Home » Blog » 2023 TFF Award Winners Announced

The 15th annual Tallahassee Film Festival took place over Labor Day weekend with 70 films across five screens and over 80 attending filmmakers and industry talent. The awards ceremony capped off the festival with a total of 16 awarded films. Thank you to all the filmmakers and artists who shared their work with us this year, and we cannot wait to see what each of you do next!

Photos by Jessica Schilling, except as noted.

Florida Filmmaker Award
Presented By Flamingo Magazine

The Florida Filmmaker Award, including a cash prize of $1,000, went to Raymond Knudsen for his starkly powerful and personal Prep, a bodybuilding fever dream fueled by childhood trauma, food porn and acid techno music, and based in part on Knudsen’s own experience with the competitive sport of bodybuilding. A big thank you goes to Flamingo Magazine, our Florida Filmmaker Award co-sponsor. Be on the lookout for an article about Knudsen and his film in their upcoming issue.

About Raymond Knudsen

Raymond Knudsen is a Filipino-American writer, director and producer who founded Big Blue Pictures in 2020. Knudsen has produced multiple short films including Weapons and Their Names (Sundance, Palm Springs ShortFest) and Monkey Bars (NoBudge, NFFTY).

As a director, Knudsen aims to tell slice of life stories within the worlds of bodybuilding, American football and dysfunctional families that remind people they are not alone. His latest short film, Prep, premiered in 2023 and screened at the Tallahassee Film Festival in September. Knudsen is a graduate from the FSU College of Motion Picture Arts.

Prep is a portrait of all that can simultaneously build and destroy us; an expression of the traumas we attempt to evade and the loneliness that accompanies many when striving to push our limits. […] I feel a responsibility to remind these modern-day gladiators to breathe; you’re not alone.

– Raymond Knudsen
Raymond Knudsen, Provided
Raymond Knudsen accepts the Florida Filmmaker Award, Provided

Directors’ Choice Award

The Directors’ Choice Award, including a cash prize of $500, went to Elizabeth Mirzaei for her beautifully poignant Natalia, a portrait of the 29-year-old titular Natalia who is about to make her Life Profession in the orders of the Byzantine Catholic Church, having left behind her exciting life as a young student to devote herself to God. Natalia is a film about returning to the world or walking away from it, and just how far a person would go for who they love.

Elizabeth Mirzaei (and her baby!) on the TFF red carpet Sept. 2, 2023.

About Elizabeth Mirzaei

Elizabeth Mirzaei is a director and cinematographer of nonfiction films. Her short film Three Songs for Benazir won a Cinema Eye Honors Award, a Grierson Award, a dozen jury awards, and was nominated for a 2022 Academy Award. Her first feature Laila at the Bridge screened at Locarno and had a theatrical release in the United Kingdom. As a cinematographer, her work has screened at TIFF and Venice, among others. She is a Film Independent Fellow, and has been a mentor for Global Media Makers and an advisor for Sundance Co//ab. She lives in California with her husband, Gulistan, their three daughters and family from Afghanistan. Natalia is her first independently directed film.

I’m interested in stories about people who are often queried or dismissed as strange, and how the invisible can have a profound hold on a person’s life.

– Elizabeth Mirzaei
Elizabeth Mirzaei accepts the Directors’ Choice Award on the red carpet. Video courtesy of Zach Fletcher.

Audience Awards

Best Narrative Feature

From left: Bernard Salzman, producer and cinematographer of Clocked, and Noah Salzman, director of Clocked.


by Noah Salzman

Adolfo Rivera is an 18 year old, undefeated boxer from a conservative Catholic family in Miami, Florida. His love for his tight-knit family is apparent; not just in their time spent together, but in the bruises and broken bones he’s willing to endure time and time again, in order to help them pay the bills. Adolfo may be remarkably talented in the ring, but his family’s dreams for his profession are far different from what Adolfo has in mind. Adolfo is secretly saving his winnings for the biggest fight of his life; self acceptance in his desire to transition into a woman.

Best Documentary Feature

From left: Unfiltered director Josh McLawhorn, editor Gaby Rodeiro, and producer Chucha Barber.

Unfiltered: The Truth About Oysters

by Josh McLawhorn

Ninety percent of the world’s ancient oyster reefs have collapsed in the last thirty years. Faced with the human pressures of coastal development, pollution, reduced freshwater flow, and over-harvesting, the renowned oyster reefs in Florida’s Apalachicola Bay are now slipping toward the same fate. Oysters have long been the silent protectors of the oceans, cleaning water and building the foundation of estuaries where thousands of species thrive, from plankton to game fish. They are living water filtration systems, storm barriers, and an ancient source of protein. The fate of oysters in Apalachicola Bay is not sealed. Fresh water management, artificial reefs, shell recycling, and other restoration strategies may be able to save the world’s oyster populations from complete collapse. It’s not too late.

Best Comedy Feature

Producer Alice Baker accepts the award on behalf of her filmmaking team.

The Last Movie Ever Made

by Nathan Blackwell

With the world about to end, Marshall convinces a group of friends and strangers to help finish the sci-fi movie he abandoned in high school.

About the Filmmaker

Phoenix-based filmmaker Nathan Blackwell started his career as a manic eleven year-old, making terrible movies. He’s since directed dozens of shorts, the comedy web series Voyage Trekkers, and three feature films. Most of them are rather weird and silly.

Best First-Time Filmmaker – Feature

From left: Directors Adrian Anderson and Patrick Gray admire their award.

Pomp & Circumstance

by Adrian Anderson & Patrick Gray

This freewheeling, episodic lo-fi comedy pays tribute to youthful ennui in a world where originality feels elusive. In Burlington, Vermont, three soon-to-be-graduates – Charlie, an unconventional romantic, Thomas, an obsessed poet, and Marie, a budding documentarian become entangled in an absurd plot involving their professor, running for mayor. Shot entirely on 16mm film, this debut serves as a loving but sarcastic homage to 60s underground cinema and 90s indies.

Best Student Film

Picture Day

by Kelly Pike

Casey, an Asian-American tomboy coming of age on Army bases, prepares for picture day at her new school, deciding what she’s willing to sacrifice in order to fit in. This film was made as part of the AFI Directing Workshop for Women.

Best Short Film

Forward Fast

by Lorraine Sovern

While embarking upon a process of archival and preservation, a filmmaker dives into a stark exploration of self as she discovers the seeds of patriarchy and misogyny already planted and steeping the imagery of her childhood films.

Best Narrative Short


by Tathagata Ghosh

A single mother and lower caste slum dweller works as domestic help for a dysfunctional middle class family. As her world comes crashing down at work one day, she must stand up for herself by blurring the lines between the master and the maid.

Best Documentary Short


by Dev Walker

Against all odds, a young man with autism and Tourette syndrome enters a grueling gravel race, pushing himself to the limit as he faces physical and mental challenges along the way.

Best Thriller / Suspense Short


by Ty Clancey

A widower and his young daughter fend off a predatory land speculator by any means necessary in this psychological thriller set on a dying ranch in the Southwest. With shifting points of view and a twisting power structure, the story delves deep into our perception of control.

Best Comedy Short

Hold to Dash

by John Connor Hammond

Neil Durst makes a living streaming his gaming skills to an audience of overstimulated, undersexed males. When he’s asked on a date by a female fan, Neil must leave his bedroom and take a plunge into the real world.

Best Comedy-Drama Short


by Michael Dean Wilkins

Bruno, living as a young gay Latino in high school, has just started to discover himself and his sexuality. Now that he has a new boyfriend, he feels he is finally ready to come out to his parents. However, after he tells this to his older sister Lucia, she soon reminds him that coming out to his parents isn’t the best idea.

Best Dramatic Short

Left: Paper Planes co-director Michael Glover Smith; Right: Paper Planes co-director Alyssa Thordarson, Provided

Paper Planes

by Alyssa Thordarson, Michael Glover Smith

A woman with agoraphobia and the AirBnB guest across the hall strike up a correspondence that becomes something more for the holidays. A Christmas-set romantic comedy about the need for human connection in the modern world, the film is a cinematic holiday card, one that will make viewers’ hearts full by the time the end credits roll.

Best Art/Experimental Short


by Ilana Goldman

A solo dancer (wearing a dress made from the plastic trash she generated over four months) embodies simultaneously both a woman and planet Earth reckoning with the impact of humans on the environment. Filmed on location at Glacier National Park as Artist-in-Residence and featuring a score by Patrick McKinney.

Best First-Time Filmmaker – Short

Emerald Sanctuary

by Conor MacDonnell

Emerald Sanctuary is a documentary investigating the impacts of seagrasses on the environment and culture of Florida as well as the their necessity to maintaining a healthy biodiversity. Directed by Conor MacDonnell whose scientific work focuses on improving the restoration of seagrass ecosystems critical to Florida’s fisheries, charismatic megafauna, and water quality.

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