June 21, 2024

Using hidden camera footage, the doc follows the high-stakes journey that a handful of desperate families make in order to defect from North Korea — a country with the most brutal regime on earth, led by a dictator, Kim Jong-un.

Doc jurors included directors Barbara Kopple (“Harlan County USA”) Richard Rowley (“ Kingdom of Silence”) and Heidi Ewing (“Jesus Camp”).

“This year’s winner is an astonishingly intimate, white-knuckle thriller following families trying to escape North Korea,” the jurors said in a joint statement. “Stitched together from raw, first person footage, it is impossible not to feel the heart-breaking courage as a family clings to each other during a nighttime crossing of the Mekong River. Or the anguish of a mother who may have led her only son into a horrific trap by trying to buy his way to freedom.”

The five-day festival, which runs from Sept. 27 to Oct. 1 in New York’s Hudson Valley, about 100 miles north of Manhattan, also awarded Kristi Jacobson’s “No Accident” and Jane Weinstock’s “Three Birthdays” with the excellence in documentary filmmaking awards. Each director will receive $1,000 and a New York Women in Film & Television (NYWIFT) six-month membership.

Victor Nunez’s “Rachel Hendrix,” about a professor who experiences a relapse of grief one year after the death of her husband, received WFF’s top narrative prize.

Narrative jurors includes director Ramin Bahrani (“99 Homes”) and producer Ted Hope (“American Splendor”) and Blair Breard (“Scenes From a Marriage”

In a joint statement, the jurors said: “Independent film arrived over 50 years ago with the promise of a grand yet humble ambition, to deliver emotionally truthful, highly specific tales on an economy of means. Our prize winner did this and more. For its soulful, sincere and thoughtful examination of character, place and loss, an inspiring confidence in its choices and commitment to authenticity. The film displays an honest and necessary pace and tone, and a truly amazing and unique performance that captures a life lived in both love and challenges, while never falling short in anything it deliver, but most of all, showing love and commitment to family despite the many hardships that come with it, and ignites the rarest of phenomena: true honest emotion.”

The full list of the WFF winners follows:

Best Feature Narrative Award

Victor Nunez’s “Rachel Hendrix”

Best Feature Documentary

Madeleine Gavin’s “Beyond Utopia”

Best Narrative Editing Award

“Asleep In My Palm,” edited by Max Ethan Miller

Best Documentary Editing Award

“Beyond Utopia,” edited by Madeleine Gavin

Haskell Wexler Award For Best Cinematography

“Asleep In My Palm,” directed by Henry Nelson, cinematography by Tatjana Krstevski

NYWIFT Excellence in Documentary Filmmaking Awards

“No Accident,” directed by Kristi Jacobson, and “Three Birthdays,” directed by Jane Weinstock

World of Ha Change-Maker Award

“Razing Liberty Square” directed by Katija Esson

Best Documentary Short Award

“Deciding Vote.” directed by Jeremy Workman and Robert Lyons

Best Narrative Short Award

“Ricky,” directed by Rashad Frett

Best Animated Short Award

“Sunflower Field,” directed by Polina Buchak

Ultra Indie Award

“No Right Way,” directed by Chelsea Bo

Best Student Short Award

“Swim Captain,” directed by Christa Haley

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