SXSW’s Top 5 Audience Award Winning Films


The winners of the Audience Awards in Film — with the exception of the music-themed 24 beats per Second category — were announced on Saturday, as this year’s SXSW festival draws to a close. Selections include Exists (Midnighters), Silicon Valley (Episodic), The Special Need (SXGlobal), The Case Against 8 (Festival Favorites), Big Significant Things (Poster Design), and True Detective (Title Design.) Here’s your guide to the winners in the top five categories.

Narrative Feature: Before I Disappear

The multitalented Shawn Christensen (he has a BFA in Illustration and Graphic Design, and he’s also the frontman of indie rock band Stellastarr*) wrote, directed, and starred in this feature-length version of his Academy Award-winning short, Curfew. Lonely, depressed, and drug-addled in the wake of an ended relationship, Richie finds a new lease on life when he is forced to babysit his 11-year-old niece, Sophia. The film features dark humor, poignant meditations on loss, and surreal cinematography, including a memorable bowling alley dance scene set to Christensen’s own original music.

Documentary Feature: Vessel

Vessel, which also nabbed a special jury award for political courage on Tuesday, follows Dutch doctor, artist, and women’s rights activist Rebecca Gomperts as she travels the globe in a ship equipped to give abortions at sea. Gomperts created the non-profit, Women on Waves, in 1999 in hopes of bringing reproductive health services, including contraception and counseling, to women in countries with restrictive abortion laws. Diana Whitten’s controversial directorial debut examines a journey fraught with challenges, as Gomperts realizes that she can empower women and circumvent laws by providing off-label pills.


Documentary Spotlight: DamNation

Beautifully filmed and structured, DamNation explores an array of attitudes towards American dams, from initial pride to growing awareness that they are negatively impacting the health of national rivers. Many dams are now obsolete, Telluride filmmakers Ben Knight and Travis Rummel point out, serving no purpose other than to prevent wild fish migrations. “Just finding a way to make a film about dams that didn’t bore people to death seemed like a miracle,” admitted Knight. “So screening at one of the biggest film festivals in the world is unreal.” The film, which features interviews with dozens of writers, boaters, fishermen, biologists, and politicians, will tour nine cities, including New York, LA, and Portland, in April and May, and it opens nationwide on June 5 at all U.S. Patagonia retail stores.

Narrative Spotlight: César Chávez

Actor Diego Luna, probably best known for his starring role in Y tu mamá también, directs his first English-language biopic about the life of Mexican-American labor leader, civil rights activist, and co-founder of the United Farm Workers, César Chávez. The film follows Chávez’s efforts to achieve equal rights for migrant workers while balancing the demands of family and his desire to maintain nonviolence at all costs. The film will be released nationwide on March 28.


Visions: Yakona

Impressionistic beauty Yakona tells the story of America’s rivers – specifically the Yakona of Texas  from the perspective of the stream itself, through changing seasons and contexts. The film begins in prehistoric times and chronicles the river’s many experiences, from thousands of years of human settlements to the creation and subsequent removal of the Aquarena Springs theme park, documenting the complex relationship between man and nature by way of powerful visuals and an original score by Okkervil River keyboardist Justin Sherburn.

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