Festival honors pics with cultural themes

The importance of cinema as a vehicle for cross-cultural understanding was driven home by most of the prize-winning titles at the 42nd Chicago Film Festival’s rollicking awards ceremony on Sunday.

The main jury, led by vet thesp and social activist Betsy Blair, gave its Gold Hugo to “Fireworks Wednesday,” a tale of love and infidelity in contempo Tehran by Asghar Farhadi of Iran.

Speaking through an interpreter, Farhadi thanked the people of Chicago for countering the received wisdom that Americans harbor animosity toward his nation: “Now more than ever, people of the U.S. and of Iran need to get to know each other, and it’s better if this kind of understanding is not through our politicians but through our artists and culture.”

The Silver Hugo Special Jury Prize went to Rachid Bouchareb’s Franco-Algerian pic “Days of Glory.” Paris-based Bouchareb sent a statement emphasizing that “a lot has happened in the last few weeks.” After his fact-inspired saga of WWII soldiers conscripted from French colonies in Africa and North Africa was shown to French President Jacques Chirac on Sept. 5, the government enacted legislation to equalize the pensions of surviving soldiers — who in many cases have been receiving one-tenth the amount accorded their French brothers in arms.

Blair linked Bouchareb’s accomplishment with that of recently deceased “Battle of Algiers” helmer Gillo Pontecorvo as members of the club of “films that changed history.”

A separate jury tapped James Longley’s Iraq-U.S. co-production “Iraq in Fragments” for docu honors.

Julia Loktev’s “Day Night, Day Night,” which follows a young woman intent on performing a suicide bombing in New York’s Times Square, won the Fipresci prize out of 15 titles in the New Director’s Competition.

Highlights of the popular fest, which runs through Thursday, included a lifetime achievement award to Ruby Dee, given by Spike Lee in celebration of the 10th anniversary of the fest’s Black Perspectives sidebar. Andre Benjamin (aka rapper Andre 3000) received the emerging artist award.

Stephen Frears quipped, “Are these the people who couldn’t get tickets to the Rolling Stones concert?” when the Chicago preem of “The Queen” occupied the same timeslot as his rocking countrymen on Wednesday evening. Frears received his career achievement award from Blair, whose late husband Karel Reisz was, Frears said, “the first person ever to invite me onto a film set. He lured me from the world of the stage into the cinema — I’ve no idea why.”

Blair, who was Oscar-nommed for her 1955 role opposite Ernest Borgnine in “Marty,” received a surprise career achievement award on Sunday. “I don’t know if I’ve worked as much as I would have liked,” said the once-blacklisted Blair, “but I’ve had a wonderful life.”

Full prize list for 42nd Chicago Film Festival :

AWARDS

Gold Hugo: Film
“Fireworks Wednesday”
(Iran), Asghar Farhadi

Silver Hugo — Special Jury Prize:
“Days of Glory”
(France-Algeria), Rachid Bouchareb

Silver Hugo:
“Taxidermia”
(Hungary), Gyorgy Palfi

Silver Hugo — Actress:
Darya Moroz, Victoria Isakova and Anna Ukolova
in Russian film “The Spot” by Yuri Moroz

Silver Hugo — Actor:
Jurgen Vogel
in “The Free Will” (Germany)

Plaques:
“Aviva My Love”
(Israel), Shemi Zarhin, for screenwriting
“Time”
(South Korea), Kim Ki-duk
“Requiem”
(Germany), Hans-Christian Schmid

New Directors Competition:
“Day Night, Day Night”
(U.S.), Julia Loktev

Documentary Competition:
Gold Hugo:
“Iraq in Fragments”
(U.S./Iraq), James Longley
Silver Hugo:
“Exile Family Movie” (Australia/Iran) by Arash Special Jury Prizes :
“The Trials of Darryl Hunt”
(U.S.), by Ricki Stern and Annie Sundberg; “Dixie Chicks: Shut Up and Sing” (U.S.), Barbara Kopple and Cecilia Peck

Short Film Competition:
Gold Hugo:
“Forgetting Betty”
(U.S.), James Anderson and Robert Postrozny

Silver Hugo:
“Slavek the Shit”
(Iceland), Grimur Hakonarson

Gold Plaque:
“Women Workers Leaving the Factory,”
Jose Luis Torres Leiva

Animated Short Film:
Gold Plaque:
“Film Noir”
(U.K.), Osbert Parker

Chicago Award:
“Street Thief” (U.S.), Malik Bader

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