By Berwyn Rowlands
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14 October 2019
• BLACK HAT, a drama set within LA’s Hasidic community and directed by Sarah Smith, wins the £30,000 prize for an international LGBT+ short film

• Teen trans drama MY BROTHER IS A MERMAID, directed by Alfie Dale, wins the awards for Best British Short and the Audience and Youth Awards.

Iris Prize sponsored by The Michael Bishop Foundation

Black Hat, directed by US director Sarah Smith, has been announced by writer and producer Russell T Davies (Queer as Folk, Doctor Who, Years and Years) as the winner of Cardiff’s annual international LGBT+ short film award, the Iris Prize. Her film tells the story of a closeted Hasidic Jewish man living in Los Angeles and was a second nomination for Sarah and producer and writer Philip Guttman, who were shortlisted for their comedy D. Asian in 2015. She is the fourth woman to win the prize.

The £30,000 prize, supported by The Michael Bishop Foundation, allows Sarah to make another short film here in the UK. Eleven films have been produced by Iris Prize winners to date, the first being Colonial Gods, from Academy Award-nominated writer and director Dee Rees (Mudbound).

Commenting on the three finalist, all directed by women, the jury chair Jake Graf commented:

Black Hat
"Black Hat shone a light on an often unseen community in a sensitive, tender and positive way, without casting judgement. We foudn the lead charming and likeable, the film visually stunning, and responded well to this perfectly crafted and concise work of art. Accomplished, enjoyable and captivating.

Marguerite
Almost universally, Marguerite elicited an unprecedented emotional response from our jury this year, with many of us in floods of tears. Not only did it depict a rarely seen and underrepresented section of our community, the older lesbian, but it did so with subtlety, empathy and charm. Marguerite herself was a revelation, and her face will stay with us for a long time to come. Stunning film-making indeed.

Ponyboi
Ponyboi
was original, dreamlike, and once again a visual feast, showcasing a rarely seen character in our intersex lead. The performances were as strong as the cinematography, the characters as colourful as the neon lit launderette. Fresh, original film-making."

BEST BRITISH AWARD sponsored by Pinewood Studios: My Brother is a Mermaid

The winner of the Best British award, sponsored by Pinewood Studios, is My Brother is a Mermaid; a magic-realist story about a trans teen living in a dilapidated seaside community. The film, directed by Alfie Dale (pictured above with Berwyn Rowlands), was also the winner of both Cardiff University’s Iris Prize Youth Award and the Buzz Magazine Audience Award.

Commenting on the three finalist in the Best British category the jury commented:

My Brother is a Mermaid
Alfie Dale directs a remarkable cast that convey a beautiful blend of emotions. The viewer is pulled into the intimate world of Kuda, who watches as his sibling Kai journeys through finding the confidence to embrace their non-binary identity in a small seaside town where standing out often means being alienated. Alfie’s direction is sensitive and compassionate, pulling at the heartstrings without ever being overly sentimental. He takes us on a journey of character growth and development across twenty minutes that more accomplished directors too often fail to do in two hours. Quite simply outstanding.

Invisible Women
Director Alice Smith presents an engrossing documentary that never fails to uplift the queer spirit as we follow the journey of Angela Cooper and Luchia Fitzgerald, two lesbians whose work established the northern branch of the Gay Liberation Front in the UK, setup the UK’s second women’s refuge for victims of abuse, and established printing presses to share information not just for LGBTQ activists but also the UK Black Panthers. A rousing call to arms overflowing with energy and defiance, it brilliantly channels the spirit of defiance from the 70s and 80s when early queer activism was taking root.

We Are Dancers
A frightening insight into the imagined world of Hansi Strum. Strum was a real life cabaret performer whose fate is known beyond the rise of the Nazi in 1933. Writer/director Joe Morris re-imagines those last days as Strum is conflicted between fleeing with his younger queer friends or standing defiant in the face of an all too familiar threat of self-loathing from within his own gay circle. Richly visualised, its aesthetic is vivid and bold, evoking Strum’s own unapologetic character. Parallels to the polarizing world that we find ourselves in today are scarily apparent. We Are Dancers is a warning shot about the terrifying prospect of history repeating.

FEATURE FILM AWARDS

Best Feature Award sponsored by Bad Wolf: And Then We Danced

The Jury Commented:
"Picking out the best feature film at Iris this year was an incredible challenge. The quality and standard of films was ridiculously high. It took plenty of deliberation and debate until we settled on a final winner. As such, we have not one but two special mentions.

The presence of three documentaries in the features programme this year was a welcome surprise. Consider this an ad-hoc award for Best Documentary, as all three were superb in their own right. But the one that stuck out most for us did so because it was a timely and vital piece of filmmaking that showcases the power of documentary to open minds and even make changes in people's lives. Our first special mention goes to Changing the Game directed by Michael Barnett

Our second special mention is a film that struck us with how superbly well-crafted, layered and directed it is. In an ever-changing world, this film - and its filmmaker - conceptualises identity in a way that's so far outside of mainstream constructs that we couldn't help fall in love with it, its many layers ruminating and turning over in our head. Our second special mention goes to Monsoon by Hong Khaou

The jury chose the winner for its incredible sense of craft, heightened emotional reality and unique sense of place and time. This is a story and world that we are not yet familiar with, and this is one of the most rewarding aspects of being on the jury at Iris - the opportunity to expose your mind to new ideas, new worlds, new ways of being. Our winner is an incredible masterwork that moved us to the core, and we/the jury are expectionally proud of our choice. This year, the Iris Prize winner for best feature goes to And Then We Danced by Levan Akin."

Best Performance in a Male Role sponsored by Attitude Magazine:  Henry Golding (Monsoon)

"Before we move on to our winner, we would like to give a special mention to one other performance in a male role. Our special mention goes to a performance that isn't so much a performance as an invitation to let the camera - and the audience - in. It is a performance that's not too far removed from a classic Hollywood performance - where the actor uses his supercharged charisma and natural screen presence to electrify the film. Except now that electrification is distinctly, singularly queer. Our special mention goes to the excellent Conor Leach for the lead role in Sequin in a Blue Room.

It was exceptionally difficult picking a winner for Best Performance in a Male Role. We are so often attracted to extroverted performances that catch your attention with quirks and tics and evident difficulties, but to engage an audience with an introverted one is a rarity that cannot be ignored. How do you, as an actor, show the turbulence and complexity thundering deep inside a character using just your body? For a nuanced and complex performance exploring identity both sexual and national, the award for best actor in a male role goes to Henry Golding for Monsoon."

Best Performance in a Female Role sponsored by Diva Magazine: Linda Caridi (Mom + Mom)

"Our winner for Best Performance in a Female Role showcased an astonishing range within one single feature. It is an exceptionally accomplished performance, combining light breeziness and emotional heft, yet our winner took it all in her stride, crafting a character who is fully realised and complex. A performance with perfect tonal shifts between the surreal, expressive and absurd, straddling realism and fantasy. A special mention should go beforehand to Maria Roveran in Mom + Mom whose presence provides a welcome balance, but the winner is Linda Caridi for her leading role as Ali in Mom + Mom."

The awards took place on Sunday 13th October 2019 during the Iris Carnival at Cardiff’s Tramshed, with live music from BLɅCKƎLVIS, and a “food village” supplied by Co-op.

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