The Rogue Creamery Audience Award for Best Feature Length Documentary was presented to “City of Joy,” the tale of oppressed women amid violence in the Congo, during the Ashland Independent Film Festival awards celebration Sunday evening. The Varsity Audience Award for Best Narrative Feature went to “Pushing Dead,” which portrayed a man living with HIV, but without being able to afford $3,000 a month for prescription medication.

This is the 16th annual AIFF, which has achieved wide note in the Indie world — often lauded for its hospitality, appreciative audiences (with long lines that no one seems to mind; it's just more time to talk movies), and beauty of the Rogue Valley environment. Many directors and producers of the films thanked the audience and jurors. The sold-out awards event was held at Ashland Historic Armory, with food and drinks provided by area restaurants.

John Schweiger, a main player in the festival, spoke to the crowd. He bought the Varsity Theatre in Ashland in 1985. It has been a town landmark since it was built in 1937. It was home to the first AIFF in 2001 and is still the anchoring venue. It was Schweiger's first theater, but, through Coming Attractions Theatres, Inc., he now owns 18 in Oregon, Washington, California and Alaska.

After each movie screening during the five-day festival featuring more than 100 films, the audience grades it on slips of paper, which are used to tabulate award winners.

Special Jury Recognition for a Documentary Feature went to “Whose Streets?” It portrays tragic conflicts and death as police, accused of racism, confront African-Americans in Ferguson, Missouri, in 2014.

Awards for Best Narrative Feature & the Gerald Hirschfeld Cinematography Award went to “My First Kiss and the People Involved.” Best Feature Film and Gerald Hirschfeld Award for Cinematography, juried, went to “My First Kiss and the People Involved.” The touching and wrenching film shows a severely autistic teen girl in a group home forced to use cold logic and experience (thus emerging from her shell) in order, not just to survive, but to start getting glimpses of a rich world that awaits her. (About the kiss: It’s not what you think.)

The "Faerie Godmother Award" for an emerging female filmmaker went to Rachel Lambert. Lambert said only about 9 percent of Indie movies are by women and they are helping “fight oppression.” She told the audience, “You guys are amazing. You are so friendly. I get lost and you give me directions. Someone even gave me a massage. Festivals like this are so valuable because they’re an ecosystem and cause movies to be made.”

Indie filmmaking can be a big and intimidating job, but Lambert says, as a child, she learned to make movies on VHS in her basement and “I didn’t go to film school because I was too scared. Now, I proudly burn a barn to the ground just so I can film it.”

A Special Jury Recognition for a Narrative Short award was presented to “Black Canaries.” Filmmaker Jessie Kreitzer lauded Ashland as “the reason I want to keep making films … Ashland, I do love you. You’re a simply incredible community. Your program, hosts — I found a home here.”

Kreitzer returned to his roots in Iowa to absorb the coal mining industry that impacted the health of his ancestors, turning it into a story where the main character, Clarence Lockwood daily descends into the hated Maple Mine, which has crippled his father and blinded his son. AIFF blurbs called it “a meditation on patrimony, loyalty and love.”

“I found the connective tissue — what draws miners to their trade — and me to film as a creator.” Musing on why filmmakers undertake such a daunting task, he ended by saying, “We do it and do it. So keep doing it to do it.”

Longtime Ashland internet provider and AIFF booster Jim Teece gave his “Jim Teece Audience Award for a Short Film” to “Plea,” a 20-minute story about a lawyer who has only minutes to talk her 16-year old client into copping a plea for murder, which he only marginally was involved in, or face much worse consequences.

Teece told a riveting short tale of his own — about how trees in a calm, contained, artificial environment were found to be weak and fell over at the least disturbance, but those that lived where “winds are constant and they are growing roots” are the ones that survive — a lesson that can be applied to creative souls in the Indie film business.

Other awards went to:

Les Blank Award for feature length documentary — “Quest.”

Best Documentary Short — “Kish.”

Best Narrative Short Film — “Last Leatherman of the Vale of Cashmere.”

Best Editing in a Feature Length Documentary, "Abacus: Small Enough to Jail."

Best Short Documentary, audience award — “The Tables.”

Rogue Award — Alex Cox.

Lifetime Achievement Award — James Ivory.

Pride Award (LGBT) — Jenni Olson.

Special Jury Recognition for Documentary Editing — "I Am Another You."

Special Jury Recognition for a Documentary Short — “The Boatman.”

Special Jury Recognition for a Narrative Feature — "The Missing Sun."

For more about the awards, go to www.ashlandfilm.org/Page.asp?NavID=901#.

— John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.