French filmmaker Alice Diop’s staggering courtroom drama Saint Omer has been awarded the Grand Prix for Best Film at the 49th edition of Film Fest Gent. The International Jury was very taken by how Diop uses the setting of a courtroom to explore shame, demonisation and racism within a society.
Michael Koch’s Swiss film Drii Winter won the Georges Delerue Award for Best Music, thanks to an evocative and poetic score by Tobias Koch and Jannik Giger.
Special Mentions in the festival’s Official Competition go to Ukrainian Oscar entry Klondike and Belgian co-production Tengo sueños eléctricos
Grand Prix for Best Film
On Friday 21 October, the curtain came down on Film Fest Gent’s Official Competition, which hosted an intriguing, eclectic line-up of thirteen feature films including the atypical Sisi film Corsage (Marie Kreutzer), Un beau matin (Mia Hansen-Løve’s latest tranche de vie), Albert Serra’s dreamlike Pacifiction and Luca Guadagnino’s edgy romantic drama Bones and All. This year’s International Jury consisted of jury president Clio Barnard (director), Welket Bungué (actor-director), Daniel Hart (composer), Alexandre Koberidze (director), Nico Leunen (editor) and Nathalie Álvarez Mesén (director).
The six presented the Grand Prix for Best Film to Alice Diop’s Saint Omer at the awards ceremony, prior to the screening of the closing film She Said. It is Diop’s very first fiction film after numerous socially engaged documentaries that offer a critical look at the problems and inequalities within French society. The hypnotic courtroom drama is also the official French Oscar entry. The jury was "captivated by the rigour and restraint of both the filmmaking and the performances in this exceptional film. The question of what we have inherited from the previous generation and what we pass on to the next resonates on many levels and is cleverly interwoven throughout a film which is deeply affecting and continues to resonate long after the film has ended. The director uses the scenic device of the courtroom to interrogate the complexity of societal prejudice and oppression, examining the profound impact of othering, shaming and demonisation in a film which is both original and innovative.”
At the centre of Saint Omer is Rama, a journalist and writer who attends the trial of Laurence Coly in Saint Omer. Coly is accused of abandoning her baby daughter on a deserted beach, causing her death. Rama - who herself had a troubled relationship with her mother - wants to implement the trial in a book she is writing about Medea. The testimonies at the trial leave Rama questioning her own beliefs and judgments. Saint Omer is a disconcertingly gripping film about the latent racism in France and the doubts that come with motherhood.
The Grand Prix comes with a €20,000 distribution grant to support its Belgian release by Cherry Pickers (scheduled for 30 November 2022) and a media campaign worth €27,500, including €10,000 in De Morgen.
Due to the many great films in competition, the International Jury allowed itself to hand out two Special Mentions.
A first Special Mention went to Maryna Er Gorbach’s powerful anti-war film and Ukrainian Oscar entry Klondike. The at times absurd but mostly chillingly realistic film is set in Donbass, against the tragic backdrop of the shot down Malaysia Airlines plane on 17 July 2014. A couple is shaken by the air disaster and threatened with having to flee the region, but the heavily pregnant wife refuses to give up her home. The jury : "Through profoundly affecting storytelling and an ingenious mise-en-scène, the director of this film succeeds in a must-see portrayal of the absurdities of war, with all the costs it incurs, reminding us of its eventual, inescapable tragedies, and so many vital moments too easily forgotten along the way. The film is an homage to the strength of women in the face of impossible odds."
The Costa Rican-Belgian Tengo sueños eléctricos also deserved a Special Mention, according to the jury. The feverish feature debut of Valentina Maurel (who graduated from Brussels film school INSAS) is an incendiary double portrait of a daughter and a father who can only cry out their ardent love for each other. "A fearless and intimate film that electrified us," the jury said about Maurel’s debut. "Both immediately raw and brimming with vibrant lyricism, the film explores the violently explosive relationship between a daughter and a father, always reminding us of the stubborn love between them. With outstanding performances and honest, vulnerable direction, the film ultimately confronts us with our own rage.”
Georges Delerue Award for Best Music
Music is ingrained in the DNA of Film Fest Gent. Each year, the Official Competition’s main theme is ’the impact of music on film’. Therefore, the Georges Delerue Award for Best Music is one of the top prizes of the festival. The jury, which included composer Daniel Hart, gave the award to Michael Koch’s subdued drama Drii Winter. Composers Tobias Koch and Jannik Giger wrote a poetic score that only enhances the fascinating nature of the film. As the jury explains : "With impeccable precision, the music in this film instantly draws in its audience, while somehow still giving us and the rest of this brilliant film all the space needed to spread out into its admirable exploration of the fragility of human relations. The interplay between meticulously arranged choral pieces and a perfectly spare string-based motif surprised and delighted us, with its harmonies and dissonances. The on-camera performances and framing of the singers, as if they were narrating a Greek tragedy, captivated us, and the music felt perfectly in tune with the picture.”
In addition to a €10,000 distribution premium, the prize also includes a €12,000 media campaign, including €5,000 in De Morgen.
Short film awards
On Sunday 16 October, the winners of the short film competitions were announced. Neighbor Abdi by Douwe Dijkstra received the Award for Best International Short. Cherries by Vytautas Katkus got a Special Mention. In the Competition for Belgian Student Shorts, Finn’s Heel by Cato Kusters got the Award for Best Belgian Student Short, worth €5,000. Special Mentions went to Merci pour votre patience ! (Simon van der Zande) and La chute (Sebastian Schaevers). THE PACK Audience Award for Best Belgian Student Short, as voted by the festival audience, was won by Merci pour votre patience !
On Thursday, How to Save a Dead Friend, the harrowing documentary by Marusya Syroechkovskaya, received the Explore Award from the Explore Zone Jury. With her deeply personal film she tries to understand the suicide of her friend, while ultimately giving hope to young people dealing with similar issues. Thanks to the Explore Award, the film can count on a media campaign in De Morgen, Knack Focus and on StuBru, worth €27,000. The jury gave a Special Mention to Ruben Desiere’s Echo, which offers a surprising glimpse into the training of Belgian soldiers.