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2010 Outstanding Achievement Award: Kim Longinotto

Internationally renowned UK director Kim Longinotto is undoubtedly one of the preeminent documentary filmmakers working today. Noted for creating compassionate portraits and for tackling controversial topics with sensitivity and insight, her films feature ordinary woman behaving in an extraordinary manner as they fight to break out of circumscribed roles. Longinotto has filmed in locations from Kenya and Cameroon to japan and Iran, providing a revealing view into cultural customs and societal practices.

Longinotto’s films have won international acclaim and dozens of awards at festivals worldwide, including the World Cinema Jury Prize in Documentary at Sundance 2008 for her latest work, Rough Aunties. One of her best known works, Sisters in Law, took the 2008 Peabody Award as well as the Prix Art at Essai at Canned in 2005. The Day I Will Never Forget won the Amnesty International-DOEN Award at the International Documentary Film Festival, Amsterdam (IDFA), and Best Doc UK Spotlight at Hot Docs. Hold Me Tight, Let Me Go took the Special Jury Prize at IDFA in 2007, while Divorce Iranian Style won BAFTA.

While critics have praised her pure vérité style and the way she has developed that style to create a cross-cultural feminist cinema, Longinotto has said her ultimate goal is to tell compelling stories that draw in the audience emotionally to make them part of the subject’s world. She wants viewers to become invested in the outcome of her subjects’ struggles in the hopes of inspiring and empowering them to make changes in their own lives.

Longinotto developed her appreciation for story while studying camera and directing at England’s National Film School (NFS), where she made Pride of Place, an indictment of her former boarding school, and Theatre Girls, about a hostel for homeless women. After the NFS, she worked as the cameraperson on a variety of documentaries for TV, and then in 1986, formed the production company Twentieth Century Vixen with Claire Hunt. Together they made a number of features and a series of broadcast and non-broadcast videos on special-needs issues. It was these early years that taught Longinotto the value of collaboration and led to the making of some of her most acclaimed films.

Her partnership with Jano Williams, a UK producer and long-term resident of Japan, produced four films about Japanese fringe culture, including Eat The Kimono, which featured controversial travelling Genshu; Shinjuku Boys, about a group of young Japanese woman living as men; and Gaea Girls, a riveting account of a Japanese professional wrestling troupe. Divorce Iranian Style and the subsequent Runaway were made with the help of Ziba Mir-Hosseini, an Iranian expatriate anthropologist, while Sisters in Law relied on the expertise of Florence Ayisi, a filmmaker born in Cameroon who studied film and TV in the UK.

Such strategic collaborations, as well as Longinotto’s own uniquely inquisitive and non-judgemental approach, have helped her build a rare and genuine trust with her subjects. In Shinjuku Boys, Tatsu, who lives with his girlfriend, describes intimate details regarding their alternative sex life, while in The Day I will Never Forget, numerous woman relate the emotionally and physically painful experience of enduring anaesthetized genital mutilation. Sisters in Law follows two women in Cameroon, a judge and a prosecutor, as they use the law to advocate for the right of African women. Longinotto describes the unique relationship she forms with one of the film’s subjects, Amina, a Muslim who has – much to the shock of her community – charged her husband with abuse and marital rape. Amina requests Longinotto and Ayisi have not only gained Amina’s trust, but have empowered her to stand up to a situation that would normally frighten her.

With a career spanning 35 years, Longinotto has remained consistent: she is drawn to the subjects of her films because she admires them. To her, they are heroes, visionaries, and pioneers, and she wants us to admire them, too. Because of Longinotto’s enormous skill and talent, this deference and respect is amply reflected in her inspiring, entertaining, and extraordinary films.

— Shannon Abel
Senior International Programmer
Outstanding Achievement Award Retrospective Curator

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