Tribeca: 'Diane,' 'Smuggling Hendrix' and 'Island of the Hungry Ghosts' Win Top Awards

Courtesy of Tribeca Film Festival
'Diane'

Writer-director Nia DaCosta takes the Nora Ephron prize, given to a female filmmaker, for her narrative feature 'Little Woods,' starring Tessa Thompson and Lily James.

New York Film Festival director Kent Jones was the toast of the Tribeca Film Festival when the latter event announced its award winners Thursday evening.

Jones, who wrote and directed the narrative feature Diane, saw his character study of the titular devoted friend and caretaker of her drug-addicted son win three awards, including the founders award for best narrative feature. In addition to that top prize, Diane also won best cinematography in a U.S. narrative feature film (Wyatt Garfield) and best screenplay (Jones). 

"Here we were presented with another very difficult decision, but after careful consideration we have chosen a film that we believe encompasses the beauty, aesthetic, as well as the powerful themes of love, struggle, life, death and womanhood that are the spirit of this year's festival," the jury said of the decision to give Diane the founders award.

The film — produced by Luca Borghese, Ben Howe, Caroline Kaplan and Oren Moverman — stars Mary Kay Place, Jake Lacy, Estelle Parsons and Andrea Martin.

Other top awards went to Smuggling Hendrix (best international narrative feature) and Island of the Hungry Ghosts (best documentary feature). Writer-director Nia DaCosta won the Nora Ephron prize, given to a female filmmaker, for her narrative feature Little Woods, starring Tessa Thompson and Lily James.

Smuggling Hendrix, written and directed by Marios Piperides, hails from Cyprus, Germany and Greece. The film tells the story of a washed-up musician caught between the mob and border patrol as he's trying to leave Cyprus, but then his dog escapes across the wall to the island's Turkish side.

The international narrative feature jury praised Smuggling Hendrix for "its unique, comedic exploration of a complicated absurd political situation told in a clear, personal compelling way."

Island of the Hungry Ghosts, directed by Gabrielle Brady, hails from Germany, the U.K. and Australia. The film focuses on Christmas Island, Australia, home to the migration of 40 million crabs, traveling from jungle to sea, and a high-security facility that indefinitely detains individuals seeking asylum.

"The best documentary award goes to a film that demonstrates extraordinary mastery of the full symphonic range of cinematic tools: cinematography, editing, score, sound design and, perhaps greatest of all, an exquisite use of metaphor," the documentary jury said. "To a film that moved us deeply, impressed us immensely and made us feel we were witnessing nothing less than the emergence, fully formed, of a major new cinematic talent, we are thrilled to award the best documentary award to Island of the Hungry Ghosts.”

Little Woods is a dramatic thriller set in the fracking boomtown of Little Woods, North Dakota. It follows two estranged sisters who have to scramble to pay their mother's mortgage after she dies. 

"For its sure-footed storytelling featuring an unconventional heroine who pushes past expectations of what is bravery in a woman’s life or in cinema," jury member Rebecca Keegan said of why Little Woods won. "In watching this portrait of a woman at a crossroads in small-town America, we found ourselves wanting to see more stories from this filmmaker and more of her vision of a woman in the world."

The international narrative competition also featured a double winner in Denmark's The Saint Bernard Syndicate, directed by subversive satirist Mads Brugger and written by Laerke Sanderhoff. The film, an odd-couple comedy about two Danes who try to sell the eponymous dogs to China's middle class, earned honors for best actor (Rasmus Bruun) and best screenplay (Sanderhoff). 

The award for best actress in a U.S. narrative feature film went to Alia Shawkat for Duck Butter, while best actor honors in the category went to Jeffrey Wright for O.G.

Best actress in an international narrative feature film went to Joy Rieger for Virgins. Best cinematography in an international narrative feature film went to Albert Salas for Obey. Best documentary cinematography went to Niels van Koevorden for Tanzania Transit. And best editing in a documentary film went to Frederick Shanahan, Jon Kasbe and Caitlyn Greene for When Lambs Become Lions.

To Dust helmer Shawn Snyder was named best new narrative director, while the new documentary director award was given to Dava Whisenant for Bathtubs Over Broadway.

Best narrative short honors went to Lenar Kamalov's Phone Duty. The shorts animation award was given to Louise Bagnall's Late Afternoon. The best documentary short prize was awarded to Kim A. Snyder's Notes From Dunblane: Lessons From a School Shooting. And the student visionary award was presented to Ines Eshun's Life of Esteban.

The Storyscapes award went to Hero, and the third annual Tribeca X Award, recognizing excellence at the intersection of advertising and entertainment, was given to Square's For Every Kind of Dream.

“It is rewarding to honor films that tell important stories and moved our juries in profound ways,” Tribeca co-founder Jane Rosenthal said in a statement. “Whether they excite, incite, inspire or simply entertain, it is a privilege to launch this worthy group with this special honor at Tribeca.” The awards were handed out at a ceremony, sponsored by Chloe Wine Collection, at BMCC Tribeca Performing Arts Center.

The festival awarded $145,000 in cash prizes, and a number of the winners were presented with original pieces of art created by contemporary artists.

The audience awards, announced on Saturday (April 28), went to Shawn Snyder's To Dust, in the narrative category, and Dyana Winkler and Tina Brown's United Skates, in the doc category.

The narrative runner-up was Ondi Timoner's Mapplethorpe, and the doc runner-up was Jeff and Michael Zimbalist's Momentum Generation.

Festivalgoers will have a final chance to see the award-winning films with screenings through Sunday, the final day of the fest. The 17th annual edition of the Tribeca Film Festival, which began April 18, included 99 feature films, 55 shorts and 35 immersive storytelling projects from 46 countries.

April 28, 9:03 p.m. This story has been updated with the festival's audience award winners and runners-up.