Like a Fish on the Moon, the feature debut of Iranian writer-director Dornaz Hajiha, has won the Transilvania Trophy for best feature film at this year’s festival, marking the first time in the event’s 22-year history that Transilvania International Film Festival’s top award went to a female director.

The film follows new parents who are forced to adapt when their apparently healthy son suddenly stops talking.

“The film we have chosen impressed us for the originality of its premise, the power of its performances and the intelligence with which it explored very difficult subject matter,” Mexican filmmaker Michel Franco, the jury president, said in a statement. “The director demonstrated great attention to detail and an impressive, singular vision. We were also impressed by the script, which captured the often conflicting pressures of parenthood, the brutality of devotion. It is a film that resonated long after it ended.”

Accepting the award, which comes with a $11,000 (10,000 euro) cash bursary, Hajiha said she was glad the jury understood the message of the film. “I think whether you’re a 5-year-old or a grown man in your 50s, the pressure to do things you don’t want to do is terrifying.”

Like a Fish on the Moon star Sepidar Tari also won the festival’s best performance award, presented ex aequo, alongside Nacho Quesada, who plays the lead role in Argentinean thriller The Barbarians.

The best directing honor at the 2023 Transilvania International Film Festival, including the $3,800 (3,500 euro) cash prize, went to Brazilian filmmaker Carolina Markowicz for her dark comedy Charcoal about a rural family hosting a mysterious guest who turns out to be a highly wanted drug lord. Finnish writer-director Tia Kouvo took home the special jury prize, and $1,600 (1,500 euro), for her debut feature Family Time, a bittersweet comedy about a dysfunctional family told over the Christmas holidays.

The winner of the documentary competition What’s Up, Doc?, now in its second year, was Anhell69 by Theo Montoya, a hybrid documentary that shows a dark portrait of the young generation facing violence in the Colombian capital of Medellín.

Moldovian director Ion Bors won the festival’s audience award for Carbon, a tragicomedy about the troubled years of the Transnistrian conflict in the early 1990s, while Tudor Giurgiu’s thriller Freedom, set in the final days of Nicolae Ceaușescu’s regime, was voted the most popular Romanian film.

At the closing ceremony, the 1,000 spectators at the Cluj’s historic National Theater, applauded Australian actor Geoffrey Rush, as well as U.S. director and screenwriter Oliver Stone, who both received lifetime achievement honors. Romanian actor Horațiu Malaele received the festival’s excellency award for his career in film and theater.


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