “characters as individuals rather than mere stand-ins for assorted social issues, while still painting a troubling portrait that encompasses multiple communities.” Paris-based MPM Premium is the sales agent.
As it turned out, female filmmakers ruled the roost at Critics’ Week: In addition to Okyay’s win, two other women took separately juried prizes.
Ukrainian director Natalya Vorozhbit was presented with the Vernoa Film Club Award for “Bad Roads,” a multi-stranded narrative set against the war in Donbass, while American duo Celine Held and Logan George won Best Technical Contribution for “Topside,” an urgent portrait of a homeless single mother in New York City.
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