Sundance: ‘Sunday’ best

PARK CITY, Utah – ”Sunday,” a gritty tale about a one-day love affair between an actress and a homeless man she mistakes for a renowned director, captured the hearts of jurors at the 13th annual Sundance Film Festival.

Directed by Jonathan Nossiter and written by Nossiter and James Lasdun, ”Sunday” won both the grand jury prize for dramatic film and the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award. It stars David Suchet, known to PBS viewers as sleuth Hercule Poirot, and Lisa Harrow (”The Last Days of Chez Nous”).

”Winning this award shows that independent film made for people over 25 can work,” said Nossiter, who noted the talents involved in the film have already distinguished themselves in other areas. ”James Lasdun is a great poet, and Suchet is a huge star on the stage in England,” he said.

Nossiter and Alix Madigan produced ”Sunday,” which was exec produced by George Pezyos, Jed Alpert and Henry Buhl.

The documentary grand jury prize went to ”Girls Like Us,” James C. Wagner and Tina DiFeliciantonio’s exploration of the lives of four teenage girls. In the tradition of Michael Apted’s ”Seven Up” series, ”Girls” was shot over a four-year period in a working-class neighborhood in South Philadelphia.

The selection of fare such as ”Sunday” and ”Girls” was an indication that Sundance jurors are weighing artistic value over commercial prospects. Sundance’s mandate is to ”promote the power of diverse and diverging values in an increasingly cynical society,” said fest executive director Geoffrey Gilmore at Saturday’s awards ceremony at the Park City Racquet Club.

Sundance Institute president Robert Redford was unable to attend the gala because an avalanche closed the highway between Sundance and Park City.

While there was little disagreement among jurors concerning the dramatic grand jury prize winner, there was considerable debate about the docu award choice. Insiders said that Kirby Dick’s ”Sick: The Life and Death of Bob Flanagan, Supermasochist” was a strong contender for the documentary prize. Instead, a special jury prize was awarded to the not-for-the-squeamish pic about a performance artist suffering from cystic fibrosis who strives to find meaning in his life through pain.

Blown away by ‘Hurricane’

First-time helmer Morgan J. Freeman’s ”Hurricane” carried away the most honors of any film at Sundance. The story of a 15-year-old youth’s descent from petty to heavy crime won the dramatic directing award (a new honor sponsored by the Directors Guild of America), the dramatic cinematography award and the dramatic audience award, which it shared with Theodore Witcher’s ”Love Jones,” a romantic comedy.

”Hurricane” stars Brendan Sexton III, who appeared in last year’s Sundance sensation ”Welcome to the Dollhouse,” on which Sexton served as second assistant director. Filmed on Manhattan’s Lower East Side by d.p. Enrique Chediak, ”Hurricane” was produced by Galt Niederhoffer, Gill Holland and Freeman. It was co-produced by Nadia Leonelli and executive produced by Cynthia Hargrave and her husband, L.M. ‘”Kit” Carson, who has a first-look deal with Mike Medavoy’s Phoenix Pictures.

London-based sales company Mayfair Entertainment picked up all international rights to ”Hurricane” last week for more than $1 million. United Artists and DreamWorks are said to be eyeing the U.S. rights to the pic, which will end up costing close to $2 million once deferred salaries are paid. William Morris Agency’s Cassian Elwes and 3 Arts Entertainment’s Daniel Rappaport are repping ”Hurricane.”

”Love Jones” will be released by Fine Line Features. It was produced by Nick Wechsler and Jeremiah Samuels, and exec produced by Julia Chasman, Jay Stern, Amy Henkels and Helena Echegoyen.

Monte Bramer’s ”Paul Monette: The Brink of Summer’s End” won the docu audience award. The biopic about the author of ”Borrowed Time: An AIDS Memoir” and 1992 National Book Award winner ”Becoming a Man: Half a Life Story,” who died in 1995, was produced by Lesli Klainberg.

Bouquets for Posey

Parker Posey, who appeared in two pics unspooling as part of the Sundance fest this year — ”The House of Yes” and ”Clockwatchers” – won a special prize for acting from the dramatic jury. ”Independent film is where the heart is and where the stories are,” said Posey, who plays a woman obsessed with Jackie Kennedy in ”House of Yes,” which Miramax will release. Posey also is part of the ensemble cast in Richard Linklater’s ”SubUrbia,” a Castle Rock production that opened, but did not compete, at Sundance.

Another special jury prize went to production designer Therese DePrez for ”achieving excellence on a shoestring” in her work on Mark Pellington’s ”Going All the Way” and Tom DiCillo’s ”Box of Moonlight.”

Neil LaBute’s ”In the Company of Men” won the filmmakers trophy in the dramatic film category. Written by playwright LaBute in three weeks and shot in 11 days, the film about two corporate execs who intentionally court a deaf secretary with the aim of dumping her was partially financed with an insurance settlement from a car accident.

Canada’s Alliance Communications has picked up international rights for ”Company,” which was produced by Mark Archer and New York literary agent Stephen Pevner.

The docu filmmakers trophy went to Arthur Dong’s ”Licensed to Kill,” a study of prisoners convicted of committing crimes against gay men. The pic also captured the documentary directing award sponsored by the DGA.

Other prize-winning pics at Sundance include:

* Renee Tajima-Pena’s ”My America … or Honk if You Love Buddha,” which won the docu award for cinematography sponsored by Eastman Kodak Co.;

* Jose Araujo’s ”Landscapes of Memory,” which won the special recognition in Latin American Cinema award;

* Macky Alston’s ”Family Name” and Laura Angelica Simon’s ”Fear and Learning at Hoover Elementary,” which tied for the freedom of expression award; and

* Kris Isacsson’s ”Man About Town,” which received the special recognition in short filmmaking award.

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