Femme filmmakers shine at Sundance

'Girlfight,' 'Count' on top

PARK CITY, Utah — In a year touted as the Year of the Women, female filmmakers won several of the top prizes dispensed by the juries at 2000 Sundance awards ceremonies Saturday night.

Karyn Kusama’s highly popular look at a teenage girl’s struggle to become a boxer, “Girlfight” shared the grand jury prize for best film in the dramatic competition with Kenneth Lonergan’s very well-received study of a woman and her errant brother in a small town, “You Can Count On Me.” Kusama also copped the jury’s award for best director.

The nod for best documentary in the competition went to “Long Night’s Journey Into Day,” an examination of the search for justice and healing in post-apartheid South Africa by femme helmers Frances Reid and Deborah Hoffman.

Popular choices

The coveted audience awards were given in three categories. Raymond De Felitta’s “Two Family House,” an Italian-American melodrama set in the ’50s, became the first entry from the American Spectrum section to snare the audience award for dramatic film. Marc Singer’s “Dark Days,” about homeless people living in an underground tunnel in New York, copped the audience award for docus, while Nigel Cole’s oldsters-growing-marijuana comedy from Britain, “Saving Grace,” took the new world cinema audience prize.

Back in the dramatic competition, Donal Logue was named best actor for his starring turn in the popular comedy “The Tao of Steve,” while a special jury prize for outstanding ensemble performance went to Janet McTeer, Aidan Quinn, Pat Carroll, Jane Adams, Gregory Cook and Iris Dement for “Songcatcher.” Playwright Lonergan’s script for “You Can Count On Me” was honored with the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award, while Tom Krueger won the cinematography award for “Committed.”

In the documentary division, the directing award was given to Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman for their study of gays in the Holocaust, “Paragraph 175.” Singer’s “Dark Days” won the freedom of expression award; Aiyana Elliott’s portrait of her musician father, “The Ballad of Ramblin’ Jack,” took a special jury prize for artistic achievement; a special prize for writing for a docu was bestowed upon Daniel McCabe, Paul Stekler and Steve Fayer for “George Wallace: Settin’ the Woods on Fire,” and the cinematography award was split between Andrew Young for “Americanos: Latino Life in the United States” and Singer for his black-and-white work in “Dark Days.”

Superior fest

In a year that, in the view of longtime Sundance attendees, offered the best festival in ages, most of the best-liked films in the competitive categories managed to win something. The unhonored “Chuck and Buck” and “Everything Put Together” had their supporters.

Jurors for the documentaries had a harder time, as lucky festgoers who managed to see most or all of the docus raved, agreeing that this year featured one of the best docu lineups ever. Juror Jon Else seconded that idea, commenting at the awards show, “Our short list had 13 films on it.” All the same, Else revealed that the jury had reached a consensus on all of its choices.

The filmmakers awards, a fixture for years in which directors would vote for outstanding achievements in their own categories, was abandoned this year because things have gotten to the point where filmmakers are too busy with their own activities during the festival to see a sufficient number of other films.

In other categories, the Latin American jury split its prize between two films from Mexico: Luis Estrada’s scabrous political comedy “Herod’s Law” and veteran Arturo Ripstein’s drama “No One Writes to the Colonel.”

‘Five Feet’ scores short prize

The jury prize for short film went to Peter Sollett’s “Five Feet High and Rising,” while there were nine honorable mentions: Rolf Gibbs’ “G.”; Jonathan Bekemeier’s “Titler”; Reynold Reynolds and Patrick Jolley’s “The Drowning Room”; Hope Hall’s “This Is for Betsy Hall,”; Alexandra Kondracke’s “Ice Fishing”; Jennifer Todd Reeves and M. M. Serra’s “Darling International”; Jodi Gibson’s “Friday”; Bradley Rust Gray’s “hitch”; and Jim Trainor’s “The Bats.”

The NHK awards for screenplays were given to Randy Redroad’s “Doe Boy” (U.S.), Jyunichi Mori’s “Laundry” (Japan), Dana Rotberg’s “Otilia Rauda” (Latin America) and Carine Adler’s “Finding Out” (Europe).

The dramatic competition jurors were Lawrence Bender, Patricia Clarkson, Sandra Tsing Loh, Janet Maslin and Kevin Smith.

On the documentary jury were Ally Derks, Else, Vikram Jayanti, Jennifer Maytorena Taylor and Jessica Yu.

The Latin American jury consisted of Jose Maria Prado, Lumi Cavazos and Fina Torres, while the shorts jurors were Christian Gaines, Sarah Polley and Jocelyn Taylor.

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