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Kokomo City Named IFSN Advocate Award Winner

When D. Smith's "Kokomo City" premiered at Sundance this year, Nick Allen wrote, "The women interviewed here—Liyah Mitchell, Dominque Silver, Koko Da Doll, and Daniella Carter—are scholars of their experience. Smith empowers them throughout, giving them space in the edit and with each extreme close-up of a weaponized body part, sometimes in slow motion. The editing by D. Smith—who also filmed it—has essential energy and offers a prismatic look at such an intricate topic. These women have revealing, heartbreaking, sometimes hilarious stories to tell about their own lives and the many thoughts they have gathered from dealing with men (in this case, a large number of Black men) who seek to exploit them and sometimes push for secrecy. Meanwhile, Smith also interviews men who desire trans women, and they too speak freely. Smith has a smattering of monologues at her disposal and cuts them with a great deal of humor and free spirit, sometimes bouncing between one confessional and then a reenactment.

On its theatrical release, Matt Zoller Seitz wrote, "Imaginatively edited, sexually explicit, and filled with eloquent and often boisterous individuals of a sort who rarely get to claim a spotlight in documentaries, the trans sex worker portrait "Kokomo City" is a blast of creative freedom in an increasingly corporatized period of nonfiction filmmaking. It focuses on four trans women, Koko Da DollDaniella CarterLiyah Mitchell, and Dominique Silver, interviewing them in their own homes and ordinary public spaces—sometimes glammed up, but more often with little makeup. The black and white imagery links it to a rich mid-century tradition of American documentaries (typified by films like the Maysles Brothers' "Salesman" and Shirley Clarke's "Portrait of Jason") that focused on personalities and aimed for a fly-on-the-wall feeling. But the structure and editing have a punk rock midnight-movie energy, taking pride in flagrantly ignoring the (purely theoretical!) documentary filmmaking handbook of do's and don'ts. The cheeky-blasé subtext is: If you don't like what we're doing, go watch a different movie."

And in May 2023, "Kokomo City" won the Chicago Critics Film Festival Audience Award for Best Documentary.

This week, the film continued its excellent year by being named the recipient of the 2023 IFSN Advocate Award. The press release can be found below:


Indie Film Site Network (IFSN) has announced D. Smith’s vibrant directorial debut "Kokomo City" as the recipient of the 2023 IFSN Advocate Award. The recipient of the award, established to highlight one indie film each year that illuminates a humanitarian or environmental issue with a singular artistic vision, is awarded one million (1M) media impressions across the Indie Film Site Network, which represents The Film Stage, Hammer to Nail, IONCINEMA.com, RogerEbert.com, and Screen Anarchy. Letterboxd, the popular social network for cinephiles, is also contributing to the award.

Finalists for the 2023 IFSN Advocate Award are Raven Jackson’s "All Dirt Roads Taste of Salt," Pawo Choyning Dorji’s "The Monk and the Gun," Asmae El Moudir’s "The Mother of All Lies," and Luke Lorentzen’s "A Still Small Voice," which will each be awarded 100K media impressions across IFSN.

In the wildly entertaining and refreshingly unfiltered documentary "Kokomo City," filmmaker D. Smith passes the mic to four Black transgender sex workers in Atlanta and New York City – Daniella Carter, Koko Da Doll, Liyah Mitchell, and Dominique Silver – who unapologetically break down the walls of their profession. Holding nothing back, the film vibrates with energy, sex, challenge, and hard-earned wisdom.

“Advocating isn’t always pleasant, but advocacy remains to be our greatest ally,” said director D. Smith. “Basic human rights should never be given to someone, It should only be expected. Simply respecting others makes you an advocate. Thank you for this prodigious honor.”

“The IFSN Advocate Award was created for filmmakers like D. Smith, who advocates for a community often silenced,” said Jordan Raup, co-founder of IFSN and editor-in-chief and co-founder of The Film Stage. “Brimming with style and intimacy, the simple conceit of D. Smith’s captivating directorial debut allows space for its subjects––four transgender sex workers––to tell their stories with an entertaining and moving amount of humanity.”

“Kokomo City is an act of cinematic bravery, a raucous and moving portrait of lives that aren’t often seen on screen, told with startling honesty and breathtaking craftsmanship,” said Brian Tallerico, Managing Editor of RogerEbert.com. “It’s a phenomenal example of Roger’s belief that film is an empathy machine, putting us in the shoes of lives we would never otherwise emotionally understand.”

Executive produced by Lena Waithe, "Kokomo City" won the Sundance Film Festival’s NEXT Innovator Award and NEXT Audience Award, as well as the Berlinale’s Audience Award in the Panorama Documentary section. "Kokomo City" was released theatrically in July 2023 and is now available digitally from Magnolia Pictures.

The IFSN Advocate Award, created by the network as part of its mission to celebrate and support indie film, is selected by a jury of writers and editors from IFSN sites, with each site nominating a finalist and deliberating to award a winner. The inaugural IFSN Advocate Award winner in 2022 was Shaunak Sen’s "All That Breathes," which went on to receive an Academy Award nomination for Best Documentary Feature Film.

About Indie Film Site Network

Indie Film Site Network (IFSN) is a collaboration between well-respected media outlets covering the most essential developments in independent and international cinema. IFSN, which represents The Film Stage, Hammer to Nail, IONCINEMA.com, RogerEbert.com, and Screen Anarchy, was created with a mission to support film criticism and foster an ever-growing community of indie film lovers. For more information, visit indiefilmsitenetwork.com. For sales and partnership inquiries, contact sales@3rdimpression.com.

Brian Tallerico

Brian Tallerico is the Managing Editor of RogerEbert.com, and also covers television, film, Blu-ray, and video games. He is also a writer for Vulture, The Playlist, The New York Times, and GQ, and the President of the Chicago Film Critics Association.

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