‘Mother, I Love You,’ ‘Short Term 12’ and ‘Wadjda’ among LA Film Fest winners

Bookended by Pedro Almodovar’s “I’m So Excited!” and Fox Searchlight’s starry Sundance comedy “The Way, Way Back” — which closes proceedings tonight — the Los Angeles Film Festival may boast its share of big names, but when it comes to its competition sections, it juries tend to throw the spotlight on lower-profile fare. 

The jury award for Best Narrative Feature went to Latvian drama “Mother, I Love You” — already the Grand Prix winner in the Berlinale’s Generation section back in February. This sophomore feature from writer-director Janis Nords is a coming-of-age story about an adolescent boy drawn into petty crime, and his brittle relationship with his single mother. Warmly reviewed at Berlin and LA alike, it looks a reasonable bet to be Latvia’s entry in the foreign Oscar race — with its modest industry, the country has only entered on four previous occasions.

The corresponding documentary award went to one of the festival’s world premieres, “Code Black” — a debut feature from former emergency physician Ryan McGarry that documents the ins and outs of an overburdened emergency room in a Los Angeles county hospital.

The Audience Award in the narrative section went to “Short Term 12,” a film that already garnered significant buzz in March at South By Southwest, where it won both the top jury and audience awards. Destin Daniel Cretton’s film stars Brie Larson as a young foster-care worker facing personal and professional crises, and opens Stateside in August; its festival performance to date suggests it could be one to watch. (Last year’s winner in this section was “Beasts of the Southern Wild.”0

The audience’s top documentary was “American Revolutionary: The Evolution of Grace Lee Boggs,” a portrait of a 97-year-old Chinese-American social activist. Their favorite international film, meanwhile, was another title that has already been racking up acclaim on the festival circuit: Haifaa Al-Mansour’s “Wadjda” is a gently observed but incisive fable that is most noteworthy for being the first female-directed feature to emerge from Saudi Arabia.

The film, about a young Saudi girl whose burning desire for a bicycle leads her into bold defiance of her society’s restrictive codes of gender and religion, premiered last year at Venice, picking up awards there, as well as at the Rotterdam, Palm Springs, Dubai and London festivals. Already picked up for distribution by Sony Pictures Classics, it’s the kind of crowd-pleasing charmer that could be a threat in the foreign Oscar race if Saudi Arabia deigned to submit this controversial item — which, given that the country has never entered the race before, is a very big ‘if’ indeed. (Could co-producing country Germany do the honors instead? Probably not.) 

Among the short film winners, incidentally, it’s interesting to see a new film from Tsai Ming-liang, the revered Chinese auteur who hasn’t made a feature since 2009’s Cannes Competition entry “Face.” Good to know he’s still at work.

The full list of awards, which were presented this afternoon at a brunch hosted by actress Mary Elizabeth Winstead, is below.

Jury Award for Best Narrative Film: “Mother, I Love You,” Janis Nords
Jury Award for Best Documentary: “Code Black,” Ryan McGarry
Best Performance in the Narrative Competition: Geetanjali Thapa, “I.D.”
Audience Award for Best Narrative Film: “Short Term 12,” Destin Daniel Cretton
Audience Award for Best International Film: “Wadjda,” Haifaa Al-Mansour
Audience Award for Best Documentary: “American Revolutionary: The Evolution of Grace Lee Boggs,” Grace Lee
Best Narrative Short: “Walker, ” Tsai Ming-liang
Best Documentary Short: “Stone,” Kevin Jerome Everson
Best Experimental/Animated Short: “Oh Willy…,” Emma De Sweaf and Mark James Roels
Audience Award for Best Short Film: “Grandpa and Me and a Helicopter to Heaven,” Asa Blanck and Johan Palmgren
Audience Award for Best Music Video: “Katachi,” Kijek/Adamski