Films on child soldiers, beauty pageants and political asylum are amongst this year's winners.
1 May 2012 - 1:51 PM  UPDATED 5 Nov 2012 - 7:30 PM

In a bookended salute to commercial filmmaking, the 11th annual Tribeca Film Festival opened with The Five-Year Engagement and wrapped with a closing night gala screening of Joss Whedon's The Avengers.

Commercialism aside, the festival lauded a number of first-time directors, non-actors and festival favourites in its slew of awards. The world competition winners for narrative and documentary films were chosen from 12 narrative and 12 documentary features from 18 countries. Best New Director prizes were awarded to first-time directors for both narrative and documentary films, selected from a pool of 24 feature films.

In the juried awards, War Witch, directed by Kim Nguyen (Montreal, Canada), was deemed Best Narrative Feature with its star, non-professional actress Rachel Mwanza, awarded Best Actress in a Narrative Feature Film. The award follows Mwanza's win at the Berlin International Film Festival for the same role. Developed over 10 years, and inspired by true events in Myanmar and filmed entirely in the Democratic Republic of Congo, War Witch (pictured) is the story of 14-year-old Komona, who is kidnapped from her African village and forced to become a child soldier.

A big winner was the UK-Cuban-USA co-production, Una Noche. Directed by first-time feature filmmaker, Lucy Malloy, who has previously been nominated for the Student Academy Award, the film made headlines before its premiere when two of its stars, 20-year-old Anailín De La Rúa De La Torre and Javier Núñez Florián, disappeared on their way to the festival. They have since resurfaced in Miami and intend to seek political asylum. Javier Núñez Florián and Dariel Arrechada were jointly awarded Best Actor in a Narrative Feature Film.

The events that surrounded the film's Tribeca premiere echo the narrative of the film, which centres on Cuban teenagers Elio and Raul (Javier Núñez Florián and Dariel Arrechada) and their dream of leaving Havana for Miami. When Raul is accused of assaulting a tourist, their plan is compromised, making it more difficult for Elio to leave.

Malloy cast non-professionals for the roles and auditioned more than 2,000 people. It has been reported that the actors' defection to the USA from Cuba was “not as harrowing as the escape depicted in Una Noche”. Una Noche also won Best Cinematography in a Narrative Feature Film for cinematography by Trevor Forrest and Shlomo Godder, and Best New Narrative Director for Lucy Malloy.

The opening night film in the world documentary competition, The World Before Her, directed by Nisha Pahuja (Canada), was awarded Best Documentary Feature. The film, which had its world premiere at the festival, weaves the stories of two contestants in the Miss India beauty pageant and the women's wing of the Hindu fundamentalist movement, Durga Vahini, to draw a stark portrait of contemporary Indian women in both traditional and modern worlds.

Best Editing in a Documentary Feature was awarded to The Flat (Hadira), edited by Tali Halter Shenkar and directed by Arnon Goldfinger (Israel, Germany). In the film, the director documents the excavation of his 98-year old grandmother's flat after she passes away. Goldfinger's grandmother had emigrated to Tel Aviv from Berlin prior to the Second World War, and during the process of clearing out her belongings the director confronts unexpected ethical ambiguities.

Best New Documentary Director was awarded to Jeroen van Velzen for Wavumba (Netherlands), his personal exploration of a childhood spent in coastal Kenya. Via the locals' retelling of a well-known folktale, we are introduced to the lore of the sea and a fisherman named Masoud, a shark fishing legend. To attend the North American premiere, van Velzen travelled for four days to get to New York from Lake Malawi, Africa—eight hours by bus, two days by train, and more than 18 hours by plane via Dubai.

Two Audience Awards were announced: Any Day Now, directed by Travis Fine, won the Narrative award, with the Documentary Award going to Burn, directed by Tom Putnam and Brenna Sanchez,. Set in 1970s Los Angeles, and based on a true story, Any Day Now stars Alan Cummings and Garret Dillahunt as partners that battle a biased legal system for the right to adopt Marco (Isaac Leyva), a teenager with Down syndrome. Burn documents the men and women of the Detroit Fire Department, faced with protecting the city with the highest arson rate in the country. At its world premiere, four Detroit Fire Department firefighters joined directors Putnam and Sanchez and executive producer Denis Leary and were presented with a $25,000 grant by Momentous Insurance Brokerage and the Fireman's Fund Insurance Company, facilitated by the Leary Firefighters Foundation.

The Tribeca (Online) Film Festival Best Feature Film, determined by audience votes throughout the event, was won by a documentary about the level of dedication required to excel at high school wrestling, On the Mat, written and directed and by Fredric Golding (USA).

All in all, the 2012 Festival hosted nearly 400 screenings and numerous panels. A total of 89 features and 60 short films from 46 countries were attended by 116,000 movie-goers during the course of the 12-day Festival, with theatres frequently at 95 percent capacity.