'ETHEL' and 'Gayby' capture honors Sunday

"ETHEL," Rory Kennedy's documentary about her famously private mother, Ethel Kennedy, won the Rogue Creamery Audience Award for Best Documentary, it was announced Sunday evening at the Ashland Independent Film Festival's awards celebration. "Gayby," director Jonathan Lisecki's film about odd-couple friends who decide to have a baby the old-fashioned way, won the John C. Schweiger Audience Award for Best Feature.

The festival, which has been under way since Thursday at the Varsity Theatre and the old Ashland Armory, announced 11 awards to filmmakers at its 11th annual awards bash at the armory, some of them chosen by film professionals, others voted on by audiences.

"The audience awards are so exciting," AIFF Executive Director Anne Ashbey Pierotti said. "They're not necessarily what you predict. But they selected some terrific films."

The selection of "ETHEL," which delves into some of the lesser-known Kennedy family stories, was no surprise. The victory for "Gayby," a sweet, irreverent comedy, was less expected. "But it's a wonderful film," Pierotti said.

The festival earlier named Broadway stage and Hollywood film director Julie Taymor the recipient of its 2012 AIFF Artistic Achievement Award. She appeared Friday in a program titled "Essential Transformation: In Conversation with Julie Taymor," with Oregon Shakespeare Artistic Director Bill Rauch.

The 2012 Rogue Award was presented to AIFF alum Ondi Timoner ("DIG!," "Library of Dust"), who took part in a program called "Breaking Boundaries: A Conversation with Ondi Timoner," and had her film "We Live in Public" screened.

The Audience Award for best short documentary went to "Pipe Dreams," Leslie Iwerks' account of the struggle of family farmers against the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline, while "Song of the Spindle," Drew Christie's whimsical looked at an conversation between sentient being and beast (but which was which?) took home the Audience Award for best short narrative.

Musa Syeed's "Valley of Saints" was awarded for Best Narrative Feature film by the festival's jury. Turner Ross and Bill Ross' "Tchoupitoulas" took home the Best Feature Length Documentary juried award. Peter Nicks' "The Waiting Room" was given a special mention by the Feature Length Documentary.

Nicholas Ozeki's "Mamitas," a coming-of-age tale set in Los Angeles, won the Gerald Hirschfeld A.S.C. Award Award for Best Cinematography. Hirschfeld, who presented the award, was the 2007 A.S.C. President's Award honoree for films such as "Young Frankenstein" and "My Favorite Year." The Best Acting Ensemble award went to "Gayby." "My Best Day" received a special jury mention for Acting Ensemble.

Kangmin Kim's "38-39°" won the Best Animated Short. Best Short Documentary went to Sam Green's "The Universal Language." The juried award for Best Short Film went to Levi Abrino for "Little Horses." Matt Bockelman's "You Have the Right to an Attorney" received a special jury mention for Short Documentary, and Nick Hartano and Sam Roden's "The Lonely Pair" earned a special jury mention for Short Film

Pierotti said attendance through Sunday was about on a par with last year, when the AIFF screened films for 18,000 viewers.

Many of the festival's films will have encore showings Monday at the Varsity. Tickets are available at the box office. For film details, visit www.ashlandfilm.org.

Reach freelance writer Bill Varble at varble.bill@gmail.com.

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