The art of storytelling is alive and reimagined in this year’s #SIMA2021 winners. SIMA, the non-profit impact media agency that celebrates, curates and distributes documentaries and creative media projects that advance positive social change, announced their 2021 festival winners this morning. Chosen from 40 finalists spanning 20 countries, the SIMA 2021 winners represent the future of filmmaking as we know it: honest, raw, diverse, creative, and deeply personal stories that transform our world.
From an unprecedented exploration into the machine-learning algorithms perpetuating society’s existing racial, class, and gender biases in Best Director, Best Sound Design, and Transparency Jury Prize winner, CODED BIAS by Shalini Kantayya; to following a group of activists risking their lives to confront Russian leader Ramzan Kadyrov and his government-directed campaign to detain, torture and execute LGBTQ Chechens in Best Feature Documentary, Winner WELCOME TO CHECHNYA by David France, this year’s SIMA 2021 winners unapologetically invite viewers to examine the state of our contemporary world and their unique place—and potential—to change it.
“We could not be more proud and in awe of the content creators, filmmakers, social commentators and creative truth-seekers we get to support this year. Thank you for your unwavering dedication to move and enlighten our world.”
— Daniela Kon, SIMA Founder & Executive Director
With heart-pounding sequences and mesmerizing cinematography, SIMA 2021 winners take viewers on a visual journey around the world, bringing audiences face-to-face with some of the world’s most eye-opening, unique and urgent perspectives. Inequality, race, gender, migration, spirituality, conservation, human rights, art, power, and the pursuit of a more just and equitable future, portrait a world living on the both the brink of war and ecstatic transformation with one overarching theme: hope.
The SIMA 2021 Winners are eligible for entry into SIMA’s global community screening series, SIMA X, and online education platform, SIMA Classroom, which reaches over 75,000 students around the globe.
Here are the award winning films:
WELCOME TO CHECHNYA
Director: David France
Producers: Alice Henty, Askold Kurov
107 mins | Russia
Since 2017, Chechnya’s tyrannical leader, Ramzan Kadyrov, has waged a depraved operation to “cleanse the blood” of LGBTQ Chechens, overseeing a government-directed campaign to detain, torture and execute them. With no help from the Kremlin and only faint global condemnation, activists take matters into their own hands. In his new documentary, David France uses a remarkable approach to anonymity to expose this atrocity and to tell the story of an extraordinary group of people confronting evil.
Best Director, Best Sound Design, Transparency
Director: Shalini Kantayya
Producers: Shalini Kantayya p.g.a., Sabine Hoffman
86 mins | USA
Modern society sits at the intersection of two crucial questions: What does it mean when artificial intelligence (AI) increasingly governs our liberties? And what are the consequences for the people Al is biased against? When MIT Media Lab researcher Joy Buolamwini discovers that most facial-recognition software does not accurately identify darker-skinned faces and the faces of women, she delves into an investigation of widespread bias in algorithms. As it turns out, artificial intelligence is not neutral, and women are leading the charge to ensure our civil rights are protected.
Best Cinematography & Stylistic
IL MIO CORPO
Director: Michele Pennetta
Producers: Joëlle Bertossa and Giovanni Pompili
80 min | Sicily
Oscar, not quite a child anymore, scavenges for scrap metal for his father. He spends his life in improvised landfills among what remains of leftovers. Worlds apart, yet close-by, there is Stanley. He tidies the church in exchange for a monetized hospitality, picks fruits, herds sheep: anything that keeps his foreign body busy. Oscar, the young Sicilian, and Stanley the Nigerian don’t seem to have much in common. Except for the feeling of being thrown into the world, to suffer the same refusal, the same overwhelming wave of choices imposed on them by others.
Director: David Byars
Producers: Jeremy Rubingh
96 min | USA
Today, despite support from voters across the political spectrum, our public lands face unprecedented threats from extractive industries and the politicians in their pockets. Part love letter, part political exposé, Public Trust investigates how we arrived at this precarious moment through three heated conflicts—a national monument in the Utah desert, a mine in the Boundary Waters and oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge—and makes a case for their continued protection.
Best Documentary & Best Cinematography
Director: Raúl de la Fuente Calle
23 min | Freetown, Sierra Leona
At the age of 15, Chennu committed his first crime: being a street child. And he walked into hell: Pademba Road. The adults prison in Freetown. Hell is ruled by Mr. Sillah, and the prisoners abandon all hope. Chennu got out after 4 years. And now he wants back.
Best Director & Best Editing
Director: Skye Fitzgerald
Producers: Michael Scheuerman, Skye Fitzgerald
40 min | Yemen
Filmed inside two of the most active therapeutic feeding centers in Yemen, HUNGER WARD documents two women health care workers fighting to thwart the spread of starvation against the backdrop of a forgotten war. The film provides an unflinching portrait of Dr. Aida Alsadeeq and Nurse Mekkia Mahdi as they work to save the lives of hunger-stricken children within a population on the brink of famine. With unprecedented access within a sensitive conflict-zone, HUNGER WARD reveals a world of bravery and commitment-to-care for war-stricken children.
Best Sound Design
SIONA: AMAZON’S PROTECTORS UNDER THREAT
Director: Tom Laffay
Producer: Emily Wright
10 min | Colombia
Adiela Jinet Mera Paz, a leader of the Siona people, has taken up the effort to remove mines from the tribe’s ancestral land, following decades of armed conflict that has left them facing extinction.
JURY PRIZES – DOCUMENTARY
Lens to Action
KISS THE GROUND
Director: Josh Tickell, Rebecca Tickell
84 min | USA
Narrated and featuring Woody Harrelson, Kiss the Ground is an inspiring and groundbreaking film that reveals the first viable solution to our climate crisis.
Kiss the Ground reveals that, by regenerating the world’s soils, we can completely and rapidly stabilize Earth’s climate, restore lost ecosystems and create abundant food supplies. Using compelling graphics and visuals, along with striking NASA and NOAA footage, the film artfully illustrates how, by drawing down atmospheric carbon, soil is the missing piece of the climate puzzle.
HEALING FROM HATE
Director: Peter Hutchison
Producers: David Kuhn, Lucas Sabean
84 min | USA
Documenting a stunning era of hatred in America, Healing From Hate follows ex-hate group members in their work to de-radicalize White Nationalists, and heal communities torn apart by racism.
JURY PRIZES – VR 360
Best VR Experience & Immersive Impact
Directors: Samantha Quick
Producers: Michaela Holland, Averie Timm, Lauren Burmaster, Paula Cuneo, Amy Seidenwurm
8 min | USA, Philippines
Step into Geramy’s world, a scrappy, budding inventor, who is trying to find a better way to commute to school. Based in the Philippines, this story highlights the students that swim between the small islands in order to travel to the nearest elementary or high schools in their remote areas.
A MISCARRIAGE OF JUSTICE
Directors: Atalanti Dionysus
Producers: Atalanti Dionysus
17 min | Australia
A Miscarriage of Justice, a VR docudrama which brings history to life by transported the spectator to the 1960’s to bear witness to one of the most political executions in Australian history, the hanging of Ronald Joseph Ryan. Ronald Ryan’s execution became significant in many ways and went on to contribute to the abolishment of capital punishment in Australia. When the spectator enters the experience, they arrive as the apparition of Jean Lee, the last woman executed in Australia in 1951. Minutes before the hanging the spectator’s role switches to that of Ryan and they are faced with the unimaginable.
Director: Luis Barreto
Producer: Luis Barreto, Durley Montoya
15 min | Colombia
Yoiner Machado – The founder of a dance academy in Manrique, teacher and professional in dance as well as creator of methodologies for the coexistence and peace-building through dance. For 13 years he has been dedicated to the transformation of communities and has impacted 1,500 lives. He empowers young people and adults so that each one is capable of creating his or her life project in favor of the community. His motto that spreads throughout the world is: “we are a family”.
Director: Edward Owles
Producers: Kasia Mika / Ed Owles / James Noël
20 min | Haiti
Lyrically narrated by award-winning Haitian poet James Noël, ‘IntranQu’îllités’ interweaves the work of several Haitian artists who want to redefine how their nation is perceived. From a tree-based sculpture responding to the earthquake of 2010, to a video artist’s interpretation of a vodou waterfall festival, the film explores the role of art in society and the timeless importance of creativity.
JURY PRIZES – IMPACT VIDEOS
THE RED DOOR PROJECT: EVOLVE
Directors: Natalie Taylor
Producers: Whitney Bradshaw
9 min | USA
Blue Chalk worked with The Red Door Project to create a film that showcases its unique participatory process as they work to stage a series of monologues called “Evolve,” which tackles the fraught relationships between communities of color and law enforcement. In the face of seemingly insurmountable conflict, the show takes monologues drawn from law enforcement perspectives as well as from communities of color and puts that conflict on stage. This film captures the hard work and deep consideration that actors, directors, and even audience members suffuse throughout the show.
Director: André Robert Lee
Producers: Susan MacLaury, Alexandra Blaney
39 mins | USA
Unlikely allies work together to transform the juvenile justice system and stop mass incarceration in Richmond, VA. In the film, we meet Sid, Tae, and AR, three teens currently being held in a Richmond, VA detention center who are offered the chance to become activists speaking truth to power. Participating in a local arts organizations’ program, Performing Statistics, they are taught by different artists to deliver their powerful, authentic messages to the public, law enforcement, and government officials using their art, including a virtual reality jail cell they’ve helped create.
Vital Voices Award
Founder: Jessica Devaney
Mission Statement: Founded in 2016, Multitude Films (MF) produces award-winning films by underrepresented voices and prioritizes stories by and about people of color, LGBTQ folks, people with disabilities, and women. We’re committed to a representational storytelling model where the film’s core creative team has a stake in the communities that will be most directly impacted by the story. We prioritize representation and equity on screen and behind the camera. We offer a production pipeline that fills the gap between mentorship and the market. The majority of our slate is directed by emerging voices – filmmakers within their first three features – because we believe this generation of storytellers should represent the world we live in, and that stories on screen should represent the complexity of our lives. We’re one of few production companies integrating a structural change lens and impact strategy into our projects, with a slate encompassing core issue areas to engage community partners over time and build impact cumulatively, from addressing racial terror, Islamophobia and gender-based violence, to lifting up LGBTQ and immigrant rights and dignity. We’re as committed to artistry as to impact, and aim to leverage critical and commercial success toward social and political change.
The Nation of Artists
Founder: Elliot Kotek
CEO/Executive Producer: Elliot Kotek
Mission Statement: IDEAS + EMPATHY = IMPACT
In a world where people are preaching the 3 P’s of People, Planet, Profit, The Nation of Artists offers a “4P” Approach to Strategy that is founded in the power of collaboration, and acknowledging that innovation inherently comes from diversity: When you find something you’re Passionate about, it will define your Purpose. We like to say “When you share your purpose, you’ll find your People. And when you have your people, anything is possible.” We love what we do, and our only mandate is to do it “More, Bigger, and with GOOD PEOPLE.”
Belly of the Beast By Erika Cohn
All In – The Fight for Democracy By Liz Garbus & Lisa Cortés
Family In Transition By Ofir Trainin
Cambodia Burning By Sean Gallagher