Seattle fest auds laud ‘Comrades’

SEATTLE — According to audience votes, “Comrades: Almost a Love Story,” Peter Chan’s comedy about a Chinese mainlander adrift in Hong Kong, was the most popular title of more than 200 pics showcased at the 23rd Annual Seattle Intl. Film Festival.

It was announced at closing ceremonies Sunday that the 1996 entry (which already netted nine prizes at last year’s Hong Kong Film Festival) would be given the Golden Space Needle Award for best film, based on more than 7,000 ballots.

Wright-Penn has right stuff

Runners-up included “La Promesse,” “Children of the Revolution” and “Loved.” The last was a world preem starring Robin Wright-Penn, who was named best actress.

Her top rivals were Maggie Cheung, for both “Comrades” and “Irma Vep,” Judy Davis (“Children of the Revolution”) and Martha Plimpton (“The Eye of God”).

Best actor was Brendan Fraser, for his romantic lead in “Still Breathing”; he beat other big vote-getters including Pete Postlethwaite (“Brassed Off”), Robert Carlyle (“The Full Monty”) and Rodney Lee Wright (“Steaming Milk”).

Viewers selected Peter Greenaway as best director for “The Pillow Book,” beating out Deepa Mehta of “Fire” and Robert Bella, who helmed “Colin Fitz.”

Arthur Dong’s “Licensed to Kill,” in which gay-bashers explain themselves, was named best documentary, and Gus Van Sant’s four-minute “Ballad of the Skeletons” was awarded best short.

There also were two juried prizes. The American Independent Award went to “The Eye of God,” Tim Blake Nelson’s adaptation of his own challenging Seattle Repertory theater production.

‘Headhunter’ recognized

And a special citation went to “The Headhunter’s Sister,” Scott Saunders’ thorny look at immigrant life in Manhattan’s Lower East Side. Another jury, looking at pics by young offshore helmers, gave the New Directors Showcase award to “Little Angel,” an urban-underbelly tale from Germany’s Helke Misselwitz.

Both “Chronicle of a Disappearance,” a personal journey for Palestinian Elia Suleiman, and Masayuko Suo’s crowd-pleasing “Shall We Dance?” got special jury nods as well.

Other buzz-makers preeming here included Juzo Itami’s retail romance “Supermarket Woman,” John Keitel’s fratboy drama “Defying Gravity” and “Nothing Sacred,” a smart guy-talk comedy from co-helmers David Elliot and Mark Huppel.

Some names attending screenings were Sean Penn and Robin Wright-Penn (“Loved”), Salma Hayek and Russel Crowe (“Breaking Up”), Brendan Fraser (“Still Breathing”), Sandra Bernhard (“Somewhere in the City”), Wallace Shawn (“The Designated Mourner”) and Julianne Moore and James Le Gros (“The Myth of Fingerprints”).

More than 300 industry guests were on hand for the 25-day fest, in addition to about 127,000 ticket-buyers; both numbers broke SIFF records.

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