Lauded debut gritty New York vision

AUSTIN — David Riker’s helming debut “La Ciudad” (The City) has scooped up the narrative-feature prize at the sixth South By Southwest Film Festival.

“The City” is a black and white cinema verite look at New York City as a Third World country of illegal immigrants and exploited sweat shop workers. Riker’s film, previously screened at Toronto and Sundance, has yet to find theatrical distribution.

Cauleen Smith’s “Drylongso” (Ordinary), a provocative statement about the “everydayness of violence,” was runner-up.

A bold examination of the porn star, “Wadd: The Life & Times of John C. Holmes,” directed by Cass Paley, won top honors for documentary feature; “Hill Stomp Hollar” and “Street People” tied as runners-up.

Five shorts were recognized by the jury: Ari Gold’s Sundance-lauded narrative “Culture”; Rolf Gibbs’ docu “The Last Guy to Let You Down”; Mark Osborne’s animated “More”; Reynold Reynolds and Patrick Jolley’s experimental “Seven Days Till Sunday”; and Erica S. Federson’s musicvideo “Your Night to Shine.”

SXSW presented a much larger than usual number of movies, reflecting the current glut of indie production. They were placed in eight categories ranging from competitive narrative and docu features series to first films, special screenings, a retrospective of docu-maker Nick Broomfield and so on.

The Fest’s lively thematic panels and workshops as well as mentoring and mini sessions were more impressive than many of the pictures showcased as world or American premieres.

Opening night pic was Morgan J. Freeman’s “Desert Blue,” released by Goldwyn, which had bowed at the 1998 Toronto Fest.

Featuring rarely seen footage of the 1930s, “The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg,” a docu about the Jewish baseball star by “Partisans of Vilna” director Aviva Kempner, enjoyed good word-of-mouth and is expected to travel to other major festivals.

Among the fest’s highlights was a mini-retrospective of helmer Jack Hill, organized by Quentin Tarantino. Featured were “Coffy” and “Foxy Brown,” both starring blaxploitation fave Pam Grier.

Since actor Matthew McCon-aughey lives in Austin, his new Ron Howard-helmed comedy “EdTV” (which opens nationwide March 26) drew much attention from local crowds.

Running through Sunday, the SXSW Film Fest is part of a larger forum that includes music and interactive media.

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