The Grand Jury Award for Narrative Feature goes to Most Beautiful Island, written and directed by Ana Asensio. "In her directorial debut, seasoned Spanish TV actress Ana Asensio heads to a grimy New York of undocumented workers and lousy cash-in-hand jobs," writes the Austin Chronicle's Richard Whittaker. "In the lead role of Luciana, she's on the run from her old life, washed up in the Big Apple, and living gig to gig. There's a measured bitterness and a self-destructive streak that seems destined to take her down risky paths…. Asensio sets herself an almost impossible challenge: a slow, tense second act that is just the mounting tension of a waiting room. How can the third act possibly pay off that invested time? Well, it does. Moreover, she creates a final resolution that avoids any of the trite defaults of a thriller."
Updates, 3/15: "America might still endure as the land of opportunity (at least for the time being)," writes IndieWire's David Ehrlich, "but few films have so vividly illustrated what opportunity really feels like to those who have nothing else left, or how it leads immigrants into a selectively visible economy that exists just parallel to the one that lured them here in the first place. More than just its unexpected thrills, Most Beautiful Island is a ruthlessly effective parable about how, both underground and above, this place will only remain a beacon of hope so long as its people decide to pay forward their good fortune, however little of it they might have left."
David Rooney for the Hollywood Reporter: "The hypnotic opening sequence of Most Beautiful Island—shot with a penetrating eye by Noah Greenberg in handheld Super 16mm and effectively interweaving the thrumming soundscape of New York City with the quiet strains of Jeffery Alan Jones's unsettling score—subtly identifies seven different women among the Manhattan crowds in various locations. All of them are young and attractive, though seemingly unrelated. How much you buy into the dehumanizing spider web that later draws these women together will depend on your willingness to go with writer-director Ana Asensio's lurch from lucid naturalism into queasy quasi-horror."
Special Jury Recognition for Best Ensemble goes to A Bad Idea Gone Wrong, starring Matt Jones, Eleanore Pienta and Will Rogers and directed by Jason Headley. "Who could have imagined that a film fusing the Catherine Zeta-Jones B-plot of Ocean’s Twelve with the Alfred Molina burglary scene in P.T. Anderson’s Magnolia would amount to a fully enjoyable, often even touching, indie comedy?" asks Sean L. Malin in the Austin Chronicle. "Suffice it to say that the shock of A Bad Idea Gone Wrong’s fluttery charm does not take away from the formidable cleverness of writer/director Jason Headley’s screenplay."
Special Jury Recognition for Best Breakthrough Performance goes to James Freedson-Jackson, star of The Strange Ones, directed by Christopher Radcliff and Lauren Wolkstein. Introducing his interview with the directors, Filmmaker's Vadim Rizov notes that the film "starts with a house fire. A young boy (James Freedson-Jackson) stands paralyzed in front of it, and next we see him on the road with someone (claiming to be?) his older brother (Alex Pettyfer). Over the course of a long, strange road trip, we slowly put together some (but definitely not all) the pieces of a story of sexual assault and two people on the run from the law. Motels, diners and farms are among the upstate New York locations." All in all, an "impressively assured, enticingly semi-enigmatic film."
The Grand Jury Prize for Documentary Feature goes to The Work. "Imagine a Tony Robbins session with a bunch of testosterone-fueled convicts and you’ll start to get an idea of The Work, an emotionally riveting documentary that may very well be the most powerful group therapy ever caught on camera," writes IndieWire's Eric Kohn. "Co-directors Jairus McLeary and Gethin Aldous gained access to a tense four-day session at Folsom State Prison, where inmates engage with civilians in intimate conversations about their repressed frustrations. Scene by scene, their masculine armor falls away, and the tears erupt with volcanic intensity. The minimalist scenario, almost exclusively set within the confines of a nondescript room, foregrounds the visceral process of confronting anger and regret through a fascinating collaborative approach, with results that are alternately terrifying and cathartic." It's "a remarkable piece of reportage," adds Sheri Linden in the Hollywood Reporter. Stephen Saito interviews McLeary; more from Aramide A. Tinubu at Shadow and Act.
Special Jury Recognition for Excellence in Observational Cinema goes to Miao Wang for Maineland. "For generations of American elites, attending boarding school has been a familiar rite of passage," writes Justin Lowe in the Hollywood Reporter, "but for two immigrant high school students from Mainland China, it’s an entirely new and unfamiliar experience. Maineland, Miao Wang’s follow-up to her 2010 SXSW feature documentary Beijing Taxi, again considers the country’s changing socioeconomic landscape, but the constrained focus on the experiences of two young people sheds limited light on these rapidly advancing developments."
Special Jury Recognition for Excellence in Documentary Storytelling goes to Nanfu Wang for I Am Another You, which also wins the LUNA Chicken & Egg Award. For Variety's Owen Gleiberman, "is a movie that could almost have been conceived and designed to play at SXSW. It’s the second documentary directed by Nanfu Wang—though it was shot before her first, the guerrilla study of a Chinese dissident Hooligan Sparrow (2016)—and it’s a portrait of the kind of sun-dazed 'rebel' street kid you perpetually see on the streets of a place like Austin, because he (or she) is drawn to its scruffy vibe of progressive tolerance." IndieWire's Eric Kohn: "By bringing an outsider perspective to the Western world, Nanfu pulls apart the American dream from the inside out. Shot over the course of several years, the movie blends an intimate perspective with trenchant investigative chops, uncovering a transitory figure whose romantic ideals give way to a harsh reality check."
The Jury award for Excellence in Title Design goes to Into the Current, designed by Chris R. Moberg and Jared Young.
The Jury Award for Excellence in Poster Design goes to Fry Day, designed by Caspar Newbolt.
Special Jury recognition for Excellence in Poster Design goes to Like Me, designed by Jeremy Enecio.
The LUNA Gamechanger Award goes to Inflame, directed by Ceylan Ozgun Ozcelik. The Talk Film Society's Aaron Hendrix finds Inflame to be "a well-shot and admirably performed paranoia-laced thriller that, unfortunately, often veers into style over substance."
The Louis Black “Lone Star” Award goes to Mr. Roosevelt, directed by Noël Wells, "a Texas native who decamped for Los Angeles to become a comic," as Variety's Andrew Barker notes. "It also features Wells in the lead role, as a Texas native who decamped for Los Angeles to become a comic, only to make an abrupt return to attend a cat funeral at the home of her ex-boyfriend, and perhaps take stock of the shambling mess she’s made of her life amidst Austin’s remaining pockets of weirdness. If you’re already starting to roll your eyes, stop: This riotously endearing comedy is substantially funnier, sharper, and more peculiar than that premise is bound to make it sound." And Filmmaker's Scott Macaulay has five questions for Wells.
The Adam Yauch Hörnblowér Award goes to Assholes, directed by Peter Vack. IndieWire's David Ehrlich: "Unfolding like a microbudget cross between Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom and The Squid and the Whale, Peter Vack’s impressively disgusting Assholes is the kind of movie that you wish you could unsee, one you have to watch in your peripheral vision because straight-on viewing would be way too nauseating."
The Karen Schmeer Film Editing Fellowship goes to Leigh Johnson.
Special Jury recognition for Narrative Shorts goes to Laps, directed by Charlotte Wells.
Special Jury recognition for Narrative Shorts in Acting goes to DeKalb Elementary, directed by Tarra Riggs.
The Jury Award for Narrative Shorts goes to Forever Now, directed Kristian Håskjold.
Special Jury recognition for Animated Shorts goes to Pussy, directed by Renata Gasiorowska.
The Jury Award for Documentary Shorts goes to Little Potato, directed by Wes Hurley and Nathan M. Miller.
The Jury Award for Animated Shorts goes to Wednesday With Goddard, directed by Nicolas Menard.
The Jury Award for Music Video goes to Miles Jay for "River" performed by Leon Bridges.
Special Jury Recognition for Music Video goes to Canada for "The Less I know the Better," performed by Tame Impala.
The Jury Award for Texas Shorts goes to The Rabbit Hunt, directed by Patrick Bresnan.
The Jury Award for Texas High School Shorts goes to Better Late Than Never, directed by Atheena Frizzell.
Special Jury Recognition for Texas High School Shorts goes to Darcy’s Quinceanera, directed by Sam Cooper.
Update, 3/20: Over the weekend, the festival announced the…
Narrative Feature Competition: Jessica M. Thompson's The Light of the Moon.
Documentary Feature Competition: Luke Korem's Dealt.
Headliners: Edgar Wright's Baby Driver. At Vulture, Jada Yuan warns that "nothing can prepare you for the 112-minute adrenaline rush that is Baby Driver, a heist extravaganza that plays out like blasting your coolest friend’s record collection in your car at 100 mph on the Atlanta freeway while cops close in on all sides—essentially what happens in the movie again and again, to always-riveting effect. The simple story of a baby-faced getaway driver named Baby (a nimble, supremely confident Ansel Elgort) trying to do enough jobs to get out of the crime biz, it has the manic energy of Go, the rock-and-roll marauding of Quadrophenia, the party-time joy of Wayne’s World’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” scene, the earnest romance of Say Anything—and I’ll probably come up with a whole new set of references today. (Wright mentioned he’d been inspired by the 'holy trinity' of 90s heist movies: Heat, Point Break, and Reservoir Dogs.) If you don’t want to go home and blast the soundtrack for hours after watching it, I worry for your soul."
Narrative Spotlight: Noël Wells's Mr. Roosevelt.
Documentary Spotlight: Jennifer M. Kroot's The Untold Tales of Armistead Maupin.
Visions: Josh Greenbaum's Becoming Bond.
Midnighters: Trent Haaga's 68 Kill.
Episodic: Justin Simien's Dear White People.
Global: Leandra Leal's Divine Divas.
Excellence in Title Design: Chris R. Moberg and Jared Young for Into the Current.
VIRTUAL CINEMA GRAND JURY AWARDS
Virtual Reality: Room-Scale: Cassandra Herrman and Lauren Mucciolo's After Solitary.
Special Jury Recognition for Innovative Use of Virtual Reality Technology in the Field of Health: Ian Forester and Sook-lei Liew's Reinvent.
360° Video: Lindsay Branham and Jonathan Olinger's Behind the Fence.
Special Jury Recognition for Technical Excellence: Félix Lajeunesse, Paul Raphaël's Dream of "O".