"The Case Against Eight," a behind-the-scenes look at the struggle to overturn California's ban on same-sex marriages, took home the Les Blank Award for Best Feature Length Documentary at the annual Ashland Independent Film Festival. The film, directed by Ben Cotner and Ryan White, also won the AIFF Rogue Creamery Audience Award for Best Documentary.
"People were coming to me all weekend telling me the impact it had, tears streaming down their faces," AIFF Executive Director Anne Ashby said Sunday night at the AIFF Awards gala. "It really struck a chord.
"Of course, the juries are looking at it from a filmmaking perspective, and they really appreciated how the story was told."
In awards voted by audiences, "Obvious Child," Gillian Robespierre's comedy about what happens when 20-something Brooklyn comedian Donna Stern (Jenny Slate) gets dumped, loses her job and discovers she's pregnant, won the Varsity Audience Award for Best Feature.
"It was hysterical," Ashby said. "It made people laugh so hard — they just loved it."
Late Sunday, the AIFF had sold 18,000 tickets, ahead of last year's sales pace.
"Brooklyn Farmer" received the Audience Award for Best Short Film: Documentary; and "Young Americans" took home the Audience Award for Best Short Film: Narrative. The Audience Family Choice Award went to "Macropolis."
The awards were announced Sunday evening at the awards celebration at the Historic Ashland Armory in which each AIFF culminates. Twelve awards were presented to attending filmmakers, honoring work screened at the 13th AIFF.
The "Case Against Eight" filmmakers and two of the plaintiffs from the historic case attended the festival and participated in a lively Q-and-A session with audiences following the screening of the film.
In awards presented by film juries, "Hank and Asha," a modern romance directed by James E. Duff, won the festival's jury award for Best Narrative Feature film.
"Bluebird," a picture about one woman's tragic mistake in a declining logging town, received an Honorable Mention. New for AIFF this year, the jury award for Best Editing: Feature Length Documentary went to "Marmato," directed by Mark Grieco.
"Bluebird" also won the jury prize for Best Acting Ensemble, with "Hank and Asha" receiving an honorable mention. "Before I Disappear" received the Gerald Hirschfeld A.S.C. Award for Best Cinematography, and "Drunktown's Finest" received an Honorable Mention.
"Bluebird," even though its little logging town was in Maine, resonated with Oregon audiences in its portrayal of working-class people up against hard times.
"The wonderful thing about an audience award is that it's a reflection of the group experience," Ashby said.
Hirschfeld, who over a long career was director of photography for such films as "Young Frankenstein" and "My Favorite Year," was the 2007 A.S.C President's Award Honoree at AIFF.
The award for Best Short Documentary went to "Rougarouing," a romping story about a New Orleans tradition particular to a place and a people.
The juried award for Best Short Film went to "Yearbook."
"Verbatim" received an Honorable Mention in the Best Short Film category.
The 2014 Lifetime Achievement Award was presented to two-time Academy Award-winning Director Barbara Kopple. Kopple received an Oscar in 1977 for "Harlan County, USA," which was screened at the festival, and again in 1991 for "American Dream."
This year's AIFF saw the emotional reunion of Kopple with musician Dave Morris from the days of "Harlan County."
Kopple's many award-winning films include "Shut Up and Sing," "Woodstock: Now and Then" and "Wild Man Blues." Kopple's latest documentary, "Running from Crazy," screened at this year's festival. The film examines the personal journey of writer, model and actress Mariel Hemingway, the granddaughter of Ernest Hemingway, as she strives for a greater understanding of a complex family history involving suicide.
Earlier in the week, the AIFF presented a 2014 Rogue Award to actor Ty Burrell. Burrell has appeared in such blockbuster hits such as "Black Hawk Down" (2001), "Dawn of the Dead" (2004) and "The Incredible Hulk" (2008).
He is the voice of Mr. Peabody in "Mr. Peabody & Sherman," but most fans know him as television funny dad Phil Dunphy. Burrell, who grew up in Southern Oregon, presented "A Conversation with Ty Burrell" Saturday at the Armory, joined by his boyhood pal Miles Inada, a professor of Art and Emerging Media at Southern Oregon University.
"Ty came out and embraced the audience," Ashby said. "It was a coming home. It was just a charming, funny, real, funny Ashland evening.
The AIFF presented filmmaker Mark Monroe with a Rogue Award honoring a filmmaker making a unique contribution to independent film. Monroe is the writing talent behind the Academy Award-winning film "The Cove" and the eye-opening "Chasing Ice."
He was presented with the award after the screening of his most recent film, "Mission Blue," about the legendary oceanographer, marine biologist and environmentalist Sylvia Earle and her campaign to create a global network of protected marine sanctuaries.
Most juried and audience award-winning documentary, feature and short films will receive encore presentations today. Tickets are available at the AIFF box office at the Varsity Theatre in downtown Ashland and online at ashlandfilm.org.
Bill Varble is a freelance writer living in Medford. Reach him at email@example.com.