'Shithouse,' 'An Elephant in the Room' Top SXSW Film Competition Winners

Shithouse and An Elephant in the Room - SXSW winners- Publicity-H 2020
Courtesy of SXSW Film Festival

'Shithouse' wins the narrative feature competition while 'An Elephant in the Room' topped the documentary features list.

The SXSW festival unveiled its list of film competition winners Tuesday, which took place digitally over the past week after the festival was canceled by the City of Austin to prevent further outbreak of the new coronavirus.

The 10-day festival was canceled just a week out from its start, causing organizers to scramble to salvage its film competition.

“We were relieved that health of Austin and world was being looked after, but then, for me focusing on filmmakers and knowing their hopes and dreams and how long they had to prepare for this moment…we were like, what could we do?,” says SXSW film festival director Janet Pierson. “We love the fact that SXSW is so often a transformative moment for so many filmmakers.”

The solution was to go digital, albeit not easily as the SXSW organization faced sudden layoffs due to the festival cancellation, with about a third of the staff let go.

“That was a blow, that was very depressing,” Pierson says. “Working at SXSW is kind of a calling for a lot of people, we work really hard as a company, we work long, hard hours, everybody is very united in the importance of what we’re doing.” She adds that there has been no definitive decision on whether this year’s festival will be rescheduled for later in the year or if SXSW will just resume in 2021.

Juried awards took place with jury members viewing submissions via links. All the feature films selected for SXSW this year are eligible for the Independent Spirit Awards next year, while the winners of the animated, documentary and narrative short film categories are eligible for Oscars next year. 

?The winner of the narrative feature competition is Shithouse, a coming-of-age story and directorial debut from writer/director/star Cooper Raiff. “It’s a really charming film and an interesting debut,” Pierson says. “It’s not an unfamiliar film in terms of the plot, but the fact that it works so successfully when it’s been done before is wonderful, to his credit.”

In the documentary feature category, Katrine Philp’s dissection of how children handle grief in An Elephant in the Room, was the winning contender. “If we have a bias, we love films that take on big subjects through intimate characters and stories, and this is very much from a kids’ eye view, it’s a sensitive, beautiful film about grief,” Pierson says.”

See the full list of winners below. ?

Narrative Feature competition (Jurors: Rebecca Keegan, Rodrigo Perez, Kim Yutani)
Winner: Shithouse, dir: Cooper Raiff
Special Jury Recognition for Directing: Topside, dir: Celine Held, Logan George
Special Jury Recognition for Acting: Really Love, dir: Angel Kristi Williams
Actors: Kofi Siriboe, Yootha Wong-Loi-Sing

Documentary Feature competition (Jurors: Bilge Ebiri, Naomi Fry, Dino Ramos)
Winner: An Elephant in the Room, dir: Katrine Philp
Special Jury Recognition for Achievement in Documentary: The Donut King, dir: Alice Gu
Special Jury Recognition for Breakthrough Voice: Finding Yingying, dir: Jiayan "Jenny" Shi

?Narrative Shorts (Jurors: Penelope Bartlett, Monica Castillo, Greta Fuentes)

?Winner: White Eye, dir: Tomer Shushan 

Special Jury Recognition for Acting: Dirty, dir: Matthew Puccini
Actors: Morgan Sullivan, Manny Dunn
Special Jury Recognition: Darling, dir: Saim Sadiq
Special Jury Recognition: Single, dir: Ashley Eakin

Documentary Shorts (Jurors: Marjon Javadi, Allison Willmore)

?Winner: No Crying at the Dinner Table, dir: Carol Nguyen
Special Jury Recognition: Mizuko, dir: Katelyn Rebelo, Kira Dane
Special Jury Recognition: Día de la Madre, dir: Ashley Brandon, Dennis Höhne

Animated Shorts (Jurors: Katie Krentz, Hana Shimizu, Asalle Tanha)
Winner: Symbiosis, dir: Nadja Andrasev
Special Jury Recognition: No, I Don’t Want to Dance!, dir: Andrea Vinciguerra
Special Jury Recognition: The Shawl, dir: Sara Kiener?

Midnight Shorts (Jurors: Jonathan Barkan, Derek Kingongo, Brittany Klesic)
Winner: Regret, dir: Santiago Menghini
Special Jury Recognition: Laura Hasn't Slept, dir: Parker Finn
Special Jury Recognition for Creature Design: Stucco, dir: Janina Gavankar, Russo Schelling

Music Videos (Jurors: Jason Baum, Chaka and Qi Dada?)

Winner: 070 Shake - Nice to Have, dir: Noah Lee
Special Jury Recognition for Animation: Mitski - A Pearl, dir: Saad Moosajee, Art Camp
Special Jury Recognition for Direction: The Lumineers - Gloria, dir: Kevin Phillips

Texas Shorts (Jurors: Denise Hernandez, Jenny Jacobi, Martin C. Jones)

Winner: Just Hold On, dir: Sam Davis, Rayka Zehtabchi
Special Jury Recognition: Coup d’etat Math, dir: Sai Selvarajan