• Festivals

Ora! Fest 2023 Closes with Prizes, Dinner and Dancing

It began with an ocean and ended with trees. The Ora! Fest’s closing night ceremony stayed in line with the entire festival’s environmental theme as awards were handed out in a variety of categories.

Matthew Modine’s short film Heaven on Earth, emphasizing the importance of the sea and detailing ways in which we can help save the planet, kicked off an evening of honoring directors and actors who had created films about the importance of considering the environment and working towards social justice. Modine received the first honorary prize. The awards are made of the traditional Pugliese clay “pumi,” resembling a leafed pine cone, painted in different colors and mounted on pieces of wood made from the branches of olive trees that were destroyed by the bacteria Xylella: this disease was the topic about which Helen Mirren, who is part of the Sylva Foundation that tries to save the trees, had talked during the opening ceremony.

The fest’s Artistic Director Silvia Bizio and President Giovanni di Blasio then introduced Alfre Woodard, president of the feature jury and author André Aciman (“Call Me by Your Name”, the novel on which the film is based), president of the shorts jury. Stars like Modine, Matt Dillon, Marisa Tomei, Richard Flood (Grey’s Anatomy) and the lively and reliably hilarious Terry Gilliam handed out the awards. Gilliam announced Iranian Negin Ahmadi (Dream’s Gate) as Best Director and commented: “It’s a wonderful festival with so many awards! I think it’s terrific. So many festivals give only a couple of awards, this one gives a lot!” He set the tone for the almost two-hour show which nonetheless never felt long.

Woodard perfectly described the mood of the festival: “What an honor and a joy to be invited into your gloriously mindful and generous community. Watching films day and night is such a holiday. Whoever calls you, you say, ‘I’m busy, I’m watching films.’ And I especially love it because it is an adventure of the heart and mind. I honor that space. To our intrepid filmmakers, all of you: we so appreciate you, we honor you. Thank you for bringing into focus those points critical to our very survival and the survival of our animal and plant kindred and to the help of our Mother Earth.”

Best feature was awarded to Klondike, the Ukrainian film about a family living on the border of Russia at the start of the civil war of 2014, which also won Best Actress for Oksana Cherkashyna.

Waorani, Guardians of the Amazon got the Fondazione Sylva prize, and Il Barbiere Complottista the Laser Film Italian Best Short. Best short went to Maunga Cassino written and directed by Italian New Zealander Paolo Rotondo. Richard Flood presented Best Screenplay to How to Blow Up a Pipeline.

The Social Justice Award went to Rae Cerreto and her producer for their film Seeking Asylum. Bizio had found the film through an article written by our colleague Brent Simon right here on this website. The visibly pregnant and glowing Cerreto commented after the ceremony that being part of this small yet innovative and wonderfully creative festival “is wonderful because films like ours are still being overlooked in the big Hollywood machine.”

Bizio’s dog, the ever-present Ocho – who had sat through numerous masterclasses, barked through almost every applause and can’t be missed in any of the photos – made yet another appearance during the evening, prompting Scott Saunders, who won Special Recognition for The Nature Makers, to thank him before thanking anyone else.


AknEye, the Armenian Dubai-based company which marries digital with physical art and was a major sponsor of the festival, donated a sculpture of an eye – which all had participated in painting the day before – to the city of Monopoli; the sculpture was accepted by the city’s mayor, Angelo Annese, who was also a big supporter of ORA! Fest.

Andrea Crosta, founder and Executive Director of Earth League International, an organization that carries out some of the most successful undercover investigations on environmental crime and wildlife trafficking, received the Award for Social and Environmental Justice. In a moving speech, he said: “There is one thing I hate more than the traffickers I chase, and that is indifference. Because indifference kills. More than the traffickers.”

The ceremony ended with a special appearance by Marisa Tomei, who is an honorary member of the Board of Ora! Fest and – as she told Bizio onstage – spent yesterday driving around the outskirts of Monopoli with director Lisa Leone to film a new infomercial for the Sylva foundation to be shown at next year’s fest;  the current infomercial, starring Helen Mirren and directed by Edoardo Winspeare, who also wrote the script for Tomei’s, was then screened before everyone departed to the Lido di Sabbiadoro Beach Club for a gourmet dinner, music and much dancing until the wee hours.

It was the perfect ending to five days filled with inspiring films, innovative art and creative people, marked by a family atmosphere that was highly unusual – and thus particularly special – for such a festival. Until next year!