While those attending the ninth annual Chagrin Documentary Film Festival, Oct. 3-7, came for the wide range of films that inform, engage and inspire, the fest continues to mean more to its founder and director.
For Mary Ann Quinn Ponce and her husband Ed, the fest is all about their documentary filmmaker son David who died of cancer 12 years ago. He was just 20.
The festival is dedicated to him. The Fevered Dreams Productions company produces the festival and every decision associated with it is made with David as the guiding light, his parents say.
Mrs. Ponce noted that her favorite moment of the festival was when “Viktoria Somogyi, the Hungarian filmmaker of ‘Foreclosing on Faith,’ read to the audience some of David’s letters before her Q and A, and talked about how his words spoke for every documentarian.”
The passage is one of David’s final writings taken from a letter to the director of Sparrow Village for AIDS and HIV orphans in Roodepoort, South Africa where he filmed his award-winning documentary, “The Lost Sparrows of Roodepoort.”
He wrote, “Nothing is as important to me as producing a work that is true to Sparrow and showing those have not visited just what the human spirit is capable of when faced with something immensely dark and frightening.
“And to do this, I forever owe gratitude and have sworn to myself to produce something substantial in propagating the idea of hope and joy in the face of something so ugly.”
David’s presence is especially known every year during the awards night when the David Ponce Best of the Festival Award is handed out to the overall winner of the festival.
Screams and shouts came from the back of the Chagrin Valley Little Theatre on Saturday when it was announced that this year’s top award went to “Eva,” a film directed by Mika Brown and Ted Green that told the story of Eva Kor who served as a guinea pig to Joseph Mengele in Auschwitz during World War II.
Mr. Green was present to pick up the award, and $5,000 in prize money, from Joe Quinn, Mr. Ponce’s cousin, and Ms. Brown appeared via video. Mr. Quinn told the winners, “This award was begun nine years ago as a way of continuing David’s story.”
Mr. Green confessed, “This is the first film festival we ever applied to, and we are just so, so, so, so grateful.”
The $2,500 Best Emerging Filmmaker award went to Andres Caballero and Sofian Khan for “The Interpreters,” the story of Afghan interpreters who risked their lives to help American soldiers but who are still waiting for the American visas that will save their lives and give them freedom.
“Thank you all for letting us be part of your festival,” said Mr. Khan, who along with Mr. Caballero accepted via Skype. He added that they were accepting the award in the names of interpreters “who are still out there in harm’s way.”
“The filmmakers are sharing their hearts, and their films are just embraced and so appreciated by the audience,” Mrs. Ponce said. “It’s special. In those moments, all of the months of work are worth it.”
Mrs. Ponce explained that this year, she had the opportunity to stand in the back and listen to filmmakers connect with the audiences.
“The way our audiences so amazingly engaged with the filmmakers are those moments and connections between people that almost feels sacred,” she said.