‘The Flats,’ ‘Two Strangers Trying Not to Kill Each Other’ Pick Up Top Awards at CPH:DOX

The ongoing war in Gaza was high on the agenda at the awards ceremony of CPH:DOX, Copenhagen’s international documentary film festival, with numerous filmmakers calling for a ceasefire in Gaza as they picked up their awards.

Opening the ceremony following a concert by the locally-based Middle East Peace Ensemble, artistic director Niklas Engstrøm told the crowd gathered in Copenhagen’s historic Kunsthal Charlottenborg, which is home to the fest throughout the 10-day event: “It felt right to start with this basic human message of hope and peace.”

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On the theme of conflicts past and present, Italian director Alessandra Celesia picked up the top Dox:Award for “The Flats,” a powerful, timely and haunting film about a community living in the shadow of the pain and trauma of the Troubles in Northern Ireland.

Handing out the award, the jury, made up of Belfast Film Festival programmer and Variety critic Jessica Kiang, director and former Dox:Award winner Nataša Urban (“The Eclipse,” 2022), producer Monica Hellström, Marrakech International Film Festival artistic director Rémi Bohnhomme, and director Carla Gutiérrez (“Frida”), said: “Our main award recognizes not only creative and conceptual daring, but a filmmaker with the humility to realize when the story outgrows its framework, and the confidence to follow where it, and its fantastically vivid characters lead.

“We live in a world of divisions, borders and locked gates. Coming like a conversation shouted through one of those locked gates, our winning film is a collective portrait of several proud, funny, resourceful individuals, who would be willing to die for their community but who choose each day the harder, braver and more hopeful option of living for it instead.”

Picking up the award, Celesia, whose husband comes from Northern Ireland, said, “I don’t know if I have faith that films can change the world, but it’s brilliant to be a part of this amazing community, thank you so much.”

The Dox:Award comes with a cash prize of €10,000 sponsored by Denmark’s public broadcaster DR.

Special Mention went to “Two Strangers Trying Not to Kill Each Other” by Jacob Perlmutter and Manon Ouimet. Described by Variety as an “intimate doc that dissects the marriage of an artistic couple,” the film explores how the disparity in success between spouses can lead to frustration.

“To fall in love is a magical thing, but to stay in love is a miracle. Two people find each other in middle age, and build a beautiful later life together that is documented here with grace, humor and honesty. For a film that is so immaculately crafted that right from its stunning opening frame, it is like being cradled in the familiar but electric embrace of a longtime lover, the jury awards a dazzled special mention to the wonderful, warm and wise ‘Two Strangers Trying Not to Kill Each Other,’” said the jury.

The F:act award, dedicated to films that combine documentary and investigative journalism, went to American journalist and filmmaker Alina Simone (“Digits”) for “Black Snow,” about a Siberian mother who finds herself under the aggressive scrutiny of Russian authorities when she steps up as a citizen journalist and uncovers a huge coal scandal.

The winner walks away with a cash prize of €5,000.

“The Son and the Moon,” a first film by Danish-Iranian director Roja Pakari, picked up the Nordic:Dox award. A moving video diary dedicated to her son, it follows Pakari’s journey as she chronicles her life after being diagnosed with incurable cancer.

Picking up the prize, Pakari thanked her team for “teaching me how to make a film, to trust myself, push myself,” and her family “for allowing her to make this film.”

“I’m really proud of what we’ve done and to see how we fought and survived this crazy trauma,” she added.

Special Mention went to “G – 21 Scenes From Gottsunda” by Loran Batti, an intimate, poetic and existential doc about life, death and brotherhood, set in the eponymous Swedish neighborhood notorious for its drug issues and gun battles.

The film also picked up a Special Mention in the Next:Wave segment, dedicated to emerging filmmakers, with the top Next:Wave prize going to Atiye Zare Arandi’s “Grand Me,” about a nine-year-old Iranian girl who plans to sue her parents after their bitter divorce.

“The film finds its merit in this intersection, drawing attention to questions of motherhood, transformation, and the notion of belonging, indirectly interrogating the unequal position and rights of women in contemporary Iranian society. [It] is ultimately a testament to the resilience of Melina and her grandparents, but also to the inherent imperfection and shortcomings of what it is to be human,” said the jury.

Both the Nordic: and Next:Wave awards come with a cash prize of €5,000 provided by the festival.

Of the 15 titles, both feature and short length, vying for the New:Vision award dedicated to art films and boundary-pushing experiments, “Preemptive Listening” by London-based visual artist Aura Satz picked up the top award, along with a cash prize of €5,000.

Special Mention went to “Lichens Are the Way” by Ondřej Vavrečka and “My Want of You Partakes of Me” by Sasha Litvintseva and Beny Wagner.

The new Human:Rights awards, sponsored by the Institute for Human Rights and valued at €5,000, went to “Black Box Diaries,” by Shiori Ito, which chronicles the Japanese journalist’s courageous and relentless struggle to bring to justice the man who assaulted her in a pre-MeToo world.

“An extraordinary woman takes control of her narrative in a film that offers unique insight into an individual fight for women’s rights in a country, and a world, that stigmatizes and denies rights to the survivors of sexual assault,” said the jury, handing out the prize.

Picking up the prize, the director, who was on her way back to Japan when she received the call telling her she had won and decided to return to Copenhagen, said: “We don’t know if we can show this film in Japan, so having this means a lot to me, thank you.”

Special Mention went to “Marching in the Dark” by Kinshuk Surjan (“Island in the City,” “Pola”), about a group of widows who come together to break the vicious cycle of debt and climate-related chaos that pushed their husbands to suicide, leaving them in debt.

The newly introduced Audience:Award was handed to “No Other Land” by Rachel Szor, Yuval Abraham, Basel Adra and Hamdan Bilal, in which a young Palestinian activist teams up with an Israeli journalist to chronicle the despair of the displaced in his home territory.

And finally, the Inter:Active Award went to “Intangible” by Carl Emil, an immersive exhibition that investigates the oddly satisfying sensation of touching simulated natural phenomena while calling attention to the controversial idea of reconnecting with nature through computational means.

With more than 200 films screened in Copenhagen and at venues across Denmark, an audience of more than 125,000, and an industry event that welcomed more than 2,000 professionals, this 21st edition of CPH:DOX has set multiple records.

The fest, which kicked off on March 12, wraps up on March 24.

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