Surprising range.

A quiet feature about a diner (The Off Hours) to a horrific thriller about human trafficking (Eden).

William Morris Endeavor.

Graceful as ever, Lynn Shelton walked onto the stage and presented three clips by the nominees for the 2012 Genius Award for Film. After the clips (each lasting a minute), and after remarking on the psychological importance of formal recognition for local filmmakers (Shelton received a Genius Award in 2008), she opened an envelope and named Megan Griffiths as this year’s winner. Despite the quality of Shaun Scott’s innovative documentaries and Drew Christie’s outstanding animations, Griffiths’s win wasn’t a big surprise. The film that secured her nomination, Eden, is, after all, a masterpiece. It has a great lead performance, and, most importantly, a great story that’s masterfully handled by the director.

This mastery was visible even in the tiny time of the clip that was screened before her win was announced. Taken from the first act of Eden, the clip shows a young woman (Eden, played by Jamie Chung) who is chained to a hospital bed and trying to make sense of what has just happened to her. How did she end up here? What is going on? She is a regular American teenager (regular life, regular friends, regular hopes for the future), she has done nothing wrong, she is not from a poor or broken family. The day before, she was in the normal world; now she is in a place that resembles a hospital, but something is wrong. Is it the lighting? The strange appliances? As Griffiths suggests with a constellation of subtle cues, she is in the deepest and darkest part of the underworld. She pleads for her parents, for the madness to end. A middle-aged woman walks into the room. She is the doctor from hell. And it is here that Griffiths’s skillful direction becomes apparent. This scene could easily collapse, could easily be overacted or underacted. But Griffiths’s actors hit the emotional register that sustains the spell of our belief. Without this belief, there would be no empathy. And without empathy, this film would be dust.

Griffiths directs her doctor to be bored rather than evil. What is unthinkable to Eden is mundane to the doctor. This doctor has seen the same shock and despair hundreds of times over; she has heard girl after girl make the same desperate pleas for their parents. The doctor drugs Eden and leaves the room with the air of a person who has better, more interesting things to do with her time—cut fingernails, watch a soap opera, play solitaire on the computer. For her, it’s just another day in the business of sexually exploiting young people. You will not find a scene in this movie that’s lazy or half-baked. From beginning to end, Eden holds our attention and doesn’t offer us an easy or Hollywood solution to the pain, humiliation, and suffering Eden experiences as a sex slave.

When Megan Griffiths accepted the award, she thanked the local film community for providing support. She was also happy to receive the award from a leading light of this community, Shelton. “Yes, it was great being onstage with Lynn,” Griffiths said later. “I have worked with her a lot and known her for a long time. So it was meaningful to get the award from her.” She mentioned how much she loved Seattle Rock Orchestra’s performance, particularly their cover of THEESatisfaction’s song “Deeper.” And she praised her fellow finalists and added, “It was nice to be back in town and to see all of my friends in one place. I’ve haven’t been around much lately. I have to go to LA a lot to keep nationally relevant. You have to remind people out there that you still exist.” recommended