July 17, 2024

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A first-time filmmaker has claimed the top prize at the 19th Annual Camden Film Festival in Maine, one of the country’s foremost all-documentary festivals.

Director Yousef Srouji earned the Harrell Award for Three Promises, a film set in the Occupied Territories. “At the start of the 2000s, the Israeli army retaliated against the second intifada in the West Bank,” notes a description of the documentary. “All the while, Suha, a mother of two young children, decides it’s time to start a film diary. Years later, her youngest son Yousef picks up the archive and discovers the difficult choices she faced then. The three promises, made and broken, evidence the strong love of a mother to her children, to her land, and to herself. The result is a reflexive act of love in a time capsule.”

A woman films herself in 'Three Promises'

‘Three Promises’

Courtesy of Camden International Film Festival

The Harrell Prize jury said in a statement, “For the main prize, we decided to award a film in which the director manages to draw the audience in and share the feeling like they are trapped with the family on screen, not knowing what is to come. A film that is a testament to a mother’s love for her family and her land, and the impossible decisions she has to make. A film about remembering.”

Three Promises marks Srouji’s directorial debut, but he is described in the Camden program as a “longtime storyteller. His work centers around understanding the dynamics of occupation in Palestine, and community resilience in conflict zones.”

A still image from 'Or de Vie/A Golden Life'

‘Or de Vie/A Golden Life’

Courtesy of Camden International Film Festival

A Special Mention was awarded to Or de Vie/A Golden Life, directed by Boubacar Sangaré, a film the jury called “a highly cinematic documentary which introduces us to a great character, whom we follow during his days and see him converse with his colleagues about life and dreams. The director manages to get close to the protagonists with a gaze that never feels voyeuristic.”

The Audience Award went to Queendom, directed by Agniia Galdanova, the story of Gena, a drag performance artist in remote Siberia who bravely defies Russia’s increasingly hostile laws directed against the LGBTQ community. Back in March, Deadline shared the first clip of the documentary with you during the SXSW Film Festival, where Queendom premiered.

Queer performance artist Gena Marvin in 'Queendom'

Queer performance artist Gena Marvin in ‘Queendom’

Galdanova Films

“In the process of becoming who you are, it’s sometimes impossible to find the right language,” Camden said in announcing the Audience Award winner. “In this portrait of an artist coming of age, Gena uses her creativity to find the language – verbal, visual, and emotional – to fight for liberation. Through a seamless blend of observational and performative filmmaking techniques, director Agniia Galdanova shares a view into this process of self-articulation.”

Taking home CIFF’s Cinematic Vision Award was Knit’s Island, directed by Ekiem Barbier, Guilhem Causse, and Quentin L’helgoualc’h. 

A still image from 'Knit's Island'

Knit’s Island

Courtesy of Camden International Film Festival

“Not only does Knit’s Island push the boundaries of what we understand as cinema, it also offers a profound meditation on the ethics of ethnography and bearing witness to violence,” the Cinematic Vision jury said. “While the film plays with form, it also keeps a sure eye on the story it sets out to tell, and tells a tale that is tight and comprehensive.”

The Cinematic Vision jury awarded a Special Mention to In the Shadow of Light, directed by Isabel Reyes and Ignacia Merino, “for its visionary use of the basic elements of cinema and life–light and sound—to illuminate their unequal distribution in society.”

The in-person portion of the Camden International Film Festival ran from Sept. 14-18. The online portion continues for the next week.

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