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Winners & Special Mentions: Austin Lift-Off Film Festival 2023

We express our utmost gratitude to all the filmmakers who participated in the 2023 Astin Lift-Off Film Festival. It has been an exhilarating experience to witness an overwhelming number of filmmakers taking part and the tremendous global support for authentic independent cinema.

After meticulous scrutiny, the judges' evaluations have been combined with the audience's feedback. We extend our warmest congratulations to the filmmakers who graced our screens! In particular, we commend the following films for their exceptional contribution...


Festival Winners

We are thrilled to announce the winners of the Austin Lift-Off Film Festival in their respective categories! Huge congratulations to all the winners!

One mother

Dir. Mickael Bandela
Synopsis:For nearly twenty years, I grew up in a foster family, today I am 35 years old and I am trying to start my family when Gisèle, my birth mother, tells me that she is returning to live in Congo, his home country. I have to understand: Why is she still leaking? Through archive images, I trace the thread of my childhood, methodically, to better question the present. Who is this woman who gave birth to me?

Short Listed for Best Feature Documentary

Grey Horse

Dir. Emil Lozada
Synopsis: Samuel Grey Horse, an Indigenous equestrian from Austin, Texas, is known for rescuing horses from being put down. After a riding accident lands him in a coma, Grey Horse experiences an afterlife vision that changes his perspective on the world and his place in it.

Short Listed for Best Short Documentary

A Rosary and a Diamond Ring

Dir. Nanak Kirpal McCann
Synopsis: Follows two soldiers, Butch and Joe, on their first day home from the war in Vietnam, as they walk the city of San Francisco, before saying goodbye.

Short Listed for Best Short Live Action Narrative

Season Award Nominations

The Lift-Off Season Awards is an annual event that celebrates the very best of indie film. Following each Lift-Off film festival, films that have excelled in their respective category are short listed for a Season Awards Nomination.  At the end of the year, once all the 12 city-based festival have taken place, the shortlisted nominated films are reviewed again by the jury and Official Nominations are designated.  Click here for more information about the Lift-Off Season Awards.

Portraits of Life With Mental Illness

Dir. Marc D'agostino
Synopsis:“Portraits of Life with Mental Illness” tells the harrowing, hopeful stories of six individuals living with behavioral and mental health diagnoses. From the onset of symptoms and the quest for a diagnosis to managing the subsequent treatments and medications, the film’s subjects frankly discuss the most difficult and traumatic moments of their journeys"

Short Listed for Best Feature Documentary


Dirs. Kgosana Monchusi, Menzi Mzimela, Juvaiś Dunn
Synopsis: Grace Molotsi, a married nurse from the township, feels trapped and at her wits end due to an abusive husband who has made her life a living nightmare.

Short Listed for Best Screenplay

Las Muralistas: Our Walls, Our Stories

Dir. Javier Briones
Synopsis: Las Muralistas: Our Walls, Our Stories is a 25-minute documentary directed by Javier Briones and edited by Claudia Escobar, in partnership with SFMOMA. The film features women muralists whose works cover the walls of San Francisco’s Mission District. The muralism movement that emerged in the 1970s in the Mission District marked the beginning of a tradition of activism, expression, and community building through public art. Hear from artists Juana Alicia, Smokie Arce, Susan Cervantes, Elaine Chu, Priya Handa, Yolanda López, Consuelo Méndez, Irene Pérez, Patricia Rodriguez and more on their experiences, the impact of femmes in the movement and the effort to make space for future muralistas.

Short Listed for Best Short Documentary

Audience Choice

The Audience Choice award is given to the filmmakers whose film received the most votes during the festival. The filmmakers will be invited to join us on the Lift-Off YouTube channel for a directors commentary roundtable. Join in the conversation as we delve deeper into each film.

Back At It

Dir.Mikhail Karadimov
Synopsis: There are thousands of comedians in New York City, performing every night, working hard for laughs from the world's toughest audience. What happens to them when the city that never sleeps grinds to a halt? When the comedy clubs close and no one is laughing? "Back At It" is a chronicle of the tumultuous summer of 2020 in New York, through the eyes of a diverse group of comedians who hustle to keep their comedy alive and to stand out from the throng. It follows them as they take to the streets, rooftops, and parks to entertain a city ravaged by the Covid-19 pandemic. It asks how the art of standup changes when the traditional systems and established hierarchy no longer exist? Who will evolve and raise their voice?

Devils Income

Dir. Danny Humphrey
Synopsis: Sonny, an unemployed gambling degenerate, loses everything in a game of Texas Hold' Em. With the threat of death lingering over Sonny's head, he has 24 hours to pay off his debt to Ziggy leader of the berserker biker gang. In desperation, Sonny reaches out to his brother Vonny, an ex-gang member to help Sonny to get out of this debacle.

Smile Now, Cry Later

Dir.Keanu Cordero
Synopsis: Smile Now, Cry Later' is a film that explores the complexities of mental health and the power of human connection.
The film follows Joey, a young man struggling to cope with his mental health issues and past trauma. When he reconnects with his childhood friend Lila, he finds the strength to confront his inner demons and take control of his life. With a talented cast that includes David Carbajal, Kalen Austin, Presley Weber, Gabriel Carmona, Stormy Lopez, and Nick Mendez, 'Smile Now, Cry Later' is a powerful and moving exploration of the human experience.