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‘Goodbye Julia,’ ‘Invisible Nation,’ ‘Call Me Dancer’ & More Claim Prizes At Sonoma International Film Festival

The Sudanese drama Goodbye Julia is continuing its impressive awards run, earning the Grand Jury Award for Best Narrative Feature over the weekend at the Sonoma International Film Festival in California.

Mohamed Kordofani directed the story set in the context of the secessionist movement that led to the establishment of the independent nation of South Sudan in 2011.

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“We commend the festival for its impressive selection of narrative features and unanimously select Goodbye Julia as the best film,” jurors wrote. “An outstanding first feature from Mohamed Kordofani, anchored by two stellar performances from Eiman Yousif and Siran Riak, Goodbye Julia provides a glimpse into a culture and region that’s underrepresented and underexplored in contemporary cinema.”

The jury, comprised of Rosa Bosch (Begin Again Films), Tyler Coates (The Hollywood Reporter), Rebecca Fisher (Magnolia Pictures), Jason Hellerstein (Sideshow), and Julie Huntsinger (Telluride Film Festival), awarded a Special Mention to Hesitation Wound, describing it as “a brilliant accomplishment from an up-and-coming auteur in Selman Nacar.”

'Goodbye Julia'
‘Goodbye Julia’

Goodbye Julia premiered in the Un Certain Regard section of the Cannes Film Festival last year, where it won the Freedom Prize. The film also won the Cinema For Humanity Prize at the El Gouna Film Festival, the Roger Ebert Award in the New Directors Competition at the Chicago Film Festival, as well as the Audience Award at Singapore International Film Festival. It represented Sudan in the Best International Film category for the Academy Awards.

Invisible Nation won the Grand Jury Prize for Documentary at Sonoma, selected from among a half dozen features. The film directed and produced by Vanessa Hope and produced by Ted Hope, Sylvia Feng, and Ivan Orlic, examines Taiwan at a critical moment of its history, as China takes an increasingly aggressive posture towards its neighbor, threatening the island nation’s independence.

'Invisible Nation'
‘Invisible Nation’

“2024 is shaping up to be a sobering year,” the documentary jury noted in its citation. “Democracy seems to be at risk. Invisible Nation, Vanessa Hope’s cogent, clear-eyed, entertaining film reveals Taiwan as a dynamic nation standing at the forefront of the global fight for democracy.”

The jury was made up of Thelma Adams (film critic), Eugene Hernandez (director of the Sundance Film Festival), Jannette Napoli (ITVS), Rob Williams (Participant), and myself.

Shorts earning awards include Bug Diner (Best Animated Short; dir. Phoebe Heart); A Part Of You Made Me Whole Again (Best Documentary Short; directors Destyn Fuller-Hope and Andrew Wonder), and ILY, Bye (Best Live Action Short; dir. Taylor James). The shorts jury was made up of Tabitha Jackson (former Sundance Film Festival director, co-host of The Film That Blew My Mind podcast), Selin Sevinc (Bend Film Festival), and Andy Spletzer (Seattle International Film Festival).

Manish Chauhan in 'Call Me Dancer'
Manish Chauhan in ‘Call Me Dancer’

The A3 Audience Award for documentary went to Call Me Dancer, a film about the extraordinary dancer Manish Chauhan directed by Pip Gilmour and Leslie Shampaine (read our review of the film). The Stolman Audience Award Best Feature was claimed by The Teacher Who Promised the Sea, directed by Patricia Font. The McNeely Award for Best Short Film went to Save the Cat, directed by Jordan Matthew Horowitz.

The Sonoma International Film Festival ran from March 20-24, curated by Artistic Director Carl Spence, with senior programmers Amanda Salazar (Narrative Feature), Ken Jacobson (Narrative Documentary), and shorts programmer Oscar Arce Naranjo. Ginny Krieger is the festival’s executive director; Dr. Kevin W. McNeely is director emeritus.

Among the festival highlights was the world premiere of Extremely Unique Dynamic, directed by Harrison Xu, Ivan Leung, and Katherine Dudas, and the U.S. Premiere of Thomas Napper’s Widow Clicquot, starring Haley Bennett.

Maya Hawke in 'Wildcat'
Maya Hawke in ‘Wildcat’

The Centerpiece Film was Ethan Hawke’s Wildcat starring his daughter, Maya Hawke, in the role of Southern Gothic writer Flannery O’Connor.

The Closing Night Film was Luc Besson’s Dogman, starring Caleb Landry Jones; a Closing Night Special Presentation of Pablo Berger’s Academy Award-nominated film Robot Dreams was held at Sonoma Academy’s Community Performing Arts Center in Santa Rosa.

Beau Bridges at the 2024 Sonoma International Film Festival.
Beau Bridges at the 2024 Sonoma International Film Festival.

Actor Beau Bridges was on hand to receive the festival’s Lifetime Achievement Award. Chef Susan Feniger was presented with the SIFF Culinary Excellence Award at a dinner and screening of a documentary about her, Susan Feniger. Forked, directed by Liz Lachman.

This is the full list of prize winners from the Sonoma International Film Festival:

GRAND JURY FILM AWARDS:

Grand Jury Award | Best Narrative Feature:
Goodbye Julia
(Mohamed Kordofani | Sudan)

Special Mention: Hesitation Wound (Selman Nacar | Turkey)

Narrative Feature Grand Jury: Rosa Bosch (Begin Again Films), Tyler Coates (The Hollywood Reporter), Rebecca Fisher (Magnolia Pictures), Jason Hellerstein (Sideshow), and Julie Huntsinger (Telluride Film Festival).

Narrative Feature Competition Films: Blaga’s Lessons (Stephan Komandarev | Bulgaria), The Blue Star (Javier Macipe | Spain), Dear Jassi ( Tarsem Singh Dhandwar | India), Goodbye Julia (Mohamed Kordofani | Sudan), Hesitation Wound (Selman Nacar | Turkey), Puan (Maria Alché and Benjamín Naishtat | Argentina/Brazil), Rosalie (Stéphanie di Giusto | France) and Snow Leopard (Pema Tseden | China).

Grand Jury Award | Best Documentary Feature:
Invisible Nation 
(Vanessa Hope | USA)

Documentary Feature Grand Jury: Thelma Adams (film critic), Matthew Carey (Deadline), Eugene Hernandez (Director of the Sundance Film Festival), Jannette Napoli (ITVS), and Rob Williams (Participant).

Documentary Feature Competition Films included: And So It Begins (Ramona S. Diaz | USA), Farming While Black (Mark Decena | USA), Invisible Nation (Vanessa Hope | USA), Let The Canary Sing (Alison Ellwood | USA), The Most Remote Restaurant in the World (Ole Juncker | Denmark), and Mourning in Lod (Hilla Medalia | Israel).

Grand Jury Awards | Best Short Films:

Best Live Action Short | ILY, Bye (Taylor James | USA)

The jury wrote, “For this audacious filmmaking debut, towering central performance, and a script that is funny as fuck (hell), we’d like to grant the award for best short film in the Live Action category to ILY, Bye by Taylor James.”

Best Documentary Short | A Part of You Made Me Whole Again (Destyn Fuller-Hope and Andrew Wonder | USA)

The jury wrote, “For its effective and economical storytelling in a cinematic expression of love. We’d like to grant the award for best short film in the documentary category to A Part Of You Made Me Whole Again by Destyn Fuller-Hope and Andrew Wonder.”

Best Animated Short | Bug Diner (Phoebe Heart | USA)

The jury wrote, “For a shocking and memorable use of puppet porn and humor, we’d like to grant the award for best short film in the animation category to Bug Diner by Phoebe Heart.”

Short Film Grand Jury: Tabitha Jackson (Former Sundance Director, co-host of The Film That Blew My Mindpodcast), Selin Sevinc (Bend Film Festival), and Andy Spletzer (Seattle International Film Festival).

AUDIENCE FILM AWARDS: 

The Stolman Audience Award for Best Feature

The Teacher Who Promised the Sea (Patricia Font | Spain)

1st Runner-up: Ghostlight (Kelly O’Sullivan, Alex Thompson | USA)

2nd Runner-up Ezra (Tony Goldwyn | USA)

3rd Runner-up Wicked Little Letters (Thea Sharrock | United Kingdom)

4th Runner-up, Mr. Blake At Your Service! (Gilles Legardinier | France)

The A3 Audience Award for Best Documentary

Call Me Dancer (Leslie Shampaine and Pip Gilmour | India)

1st Runner-up: Let the Canary Sing (Alison Ellwood | USA)

2nd Runner-up: UnBroken (Beth Lane | USA)

3rd Runner-up: Copa 71 (Rachel Ramsay, James Erskine | United Kingdom)

4th Runner-up: Merchant Ivory (Stephen Soucy | USA)

The McNeely Award for Best Short Film

Save the Cat (Jordan Matthew Horowitz | USA)

1st Runner-up: Abundance: The Farmlink Story (Owen Dubeck | USA)

2nd Runner-up: Terminally Ill (Chris Cole | USA)

3rd Runner-up: Baby Gay  (Arielle Frances Bagood | USA)

4th Runner-up: Lunchbox (Anne Hu | USA)

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