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2019 New Hope Film Festival wrap up

by Lisa DeAngelis

 The 10th Annual New Hope Film Festival Awards Ceremony Gala took place on Sunday, July 28 at the New Hope Arts Center.  Doug Whipple, President, welcomed the audience and talked about how far the event has come from its inception to this year when 89 independent films from 17 countries, and 27 original scripts competed for the awards.

Mayor Larry Keller came on stage to talk about his affection for New Hope and its long-time support of the arts.  He called the town “eclectic,” a description that was echoed many times in acceptance speeches. Founding members Thom Mulligan and Danny Sailor also attended.

Director Debbie Wright took home the Cultural Spirit Award for From Liberty To Captivity, her tough examination of sex trafficking in the state of Pennsylvania, complete with the stories of unsung heroes (abolitionist citizens, front line workers, educators, law enforcement personnel, etc.) who are on the battlefield fighting for freedom.  On stage Wright said that although the film was nominated for more than one award, the Cultural Spirit Award was the one she wanted most because her film, more than anything else, is about the “spirit” of abolition.  Her film honors both the abolitionists who ended slavery in Civil War times and those today who find themselves having to fight modern day slavery a hundred and fifty years later.

The most emotional moment in the Awards Ceremony was when a veteran came up to accept the award in director Tom Phillips place for Vietnam Aftermath and received a standing ovation.  “For years, many veterans of this war refused to talk about their experience.  Now, however, as many begin to die out, four Vets that belong to the New Jersey Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial share their stories for the first time.”

The Beyond 60 Project, a documentary feature film about women over the age of 60, won two awards:  Audience Favorite for Best Documentary and the Female Eye Filmmaking Award for Melissa Davey, a wife, mother, grandmother, and world traveler who lives in Valley Forge, PA. Her film proclaims, “A woman’s age is not her story.”  Davey feels that “from a very early age, women are made to believe that our relevance has an expiration date. Showing us the power of resilience, defiance, and the wisdom of experience, The Beyond Sixty Project will challenge the way we think about aging and the value of our own stories.”  Davey’s message when she accepted her awards was, “Never assume you are too old to do anything.”

Two women who travelled all the way from Australia accepted the Indie Spirit Award on behalf of director Christopher Kay for Just Between Us, the story of “An unadventurous people pleaser and her childhood friend who set off on a road trip—along with the ghost of her late sister.” 

Best Animated Film went to Eagle Feather, “a family friendly story about Elizabeth, a young American Indian girl and her single father as they journey into the wilderness to search for her first ceremonial eagle feather,” directed by Steve Encell.

Let It Go: The Cat Thief, directed by Jonathan Raines, won Best Music Video for his story of a woman who is, “Office worker by day and diamond burglar at night; she is the Cat Thief.”

Accepting his Best Period Script Award, for The O’Malley, John F. Sarno described New Hope as a “gracious and beautiful community, and a welcome respite from New York City.”

Requite, by James Castagno, won Best Script for his screenplay about “the murder of an uncle that turns a veteran’s thoughts to a quote by Alexander Pope.”

Finally, Best Picture was won by Piotr Szkopiak for his film The Last Witness, “a political thriller based on the harrowing true events of Joseph Stalin’s Katyn Massacre in Spring 1940.”

If there was a consistent theme among recipients, it was that The New Hope Film Festival’s treatment of filmmakers and screenwriters is much better than many others of its kind.  As one award winner exclaimed, “Doug Whipple actually responds to emails!” Another sort of consensus seemed to be reached when nearly every recipient expressed the wish to move to the town of New Hope, and those who had moved away, like Thom Mulligan, reported that they come back every chance they get. 

Almost without exception, award recipients praised New Hope as a beautiful, nurturing, tolerant community, and one that was most fittingly named.  “Yes, I have found hope in New Hope,” said Chelsea Goodman, who won Best Webisode for Epic Quest which will now be made into a series.  She is one of many artists who will have the opportunity to parlay their win in New Hope into even bigger success.

PHOTO CAPS: 1. Debbie Wright (left), of Upper Makefield, receives her “Cultural Spirit” award for documentary, “From Liberty to Captivity,” as Anita Neas and Thom Mulligan look on.

2. Vietnam veteran Gary Monsees accepts the “Short Documentary” award for the filmmakers who won for “Vietnam Aftermath.”