The sixth annual Monadnock International Film Festival concluded Sunday afternoon with an encore screening of the four best movies to receive awards this year.
The festival included 17 feature films and 22 shorts with stories from countries such as Spain, Libya, Greece, the Netherlands and the United Arab Emirates. Organizers also selected several movies that focused on immigration and refugees, coupling those movies with panel discussions featuring local activists. That theme was reflected in the award winners; two of the honorees’ films focused on aspects of the refugee crisis.
The Jonathan Daniels Award went to Talya Tibbon and Joshua Bennett, who directed and produced “Sky and Ground,” a 2017 documentary that sheds light on the Syrian refugee crisis. Focusing on a Syrian-Kurdish family’s arduous journey to safety in Europe, the movie is a powerful and intimate examination of a life interrupted by war.
The award, presented by staff from the Jonathan Daniels Center for Social Responsibility, is named after the Keene native who died in 1965 saving a fellow civil rights activist from gunfire. It recognizes “filmmakers whose work combines artistic excellence with an awareness around a timely social issue, reflecting Jonathan Daniels’ courage and spirit,” according to a news release from the film festival.
Tibbon and Bennett received the award on Saturday night after a screening of “Sky and Ground” at The Colonial Theatre in downtown Keene.
Despite having seen the movie “for the twentieth million time,” Tibbon said, every screening is special, because it allows her to see people’s reactions, be it laughter, sorrow and baited breaths.
“As a filmmaker, it’s very gratifying to see people’s reactions to what you made,” she said.
In receiving the award, Tibbon said she was inducted into a group of distinguished creators. Though she did not set out to create a call-to-action movie, she said, several audience members came up to her following Saturday’s screening to tell her that the movie inspired them to act on behalf of refugees.
Three movies received audience choice awards. The best documentary short award went to Ben Knight’s 2017 movie “The Last Honey Hunter.” The 35-minute documentary chronicles a Nepali man’s journey to harvest neurotoxic honey from Himalayan honeybees. The risky task, which involves climbing rope ladders up a steep mountain, is a spiritual pursuit in a far-flung corner of the earth.
The Florentine Films Documentary Feature Award went to a 2017 documentary, “Soufra.” The movie, directed by Thomas Morgan and Mohammed El Manasterly, follows the story of refugee Mariam Shaar, who along with a group of displaced people, sets out to launch a catering company — the movie’s namesake — at a camp outside of Beirut, Lebanon. Together, they work to take their future into their own hands, healing the wounds of war.
Producer Laina Barakat won the best narrative short category for her 2016 fictional movie “Glowworm.” The movie centers on Emma, who inherits a farm in rural New England from a grandfather she hardly knew. Emma travels to the farm to sell the land, but then changes her mind.
Robert E. Kelly of Rindge, who was also involved in creating the movie, said seeing “Glowworm” on the big screen at The Colonial was a thrilling experience. A film buff who goes to four music and motion picture festivals a year, Kelly said MONIFF is a favorite because of its intense focus on quality. Over the years, he said, the festival has grown not only in the number of movies featured, but in attendance.