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CIFF 2014: Awards Led by "The President"

In keeping with the largely celebratory nature marking its half-century of existence as North America's longest-running competitive international film festival, the Chicago International Film Festival spread the wealth around during its award ceremony last night. Held at the Sofitel Chicago Water Tower and hosted by entertainment reporter/film critic Bill Zwecker, the show presented prizes to a wide variety of feature films, documentaries and shorts from around the world and also featured festival founder Michael Kutza presenting a special award to a Hollywood favorite on the eve of the release of his highly praised new film and the introduction of a special award named after the late Roger Ebert.

The winner of the festival's top prize, the Golden Hugo, was "The President," the dark political satire that saw acclaimed Iranian filmmaker Mohsen Mahkmalbaf travel to Georgia to tell the story of the dictator of a former Russian Republic who is overthrown in a coup, and who, along with his grandson, winds up living amongst the people he once ruled with an iron fist, getting a close-up look at what they have had to endure over the years because of his whims. The award was announced by actress Kathleen Turner, president of the International Feature Film Competition jury, and was accepted by Mahkmalbaf through a pre-recorded video.

Following the Golden Hugo reveal, Kutza announced that he was presenting The Founder's Award, a special prize that is "given to that one film or performance 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, to Michael Keaton for his already-celebrated performance in the trippy dark comedy "Birdman," which will be screening at the festival tonight and which will open locally next week. According to Kutza, Keaton's performance "moved me deeply; it confirmed that Keaton is not only one of our greatest American actors, but one whose work will soon be reevaluated and further appreciated."

Among the other prizes presented by the International Feature Film jury, the Special Jury Prize, essentially the runner-up award, went to the Argentinian psychological drama "Refugiago." Abderrrahmane Sissako won the Best Director award for "Timbuktu," his drama about a small Arab town overrun by Islamic extremist. The Best Actor award went to Anton Yelchin for his work in "Rudderless," the directorial debut of William H. Macy which just opened in theaters this weekend. Geraldine Chaplin, the daughter of Charlie Chaplin and an acclaimed actress in her own right, was named Best Actress for her performance as an older French woman involved in a tricky relationship with a much younger woman in the Dominican Republic. Best Screenplay went to siblings Ronit and Shlomi Elkabetz for "Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem," the powerful tale of an Israeli woman's five-year struggle to obtain a divorce from her recalcitrant husband. John Christian Rosenlund received the award for Best Cinematography for his work on the quirky Norwegian comedy-drama "1001 Grams." Additional prizes were given to the Italian drama "Human Capital" for Mauro Radaelli's art direction, the Danish coming-of-age drama "Speed Walking" for the costume design by Pia Myrdal and Anne-Dorthe Eskildsen and to Adilkhan Yerzhanov's dark comedy from Kazakhstan, "The Owners."

Among the sidebar collections handing out awards, the New Directors Competition--involving first or second feature films receiving their U.S. premieres at the festival--gave its Gold Hugo to the Swedish drama "Underdog" and its Silver Hugo to "Next to Her," an Israeli film dealing with a young woman who is the sole caretaker for her mentally handicapped sister. That same jury honored "La Tirisia" with the Roger Ebert Award. Docufest, a program of new documentaries, gave its Gold Hugo to "Echo of the Mountain," a film celebrating the life and work of Mexican muralist Santos de la Torre. Outfest, a collection of LGBT-themes features, gave its Gold Q Hugo to the Greek film "Xenia" and its Silver Q Hugo to "Something Must Break." The Chicago Award, a prize given to the best feature or short from an Illinois-based artist, went to emerging director Marie Ullrich's "The Alley Cat."

In the Short Film competition, the Gold Hugo" went to the Norwegian film "Amazon" and the Silver Hugo to the American entry "In August." Other live-action shorts that received awards included the U.S.A. film "Skunk," Iceland's "Artun," France's "The Immaculates" and "Prehistoric Cabaret" and Greece's "Washingtonia." The documentary short prizes went to the Russian film "Love, Love, Love," Australia's "Ghost Train" and Cuba's "A Paraadise. In the animation category, the Silver Hugo went to the Irish film "Coda" and other prizes went to Hungary's "Symphony No. 42," the U.S.A's "Drifting" and South Korea's "Man on the Chair."

Many of the winners of this year's awards have either yet to have their official festival screenings or will be brought back on Wednesday night as part of the Best of the Festival program and the screenings will take place at the AMC River East 21 theaters. TIckets and passes can be purchased in person at the theater or the Festival Office (300 E. Adams, Suite 600), over the phone at (312) 332-FILM or online at For further information on titles, running times, ticket prices and availability and program changes, not to mention a full schedule of events, go to the festival site at

Peter Sobczynski

A moderately insightful critic, full-on Swiftie and all-around bon vivant, Peter Sobczynski, in addition to his work at this site, is also a contributor to The Spool and can be heard weekly discussing new Blu-Ray releases on the Movie Madness podcast on the Now Playing network.

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