For more than fifteen years, N+S has been a sponsor of the Cleveland International Film Festival. With this year’s festival canceled due to COVID-19, we feared that we might have lost the opportunity to recognize passionate documentarians and their subjects. Fortunately, our fears were all for naught.

While CIFF44 was streaming for at-home audiences, the jurors were watching all of the films in their competitions remotely as well. On Thursday, April 30, the festival presented three juried feature film awards—one of which was the May the Schwartz Be with You Director’s Award, an award dedicated to the life and work of Mark Schwartz, our founder and long-time CIFF board member.

We’re pleased to share that this year’s Nesnadny + Schwartz Portrait Documentary Competition winner is Martha: A Picture Story.

Outline of letters, spelling "ideas," an allusion to the tagline of the graphic design firm Nesnadny and Schwartz

Directed by Selina Miles (Australia, USA, Germany, Brazil), the film focuses on photographer Martha Cooper who found compelling subjects in the vibrant creative street art communities of New York City in the 1970s. Cooper eventually became an icon within the community through her book, Subway Art (1984), which preserved long-gone images for future artists. The documentary focuses on Cooper, now 75, as she navigates the global street art phenomenon that she helped launch—unpacking her mythology and philosophy, and considering the impact of social media and gentrification on the artform.

The jury called the film “compelling,” and described the portrayal of Cooper as “a tenacious and fearless photographer who shares a symbiotic spirit with New York City, its under-ground graffiti artists, and its singular way of life.”

In addition to Martha: A Picture Story, CIFF44 announced Beanpole, directed by Kantemir Balagov (Russia) and Lina from Lima, directed by Maria Paz González (Chile, Argentina, Peru) as the other two feature film award winners. Eight additional awards were announced, and all CIFF44 winners can be viewed here.

CIFF streamed more than 325 feature and short films in the month of April, drawing about 42,000 streams in all. We're blown away by the festival’s innovation and agility in response to the pandemic, and thrilled to see so many find ways to enjoy, celebrate, and participate through this new platform.