Signalling a return to its roots as a committed showcase for edgy, provocative filmmaking, the Sundance Film Festival awarded its top dramatic prize to Henry Bean's incendiary directorial debut The Believer.
Starring Ryan Gosling in a career-making role as a tormented Jewish religious student who joins a militant neo-Nazi clan, The Believer drew its controversial inspiration from a true story and was financed by Fireworks Pictures.
US theatrical distribution for this thematically challenging film was still undecided at the time that the Sundance dramatic jury handed the award on Sunday night to Bean, whose screenwriting credits until now have included Mike Figgis' Internal Affairs and the problem-plagued sequel to Basic Instinct.
In keeping with the politicised tone of the prize-giving this year, several of the other awards went to films dealing with issues of gender identity. The top documentary award was won by Kate Davis' Southern Comfort, a film chronicling the life of a female-to-male transsexual living in rural Georgia who eventually died of ovarian cancer. The documentary was finished with money from HBO.
A (botched) sex change operation is also at the heart of the exuberant rock musical Hedwig And The Angry Inch, the popular choice of audiences in Park City during the course of the ten day festival.
John Cameron Mitchell who originated the role of Hedwig in the off-Broadway hit and then directed himself in this film version that was financed by New Line Cinema, also won the directing prize. Accepting the dual awards, Mitchell made a point of thanking Michael De Luca, New Line's ousted production chief who he described as "the most film-friendly executive I've ever worked with".
That this year's Sundance should coincide with lay-off notices for as many as 100 additional staff members across both New Line and Fine Line Features, the specialist division that will release Hedwig, only added to the poignancy of the evening.
GRAND JURY PRIZES:
Drama - The Believer
Documentary - Southern Comfort
Drama - Hedwig And The Angry Inch
Documentary (tie) - Scout's Honor; Dogtown And Z-Boys
WORLD CINEMA AUDIENCE PRIZE:
The Road Home (Zhang Yimou)
Drama - John Cameron Mitchell (Hedwig And The Angry Inch)
Documentary - Stacy Peralta (Dogtown And Z-Boys)
WALDO SALT SCREENWRITING AWARD:
Christopher Nolan (Memento)
Drama - Giles Nuttgens (The Deep End)
Documentary - Albert Maysles (Lalee's Kin: The Legacy of Cotton)
FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION AWARD:
Tom Shepard (Scout's Honor)
SPECIAL JURY PRIZE:
Tom Wilkinson and Sissy Spacek for their acting performances in In the Bedroom
LATIN AMERICAN JURY PRIZES:
Possible Loves (Brazil)
Without A Trace (Mexico)
LATIN AMERICAN SPECIAL JURY MENTION:
Coffin Joe: The Strange World Of Jose Mojica Marins (Brazil)
JURY PRIZE IN SHORT FILMMAKING:
Gina, An Actress, Age 29
HONORABLE MENTIONS, SHORT FILMMAKING:
Delusions In Modern Primitivism
Peter Rabbit And The Crucifix
Pie Fight '69
Zen And The Art Of Landscaping