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Legendary Swiss film fest goes APE over local film

Grand Rapids-based filmmaker Joel Potrykus takes home high praise from this year’s 65th annual Locarno International Film Festival in Switzerland.
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Potrykus accepting the award for Best New Director at this year's Locarno International Film Festival.

Potrykus accepting the award for Best New Director at this year's Locarno International Film Festival. /Locarno Live Feed

Promotional poster for APE

Promotional poster for APE

The team behind the locally produced independent feature film APE has a lot to be proud of.

The dark comedy, which tells the story of a struggling comedian and pyromaniac’s deal with the devil, has recently received accolades at Locarno International Film Festival (Festival del Film Locarno) in Switzerland. Begun 65 years ago, Locarno is one of the world’s longest-running film festivals and is known to be a place of discovery, and has been said to have launched the careers of countless international filmmakers. Past winners of the festival’s grand prize, also known as the Golden Leopard or Pardo d'Oro, include Jim Jarmusch for Stranger Than Paradise (1984) and Roberto Rosselini for Germany Year Zero (1948).

After taking the prize for Best Emerging Director (Premio per il miglior regista emergente) and special mention for Best First Feature (Pardo per la migliore opera prima), the list of Locarno winners now includes Grand Rapids’ own Joel Potrykus and crew.

Awards for best first work were juried by Dennis Lim, New York Times film critic; Abi Sakamoto, part of the editorial team of the Japanese edition of groundbreaking french film journal Cahiers Du Cinéma; and Russian film critic Boris Nelepo.

In his introduction to the special mention prize, Lim described APE as “a very brave, and uncompromising first film with a remarkable lead performance by Joshua Burge.”

Potrykus referred to the experience of winning the award for Best Emerging Director as “an honor and a surprise to be here with this weird little American film we made” in his acceptance speech. He also gave thanks "for believing in us" to Locarno artistic director Olivier Père, APE’s cast and crew, all of the film’s supporters back home in Grand Rapids and his friend J.P. Sniadecki for his help and guidance.

Sniadecki, a former Grand Rapidian and GVSU graduate now living in Beijing, had previously won the festival's award for Best First Feature in 2010 with Foreign Parts. The documentary, co-directed with Harvard Film Study Center classmate Véréna Paravel, tells the story of a New York City junkyard under the threat of eminent domain. Sniadecki was also on hand at this year’s festival with a new documentary, People’s Park.

The eleven-day festival concluded Saturday.

Video provided courtesy of Tim Saunders, who captured and edited the above footage of the award ceremony.

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