The annual juried honor is presented to an innovative filmmaker who has yet to receive prominent recognition. Past winners have included Lodge Kerrigan, whose second feature “Claire Dolan” is a Spirit best picture finalist, Christopher Munch and Larry Fessenden. The prize comes with an unrestricted $20,000 grant, which Williams has said he will use to develop his next film.
In announcing Williams’ kudo, jury chairman Peter Broderick said, “(He) works in a very collaborative way with a mixture of non-actors and actors, who improvise dialogue and action during production rather than work from a script. David uses this very open-ended approach to capture the ‘truthful interactions’ between people.”
The Richmond, Va.-based Williams — whose background was in painting and photography — began making short subjects in the 1970s as an outgrowth of those interests. His short, “Nina Split in Two,” featured his neighbors — a 6-year-old foster child and Lillian, the woman who subsequently adopted her.
Enboldened by their unscripted work, he conceived “Lillian,” his first feature, around the older woman, and “13” takes place at that awkward age for Nina. The films have played extensively on the fest circuit, with “Lillian” receiving a special jury award at Sundance and “13” an international critics prize at Berlin.