'Red Heaven'

"Red Heaven" takes viewers inside a NASA simulation of a Mars expedition, where six team members were isolated for a year in Hawaii.

The award winners for the 18th annual, all-virtual Big Sky Documentary Film Festival were announced on Thursday night.

The winning films will re-screen through the weekend, available starting at 10 a.m. Friday. The festival continues through Sunday, Feb. 28. Go to bigskyfilmfest.org or see the daily highlights for more information.

Here are the winners, along with comments from the jury, which includes filmmakers, programmers, U.S. and international festival representatives and educators. 

One prize winner in each category was selected by a festival jury in each of the categories below, in addition to three jury awards for Artistic Vision. Winners in each category receive a $500 cash prize, and winners in the Short and Mini-Doc categories automatically qualify, in the following year, to be nominated for an Academy Award in the Short Documentary category.

Mini-Doc competition

(Films 15 minutes and under)

Jury: Monika Navarro, Martin Jones, Andrew Blackwell

Winner: 'Águilas (Eagles)'

Kristy Guevara-Flanagan, Maite Zubiaurre; 2021, Canada, USA — 14 min., world premiere

Jury statement: “Powerfully encapsulates a complex and ongoing crisis on the U.S./Mexico border, intimately capturing the intrepid work of volunteers, the haunting use of migrant families' audio messages, and the harsh beauty of the desert. ‘Águilas’ quietly but effectively calls out the utter absence of government in their endeavor.”

Artistic Vision Special Jury Award: 'The Roots Weaver'

Fernando Saldivia; 2020, Chile — 10 min., world premiere

Jury statement: "This film evokes a quiet beauty that resonates — the cinematography and pacing is as meticulous as the Yaghan art of gathering, drying and weaving of grass, and the conveyance of tradition from elder to child."

Short competition

(Films between 15 and 40 minutes in length)

Jury: Annie Small, Jen Tate, Cindy Benitez

Winner: 'Meltdown in Dixie'

Emily Harrold; 2021, USA — 40 min., world premiere

Jury statement: “Each of the films in the short film competition were incredibly humanizing. They tapped into our humanity, sometimes with a wide lens and other times in a more intimate way. In this isolated world where so many of us feel disconnected, films that address such important issues in such a personal way are vital.

"In the end we chose a film that reflects a worldwide issue: the need for crucial conversations about systemic racism and how to dismantle it. We were riveted by this film from the beginning, and we applaud the filmmakers for the remarkable job of telling this story from both sides. It felt balanced and unique.

"No matter how much you might know about this issue, you probably haven’t heard of this little ice cream shop and its Confederate flag — but you should. This was the film that we wanted the whole world to see.”

Big Sky award

Presented to one film that artistically honors the character, history, tradition and imagination of the American West

Jury: Megan Gilbride, Lucia Ricciardelli, AJ Schnack.

Winner: 'Red Heaven'

Lauren DeFilippo, Katherine Gorringe; 2020, USA — 83 minutes, world premiere.

Jury statement: “We're pleased to honor a documentary feature that demonstrates such clear storytelling craft — beautiful cinematography, intimacy with the characters, unexpected twists, and a compelling arc that holds the viewer in hand. Using personal accounts of life in isolation, the film explores the psychological and emotional challenges astronauts will face on extended space exploration voyages. That the themes of the film speak so well to our collective experience of isolation — both the loneliness and the oppressive closeness of confinement — is just a graceful coincidence, providing an opportunity for us to reflect on the joy and madness of being cooped up for a year.”

Big Sky award, Artistic Vision Special Jury award: 'Victoria'

Sofie Benoot, Liesbeth De Ceulaer, Isabelle Tollenaere; 2020, Belgium — 71 min., U.S. premiere

Jury statement: “We wanted to recognize this film for its rigorous, aesthetic approach to telling the story of a man looking for a new start in an unexpected place, and for its use of cinematography, editing and narration to create an unexpected and lasting cinematic portrait. "

Feature competition

(Films over 40 minutes in length)

Jury: Eric Hynes, Yvonne Russo, Simon Moya-Smith

Winner: 'The Snow Calls'

Marjan Khosravi; 2020, Iran — 49 min., North American premiere

Jury statement: "In this story of customs and traditions that continue to suppress women, the filmmaker's authentic point of view is meaningfully asserted, yet remains observant of a myriad of perspectives. This film depicts community and family with an intimacy rarely seen on the big screen, and it uses cinema to amplify voices that absolutely need to be heard."

Feature, Artistic Vision Special Jury award: 'Il Mio Corpo'

Michele Penetta; 2020, Switzerland, Italy – 93 min., North American premiere

Jury statement: “We recognize this film's bold aesthetic approach which, through both close-ups and nimble movement, evokes the drama and emotion of social realist storytelling. It demonstrates an intimacy with its subjects that can only be achieved through sustained and deliberate collaboration.”