U.S. indies clean up in Spain

The weeklong 33rd Gijon Intl. Film Festival wrapped Dec. 9 with U.S. indie pics making a near clean sweep at the awards ceremony, while local critics praised the new direction the festival has taken under its young, first-time director Jose Luis Cienfuegos.

The two factors add up to more than coincidence. The official section at this year’s Gijon fest has carved out a distinctive niche on the Spanish circuit as a potential springboard to national distribution for pics from the edgier end of low-budget U.S. indie or foreign-lingo fare apt for limited runs in arthouses or smaller multiplex screens.

Bearing out the tenor of the official competition, “Heavy,” written and directed by James Mangold, won best film and screenplay plaudits, while a public youth jury tapped Rafael Zilinsky’s “Fun” as best film in competition. Renee Humphrey and Alicia Witt shared the official Jury best actress award for their perfs in the film.

U.S. actor Jason Andrews, present at the festival, raised one of the largest applauses at the award ceremony, picking up actor award for “Rhythm Thief.”

Other winners in the official competition were Oz’s “Angel Baby,” best director for Michael Rymer; and the French drama “Don’t Forget That You Are Going to Die,” from Xavier Beauvois, a Special Jury mention.

The Gijon Festival scored a coup by having Paul Schrader and Stephen Frears in attendance, Schrader for a retrospective of his work. Frears took time out from shooting “Mary Reilly” to enthuse about Alexander Mackendrick, the subject of a special tribute.

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