Festival Awards


Charles Guggenheim Cinema St. Louis Awards

Previous winners of the Charles Guggenheim Cinema St. Louis Award — which honors St. Louisans making significant contributions to the art of film — include Michael Beugg, Cedric the Entertainer, Jim Finn, Jenna Fischer, Bob Gale, Jane Gillooly, the Charles Guggenheim family, James Gunn, George Hickenlooper, Brian Hohlfeld, Ken Kwapis, Jeremy Lasky, Dan Mirvish, AJ Schnack, Timothy J. Sexton, Marlon West, Beau Willimon, and Alex Winter.

Josh Aronson

Josh Aronson Image Courtesy of PBS

St. Louis native Josh Aronson started his career as a still photographer for Time Life before beginning his directing career. Through Aronson Films, he directed MTV videos, television pilots, specials, and more than 500 commercials before turning to documentaries in 1999. Since then, Aronson has made award-winning documentaries on a wide array of topics. 

Aronson’s Oscar-nominated “Sound and Fury” (2000) premiered at the Sundance Film Festival. Distributed theatrically, the film was subsequently broadcast on PBS and television stations around the world. ​In 2006, he directed a follow-up, “Sound and Fury: 6 Years Later.” 

The year 2004 saw the release of multiple documentaries by Aronson: “Feelin’ No Pain,” which followed Kenny Vance and the Planotones for five years and featured such doowop legends as Little Anthony and Pookie Hudson; and  “The Opposite Sex,” a pair of feature documentaries that recorded the lives of two transsexuals in the year of their transition. 

Aronson directed two films released in 2006: “Beautiful Daughters,” about the first all-transsexual production of Eve Ensler’s “The Vagina Monologues”; and “Bullrider,” a film that initally appears to be about the dangerous world of professional bullriding but slyly emerges as a metaphor for America's movement to the political right.​

In 2008, Aronson produced a series of short films focusing on individual stories and characters found up and down the Hudson River Valley. The 20 shorts were used as interstitial programming on PBS stations.

Classical music is a frequent subject of Aronson’s films. His “Playing for Real” (2006) followed two young musicians for a year as they struggled to begin their careers in classical music. “Orchestra of Exiles” (2012) profiled Bronislaw Huberman, the Polish violinist who founded the orchestra that became the Israel Philharmonic. With co-author Denise George, he also wrote a book based on “Orchestra of Exiles,” which expanded on many of the stories only touched on in the film. “Talent Has Hunger “(2016) documented the cello students of master cello teacher Paul Katz at Boston’s New England Conservatory of Music. 

Aronson is also a concert pianist and regularly plays chamber music in New York and at the Telluride Musicfest, the chamber-music festival he founded in 2002 with his wife, violinist Maria Bachmann.

Aronson’s most recent film is “To Be of Service” — about veterans with PTSD helped by service dogs — which screens at this year’s SLIFF.

Brad Schiff

Brad SchiffA native St. Louisan Brad Schiff serves as the animation supervisor at LAIKA Studios, which specializes in stop-motion animation, a process that involves moving objects — e.g., puppets, models, or clay figures — in small increments, taking a photograph after each tiny change, and then assembling the individual images into a moving picture.

Schiff is an Oscar nominee for Best Achievement in Visual Effects for “Kubo and the Two Strings,” and LAIKA’s run of Oscar nominees for Best Animated Feature include “Coraline,” “ParaNorman,” “The Boxtrolls,” and “Kubo.”

Before joining LAIKA, Schiff cut his teeth on a number of popular American television series, including MTV’s “Celebrity Deathmatch,” “The PJs,” and “Gary & Mike.” In 2001, he brought home a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Individual Achievement in Animation for his work on “Gary & Mike.” Schiff’s commercial-directing clients have included the NFL on Fox, Nintendo, and Samsung. 

In 2004, Schiff worked as an animator on Tim Burton’s “Corpse Bride,” and he’s contributed to both of Wes Anderson’s stop-motion features, “Fantastic Mr. Fox” and “Isle of Dogs.” 

As a youngster in St. Louis, Schiff grew up in Clayton. His family then moved to Town & Country, where he attended Parkway West and made his first animated films. 

At SLIFF, Schiff appears at a free screening of LAIKA’s most recent film, “Missing Link,” and offers a master class on stop-motion animation.

Women in Film Award

Previous winners of the Women in Film Award — which honors women who have made a significant contribution to the film industry — include Karen Allen, Nina Davenport, Pam Grier, Barbara Hammer, Marsha Hunt, Lynn Hershman Leeson, Melanie Mayron, Katie Mustard, Rosemary Rodriguez, Ry Russo-Young, Ricki Stern and Annie Sundberg, Kimberly Steward, Yvonne Welbon, and Pamela Yates.

Lisa Cortés

Lisa CortesLisa Cortés is an Academy Award–nominated producer whose credits include Lee Daniels’ “Precious” and Roger Ross Williams’ “The Apollo.”

Her work with trailblazing companies such as Rush Artist Management, Def Jam Records, and Lee Daniels Entertainment has been distinguished by her commitment to empowering inclusive voices and giving light to challenging visionary stories. Her productions have received more than 70 international awards and nominations, including the Academy Award. 

Before her film career, Cortés worked with Russell Simmons and Rick Rubin to launch the iconic Def Jam brand. Later, as vice president of artists and repertoire at Mercury Records, she signed many multi-platinum and Grammy Award-winning artists. She became the first African-American woman to have her own label deal at a major record company when she founded the iconoclastic Loose Cannon Records.

Since launching her production company Cortés Films, she has collaborated with such directors as Ernest Dickerson and Gabourey Sidibe, producing innovative features, documentaries, and short films that assert the centrality of diverse and untold stories while delighting audiences. 

Among the films she has produced: “The Woodsman” (2004), “Shadowboxer” (2005), “Tennessee” (2008), “Precious” (2009), and “Double Play” (2017).

Cortés serves on the boards of the Film Society of Lincoln Center, ITVS, Yaddo, and the Trajal Harrell Dance Company. She is a proud mentor for filmmakers affiliated with Sundance, Tribeca Film Institute, and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Gold Mentorship program. She is a graduate of Yale University.

In 2019, Cortés produced “The Apollo,” about the legendary NYC theater, and produced and co-directed the documentary “The Remix: Hip Hop X Fashion.” The films premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival to great acclaim, and both screen at SLIFF.


Audience voting determines the winner of three awards from among the films in competition:

  • Best Film Award
  • Leon Award for Best Documentary (named in memory of the late civic leader Leon Strauss)
  • TV5MONDE Award for Best International Film


Interfaith Awards

Juries gives Interfaith Awards to both a documentary and a narrative, choosing from among eight films in each category, which were selected for their artistic merit; contribution to the understanding of the human condition; and recognition of ethical, social, and spiritual values. The selected films:

Documentaries: Gay Chorus Deep South, Last Year at the Crossing, Latter Day Jew, Objector, Patrinell, We Are Not Princesses, We Believe in Dinosaurs, and Witness Theater

Narratives: Beanpole, The Clay Men, Cold November, The Land, Namdev Bhau in Search of Silence, Temblores, Those Who Remained, and Working Man

The documentary jury is Delcia Corlew, Janet Herrmann, Bruce MacKenzie, Jennifer MacKenzie, Pier Marton, Alma Merabet, Dr. Phil Moy, Pat Scallet, and Joya Uraizee.

The narrative jury is Greg Hoeltzel, Jane Hoeltzel, Ulugbek Kamilov, Paul Marsh, Pier Marton, Shiv Mathur, Alma Merabet, Sandra Olmstead, and Saruul Purev.

NFF Emerging Director Award: The Bobbie

The New Filmmakers Forum (NFF) annually presents the Emerging Director Award. Five works by first-time feature filmmakers compete for the prize, which includes a $500 cash award. The selected films:

NFF Films: Clementine, Princess of the Row, The Ghost Who Walks, Show Me What You Got, and Yes, God, Yes

Since its inception, NFF was co-curated by Bobbie Lautenschlager. Bobbie died in the summer of 2012, and SLIFF honors her memory by nicknaming the NFF Emerging Director Award as the Bobbie.

The NFF jury is Rosemary Rodriguez (head), director of “Silver Skies” (SLIFF 2016) and “Acts of Worship,” the NFF winner at SLIFF 2001; Peter Bolte, cinematographer of the documentary “The Booksellers” and director of the short “Hey! Aren’t You Garret Crest?” (which both screen at this year’s fest) and the narrative feature “All Roads Lead” (SLIFF 2013); Catherine Dudley-Rose, director of “Parallel Chords” (NFF competitor at SLIFF 2018); Kathy Corley, professor emerita in film studies at Webster University and director of the Brewer & Shipley documentary “One Toke Over the Line and Still Smokin’” (SLIFF 2018); and Andrew Wyatt, contributor to The Common Reader and St. Louis Magazine, and editor of Cinema St. Louis’ The Lens film blog.

Shorts Awards

Two juries choose the winners of the following seven awards from among the shorts in competition:

  • Best of Fest
  • Best Animated Short
  • Best Documentary Short
  • Best International Short
  • Best Live Action Short
  • Best Local Short
  • Best Short Short (less than 5 minutes)

The SLIFF shorts competition is officially sanctioned by the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences, making the winners in the Best of Fest, Best Animated, Best Live Action, and Best Documentary categories eligible to submit for Oscar® consideration. 

The narrative-shorts jury is Matt Bryan, animator and comics creator at Floating Head; Dr. Rebecca Housel, a New York Times bestselling author and editor, a mental-health advocate, author of “Survive Anything” for Psychology Today, and author and editor in the Mental Health for Millennials series; Melissa Howland, film critic, host, and multiple sclerosis advocate; Chris Sagovac, game artist, abstract painter, independent comic-book creator, and associate professor of animation and chair of the Electronic and Photographic Media Department at Webster University; Steph Scupham, Kansas City film commissioner and vice president of Missouri Motion Media Association, a statewide advocacy and education organization; Christina "Steenz" Stewart, a St. Louis-based cartoonist  (co-creator of the graphic novel “Archival Quality”), editor (“Work for a Million”), and adjunct professor of  cartooning at Webster University; Mary C. Taylor, animator and illustrator at Flipt Pictures; and David Wraith, writer, filmmaker, activist, and co-founder of Sex Positive St. Louis.

The documentary-shorts jury is Alison Carrick, reference and outreach supervisor for the Department of Special Collections at Washington U. Libraries and co-director of “The First Secret City”; Diane Carson, professor emerita of film at St. Louis Community College at Meramec and film critic for KDHX; and Kyle Knight, popular collections manager at the St. Louis Public Library.

Spotlight on Inspiration Documentary Award

Sponsored by The Albrecht Family

This juried competition awards a $5,000 prize to a feature documentary that focuses on people working to make the world a better place and that inspires audience members and leaves them with a sense of hope for the future.

Films: Flamekeeper, Gay Chorus Deep South, Last Year at the Crossing, My Blood Is Red, My Name Is Pedro, Objector, Thirst for Justice, and Ximei

The jury is Josh Aronson (head), director of “To Be of Service” (which screens at this year’s festival), “Orchestra of Exiles” (SLIFF 2012), and the Oscar-nominated “Sound and Fury” (SLIFF 2000); Barry Albrecht, partner with the Bodley Group and director of the Albrecht Family Foundation; Joshua Ray, contributor to Cinema St. Louis’ The Lens film blog; Wilmetta Toliver-Diallo, assistant dean in the College of Arts & Sciences, senior lecturer in African and African-American Studies, and coordinator of the African Film Festival at Washington University; and Kenya Vaughn, entertainment and website editor of the St. Louis American.

St. Louis Film Critics’ Joe Pollack and Joe Williams Awards

In conjunction with the St. Louis Film Critics organization, SLIFF holds juried competitions for documentary and narrative features. The awards are named in honor of the late St. Louis Post-Dispatch critics Joe Pollack (narrative) and Joe Williams (documentary). The winners are picked by two juries of St. Louis film critics. SLIFF chose eight films to compete in each category:

Documentaries: 17 Blocks, Autonomy, The Booksellers, The Dog Doc, Kate Nash, Other Music, Seahorse, and We Believe in Dinosaurs

Narratives: Balloon, Buñuel in the Labyrinth of Turtles, Curtiz, Hawaii, Kings of Mulberry Street, Piranhas, Send Me to the Clouds, and Sorry We Missed You

The documentary jury is Lynn Venhaus (chair), Webster-Kirkwood Times and KTRS; Martha Baker, KDHX; and Tom Stockman, We Are Movie Geeks.

The narrative jury is Jim Batts (chair), We Are Movie Geeks; Max Foizey: KTRS and ZekeFilm; Robert Hunt, Riverfront Times; and Cate Marquis, We Are Movie Geeks and St. Louis Jewish Light.