Silverdocs, the AFI/Discover Channel Documentary Festival, has given out $80,000 in prizes along with its top awards this afternoon.

The seventh Silverdocs festival has given its top Sterling Awards, each with a $10,000 prize, to Michael Palmieri and Donal Mosher’s October Country (US feature) and Lucy Bailey and Andrew Thompson’s Mugabe And The White African (world feature).

October Country is a personal portrait of Mosher’s family contending with poverty, teen pregnancy and other challenges. Mosher thanked “my family who without hesitation opened everything to us.” He continued: “Considering the weight and artistry of all these films, that my family’s story could register here is such an honour.”

UK production Mugabe And The White African is about an elderly white farmer who brought a court case against Zimbabwe president Robert Mugabe. Bailey said: “We hope that people can see this film now and it can make a difference. I’d like to dedicate this award to the people in Zimbabwe suffering right now.”

The Sterling Award for Short Film, also with a cash prize, went to Denmark’s Andreas Koefoed for 12 Notes Down. Koefoed said: “I graduated from the Danish film school last week and this gives me confidence to think I can make a living from making documentary films.” Also, the jury gave a mention to Australian short Salt by Michael Angus and Murray Fredericks.

The music award went to Luciano Blotta’s Riseup, about Jamaican music, and a mention went to Soul Power by Jeffrey Levy-Hinte.

The Witness Award for a theatrical documentary about human rights or social justice went to Good Fortune by Landon von Soest, about the personal complications caused by foreign aid in Kenya.

The Writers Guild of America documentary screenplay award went to Nicole Opper and Avery Klein-Cloud for Off and Running.

Also, the Cinematic Visition Award went to Lee Chung-ryoul’s Old Partner, about a South Korean farmer’s relationship with a 40-year-old ox.

Previously during the festival, the Humane Society of the US gave a $25,000 development grant to David Grabias for his planned project Cinema Chimp.

Jurors included film-makers Margaret Brown and Geoffrey Smith, former Participant Media executive Bryan Stamp, Shooting People’s Ingrid Kopp, Tribeca director of programming David Kwok, and Fugazi co-founder Brendan Canty.

Attendees gave high marks to the seventh Silverdocs, now under the leadership of artistic director Sky Sitney. Sitney joined Silverdocs in 2005 and in April 2009 took over as artistic director. Former festival director Patricia Finneran departed late 2008 to join the Sundance Institute.

Silverdocs’ increasingly high-profile industry conference ran for five days with the theme ‘Storytelling In an ‘Always On’ World.” Speakers included POV’s Cynthia Lopez, editor Sam Pollard, Sony Pictures Classics co-head Tom Bernard, director Joe Berlinger, Sundance Institute’s Cara Mertes, director AJ Schnack, director/producer RJ Cutler, HBO’s Nancy Abraham, Cinetic’s Matt Dentler, Toronto programmer Thom Powers, and Roadside Attractions co-president Eric d’Arbeloff.

The festival also hosted a two-day workshop for teachers about how to bring media into the contemporary classroom.

This year, Silverdocs partnered with the Britdoc Foundation to offer the Good Pitch, a touring pitching session for social issue films. Eight film-making teams (selected from 300 applications) pitched to organisations including Al Jazeera, Amnesty International, Cinereach, The Fledgling Fund, the National Geographic Channel, Snag Films and Witness.

Albert Maysles was the subject of the 2009 Guggenheim Symposium, and other special guests included NBA star LeBron James,
who attended the opening night film More Than A Game.

World premieres included AJ Schnack’s Convention, Jenna Rosher’s Junior, Barbara Attie and Janet Goldwater’s Mrs. Goundo’s Daughter, Patrick Shen’s The Philosopher Kings, and Jon Blair’s Dancing With The Devil.

The festival, based in the Washington DC suburb of Silver Spring, Maryland, continues with tonight’s closing night world premiere screening of The Nine Lives Of Marion Barry, followed by two more days of screenings.