Films populated by socialoutcasts and misfits, both real and imagined, claimed the top honours at thisyear's Sundance Film Festival that ended over the weekend in Park City.
The Grand Jury Prize forbest dramatic feature went to American Splendor, a docu-drama hybrid that used actors, real-lifevideo footage and animation sequences to tell the true life-story of churlishcomic-book writer Harvey Pekar and his sad-sack coterie of nerds and manic depressivesin Cleveland.
American Splendor was produced for the US pay-TV network by GoodMachine co-founder Ted Hope, who now runs his own production company This IsThat. Several distributors have been pursuing the domestic theatricaldistribution rights to American Splendor including Newmarket Films, which has been enjoying considerableart-house success with another HBO production, Real Women Have Curves, winner of the audience prize at last year'sSundance Film Festival.
The winner of the GrandJury Prize for best documentary feature, Capturing The Friedmans, also blended different types of footage, includingfamily-shot home videos, to explore the highly ambiguous truth behind an uppermiddle class New York family that became engulfed in a sex-crimes witch hunttwo decades ago. It was directed by Andrew Jarecki, who founded the popular USphone and on-line ticketing service Moviefone before selling it to AOL TimeWarner.
Capturing TheFriedmans, represented at Sundanceby John Sloss' Cinetic Media, was also the subject of US and internationaldistribution interest, both from theatrical players and TV networks,particularly with paedophilia being such a media hot potato right now.
Historically, thedramatic Grand Jury Prize-winner has not performed well at the box office,which is why industry attention is so often focused on the audience awards atSundance. This year, Tom McCarthy's The Station Agent, about a misanthropic dwarf who is befriended bytwo other loners, was voted the most popular film, beating out other evidentaudience favourites such as Campand Pieces Of April.
TheStation Agent also won the Sundanceprize for best screenwriting, while one of its co-stars, Patricia Clarkson, took home a special jury prize in acknowledgement of her performances in both that film and in Pieces Of April and All The Real Girls.
Midway through Sundance,Miramax Films acquired all English-language territories and Italian rights to TheStation Agent, in a deal thatinvolved an upfront commitment in excess of $1m plus a hefty back-end guarantee
Sundance audiences judgedNiki Caro's The Whale Rider, fromNew Zealand, to be their favourite film among the strong World Cinema entriesthis year. Already the winner of the People's Choice Awards at last September'sToronto International Film Festival, this magical fable set in a Maoricommunity, is being released by Newmarket in the US. The Works has beenhandling international sales.
Among the documentaryfeatures, the audience favourite was Jonathan Karsh's My Flesh And Blood, which follows eleven mentally- and physically-disabled children and the woman who cares for them all. Winner also of the bestdirector prize from the documentary jury, My Flesh And Blood represents yet another notch on the extensiveprize-winning belt of HBO, which financed the production.
Catherine Hardwicke, anestablished production designer for movies before she made her directorialdebut with Thirteen, was namedbest director by the dramatic jury. Her film was eventually bought for somewhere between$2m-$4m by Fox Searchlight Pictures for distribution across all of the world,except the UK, where producer Working Title is handling distribution rights. Arow over whose credits should come first on the film - Searchlight's or Working Title's -apparently delayed the negotiations, plus lingering concerns on whatcertificate this hard-hitting film might be stamped with in the US.
GRAND JURY PRIZES
Dramatic: American Splendor (dirs: Shari Springer Berman, Robert Pulcini)
Documentary: Capturing The Friedmans (dir: Andrew Jarecki)
Dramatic: The Station Agent (dir: Tom McCarthy)
Documentary: My Flesh And Blood(dir: Jonathan Karsh)
World Cinema: Whale Rider (dir:Niki Caro)
Dramatic: Catherine Hardwicke (Thirteen)
Documentary: Jonathan Karsh (My Flesh And Blood)
Dramatic: Derek Cianfrance (QuattroNoza)
Documentary: Dana Kupper, Gordon Quinn and Peter Gilbert (Stevie)
WALDO SALTSCREENWRITING AWARD
Tom McCarthy (The Station Agent)
FREEDOM OF EXPRESSIONAWARD
(for documentary films)
What I Want My Words To Do To You(dirs: Judith Katz, Madeleine Gavin,Gary Sunshine)
SPECIAL JURY PRIZES
The Murder Of Emmett Till (dir: Stanley Nelson)
A Certain Kind Of Death (dirs: BlueHadaegh, Grover Babcock)
Patricia Clarkson (The StationAgent; Pieces of April and All The Real Girls)
Charles Busch (Die Mommy Die)
For Emotional Truth:
All the Real Girls (dir: David Gordon Green)
What Alice Found (dir: A. DeanBell)
ALFRED P. SLOANFEATURE FILM PRIZE
(for scientific- and technology-themed films)
Mark Decena, Tim Breitbach (Dopamine)
Jury Prize: Terminal Bar (dir: Stefan Nadelman)
Ocularist (dir: Vance Malone)
Earthquake (dir: James Brett)
Pan With Us (dir: David Russo)
Asylum (dirs: Sandy McLeod,Gini Reticker)
The Planets (dir: FrancescaTalenti)
The Freak (dir: AristomenisTsirbas)
Fits & Starts (dir: Vince DiMeglio)
From The 104th Floor (dir:Serguei Bassine)
ONLINE VIEWERS AWARDS
Broken Saints (dir: Brooke Burgess)
One (dir: Stewart Hendler)