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Recognizes first or second-time feature filmmakers

Michelle Baroody – Film Curator, Twin Cities Arab Film Festival and Archives on Screen

Shari Marshik – Executive Director, Upper Midwest Film Office

Garineh Nazarian – Theatrical Sales, Drafthouse Films; Founder and Managing Director, Venera Films


Directed by Shuchi Talati

India/France/USA/Norway, 2024

A unanimous choice, we appreciate many aspects of this touching and subtle film. The film begins in a familiar manner, presenting the story of a young girl’s coming-of-age, but it quickly subverts expectations and unravels traditional modes of telling such a story. The film’s compelling narrative shows a young girl who simultaneously learns and unlearns the rules that govern gender and sexuality, as she explores her own desires and learns to respect and appreciate the desires of others. Most notably, the film represents a complex and nuanced mother-daughter relationship. Rather than shy away from the frustration and competition that many cultures often encourage in female relationships, Girls Will Be Girls uses these well-worn tropes to upend their dominance, and instead, presents a relationship between women that comes from a place of care, support, and mutual respect. We can’t wait to see what the filmmakers do next!

Special Jury Award:

Directed by Víctor Iriarte

Spain/Portugal/France, 2023

We enjoy this film’s distinctive form and content. Beginning with a hand tracing an uneven line on a map, the film continues this meandering trajectory both in its technical and narrative styles. We appreciate the filmmakers’ gusto most of all; the film takes risks, challenges cinematic conventions, and blends archival footage and narrative filmmaking to tell an important story of the politics surrounding adoption in Spain. We look forward to seeing future films by this emerging filmmaker.

Keri Pickett – Director, Producer, Cinematographer (Finding Her Beat; First Daughter and the Black Snake)

Lynne Kirby – Executive Producer, Programming Consultant (ITVS, Sundance Channel, Court TV, Discovery) 

Patrick Riley – Producer (Cue the Strings: a film about Low; The Claw; Tuscaloosa)



Directed by Julian Brave NoiseCat & Emily Kassie

Canada/USA, 2024

In Sugarcane, Julian Brave NoiseCat and Emily Kassie unearth a shameful, heartbreaking story of injustice and genocide with raw emotion and intimate access, bringing us in lockstep with their courageous subjects whose pain we feel as they learn their devastating truth. The storytelling is beautiful, complex and gripping – a skillful blend of personal essay and investigative journalism that speaks to a uniquely collaborative filmmaking. 

Special Jury Award for Innovation:


Directed by Isaac Gale & Ryan Olson

USA, 2024

Swamp Dogg Gets His Pool Painted is an utterly fresh take on the music biopic, restoring a forgotten music legend to his rightful stature via an original, funny, wildly creative approach. A delightful and authentic journey into what it truly means to live an artist’s life through one of the more memorable characters – and pools – of our time.

Special Jury Award for Directing:


Directed by Brendan Bellomo & Slava Leontyev

Ukraine/USA/Australia, 2024

Porcelain War is a remarkable film that, with a magical touch, manages to find beauty and humanity on the front lines of war via inspiring, gifted artists who have the highest stakes in defending their country. The filmmaking is remarkably inventive in its mix of self-shot, professional, and exquisitely animated footage that embeds a fragile beauty in the brutal reality of war. All set to an unforgettable score worthy of our brave and creative cast.


MSPIFF’s Inaugural Jury award for animated short films

Michelle Brost – Animation Artist, Filmmaker, and MCAD Faculty (Minneapolis College of Art & Design)

Tommy Pallotta – Director, Producer, and Animation Innovator (Waking Life, A Scanner Darkly)

Tom Schroeder – Award-winning Animator, MCAD Professor, and Sundance Stalwart (Bike Ride, 2011)


Directed by Sean Pecknold

USA, 2024

We thought this film had the sense of dream-like surprise and magic that animation at its best is capable of.  The story is told compellingly through both traditional film staging and graphic design thinking in a manner that transforms the mundane reality of the characters.

Honorable Mention:

Directed by Ellis Kayin Chan

Hong Kong, 2023

The painterly style of the animation communicates a powerful sense of loss that we all felt.  The musical score also worked well with the visuals and brought the film to a hopeful note at the end.

Sarah Price – Director, Producer (L7: Pretend Your Dead, Summercamp!, The Yes Men, American Movie)

Adam Sekular – Director, Producer (Really Good Friends, 36 Hours); Asst. Professor (U of Michigan)

Sebastian Zeck – Producer, Cinematographer (After Antarctica, Art For Everyone)


Directed by Molly O’Brien

USA, 2023

The Only Girl In The Orchestra exhibits a meticulous blend of archival footage and contemporary cinematography, crafting a visual narrative that is as compelling as it is evocative. Director Molly O’Brien weaves a narrative that goes beyond mere homage to the first female musician in the New York Philharmonic, delving into the intricate web of identity, legacy, and the delicate balance between individual ambition and societal norms. Her film blends elevated storytelling and editorial prowess to create an engaging narrative that is moving in an unexpected way, and prompts us to contemplate the quiet yet profound influence one can exert, even when opting for a life lived in the margins.

Special Jury Award:

Directed by Fritz Bitsole & Charles Frank

USA, 2023

Through The Storm authentically portrays the challenges and triumphs of coming of age through the lens of a high school football team on the Red Lake Nation (Ojibwe) reservation, offering a nuanced perspective on identity, culture, and the importance of preserving traditions. The trust and warmth shared between the filmmakers and the people of the Red Lake Nation are palpable, rendering an intimate and tender portrait of the community. Directors Charles Frank and Fritz Bitsoie’s film coalesces as an elegant reflection on loss and the will to continue moving forward, and a moving tribute to community and perseverance.

Artistic Merit Award:

Directed by Tajana B Williams

USA/Sierra Leone, 2023

This vibrant and danceable portrait offers a joyous exploration of love through the lens of Sierra Leonean culture. Director Tajana Tokyo’s intuitive connection to music and movement shines through in every frame, employing the imaginative use of cutout animation and rhythmic editing, allowing the audience to feel the energy and emotion of the subjects she portrays. The inventive animated sequences in Tokyo’s film resemble traditional Sierra Leonean textiles, vividly bursting with colors and movements that reflect the rhythms and energy of the country.

Mary Ahmann – Freelance Editor and Filmmaking Professor (Minneapolis College)

Ben Bowman – Director (Knucklehead, New Detroit) and Educator (MCAD, NYU Tisch)

Jacob White – Director (Home on Earth) and Festival Director (Ely Film Festival)


Directed by Warda Mohamed

UK, 2023

Unanimously chosen by the Jury, Muna was skillfully integrated to create a moving experience that surprised us with its bittersweet turns and its use of music. The film is also remarkable in its ability to transcend its specific cultural story context to reflect a heartfelt universal adolescent experience.

Honorable Mention:

Directed by Kaitlyn T. Busbee

USA, 2023

We would also like to award an Honorable Mention to Layaway. The strong voice of the filmmaker comes together through its use of cinematography, sound design, and performance to tell a poignant story of a brother and sister living in the margins.



Directed by Isaac Gale & Ryan Olson

USA, 2024


Directed by Peter Luisi

Switzerland, 2023


Directed Leah Warshowski

USA, 2023


Directed Tori Cochran

Netherlands, 2023


Directed Pablo Riesgo Almonacid

USA, 2023