Swiss filmmaker Petra Volpe wins prestigious Nora Ephron Prize at 2017 Tribeca Film Festival

Petra Biondina Volpe from Switzerland is the winner of the 5th annual Nora Ephron Prize at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival!

Volpe is the writer/director of The Divine Order (Die Göttliche Ordnung), which also received the Audience Award in the “Narrative” category, as well as a nomination for the Jury Award for Best International Narrative Feature. In addition, Marie Leuenberger – who stars as “Nora” — was named “Best Actress in an International Narrative Feature.”

The annual Nora Ephron Prize at the Tribeca Film Festival is given to “a woman who embodies the spirit and vision of the legendary filmmaker and writer Nora Ephron” and generously awards $25,000 to a woman writer/director.

Although the criteria presumably remain constant (“One narrative film directed by or written by a woman … making its North American, International or World premiere”), TFF has been a bit oblique about who the actual candidates were this year for this prestigious award. Although the festival touted 32 women directors among the 98 feature narrative and documentary film selections, I only counted 28 (and I saw almost all of them).

Using their own list of “female filmmakers,” there were eight probable contenders – which the festival never actually confirmed – including women behind the cameras.


The jurors — Dianna Agron, Joy Bryant, Diane Lane, Zoe Lister-Jones and Christina Ricci — awarded the 2017 Nora Ephron Prize of $25,000, (which is sponsored by Chanel), to The Divine Order’s Petra Volpe: “For its intrepid and compassionate storytelling, beautiful cinematography, complex characterization of the female experience, seamless navigation of both drama and comedy, and true embodiment of the personal being political.”  

I found The Divine Order to be a genial portrait of the kinds of diverse women who may have helped bring about a successful referendum on what seems surprising for a Western democracy in the late 20th century: the right to vote. These women are abused, sexually repressed, financially and educationally restricted, among the plethora of representative problems, are sadly optimistic that their vote will solve these problems. Lead hausfrau Marie Leuenberger was awarded Best Actress in an International Narrative Feature Film for “a performance of extraordinary vulnerability and commitment.”

The Nora Ephron Prize jurors also gave a Special Jury Mention to writer/director Rachel Israel for her film Keep the Change (without additional comment), although Israel’s enjoyable romantic comedy (an unusual story with a male character at its center) captured The Founder’s Award for Best Narrative Feature (and $20,000 sponsored by AT&T). Those jurors called it “heartwarming, hilarious and consistently surprising reinvention of the New York romantic comedy, which opens a door to a world of vibrant characters not commonly seen on film.” 

Looking at the rest of the presumed competition field, Son of Sofia and Nobody’s Watching were two of the best films at the festival.  Once again, the central characters were male, notably limned with aching empathy, especially in dealing with physical and emotional bullies, that I wonder would be seen in the work of a male filmmaker.  With its startling movement between reality/dreams and childhood/adult perspectives, Son of Sofia won the Best International Narrative Feature and $20,000 sponsored by Netflix. “When we were watching these movies we were looking for something we hadn’t seen before” the jury selection noted. “We unanimously agree that one film challenged us to see in a new way, and we were seduced by the surprising humanity of its difficult characters. The direction was assured, and its tone unique, and we look forward to seeing Elina Psykou’s next work.”  

They may not have been aware this was her second film; her 2014 debut The Eternal Return of Antonis Paraskevas also trenchantly focuses on males and is streaming on Amazon and Fandor.  When asked why her film could possibly make men uncomfortable, Psykou chuckled. “I’m a woman so I already know about women.  I want to explore men.” Nobody’s Watching Guillermo Pfening was awarded Best Actor in an International Narrative Feature Film “for a performance of extraordinary vulnerability and commitment that anchored the film” as a gay Argentinian telenovela actor trying to find personal and professional fulfillment at home and abroad.  

Blame and One Percent More Humid repeat the tired trope of female students having affairs with their older male teachers, a familiar storyline on just about every teen-oriented TV series, though their emphasis on the strengths and dangers of teen girl friendships was strong. Blame’s Nadia Alexander was awarded Best Actress in a U.S. Narrative Feature Film, and she is definitely a star-in-the-making. Humid’s Alessandro Nivola surprisingly garnered Best Actor in a U.S. Narrative Feature Film, and, coincidentally, he was also a juror in the International Narrative Competition.  

The Boy Downstairs and My Art are charming, but not wholly successful attempts to update the romantic comedy genre.  Both give meaty roles to women, but their appeal is overshadowed by quirky secondary characters.  For the former, Sophie Brooks capitalized on Zosia Mamet’s Brooklyn hipster cred from Girls (which also helped for recent international sales rights, including in the U.K.).  But the mature actress Deirdre O’Connell outshone her as her maternal landlady.  In My Art, Laurie Simmons’ amusing performance art paled against the classic movies she was re-enacting with a motley crew of men.

© Nora Lee Mandel (5/26/17) FF2 Media

Photos courtesy of IMDb 🙂

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Nora Lee Mandel is a member of New York Film Critics Online. After high school weekends spent learning film history at NY’s Museum of Modern Art, she studied film criticism at New York University. In addition to many years of writing for national and New York City organizations in the arts, education, history, and city planning, her reviews of documentaries, independent, and foreign-language films, books, television, exhibitions, and music have also appeared in such outlets as:, FilmFestival Traveler and Lilith Magazine, the independent Jewish feminist quarterly. Her ongoing Critical Guide to Jewish Women in Movies, TV, and Pop Music has been the basis for her talks around the New York region.
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