Cinema/Chicago News

Awards Announced for 54th Chicago International Film Festival

Published: October 19, 2018  |  Filed under: Festival News

Alice Rohrwacher’s Happy as Lazzaro wins the Gold Hugo for its poetic cinematic language while Jia Zhangke’s latest masterpiece Ash is Purest White takes home the Silver Hugos for Best Director and Best Actress, with 3 of 4 top prizes going to women!

The 54th Chicago International Film Festival tonight hosted its Awards Ceremony at AMC River East 21, 322 E. Illinois St., celebrating the films chosen as the award winners by the Festival juries. Prizes were awarded to films in the following categories: International Feature Film Competition; New Directors Competition; International Documentary Competition; Out-Look Competition; and Short Film Competition. The Chicago Award and the Founder’s Award were also presented.

Taking home the top prize, the Gold Hugo for Best Film, in the International Feature Film Competition, is director Alice Rohrwacher’s Happy as Lazzaro (Italy/Switzerland/Germany/France), a film the jury recognized for its poetic cinematic language and formal rigor. The Silver Hugo for Best Director was awarded to Jia Zhangke for Ash Is Purest White (China/France) and the Silver Hugo Special Jury Prize was awarded to Joy (Austria), directed by Sudabeh Mortezai.

Director Ash Mayfair took home top honors in the New Directors Competition with a Gold Hugo for The Third Wife (Vietnam) and the Silver Hugo was awarded to Joël Karekezi for The Mercy of the Jungle (Belgium/France/Rwanda). The Roger Ebert Award, presented to an emerging filmmaker with a fresh and uncompromising vision, was awarded to directors Andréa Bescond and Eric Métayer for Little Tickles (France), and the Chicago Award was presented to Michael Paulucci for Hashtag Perfect Life. The Founder’s Award, given to one film across all categories that captures the spirit of the Chicago International Film Festival for its unique and innovative approach to the art of the moving image, was presented to Felix van Groeningen’s Beautiful Boy.

“Each year, the films presented in our competitions represent the excellence and diversity of filmmaking from around the world, and this year was no exception,” said Festival Artistic Director Mimi Plauché. “We are proud to honor these extraordinary films from around the world and here at home, saluting a diverse lineup of singular filmmakers and their work.”

Select award-winning films will be screened during the Festival’s Best of the Fest program on Sunday, October 21. The complete list of honorees is as follows:

International Feature Film Competition

This year’s International Competition Jury includes acclaimed Spanish director Pablo Berger, Buenos Aires-born filmmaker Diego Lerman, filmmaker Asli Özge, Italian filmmaker Andrea Pallaoro, and Chicago actress, director and playwright Regina Taylor.

Gold Hugo: Best Film

Happy as Lazzaro


Dir. Alice Rohrwacher

The Gold Hugo for Best Film goes to Happy as Lazzaro (dir. Alice Rohrwacher, Italy). For profoundly enchanting, surprising, and moving us through a poetic cinematic language that is both genuine and rigorous, while intertwining past and present into a highly original, engrossing, layered, and uncanny viewing experience that invites us to face our own humanity with mystery, grace, and lyricism.


Silver Hugo: Special Jury Prize



Dir. Sudabeh Mortezai

The Silver Hugo Special Jury Award goes to Joy (dir. Sudabeh Mortezai, Austria). This film shows in an honest and raw way the conflicts of two sex workers of Nigeria in Europe showing in a truthful and consistent style the cycle of exploitation. Moral dilemmas and guilt are exposed carefully in this sincere social drama.


Silver Hugo: Best Director

Jia Zhangke, Ash Is Purest White


The Silver Hugo for Best Director goes to Jia Zhangke (China) for Ash Is Purest White which was shot with masterfully crafted mise en scene that allows us to observe the complexity of its characters and the evolution of a country.


Silver Hugo: Best Actor

Jesper Christensen, Before the Frost


The Silver Hugo for Best Actor goes to Jesper Christensen (Before the Frost, dir. Michael Noer, Denmark), whose face shifts like the world around him. He leads us through the crevices of his soul as he tries to catch hold of his desires and dreams that keep slipping from his grasp.


Silver Hugo: Best Actress

Zhao Tao, Ash is Purest White


The Silver Hugo for Best Actress goes to Zhao Tao (Ash Is Purest White, dir. Jia Zhangke, China). who plays the role of Quio who takes us on a 20 year journey through the fast changing landscape and morays of her country. Tao burns with brilliance, wit, ferociousness as a woman whose steps are haunted by her history and what may come next.


Silver Plaque: Best Screenplay

Stéphane Brizé and Olivier Gorce, At War


The Silver Hugo for Best Screenplay goes to Stéphane Brizé and Olivier Gorce (At War, dir. Stéphane Brizé, France) for articulating and bringing light to an important political issue which reflects the anxiety of our contemporary society and the precariousness of our livelihood.


Silver Plaque: Best Cinematography

David Gallego, Birds of Passage


The Silver Plaque for Best Cinematography goes to David Gallego for Birds of Passage (Colombia). It’s a stunning compositions and expressive use of color that reflects the deep emotions and conflicts the characters experience.


Silver Plaque: Best Art Direction

Angélica Parea, Birds of Passage


The Silver Plaque for Best Art Direction goes to Angélica Parea for Birds of Passage (Colombia) for its exquisite and poetic use of the spectacular locations of the desert of Guajira to tell the rise and fall of an indigenous family ravaged by the drug trade.


New Directors Competition

The New Directors Competition Jury includes film scholar and programmer Amy Beste, award-winning producer and director Pemon Rami, and film, television, and theater criticAllison Shoemaker.

Gold Hugo

The Third Wife


Dir. Ash Mayfair

The Gold Hugo goes to The Third Wife. Ash Mayfair’s lush, assured debut feature which follows a 14-year-old girl as she enters a wealthy household. Mayfair’s unshakeable vision grants the women of this world an individuality their society rejects, treating them as creations as wondrous as the natural world that surrounds them, as the film builds to a staggering climax that devastates and thrills in equal measure.


Silver Hugo

The Mercy of the Jungle


Dir. Joël Karekezi

The Silver Hugo goes to The Mercy of the Jungle, an intimate two-hander set at the outbreak of the Second Congo War. Separated from their unit, a Sergeant and a Private take to the jungle as their only means of survival, a setting that swallows the camera and the audience as completely as the war itself envelopes the lives of these two young men, countless innocent civilians, and the land itself.


Roger Ebert Award

Little Tickles


Dirs. Andréa Bescond, Eric Métayer

The Roger Ebert Award goes to Little Tickles, a visceral, personal, and endlessly inventive portrait of a woman whose memories and present actions are continuously and irrevocably shaped by horrific childhood sexual abuse. Writer/directors Andréa Bescond and Eric Métayer dive unflinchingly into the mind of dancer Odette (played with staggering vigor by Bescond), using the mutability of memory and the expressions of the body to steer the audience and protagonist alike toward healing, reconciliation, and something like peace.


Documentary Competition

The Documentary Competition Jury includes Lindsay Utz, an award-winning documentary film editor whose most recent work Quest earned the Cinema Eye Honors award for Outstanding Achievement in Editing; Mimi Brody, a film programmer and curator for film festivals and cinematheques; and Thorsten Trimpop, an award-winning German filmmaker and visual artist.

Gold Hugo



Dir. Sari Braithwaite

The Gold Hugo goes to [Censored] for a film that stitches together decades-old archival fragments of male violence into something shockingly contemporary, a film that distills the essence of a cinematic patriarchy through tightly woven montage that is unflinching, difficult to watch, yet essential.   


Silver Hugo



Dir.  Luiz Bolognesi

The Silver Hugo goes to Ex-Shaman for its haunting lyrical and deeply cinematic variations of the themes  of colonialism, oppression, alienation, dignity and rebellion. This film, a collaboration with the Amazônia tribe ‘Paiter Surui’, achieves a powerful and mysterious lucidity. This work is even more important as the highly corrupt racist Jair Bolsonaro is likely to become the next president of Brazil, which could deal a deathblow to indigenous people’s desire for autonomy and ancestral lands.     


Silver Hugo

The Raft


Dir. Marcus Lindeen

For the expertly crafted, visually inventive and absorbing retelling of one long strange trip across international waters and into the depths of human nature – the jury awards the Silver Hugo to Marcus Lindeen’s riveting film, The Raft.   


Out-Look Competition

The Out-Look Competition Jury includes Bea Cordelia, an award-winning, Chicago-bred writer, filmmaker, performer and activist whose work uplifts and reimagines the narratives of transgendered people; Kyle Henry, whose feature fiction debut Room premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, screened at the Cannes Film Festival, and was nominated for two Independent Spirit Awards; and Sébastien Lévy, a French casting director, dramaturg, script consultant, and film studies teacher.

Gold Q-Hugo



Dir. Alvaro Delgado Aparicio

Through a discreetly powerful mise en scène, Retablo is a delicately crafted story of art, transmission, and voyeurism. Using magnificent cinematography, creative direction of already nuanced actors, and a stunning attention to detail, this film delivers a precious, striking portrait of a land, a community, a family, and a man-to-be.


Silver Q-Hugo


Kenya/South Africa/Germany/Netherlands/France/Norway/Lebanon

Dir. Wanuri Kahiu

A marvelously vivid film filled with color and hope, Rafiki was initially banned in its native Kenya for its sensitive, gripping portrayal of two young women falling in love across boundaries of class, politics, and mobility. Its undying heart, however, cements its narrative vitality in a period global human rights retrenchment.


Special Mention

Hard Paint


Dirs. Filipe Matzembacher, Marcio Reolon

For its courageous invention and situating queer identity within carefully observed intersectional economic and political concerns, we give Hard Paint an honorable mention.


Documentary Short Film Competition

The Documentary Short Jury includes Robert Stockwell, director and owner of Cinema Libertad; director and producer Margaret Byrne; and B Rich, a filmmaker and assistant professor of multimedia at DePaul University.

Silver Hugo:



Dir. Jayisha Patel

A cinematic masterpiece made with a raw intimacy that is uncomfortable, personal, painful, and necessary. Patel articulates the universal cycle of abuse that women endure, and through this story, the pain of women across the globe.


Gold Plaque:



Crystal Kayiza

Beautiful imagery and discreetly powerful sound design gracefully reveal the immeasurable strength and hope that spans well past the three generations shared by the protagonists.


Special Mention:

Black 14


Dir. Darius Clark Monroe

Black 14 earns this honorable mention for its masterful mining of the past, showing us the present, and shaping the future that’s beautifully edited and executed with a sharp storytelling eye.

Animated Short Film Competition

The Animated Jury includes Chaz Evans, lecturer at Northwestern’s School of Communication; Naghmeh Farzaneh, an animation director and professional lecturer at DePaul University; and Jim Rohn, Associate Professor in the Interactive Arts and Media Department at Columbia College Chicago.

Silver Hugo:

Bloeistraat 11

The Netherlands

Nienke Deutz

For its innovative blend of animation techniques and its careful use of material which creates an embodied awareness of its coming-of-age topic. It visually expresses the awkwardness of growing up with confidence and clarity.


Gold Plaque:



Trevor Jimenez

For its exacting grasp of the medium that carries a human warmth of narrative


Special Mention:

Opening Night


Margaret Bialis

For a humorous and succinct grasp of human psychology through relationships and song.


Live Action Short Film Competition

The Live Action Short Jury includes Vincent Singleton, filmmaker and adjunct professor; Rebecca Lyon, programmer and projectionist for the Chicago Film Society; and Jennifer Reeder, filmmaker and interim director at the School of Art and Art History at UIC.

Gold Hugo



Dir. Alejandro Saevich

For stylistic distinction in direction, cinematography, and design, social relevance, satirical commentary, and performance quality. The film is a timely, subtle, and poignant accusation of the limitations of government told through a smart, humanistic examination of the leaders behind the decisions that shape our world. Such a portrayal is becoming increasingly relatable globally; an exemplary use of the medium.


Silver Hugo

Hair Wolf


Dir. Mariama Diallo

For it’s lush, eye-popping production design and its confident and sharp writing and performances. A simmering and wicked commentary on cultural appropriation, power, and love in the soul-sucking age of social media.


Special Mention

Nyi ma lay


Dir. Wei Liang Chiang

In one single continuous shot, Nyl Ma Lay captures both the fragility and the mystery of the human condition. This short films provides an enormous amount of tension and pathos and is engaging across all cultures and languages.


Chicago Award

The Chicago Award Jury includes Michael X. Flores, an acclaimed editor whose credits include The Most Hated Woman in American and Love Means Zero; Stephen Cone, a Chicago-based filmmaker whose film Princess Cyd appeared on multiple Best of 2017 lists including Vanity Fair and NPR; and JJ Ingram, a Chicago native and producer whose credits include The Long Dumb Road, Chasing the Blues, and more.

Hashtag Perfect Life


Dir. Michael Paulucci

This year’s Chicago Award goes to Hashtag Perfect Life, a darkly comic, brilliantly acted, formally bold short film that tackles, with startling incisiveness, the grinding, soul-numbing superficiality of the digital age. Underneath it’s hilarious and queasy surface, Michael Paulucci‘s satirical fable is a profoundly sad requiem for a kind and thoughtful world.

Founder’s Award

Beautiful Boy


The Founder’s Award is personally presented by Festival Founder Michael Kutza to the single film across all categories he feels best embodies the spirit of curiosity, optimism and love of film that led to his starting the Chicago International Film Festival 55-years ago. “Beautiful Boy is an emotional drama which remains full of hope and humanity with two of the most stunning performances of the year,” remarked Kutza.

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