For the 2021 edition of the Brussels Independent Film Festival, 113 films out of more than 2,500 entries from all over the globe were selected to be screened at different locations in the heart of Brussels. Unfortunately, due to the ongoing COVID-19 situation and government regulations, a live event was not in the cards on the foreseen dates. As previously announced, the Brussels Independent Film Festival team decided to postpone this year's screenings by a year. This means they will be hosting a double edition in 2022, in which both the 2021 and 2022 official selections will be screened.
Film still: CASS & LEX by Phillip Kaminiak
However, an international team of 17 jury members was assembled to view and rate this year's selection. We are happy to share with you today the 2021 Atomium Film Award winners.
The prize for the Best Narrative Feature Film went to Murmur (Canada) by Heather Young. “Donna has recently been convicted of “Driving While Impaired” and is ordered to perform community service at the local animal shelter. When an elderly dog is scheduled to be euthanized, Donna decides to take the dog home and quickly realizes his companionship can ease her loneliness. In a futile attempt to fill the emptiness she feels, Donna begins to take home more and more animals and she is soon in over her head.” The jury members especially appreciated the way director Heather Young creates a sense of isolation and loneliness. The impressive and realistic performance by the protagonist and the animals also stood out.
Ala Kachuu - Take and Run (Switzerland) by Maria Brendle received the award for Best Narrative Short Film. “Sezim (19) wants to fulfill her dream of studying in the Kyrgyz capital when she gets kidnapped by a group of young men and taken to the hinterland. There she’s forced to marry a stranger. If she refuses the marriage, she is threatened with social stigmatization and exclusion. Torn between her desire for freedom and the constraints of Kyrgyz culture, Sezim desperately seeks for a way out.” The jury team deemed this a very strong, very necessary film, and an absolute surprise. They admired the beautiful lensing, strong main character and good editing.
Best Documentary Feature Film went to The Damned - Stories of Slaughterhouse Workers (France) by Anne-Sophie Reinhardt. “Slaughterhouse workers talk about their work. Their testimonies reveal how this “world apart”, at the very limits of the human condition, affects the health of workers. The film relates the daily battle men and women who work in slaughterhouses have to fight against their own emotions to hold on”. Through the course of their stories, the mental images that inhabit them are gradually revealed, and in places, one can guess all those they prefer not to deliver. Shot in the forest, a symbolic space of refuge and isolation, the documentary does not show any image captured in a slaughterhouse.” The jury members noted that it turns out that the words of those who are never heard and generally perceived as monsters are enough to replace any image. This unique perspective incites to a deeper reflection on the matter. Slaughterhouses are not only the stage of animal suffering, but the hidden face of a dehumanizing and alienating capitalism, in which animals as much as slaughterers are essentially reduced to capital. Our jury believes this to be a meaningful and important documentary, which strength specifically lies in its genuine humanistic dimension.
My Own Landscapes (France) by Antoine Chapon was awarded with Best Documentary Short Film. “A former military game designer was spotted in a video game competition organized by the army. Before going to war, he made video game scenarios that prepared soldiers to cultural shocks and healed trauma. Once back from the war, his relationship with his identity, with life and with the video game changed.” This film, examining a video game that was designed to train American and French soldiers, was found by our jury members to be a particularly intriguing look on virtual warfare or as the filmmaker describes it “video games for war”.
The Natural Death of a Mouse (Germany) by Katharina Huber won the prize for Best Animated Film. “Some days she imagines that by her sheer will she can make body parts fall off of people who seem vicious to her. And some other days everyone around her looks beautiful. And when she was little, she wished that flowers would grow out of her footprints.” The jury complimented the impressive visual approach and great storytelling in particular.
The award for Best Experimental Film was for Wild Grass (Taiwan) by Shan Wu. “Following the journey of a Taiwanese woman from humid and dense Taipei to the yellow sprawl of L.A., the story reveals the conflict between expectations and reality while she finds herself struggling with a new language. She begins a relationship rooted in an imbalance of power with her American housemate. Her difficulties communicating lead to an awakening that forces her to look back on the culture that formed her, which she has been trying to escape. Through the protagonist confronting her own image and failures, 'Wild Grass' tells a story of reflection and an identity entangled with beauty, sexuality, nationality and two languages.” The jury members appreciated the film's amazing original images, as well as its very well structured storytelling. The perfect pace and apt slow build up were also thought to be of note.
Best Music Video went to CASS & LEX (Germany) by Phillip Kaminiak. “In his directorial debut, Berlin and Mexico City-based cinematographer Kaminiak embarks on a personal project where he attempts to deal with his previous relationships by training a lens on real-life couple Cassandre Clerc and Johannes Lex. By documenting their lives and translating their relationship into Dance, 'CASS & LEX' tells a poem about the beauty and the horror of love.” The jury praised the great cinematography and editing, and saw in director Phillip Kaminiak a promising new voice.
And last but not least, Best Belgian Film was awarded to Da-Dzma (A Sister and a Brother) (Belgium) by Jaro Minne. “Winter. A fifteen-year-old girl in a remote Georgian village tries to get closer to her older brother, just as he decides to leave home in search for work abroad.” Our jury members noted the way how in this film, many things are said without being pronounced. Although they are physically together and related, the characters only appear in their solitude, in the midst of incomplete communication. The jury admired how the slow pace, off-screen moments and metaphors subtly and brilliantly depict this teenage girl's isolation and suffering, in a family whose precarious situation forces them to migrate.
The Brussels Independent Film Festival would like to thank their international team of jury members for taking the time to view and appraise this year's great selection of films.
Yuki Takafumi (Japan), 5 times Emmy-nominated producer. Kris De Witte (Belgium), world renowned photographer known for portraits of David Lynch, Quentin Tarantino, Martin Scorsese, and many others. Paul de Ruijter (Belgium), line producer and production manager (Lars Von Trier's Nymphomaniac, etc.). Maarten Cornelis (USA), veteran film professional and founder of Producer's Nights Los Angeles. June Beeckmans (Belgium), producer and production manager (Terence Davies' A Quiet Passion, etc.). Tinne Bral (Belgium), film festival director and film distributor. Felipe Mafasoli (Brazil), actor and director. Jane Ching (Hong Kong), film festival manager (Sundance Hong Kong, Hong Kong Arthouse Film Festival). Cherise Silverstri (USA) actress, producer, film festival manager (Super Shorts London Film Festival). Tab Goh (Belgium), visual artist and jury member for several film festivals. Ana Corbi (USA), actress, artist and filmmaker. Mieke Daneels (Belgium), actress/visual artist. Veronica Ottaviano (Italy) film professional and team member of the Verona International Film Festival. Sofie Hoflack (Belgium) actress, team member of the Doc.Berlin Documentary Film Festival. Jonathan Hung (Hong Kong), film and theatre critic, filmmaker, film festival director. Rainy Tao (Hong Kong), experienced film critic.
The Brussels Independent Film Festival found its inspiration with the Brussels International Independent Film Festival, which started in 1974 but ended in 2012. The festival focused on experimental, provocative films. Among others Pedro Almodóvar, François Ozon and Nanni Moretti were invited. Inspired by that original movement, the revived Brussels Independent Film Festival continues to emphasize lesser known, vanguard cinematic works and further its tradition of galvanizing budding talent. Most importantly, the festival creates a space for unique visionaries and voices, of both novices and veterans —with medium and low budgets— from all over the globe. Its goal is to create a warm, open atmosphere in which filmmakers, fans, critics, and producers can watch the films of emerging talents, explore new cinematic techniques and styles, and award cinematic excellence.