Audiences and juries at Ashland Independent Film Festival found favor in movies about people struggling against great odds and sometimes overcoming them or at least finding personal wellsprings of hope and inspiration — and that’s where their Best Film awards went Sunday evening at a gala ceremony at Ashland’s Historic Armory.

Amid lavish praise for attentive Ashland viewers, filmmakers received the following awards. Unless otherwise noted, they are juried. Audience awards are determined by votes of exiting viewers. “Narrative” means a non-documentary but authentic story that presents a situation and traces its development and resolution in a fictional context.

—Best Narrative Feature, “Fort Maria,” a study of race, culture, love, immigration, adoption, agoraphobia amid insecurities of life in the South.

—Best Narrative Feature, Varsity Audience Award — “For Izzy.” This film explores what makes a diverse community, when characters are self-destructive, stubborn and denied access to their true, creative, caring selves. Labels fly about: lesbian, autistic, addict.

—Best Narrative Short, “So Much Yellow.” In the old days of the 1960s, children with Down Syndrome were routinely institutionalized. The 10-minute doc, using the real brother and sister, probes their car ride that dropped one sibling off while the other drove away. Director Eric Milsom said, “To get this award is a really big deal, from a community so steeped in storytelling and the arts.”

—Best Narrative Short (Jim Teece Audience Award). “Game.” Competition, top skills and secrets dominate a high school basketball season.

—Best Documentary Feature (the Les Blank Award) — “America.” About how we care for the elderly in our family. A demented 93-year old woman in Mexico, (named America), is injured falling out of bed, but it serves to bring her three sons together and makes all closer.

—Best Documentary Feature (the Rogue Creamery Award) — Two films. “Liyana,” about orphaned children trying to survive the ravages of HIV, using storytelling as their vehicle. “Skid Row Marathon,” the tale of an improbable group of neophyte runners who use the sport to beat addiction and homelessness in Los Angeles.

—Best Documentary Short, Audience Award. “Little Potato.” A gay boy growing up in the Soviet Union, his mail-order bride mom and their escape to freedom in America.

—Best Documentary Short. “Commodity City.” Explores the lives and conflicts of vendors at Yiwu International Trade Market, where all the cheap stuff of China is sold to the world, ending up in a million Dollar Stores.

—Best Editing, Feature Length Documentary, “Minding the Gap.”

—Best Cinematography, Narrative Feature, Gerald Hirschfeld Award, “Fort Maria.”

—Pride Award, by LGBTQ Juvenile Justice Fund of the Equity Foundation — Zackary Drucker. She was introduced by Emily Simon, who said the gay community was “not as open and wise” as it should have been to trans people in past decades. Drucker said, “It’s so impressive to witness the harmony in this room and in this town, bringing voices from the margins to the center … The best way to get there is to tell stories.”

—Rogue Awards: Chris Cooper and Lynn Shelton.

—Indie Institution Tribute (film preservation): Dennis Doros & Amy Heller.

Special Jury Recognition Awards went to:
—“Wild Honey,” for Narrative Feature.
—“Game” for Narrative Short.
—“The Last Hot Lick” for Cinematography.
—“The Last Honey Hunter” for Documentary Short.
—“The Gardens of Piet Oudolf” for Editing, Documentary Feature.
—“Mr. Fish: Cartooning From the Deep End,” Documentary Feature. Director Pablo Bryant said, “This award reminds me we can be brave and creative at the same time and hold that up and push back against the super-commodified world we live in.”

Director Ben Knight of “The Honey Hunter” said “It’s so important, with cultures so different from ours, to share stories, especially in the culture we live in now.”

AIFF Executive and Artistic Director Richard Herskowitz was joined by Richard Blue, chair of the James Blue Alliance, to announce AIFF’s new James Blue Emerging Filmmaker Award, which will offer a cash award to a social justice filmmaker starting in 2019. James Blue was a graduate of University of Oregon and pioneer social justice filmmaker, who produced “The March” about Martin Luther King’s march on Washington in 1963, and won at the Cannes Film Festival.
— John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.
(April 18: Story updated to correct the gender of the pronoun used in reference to Zackary Drucker.)