‘Fire-Eater’ burns bright at AFI fest

Audience tags 'Life'

“Fire-Eater,” a Finnish tale of sisters pitted against one another in a circus setting, was presented the Grand Jury prize at closing ceremonies of the AFI International Film Festival on Friday.

The New Directions jury cited the quirky Hollywood insider comedy “Free Enterprise” directed by Robert Meyer Burnett as the winner among competing American indie entries. “Enterprise” also received screenplay honors for Burnett and Mark A. Altman. The awards in the section carried cash stipends donated by industry guilds.

Also honored in New Directions were director Sean Travis and lead actor Patrick Fischler of the offbeat romantic comedy “The Week That Girl Died” and actress Dahlia Mindlin for her performance in “Last Days of May.” The editing prize — which included $25,000 in post-production donations — was awarded to Sabine Brose of “The Little Girl Who Fell From a Tree.”

Split decision

Fest director Jon Fitzgerald announced that initial projections for AFI Fest 98 appeared on target for a 90% box office boost. However, attendance for the event had been spotty, particularly for midweek daytime shows, and patrons don’t appear to be responding well to the Hollywood-Santa Monica split in which specific theaters hosted its various sections.

Next year’s event has already secured Hollywood Boulevard’s Egyptian — which reopens next month under the American Cinematheque’s aegis — as one of its venues. And it’s been strongly hinted the 1999 edition will be entirely Hollywood based.

Fitzgerald also announced that event programmers decided to institute an award for the best entry among selections in the European Showcase. The prize was given to the Cannes-preemed drama “The Polish Bride” from the Netherlands, which is that country foreign-language submission.

‘Beautiful,’ ‘Chiapas’

Audience awards were given to Roberto Benigni’s “Life Is Beautiful” and to the documentary “A Place Called Chiapas,” on strife and confrontation in the Mexican province.

Audience polling also determined winners in shorts categories, including “My Mother Dreams the Satan Disciples in New York” by Barbara Schock in the student category and Erik Paesel’s dramatic “Zoltar from Zoran.”

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