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2007 Sundance Film Festival Awards

The Sundance Film Festival roared into its Awards Ceremony last evening with the speed of an on-going train, as the nervous anticipation of filmmakers, sales agents and distributors filled the cavernous Racquet Club for the festivities. Anchored by the unflappable Festival Director Geoffrey Gilmore, the choices for Jury and Audience Awards in the US and International Feature and Documentary categories were a bit of a surprise, since many of the films that received nods were not high on the radar of festivalgoers nor among the many acquisition deals announced during the past ten day marathon. Of course, all this is likely to change for those lucky films that can now claim the distinction "Sundance Grand Jury Prize Winner".

Leading the pack was the Grand Jury Prize Winner: Dramatic, awarded to the film PADRE NUESTRO, directed by Christopher Zalla. The film, in both Spanish and English, is a debut feature about a young man who hops a truck transporting illegal immigrants from Mexico to New York City, where he meets Pedro, who is seeking his rich father. The film was shot on SONY HD Cam and features an unknown Latino cast. Distribution rights are open and are being represented by New York attorney Andrew Hurwitz (ahurwitz@entlawfirm.com).

The Grand Jury Prize: Documentary went to another Latin American-themed film, MANDA BALA (SEND A BULLET), directed by Jason Kohn. Also a debut film shot in on SONY HD Cam from a New York-based filmmaker, the documentary presents an uncompromising portrait of Brazil as one of the world's most corrupt and violent countries. Mixing mob violence, ecological exploitation and an obsession with plastic surgery, the film has yet to find distribution. The contact: producer Jared Ian Goldman of Kilo Films (jigoldman30@gmail.com).

The World Cinema Jury Prize: Documentary was awarded to the Danish documentary ENEMIES OF HAPPINESS, directed by Eva Mulvad and Anja Al Erhayem. The film, which also won a Silver Wolf Award at last month's International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam, presents an astonishing portrait of a young Afghani woman, who redefines the role of women and elected officials in her country with her historic 2005 victory in Afghanistan's first democratic parliamentary election. Women Make Movies announced a pick up of the film earlier this week.

The Jury Prize for World Cinema: Drama was given to the Israeli film SWEET MUD, directed by Dror Shaul. The film, which is also slated to premiere at the Berlin Film Festival next month, is set on a kibbutz (collective farm) in the 1970's, where a young boy deals with the repercussions of his mentally ill mother and the rejection of her unconventional choices by the closed community. The film is represented by German sales agency Bavaria Film International (thorsten.ritter@bavaria-film.de).

The Audience Awards, voted on by the general public, are especially prized, since Sundance audiences are considered particularly savvy. The Audience Award for Documentary Film was given to HEAR AND NOW, directed by Irene Taylor Brodsky. The film tells a deeply personal story about the filmmaker's deaf parents and their radical decision–after 65 years living together in silence–to undergo surgery, a procedure that could give them the ability to hear. The film currently is not tied to a distributor (which could change almost immediately). Contact: Eve Epstein, Vermillion Pictures (info@vermillionpictures.com).

Audiences gave the nod to GRACE IS GONE, a family drama with an awards-worthy performance by John Cusack. The film, directed by James Strouse, the first dramatic feature film to explore the tensions on the homefront by the Iraq War. The film also received the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award for its writer/director James Strouse. The film was one of the more prominent pickups here at Sundance, with The Weinstein Company picking up distribution rights earlier this week.

The World Cinema Audience Award: Documentary was given to IN THE SHADOW OF THE MOON by UK director David Sington. A richly detailed examination of the Apollo Space program, featuring incredible NASA footage, the film has been picked up by Thinkfilm, which will release it this summer in the United States.

Audience members were clearly charmed by the Irish romantic comedy musical ONCE, by director John Carney. Set on the streets of Dublin, the film is a charming tale of a street performer who falls in with an immigrant, all set to an original musical soundtrack by Glen Hansard and his band The Frames. The film was recently picked up for international distribution by Summit Entertainment, with a US deal expected shortly.

Directing Awards were given to: Sean Fine and Andrea Nix Fine for the documentary film WAR/DANCE, a harrowing chronicle of boy soldiers who commit brutal acts in African tribal wars; and Jeffrey Blitz, the director of ROCKET SCIENCE, a gem of a coming-of-age film about a young stutterer who finds his voice, which will be distributed by Picturehouse later this year.

A Special Jury Prize was given to the Iraq War documentary NO END IN SIGHT, directed by Charles Ferguson, “in recognition of the film as timely work that clearly illuminates the misguided policy decisions that have led to the catastrophic quagmire of the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq.” Contact: producer Audrey Marrs (amarrs@cferguson.com).

The Jury for the Independent Film Dramatic Competition also presented two Special Jury Prizes for acting. The first was awarded to Jess Weixler for his "juicy and jaw-dropping performance" in the film TEETH; and the second to Tamara Podemski "for her fully realized physical and emotional turn" in the dramatic film FOUR SHEETS TO THE WIND. The Jury also presented a Special Jury Prize for Singularity of Vision to Chris Smith, director of THE POOL.

“The films in this year’s program have opened up the possibilities of what independent film can be and will be in the future,” Festival Director Geoffrey Gilmore predicted at the Awards Ceremony. "The 2007 Sundance Film Festival award-winners reflect the talent, diversity, and evolution of independent film and exemplify the artistic power of film to illuminate and explore issues that are prevalent in our global society.”

For a full list of Sundance 2007 winners, log on to the Festival website: Sundance Film Institute.

Sandy Mandelberger
www.fest21.com Awards Watch Editor

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