The director of the narrative feature grand jury prize winner had a backpack strapped on, another prize-winner wore shorts and a baseball cap, and more than a few hugs and tears could be seen as the South by Southwest Film Conference and Festival gave out its awards Tuesday night, capturing the casual feel and small, honest emotions of the event.
“Krisha,” directed by Trey Edward Shults, won the grand jury prize in the narrative feature competition. “Peace Officer,” directed by Scott Christopherson and Brad Barber, took the grand jury prize in the documentary feature competition.
The awards were announced in a ceremony at the Paramount Theater hosted by “Saturday Night Live” cast member Vanessa Bayer, who also appeared in the movie “Trainwreck,” which had its world premiere at the festival on Sunday night. Bayer kept the mood playfully off-kilter throughout the evening.
Bayer finished her opening monologue by saying, “If hosting an awards show where you don’t understand what most of the awards are is wrong, then I don’t want to be right.”
Shults is a Texas-based filmmaker and his feature debut, “Krisha,” is an expansion of a short film that played SXSW just last year. The film stars Krisha Fairchild (Stults’ real-life aunt) in a story that traces the impact of addiction on one family.
“This is overwhelming, I don’t know what to say, I wasn’t expecting this,” said Shults, a backpack double-strapped on his back. “This is a family-and-friends affair, purely. I love all of them and it couldn’t have been done without any of them.”
Exiting the stage alongside other cast and crew to head off for a group photo, Fairchild shouted back to the theater, “somebody watch my purse!”
“Peace Officer” is a study of the growing militarization of police departments in the United States. The story is largely told through that of Dub Lawrence, a former Utah sheriff who established the state’s first SWAT team only to see that same unit kill his son-in-law in a standoff decades later. It is the first feature film for both Christopherson and Barber.
Taking the stage, Christopherson said, “I can’t believe we even got into this festival, let alone win this award.”
“We lost someone so special recently, all of us, Albert Maysles,” said Barber, referring to the acclaimed documentarian who died earlier this month. “He really influenced us and he said something, he said you should love your documentary subjects and that’s something we try to keep in mind. Thanks, Al.”
In the narrative competition, special jury recognition for visual excellence went to “Creative Control” directed by Benjamin Dickinson. On the documentary side, special recognition for directing went to Alex Sichel and Elizabeth Giamatti for “A Woman Like Me.” The documentary jury also gave special recognition for editing to Jeff Consiglio for “Twinsters,” directed by Samantha Futerman and Ryan Miyamoto.
Three special awards were also announced. Yvonne Kerekgyarto won the SXSW game-changer award for female directors for “Free Entry,” Bill Ross and Turner Ross won the Louis Black “Lone Star” award for Texas film for “Western” and Anna Gustavi won the Karen Schmeer Film Editing Fellowship, given to documentary film editors.
Michael Mohan’s “Pink Grapefruit” won the narrative short award, while Meg Smaker’s “Boxeadora” won the documentary short prize. Gillian Wallace Horvat’s “Kiss Kiss Fingerbang” won for midnight short and Don Hertzfeldt’s “World of Tomorrow” won for animated short.
A prize for excellence in poster design went to Yen Tan’s work for “Manson Family Vacation.” The excellence in title design prize went to Dan Gregoras for Imaginary Forces and his work on “Manhattan.”
The 2015 SXSW Film Festival ends Saturday, when audience award winners will be announced.
Follow on Twitter: @IndieFocus
We’re at South by Southwest until Sunday. Join us at latimes.com/sxsw for ongoing coverage of the festival.