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Documentary on blind refugee wins best film at Tryon festival

Submitted by Steve Wong

For the Herald-Journal

The Best Over All Film at the fifth annual Tryon International Film Festival was “Open My Eyes,” a USAmade film about a young man blinded by a suicide bombing in Iraq and his quest to build a new life in the USA.

“Open My Eyes” is the story of one refugee — one young man among the 70.8 million displaced people worldwide who face overwhelming obstacles on their journey to find safety and a new life. The film reminds us of our shared humanity and the farreaching ripple effects of compassion and care.

“We had 64 films this year,” Festival Co-founder Beau Menetre said after the awards ceremony on Oct.

13. “And this one made a huge impact on everyone who saw it. At times, it was painful to watch, but it tells a story — not just about one man’s journey, but about tens of millions of people — refugees — around the world trying to rebuild their lives after leaving their homelands because of war and other problems. Cinema can be entertaining, but it is also a powerful communications tool for change. This is one of those films that can change the course of world history.”

The film festival was held Oct. 11-13 in Tryon, N.C.

Activities included all things cinema, hosting screenings, a gala, ceremonies, parties, and other events that attracted filmmakers, directors, actors, and producers.

The festival judge who chose “Open My Eyes” was director and producer Frank Calo, who is noted for both his stage and cinema work, including “Ghostbusters II” “The Believer,” “Here and There,” and “The Cookout and Awesome Gal.”

This short documentary was directed by Negin Allamehzadeh and filmed in Iraq, Jordan, and the USA. With a background in cultural anthropology, Allamehzadeh, who is based in New York City, transitioned into video journalism and documentary film with the desire to tell advocacy-driven stories and to elevate voices and experiences that are underrepresented in mainstream media. Over the past decade, she has produced diverse projects such as web series, documentaries, virtual reality film series, and interactive mixed-media exhibits.

Taking both Best Full-Length Narrative and the festival’s unique Human Rights and Dignity Award was “Foster Boy,” a film about a young man struggling with his life after being shuffled through several abusive foster homes and eventually placed in a home where he was repeatedly raped and beaten for three years by a man with a documented history of rape and violence. The story focuses on the courtroom drama of exposing the forprofit foster agency. It stars Shane Paul McGhie, Matthew Modine, and Louis Gossett Jr. Directed by Youssef Delara, the film was judged Best Full-Length Narrative by Johnathan Brownlee (a director, producer, writer, actor, and the CEO of Dallas Film) and was granted the Human Rights and Dignity Award by Homayra Sellier, founder and CEO of Innocence in Danger.

“One film that I believe deserves special recognition is ‘In Pursuit of Justice,’ ” Menetre said. “It received our Audience Choice Award, and it is very special to us here in North Carolina because it is about a real man who spent 17 years in a North Carolina jail for a murder he did not commit. This film, too, is one that will hopefully ignite change across the country for the rights of innocent men and women who have been wrongly imprisoned.

We were especially honored that Greg Taylor — the man who was imprisoned — was at the screening and took the time to be part of a Q&A session. People in the audience were stunned by what they saw and gave Mr.

Taylor a standing ovation.

This one really hit home to us here in North Carolina.”

“In Pursuit of Justice” was directed by Gregg Jamback.

Film judges included Brownlee, Calo, Sellier, actress Patti D’Arbanville, actor and director Lavin Cuddihee, filmmaker Andrew Huggins, and filmmaker Steven Esteb.

The film festival is produced by the nonprofit agency Polk County (NC) Film Initiative. The 2020 Festival is slated for next October. For more information, visit online: TryonInternationalFilmFestival. org. Here is a listing of more awards:

Best Full-Length Documentary

“Tuba to Cuba”

Directors: T.G. Harrington & Danny Clinch USA

Judge: Patti D’Arbanville Best Short Drama

“A Boy, a Man and a Kite”

Director: Adam Matalon United Kingdom

Judge: Steven Esteb Best Short Documentary

“Naretoi”

Directors: Kelsey Doyle & Katie Sugarman USA

Judge: Lavin Cuddihee Best Student Film

“The Stain” Director: Shoresh Vakili Iran

Judge: Andrew Huggins Audience Choice

“In Pursuit of Justice”

Director: Gregg Jamback USA

Human Rights and Dignity

“Foster Boy” Director: Youssef Delara USA

Judge: Homayra Sellier

Co-founders Kirk Gollwitzer and Beau Menetre opening the film festival at the gala. [PHOTO BY CARRI BASS]

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