The Roger Ebert Award, which is presented annually at the Chicago International Film Festival to an emerging filmmaker whose work represents a fresh and uncompromising vision, was received this year by "Memory House," a highlight of the 2020 New Directors program, directed by João Paulo Miranda Maria. According to the official festival synopsis, this Brazilian-French co-production is "set in southern Brazil, a strange Austrian colony of sorts lost in time, where indigenous-Black man Cristovam has arrived from the north to take a job at a milk factory."
"In the face of unrelenting xenophobia and racism, he finds refuge in an abandoned house filled with art objects and folkloric memorabilia that connect him back to his roots," the synopsis continues. "Soon, the mysterious relics start to provoke a metamorphosis within him. Endowed with a newfound sense of identity and power, Cristovam’s quiet forbearance turns to emboldened action—and tension mounts, building to a mythic, stunning conclusion. Rich, evocative photography and an unsettling tone envelop this uncanny tale that unmasks the social, racial, and political tensions facing Brazil today."
Participating on the New Directors jury this year were professor and critic Fernando E. Juan Lima, filmmaker Yannis Sakaridis, Schortcut Films COO Myriam Sassine, Sofia IFF/Art Fest Ltd. Managing Director Mira Staleva and filmmaker Thelma Vickroy.
The Roger Ebert Award was presented by Chaz Ebert, who explained the motivation of the jury: "A timely, challenging reflection on isolation and racism bringing ancestral spirits and allowing them to enter into the present as last guardians for the sanity of the indigenous people. A daring debut that pictures a collapsing world as if in a bizarre shamanic trance with its dream sequences and hallucinogenic visions guiding us into the deep powerful realm of archetypes and myths." João Paulo Mirando Maria accepted the award on Zoom from his home in Brazil.
Chaz Ebert also congratulated Vivian Teng, Mimi Plauché, Sam Flancher, Anthony Kaufman and the board of the Chicago International Film Festival for producing a successful film festival under very challenging conditions this year. She noted that the Festival started auspiciously with an opening night presentation of the documentary "Belushi" at the Drive-In, and ended with a fully international awards program on Zoom that "put the 'I" in International." "Roger would give you a Thumbs Up," she told them, holding aloft a sculpture of a Golden Thumb.
For the full list of winners at the 56th Chicago International Film Festival, click here.