By Berwyn Rowlands
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12 October 2015
Iris Prize winners announced at glittery awards ceremony hosted by the inimitable Amy Lamé.

Vessels by US filmmaker Arkasha Stevenson (pictured above) about Diamond, a young transgender woman working at a garment factory for little pay, has been announced winner of the 2015 Iris Prize – Cardiff’s International LGBT Short Film Prize supported by The Michael Bishop Foundation. The £30,000 prize will allow Arkasha to make a new short film in the UK.

At the sold out Iris Awards presented by Amy Lamé at Cardiff’s Cineworld and Park Inn Hotel, Lord Glendonbrook announced that the international jury had selected Arkasha Stevenson from the USA to scoop the coveted award.

Lynn Hunter, Chair of the Iris Prize Jury said, “Iris’ 2015 theme was ‘Watch Films, Party Nightly, Repeat and this was nowhere more evident than on the screen.  The standard of films this year was exceptionally high, covering a rich diversity of genres and themes, and this made for some very robust jury discussions.

We had a very interesting, lively and difficult time trying to decide on this year’s Iris Prize winner. We saw many extraordinary films that made us laugh, cry and certainly think. Choosing one from all the wonderful films was extremely difficult but in the end we all agreed that Vessels is a strong, unique and purposeful vision. It evoked issues around equality and exploitation, and transgender and women’s voices are voices we need to be championing right now. With a strong and emotional voice, it tackled some difficult issues in an honest, visceral and graphic way”.

Two other short films reached the final stage of the competition with high commendations. They were:

Hole directed by Martin Edralin from Canada
“Engaging and thought provoking with the opening shot of any of the films we saw. This is bold and challenging filmmaking”.

In The Hollow directed by Austin Bunn from the USA
“A very moving, brave and under-represented story. A great hybrid approach to drama and documentary”.

Addressing the audience during the closing night screening of the winning films, Berwyn Rowlands said:
“I’m thrilled that Arkasha is this year’s winner of the Iris Prize. This is only the second time the Iris Prize has been presented to a woman, the first being Dee Rees during our inaugural festival in 2007. We are already looking forward to meeting Arkasha to discuss her new Iris Prize short!”

And the other winners are:

Best British Short sponsored by Pinewood Studios Group
Closets
 directed by Lloyd Eyre-Morgan was announced Best British Short. Craig Ford representing the Best British Jury said:
“Closets is a clever, original concept. Time travel, teen issues, great performances”.

“This film successfully engaged with its target audience of young people, but at the same told its story in a way that appeals to a much wider and older audience, which is often the benchmark of excellent filmmaking. It also tactfully highlights the similarities and differences between growing up gay in the 1980s and the present”.

Prior to presenting the Best British Award to Lloyd, Andrew Smith, Director of Strategy and Communications at Pinewood Studios Group delighted the audience when he confirmed that they would continue sponsoring the Best British prize in 2016 but would also increase their sponsorship from £14,000 to £20,000.

Also highly commended were:

Mirrors by Neil Ely
“Well directed, well improvised, great use of space. A raw, honest film”.

Roxanne by Paul Frankl
“A fresh, non-stereotypical positive spin on a transgender character”.

Iris Prize Best British Feature sponsored by Martin Briggs
Fourth Man Out
 directed by Andrew Nackman is the winner of the Iris Prize Best Feature Award.

Jury chairman Martin Briggs said:
“We’ve run a marathon of 14 feature films, taking road trips across Argentina and Australia. We’ve walked the streets of New York, floated over lakes, looped the loop, sucked toes with Larry Clark and got down with the scrum and the junkies.

Fourth Man Out was a standout performance, directed to engage a contemporary audience with sensibility and wit. A fantastic piece of ensemble acting from the central characters with memorable supporting roles. We felt this was a gay film for a mainstream audience”.
Also highly commended were Josh Kim’s How to Win at Checkers (Every Time) and Joey Kuhn’s Those People.

Performance Awards sponsored by Gay Star News
The performance awards sponsored by Gay Star News were presented to Davide Capone for his role as Davide in Darker Than Midnight and Sigrid ten Napel who played Anna in Summer (Zomer). Presenting the Award Tris Reid-Smith said, “This has been a breakthrough year for features at Iris and our deliberations were tough but the performances we chose represent  the best of LGBTQ cinema – challenging, heart-warming and true”. The ensemble cast of Fourth Man Out were highly commended too.

Finally, the Iris Prize Youth Award was presented to Closets directed by Lloyd Eyre-Morgan from the UK. Two representatives of the Youth Jury of 100 pupils from 6 secondary schools in Wales said, delighted the audience when they initially forgot the name of their favourite winning film! They eventually commented: “This film is really useful as a teaching aid because it talks to young people directly. It confirms that whilst things have changed for the better, there are still underlying issues to address, for example homophobic language and bullying.”

Festival guests included directors Andrew Nackman (Fourth Man Out, USA) and Poppy Stockell (Scrum, Australia); and a strong UK contingency including Paul Sweeney, Film Consultant for Vue, Andrew M Smith (Pinewood Studios). The International Jury included last year’s Iris Prize winner Brendon McDonall from Australia and Best British winner Charlie Francis from Scotland, Diva Magazine’s Film Editor Lucy Peters and GAZE Film Festival director Noel Sutton.

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