Here are the winners of the 1st Strasburg Film Festival. When explaining why the film won, we’ll differentiate between when the comment came from “Price is Right” or a comment from the screening committee.

NOTE: Price is Right reviews are selected at random and do not play a factor in the film selection awards.

Best Animated Film

The challenge of animation, as well as its biggest advantage over other mediums, is the fact that every molecule of the film must be created by hand. Every frame of every shot, every sound of every action, all must be deliberately crafted instead of captured on film. “Empty View”, the story of a mother waiting for her son to return from war, showcases just what can be accomplished through this medium given enough love and attention.

The unique and charming visual style of “Empty View” is stunning in its detail. From shifting shadows to the ever-moving knitting needles of the mother, the animation flows effortlessly. This style serves also to highlight the heavy nature of the story being told. A colorful, at times almost cheerful animation technique reinforces by contrast the heartrending personal tragedy of the mother.

The sound design in “Empty View” is also worthy of high praise. Sound in animation can often fall a bit to the wayside, as long as there is something there instead of silence the visuals will carry the film. “Empty View” however, is as much a testament to the artistry of foley work and sound design as to animation. Every little action is conveyed to eye and ear, down to the delicate sound of falling snow. This level of detail draws us in, it makes the small world of the mother that much more real. And in doing so makes her heartbreak and worry that much more real as well.

“Empty View” is a testament to the unique power of animation to bring life to the artificial. With enough care and talent poured into every second, a film created entirely by hand can feel as real, if not more so, than reality captured on a camera.

Best Short Film 

Dramatic short films can often suffer from the limited time they have to connect the audience with the characters and story. “Within” manages to avoid this problem by taking a large risk in having Hobbs alone with the camera for the majority of the runtime. And this risk pays off enormously; Hobbs’ performance is captivating, and we are immediately and completely drawn into Michael’s painful retelling of the worst day of his life. Every piece of the film is designed to connect us with Michael. The dark background of the interview room, the out-of-focus landscape of the end of the film, the absence of music leaving only silence when Michael isn’t speaking, all keep our attention fixed wholly on his story.

Best Documentary Film

“The Pacifist”, a documentary produced and directed by Alex Zhort, invites the audience into the life of Larry Bassett, a man battling the IRS over his refusal to pay income taxes. Larry is unapologetic in his refusal to willingly give money that will be used to fund military action, a stance which is challenged by the inheritance of $1 million after the death of his father. As the film unfolds, we see in Larry a man willing to stand up for what he believes in, despite a very real fear of the potential consequences, and we are given a compelling insight into the heart and mind of a truly compassionate man.

As Larry puts it, he is not intellectual in his philosophy. He sums up his refusal to pay federal income taxes simply, “people pay, and people get killed”. And Zhort’s film follows the example of its subject. At times Larry’s message is vividly contrasted with footage of war zones or cheerily narrated propaganda. Other times, the film simply falls back, letting Larry take the reins. The potential for the film or the subject to come across as preaching is avoided by the raw honesty of both. Instead we are presented with the story of a man who, after using the majority of his inheritance to make charitable contributions and ensure his daughters’ educations are paid for, is simply happy that he has enough left to eat at his favorite restaurant any time he wants.

Like the man himself, “The Pacifist” is heartfelt, self-assured, and honest to its core.

It’s hard to find something wrong with The Pacifist. Every single aspect of the film is close to perfect. The setting, sound, storytelling, cinematography…wow…I felt honored to screen it for this film festival.

  • Film Festival Judge

Best New Visions Film

“Genesis”, as the name implies, is rife with symbolism, starting immediately with quotes from texts of the the Abrahamic faiths. This heavy symbolism persists throughout the film as it shines a harsh light on some of the uncomfortable truths about humanity. To do this via a film that also happens to be gorgeous in its animation, with a haunting soundtrack, is truly a feat to be admired.

The world presented by “Genesis” is a small one, within a larger one. The character we follow sits inside a barren box with one opening facing a wide, beautiful landscape and a tree which, along with the film’s title, immediately calls to mind Eden. This character’s head is a cube of screens that, throughout the first half of the piece, display the horrors mankind is capable of inflicting on one another, as well as our collective ability to largely ignore these horrors is they happen far away. “Genesis” creates a striking balance, tackling difficult and uncomfortable ideas while presenting them in such a visually beautiful world. It’s hard to look, but impossible to look away. This connects directly with the motif of the box in which our character sits. Outside is a world of beauty, but the narrow bridge over an endless abyss make the journey to that world difficult and dangerous. And on the other side, the unfamiliarity with this new world drives the man back, almost to his death.

“Genesis” ends on a somber note, but not a hopeless one. The film challenges the character, and by extension the viewer, not to continue hiding in the box, to brave the trip from familiar lie to unknown truth. There is meaning in every inch of “Genesis”, a beautifully-crafted world infused with a story and theme that refuse to shy away from asking the big, difficult questions.

Best Comedy Film (Tie)

I hate this film because it made me laugh so much. I’ve never seen a film filled with so many excellent one-liners. The characters were hilarious, the story was interesting and the plot was fast. Excellent job to everyone involved.

  • Film festival judge

“Rendezvous in Chicago” is set up to be the story of a relationship from beginning to end. But it is the unique structure of the story, three separate scenes taking place at the beginning, middle, and end of three distinct relationships, that gives the film its unique and striking character.

The three vignettes are connected by nothing more than the fact that they take place in Chicago. The characters are only given one extended scene each in which to present their section of the overarching story of a relationship’s progression. Due to this fact, the vast majority of the weight of the film rests on the performances of the actors, who fully deliver on the ambitious project. From two strangers meeting in a bar, to a couple just taking the first steps towards marriage, and finally to the aftermath of a bitter breakup, the performances given in “Rendezvous” manage to tie together unconnected events into one story. Of particular note is Nina Ganet as Julie who, in the film’s third act, pulls off the difficult task of having almost all of her performance take the form of a one-sided dialogue delivered directly to us, the viewer. This invitation for the audience to become a part of the story is a bold crescendo to a film that already stands out for its unique approach to structure.

“Rendezvous in Chicago” manages to tell one story by telling three stories. And by blurring the line between viewer and character, also creates as many additional stories as there are people watching. Superb writing, backed up by stand-out performances against the gorgeous visual backdrop of the titular city, make of this film an experience unlike any other.

Best Dramatic Feature Film

  • It challenges the senses as few films can
  • Intense series of familial vignettes broken up by visually stimulating and engaging interpretations of the astronaut experience (namely what is like to spacewalk)
  • beautifully shot and executed in a visual sense, the movement of the camera is deliberate and precise, never showing to much while ensuring that the focus of the scene remains in full view
  • some of the best acting I’ve have seen in years, the performance of the father (played by Lars Rudolph) stands apart from the rest of the festival
    • Film Festival Judge

Best Fantasy, Sci-fi, Horror Film

  • I’ve never seen a more unique film about technology, told in such a different way. You have themes about love, desire and the need to fit in.
    • Film festival judge

Best Student/College Film

  • Scary, mesmerizing, enchanting … there isn’t a word to truly describe the greatness of this film. So many different elements are thrown at you that my eyes felt like they were receiving my favorite Halloween candy. 
    • Film festival judge

Grand Jury Award

The Pacifist

We were fortunate to have K. Michael O’Neal, Director Of Photography, in attendance during the screening.

– photo by Pamela A. Miller, Photographer Newtown Gallery