Canadian Emanuel Hoss-Desmarais was declared best new narrative director as awards were handed out at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York Wednesday evening, while Australian film The Rocket took the top prize.

Hoss-Desmarais wins $25,000 US for his film Whitewash, about a lonely snowplow operator haunted by his own guilt. 

"It quickly became clear that we were in the hands of a filmmaker with the intelligence, imagination and bravery to carry off this very tricky piece of material," the Tribeca jury said in its citation.

"It is a remarkable first feature, and we extend our congratulations to all involved, including two spectacular lead actors in Thomas Haden Church and Marc Labrèche."

Hoss-Desmarais is a Quebec-based actor turned director and Whitewash is his first feature.

The Rocket took the top honour, best narrative feature, and its 10-year-old star Sitthiphon Disamoe was selected as best actor. Set in Laos with mostly non-professional actors, it tells the story of a boy who enters a traditional rocket festival to help save his poverty-stricken family who have been uprooted for the construction of a dam.

The Rocket first gained recognition at the Berlin Film Festival, where it won the best first feature award for Aussie director Kim Mordaunt.

Best documentary went to Dan Krauss's The Kill Team, about a group of U.S. soldiers charged with killing Afghan civilians.

Other awards presented Thursday at Tribeca:

  • Best actress in a narrative feature: Veerle Baetens in The Broken Circle Breakdown, the Netherlands.
  • Best screenplay: The Broken Circle Breakdown, written by Carl Joos and Felix van Groeningen.  
  • Best cinematography: Marius Matzow Gulbrandsen for Before Snowfall, Norway.
  • Best editing: Let the Fire Burn, edited by Nels Bangerter, directed by Jason Osder, U.S.
  • Best new documentary director: Sean Dunne for Oxyana, U.S.

The inaugural Nora Ephron prize for a female director when to first-time writer/director Meera Menon for her film Farah Goes Bang, about an awkward young woman who hits the road with her buddies to stump for John Kerry in the 2004 presidential election.4

The 12th annual festival, co-founded by Robert De Niro, ends on Sunday.