Iranian filmmaker Dornaz Hajiha took home the top prize Saturday at the Transilvania Film Festival, as the jury awarded the first-time director with the Transilvania Trophy for “Like a Fish on the Moon,” a moving family drama about two parents coping with the emotional fallout when their young son suddenly stops talking.
In the jury’s citation, Mexican filmmaker Michel Franco highlighted “the originality of its premise, the power of its performances, and the intelligence with which it explored very difficult subject matter,” describing “Like a Fish on the Moon” as “a film that resonated long after it ended.”
Hajiha was visibly moved as she took the stage to accept the award, which was presented to her by Transilvania Lifetime Achievement Award winner Geoffrey Rush moments after the Australian actor delivered an impassioned and at times whimsical tribute to the power of cinema.
“It’s such an honor to get this award and thank you for your amazing speech. I was so moved, and I’m so happy that I’m getting this award from Geoffrey Rush. And I was so happy that all the members of the jury understood this film like this,” Hajiha said, referencing the recognition given lead actress Sepidar Taherti, who shared the festival’s Best Performance Award with Nacho Quesada (“The Barbarians”).
“I really think that it doesn’t matter if you’re a five-year-old kid or a 50-year-old woman. If you are being forced to do things, even if it feels normal, you only feel suffocation and you feel trapped. And you might remain silent,” Hajiha added.
The Iranian director’s triumph marked a historic night in Cluj, where for the first time the Transilvania festival’s top awards went to women. Brazil’s Carolina Markowicz won the award for best director for her black comedy “Charcoal,” while Finland’s Tia Kouvo won the Special Jury Prize for “Family Time.”
Guests arriving at Cluj’s historic National Theater arrived under gunmetal skies that threatened to put a damper on the proceedings, even if the mood remained buoyant. In the end, the rain held out long enough for the red-carpet arrivals to make their way into the Baroque Revival theater’s soaring atrium, where they were serenaded by a string quartet before the ceremony began.
Steady rain nevertheless turned much of the week into a washout, with downpours sweeping across the historic Old Town’s cobbled streets and canceling many of the popular open-air screenings in Cluj’s Piața Unirii. At Saturday’s closing ceremony, festival founder Tudor Giurgiu invited festival guests to return to Transilvania in 2024 with a promise of sunnier skies, deadpanning: “Bring your swimsuits. It can be even better.”
The veteran director added to his emceeing duties by accepting the audience award for a Romanian film, after world premiering his latest feature, “Freedom,” a thriller set in the dying days of strongman Nicolae Ceaușescu’s Communist regime. A separate audience award was given to Moldovan director Ion Borș for his tragicomedy “Carbon.”
In the Romanian Days competition, documentary filmmaker Vlad Petri won the top prize for “Between Revolutions,” a portrait of a passionate friendship that spans a turbulent decade marked by uprisings in Iran and Romania. The section’s prize for best debut went to Andrei Tănase for “Day of the Tiger,” a meditation on love, loss and grief set against a public panic when a tiger escapes from the zoo.
In the What’s Up, Doc? Competition, the top prize went to “Anhell69,” Theo Montoya’s haunting, cinematic portrait of the young queer scene in Medellín forced to grapple with that city’s endemic violence.
Saturday’s ceremony also featured the presentation of an Excellence Award to Romanian actor Horațiu Mălăele, who was rewarded for his career in film and theater, while American director Oliver Stone joined Rush in receiving a Lifetime Achievement Award.
The Australian actor earned an ovation from the local crowd by delivering a portion of his speech in Romanian, before switching to his native tongue to wax poetic on a lifetime spent on stage and screen.
“All the awards I have received so far, and there have been many important ones, are overshadowed by the fact that I am here in Cluj-Napoca, in a theater that reminds me of the beginning of my career,” Rush said. “Everywhere I walked in Cluj and its surroundings I was received with the same love, and that can only make me feel honored.”