'SNL' alum's pic voted for top fest prize

SEATTLE — “God Said Ha!” Julia Sweeney’s monologue about the ravages of cancer and comedy, was given the top prize when the 24th annual Seattle Intl. Film Festival wrapped Sunday.

Out of the largest number of public ballots ever returned to the SIFF — more than 40,000 –the “SNL” alum’s helming de-but, adapted from her own solo stage play, earned the Golden Space Needle Award. Other big vote-getters in the best-film category included Iran’s “Children of Heaven,” “Above Freezing” and “Smoke Signals,” both from the United States.

Bill Condon was named best director for his James Whale biopic “Gods and Monsters,” while the pic’s star, Ian McKellen, only ranked No. 2 in the best-actor votes, after Stephen Fry, who won for “Wilde.” Also noted were Norman Reedus, featured in three fest entries (“Floating,” “Dark Harbor” and “Six Ways to Sunday”) and Ron Eldard, who was in two (“Delivered” and “When Trumpets Fade”).

Best actress was Christina Ricci, for her roles in “Buffalo 66″ and “The Opposite of Sex.” Minnie Driver and Joely Richard-son also garnered high numbers for their leads in “The Governess” and “Under Heaven,” respectively. “Frank Lloyd Wright,” from veterans Ken Burns and Lynn Novick, was voted best documentary, with U.S.-made docus “Dancemaker” and “Out of the Past” close behind. Mexican helmers Rene Castinello and Antonio Urrutia won the best-short award for their “Sin Sosten” (“Without Support”). Prizes were appropriately handed out at in a ceremony atop Seattle’s landmark Space Needle.

For the first time, shorts were up for a juried prize, with the 1998 model given to Germany’s Niklas Roy, for his “Trigon.” (This satirical look at media overexposure, like its 17 competitors, can be viewed at http://www.film.com.) Also juried were the American Independent Award, which went to “Southie,” actor-helmer John Shea’s grimy look at Boston’s violent underbelly, and the New Director’s Showcase Award, which was given to Valery Todorovsky for his “Land of the Deaf,” an exploration of the gang scene in Moscow, from a female perspective. England’s Carine Adler was given an honorable mention in the second category, for “Under the Skin,” her kitchen-sink look at sexual self-loathing.

Another competition was launched this year, with the Washington State Screenwriter’s Award going to a deserving first-timer. Chosen from 162 scripts by 31 judges, Andre LeDoux’s “Cat By The Road” received a dramatic reading at the fest’s annual Filmmakers Forum, and LeDoux got a first-look deal with the local Shadowcatcher Entertainment production outfit. Other winners Kenneth Miller, Jon Ward, George Wing and Ellyn Oaksmith Shull got biz arrangements with two Seattle companies.

Attendance was high for the Forum, with packed crowds for James L. Brooks, talking about his life in TV and film, and Quinn brothers Aidan, Paul and Declan detailing their 13-year effort to make “This Is My Father,” the SIFF’s closing-night film.

“Father” was well received, and other pics getting good buzz at the 25-day fest included Ernest Dickerson’s law-and-race drama “Blind Faith,” Russian coming-of-ager “The Thief,” France’s “Un Air de Famille” (from “When the Cat’s Away” helmer Cedric Klapisch), and the family-aimed football pic “Possums,” starring Mac Davis. Overall ticket-buying crossed the 130,000 mark, up a tick from last year’s fest.

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