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CIFF 2016 – Awards Night

October 22, 2016



It was a Romanian sweep, last night at the 52nd Chicago International Film Festival (CIFF), as the Festival honors were presented at its annual Awards Night at the festival’s host venue, AMC River East in the Streeterville neighborhood of  Chicago, IL. The almost three-hour Romanian drama “Sieranevada” from writer/director Cristi Puiu, which centers on a family gathering on the anniversary of a patriarch’s death took two of the top prizes, for Best Film and Best Director; while another Romanian drama, “Graduation” a complex film about the implications that arise when a parent uses his influence to compromise results that will benefit his daughter’s future, took two awards as well, Best Actor and Best Screenplay. Both films are the Romanian submission for Best Foreign Language Film at next year’s Oscars. 

The evening, presented by Chloe Wine Collection, was hosted by Richard Roeper of the Chicago Sun-Times and Fox Thing in the Morning. CIFF continues through October 27, with several films yet to screen, including a special presentation of “Moonlight” with filmmaker Barry Jenkins, cast and crew in attendance including playwright and actors Andre Holland and Naomi Harris. A selection of award winners slated for the Festival’s “Best of the Fest” series, providing another opportunity for Chicago audiences to catch these acclaimed films.

Throughout the evening, winners accepted their awards either in person or on the big-screen in a pre-recorded acceptance recording from different countries. One of the more peculiar acceptance speeches was the two from a melancholic Puiu, who was sitting in an art studio with canvases and easels behind him and painting brushes below him. He appeared somewhat catatonic and void of emotion, yet stating he was “very happy”. Puiu’s long pauses and off-camera glances and he tried to find the right words, made him seem kind of disinterested and elicited awkward laughs from the audience. I don’t know him well enough to discern whether or not his delivery was some sort of performance or if he was actually struggling internally.

Here’s a full list of award winners is as follows; notes from the Festival Juries are included below.






International Feature Competition – Honoring those superb new films from around the world representing a wide variety of styles and genres.

Gold Hugo for Best Film: SIERANEVADA 
Silver Hugo Special Jury Prize: THE SALESMAN
Silver Hugo Best Director: Cristi Puiu, SIERANEVADA
Silver Hugo Best Actor: Adrian Titieni, GRADUATION
Silver Hugo Best Actress: Rebecca Hall, CHRISTINE
Silver Plaque Best Screenplay: Cristian Mungiu, GRADUATION
Silver Plaque Best Cinematography: Kacper Fertacz, THE LAST FAMILY
Silver Plaque Best Art Direction: Jagna Janicka, THE LAST FAMILY

Founder’s Award: PARADISE (dir. Andrei Konchalovsky, Germany/Russia)

The Founder’s Award is 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.

New Directors Competition: – Recognizing emerging talents in filmmakers presenting their first or second feature films.

Gold Hugo: THE HAPPIEST DAY IN THE LIFE OF OLLI MAKI (dir. Juno Kuosmanen)
Silver Hugo: FADO (dir. Jonas Rothlaender)
Roger Ebert Award: KILLS ON WHEELS (dir. Atilla Till)

Documentary Competition: Awarded to documentaries that expertly craft their stories with honesty and candor.

Gold Hugo: SAMUEL IN THE CLOUDS (dir. Pieter van Eecke)
Silver Hugo: WHERE WE’RE MEANT TO BE (dir. Paul Fegan)

Q Hugo Awards:  Honoring those films in the OutLook program featuring LGBT stories and perspectives.

Gold Q Hugo: HEARTSTONE (dir. Guðmundur Arnar Guðmundsson)
Silver Q Hugo: PARIS 05:59 (dirs. Olivier Ducastel and Jacques Martineau)

Short Film Awards

Live Action Gold Hugo: MADRE
Live Action Silver Hugo: RHAPSODY
Documentary (Gold Plaque): MORIOM
Documentary (Silver Hugo): HOME OF THE BRAVE
Animation (Gold Plaque): BLIND VAYSHA
Animation (Silver Hugo): MOMS ON FIRE
Animation (Honorable Mention): I, DESTINI




Adrian Titian (left) won Best Actor for his work in Cristian Mungiu’s “Graduation”



Below, the Festival Juries comment on their selections:

International Feature Competition: Gold Hugo for Best Film: SIERANEVADA (dir. Cristi Puiu, Romania)

The registration of what seems to be reality instead of fiction on any level is shown as if it took no effort at all. This film is an incredible cinematic achievement and fully immerses the audience in a family gathering and makes us aware of them not only on a personal level but also embodies the spirit of the times we live in. The award for Best Film goes to “Sieranevada” by Cristi Puiu.

Silver Hugo Special Jury Prize: THE SALESMAN (dir. Asghar Farhadi, Iran)

A film that gives us unique insight into the problems that arise from a case of sexual assault and the way an Arabic society deals with it. At the same time, the film is an immensely powerful tale of revenge that is universal and, in this case, told in a realistic way which features extremely painful dilemmas. It is a tale which uncovers the human condition on many levels. The Special Jury Prize goes to “The Salesman” by Asghar Farhadi.

Silver Hugo Best Director: Cristi Puiu, SIERANEVADA (Romania)

For seamless control over a large cast that is as natural and true to life as it can be and for the placement of the camera as an extremely intimate observer. The award for Best Director goes to Cristi Puiu for “Sieranevada”.

Silver Hugo Best Actor: Adrian Titieni, GRADUATION (Romania/France)

For the subtle yet hard-hitting impression he delivered of a father getting himself into corruption for which he pays a heavy price. His portrayal of his love for his daughter as well as his pushiness to control her future is extremely captivating. The award for Best Actor goes to Adrian Titieni in “Graduation”.

Best Actress: Rebecca Hall, CHRISTINE (U.S.)

For a truly chilling performance depicting a woman on a downwards spiral. Both her neurotic outbursts and also her fragility have made an unforgettable impression on us. The award for Best Actress goes to Rebecca Hall in “Christine”.

Best Screenplay: Cristian Mungiu, GRADUATION

For a narration that works with suspense as well as slice of life, creating a who-dun’-it story structure while staying emotionally extremely close to the main character, the prize goes to Cristian Mungiu for the masterfully narrated “Graduation”.

Best Cinematography: Kacper Fertacz, THE LAST FAMILY (Poland)

For creating a beautifully claustrophobic atmosphere which both sets the mood of the time as well as being incredibly immersive, showing a neighborhood in all it’s detail. The award for Best Cinematography goes to Kacper Fertacz for “The Last Family”.

Best Art Direction: Jagna Janicka, THE LAST FAMILY

For the extremely detailed portrayal a family’s living space over decades; chaotic yet controlled. The award for Best Production Design goes to Jagna Janicka for “The Last Family”.

New Directors Competition (Sponsored by Columbia College Chicago)

Gold Hugo: THE HAPPIEST DAY IN THE LIFE OLLI MAKI (dir Juho Kuosmanen, Finland)

“The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Mäki” boasts an astonishing confidence of vision and execution with its story of a boxer struggling to focus on his preparation for the world championship while his feelings for a woman are threatening to eclipse that very ambition. Told with gorgeous black & white cinematography, pure emotion and a sense of humor, “The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Maki” offers nuanced and naturalistic performances and originality with its many potent choices. It is a fresh film for all of the senses.

Silver Hugo: FADO (dir. Jonas Rothlaender, Germany)

Fado is a disturbing yet compelling exploration of jealousy that plunges the audience into the emotional turmoil of the characters psyche. Assured direction by Jonas Rothlaender takes the viewer on a reluctant yet compelling journey that concisely articulates the dangers of extreme male entitlement.

Roger Ebert Award: KILLS ON WHEELS (dir. Atilla Till, Hungary)

Attila Till’s genre-mashing and certainly surprising “Kills on Wheels” takes us through the looking glass into the world of handicapped assassins. A highly entertaining dark comedy and action-thriller, the film is distinguished by the equanimity with which it treats its protagonists, who are rarely seen on the silver screen. This is a movie with cojones.

Documentary Competition (Sponsored by SundanceNow Doc Club)

Gold Hugo: SAMUEL IN THE CLOUDS (dir. Pieter van Eecke, Belgium/Netherlands)

The Gold Hugo goes to a visually astonishing and quietly heartbreaking film that makes you experience climate change, not just think about it. In a humble cabin at the top of the world, science and spirituality might offer possible solutions to the frightening changes that endanger our future. Subtle yet urgent, modest yet ambitious, this film challenges us to confront the reality of global warming, but like its main character, it encourages us to keep hope alive.

Silver Hugo: WHERE WE’RE MEANT TO BE (dir. Paul Fegan, U.K.)

The Silver Hugo goes to a film that presents complex contradictory characters with a light touch. It is surprisingly emotional and celebrates the risks involved in making art, and with great spirit, brings the past to life.

Q Hugo Awards

Gold Q Hugo: HEARTSTONE  (dir. Guðmundur Arnar Guðmundsson, Iceland)

For its piercingly honest portrait of adolescent sexuality, its alternately tough and warm empathy, and for how it effortlessly and evocatively captures a place and time, the Gold Q Hugo Awards goes to “Hearthstone”.

Silver Q Hugo: PARIS 05:59 (dirs. Olivier Ducastel, Jacques Martineau, France)

For its erotic daring and its exploration of time and passion in their rawest and most intimate forms, the Silver Q Hugo goes to “Paris 05:59”.

Short Film Awards

Live Action Gold Hugo: MADRE

“Madre” is a powerful portrayal of the emotional trauma and desperation of a teenage girl exploited by the porn industry. The film masterfully depicts the innocence and the desperation of the young girl, her inner pain, and the brutality of the business with a subtle quiet intimate approach, (and minimal use of actors and settings) through beautiful cinematography that moves from brightness towards darkness as the film concludes with the girl’s moments of realization. For this we award the Gold Hugo to “Madre” by Simon Mesa Soto.

Live Action Silver Hugo: RHAPSODY

“Rhapsody” is an engaging and charming look at the life of a lonely man whose only connection to the outside world is his neighbor’s baby. The film successfully shows his warm joyful time with the baby as well as his distance/alienation from others. The tiny fragile body of the baby echoes the inner gentle side of the large man. For this we award “Rhapsody” a Silver Hugo.

Documentary – Gold Plaque: MORIOM

This beautifully photographed, yet harrowing film challenges our understanding of the truth when a young Bangledeshi woman shares a story of her violent assault, changing the course of her life and her parents perception of their daughter forever. For this we award a Gold Plaque to “Moriom” by Francesca Scalisi and Mark Olexa.

Documentary – Silver Hugo: HOME OF THE BRAVE

This film celebrates our universal language and cross cultural connection to sports through members of a small town in Sweden in their preparation for the gathering of the century that leads to the homecoming of the local hero, where the people of the town ultimately learn and change their own life aspirations in the process. We award the Silver Hugo to “Home of the Brave” by Gustav Hugosson & Andreas Nilsson.

Animation – Gold Plaque: BLIND VAYSHA

This animated short is presented through a compelling woodcut style to tell a simple fable of vision and blindness, through a character who can only see the past in one eye and future in the other. The sumptuous expression of the animation has a fluid beauty which culminates in a vital and necessary philosophy. For evoking the importance of staying in focus, in an unforgettable visual journey, we award a gold plaque to “Blind Vaysha” by Theodore Ushev.

Animation: Silver Hugo: MOMS ON FIRE

This is an animated short which uses stop motion claymation and creates a audacious and authentic commentary on pregnancy, family values, isolation and everyday mendacity. Using ordinary settings, intricately detailed art, unique character design, and a hilarious screenplay, the filmmaker constructs an evolved sensibility for a familiar animated format. Sex, marshmallows and Jamaica will never be the same, and for this we award the Silver Hugo to “Moms on Fire” by Joanna Rytel

Honorable Distinction: I, DESTINI

This use of the short animated platform, with hypnotic design and illustration, demonstrates the African American experience through the plights and anguish of one family, as they maintain their will to survive while one of their own is incarcerated. For expressing a commonality between all humans, during the current climate of profiling and misunderstanding in race relations, we award a Special Mention to
“I, Destini” by Destini Riley and Nicholas Pilarski.

For more information and tickets, visit



Mimi Branescu and Catalina Moga in “Sieranevada”



About Cinema/Chicago

Cinema/Chicago, the presenting organization of the Chicago International Film Festival, is a year round not-for-profit arts and education organization dedicated to fostering better communication between people of diverse cultures through the art of film and the moving image. Proceeds from the Festival benefit Cinema/Chicago’s programs throughout the year, including the International Screenings Program, the Chicago International Television Festival, CineYouth Festival, the Education Program and Members Film Screening Series. Celebrating its 52nd edition October 13-27, the Chicago International Film Festival is North America’s longest-running competitive film festival.


The 52nd Chicago International Film Festival’s sponsors include Official Airline: American Airlines; Official Wine: Chloe Wine Collection; Gold Sponsor: Wintrust Community Banks; Host Hotel: Public Chicago; Bronze Sponsors: AARP, Bloomberg Philanthropies, Columbia College Chicago, FilmFreeway, Stella Artois, Wansas Tequila; Participating Sponsors: SundanceNow Doc Club, TV5Monde, Verizon Cellularsales; Education Sponsors: Allstate, HBO; Participating Hotels: ACME Hotel, The Whitehall Hotel; Platinum Media Partners: National CineMedia (NCM), JCDecaux; Gold Media Partners: WTTW11, Time Out Chicago, Michigan Avenue Magazine, WBBM, WXRT; Silver Media Partners: Chicago Magazine, The Hollywood Reporter, WBEZ, WVON; Participating Media Partners: Chicago Reader, Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun Times, DNAInfo, Windy City Times; With Government support from the National Endowment of the Arts, the Illinois Arts Council Agency; Event Partners: AMC Independent, Sound Investment AV, Union Square Events; Special support provided by Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences; Additional Support provided by: Intersites, Cultivate Studios.




On Stage: actress Geraldine Chaplin (the President of the 52nd Chicago International Film Festival’s International Feature Competition jury. She leads a renowned group of film professionals and personalities in the selection of this year’s winner of the Gold Hugo, the Festival’s top honor. Also on this year’s International Feature Competition jury are filmmakers Juan Taratuto (“It’s Not You, It’s Me”), Yulene Olaizola León (“Shakespeare and Victor Hugo’s Intimacies”), and David Verbeek (“R U THERE”) and actor/producer Chin Han (“The Dark Knight”). Extended biographies for members of this year’s impressive International Feature Competition jury are below; the International Feature Competition is made possible with the support of Penelope R. and Robert Steiner.

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