Sundance shows faith in ‘Believer’

Pic nabs top kudos while 'Hedwig' awarded twice

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PARK CITY, Utah — “The Believer,” writer-director Henry Bean’s provocative study of a Jewish Nazi, was the winner of the Grand Jury Prize in the dramatic competition of the 2001 Sundance Film Festival.

Top prize in the documentary competition went to “Southern Comfort,” Kate Davis’ intimate look at the family and love life of a Georgia trailer park transsexual suffering from ovarian cancer.

A big double winner was “Hedwig and the Angry Inch,” a buoyant adaptation of the hit Off Broadway musical, which won the audience award as well as the jury’s nod for best director (John Cameron Mitchell, who also stars).

Plenty of drama

Other awards for dramatic entries were given to lead actors Tom Wilkinson and Sissy Spacek for their strong performances as parents who endure a family tragedy in “In the Bedroom,” while Giles Nuttgens won for his resplendent cinematography on the well-crafted suspenser “The Deep End.” The Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award was presented to Christopher Nolan for the intricate thriller “Memento,” which was based on a short story by Nolan’s brother Jonathan.

The audience award for documentaries was shared by Stacy Peralta’s “Dogtown and Z-Boys,” about the birth of skateboarding in Santa Monica, and “Scout’s Honor,” Tom Shepard’s look at the protests against the Boy Scouts of America’s anti-gay policies. Peralta also won the docu jury’s best director prize, while “Scout’s Honor” doubled up with the freedom of expression award, given to films that illuminate social or political issues.

Cinematography nod for work in a docu went to Albert Maysles for “Lalee’s Kin: The Legacy of Cotton,” an examination of the ongoing cycles of poverty and illiteracy in Mississippi. A special jury prize for documentaries was voted to Edet Belzberg’s “Children Underground,” a harrowing look at destitute orphaned children in the streets of Bucharest.

The 2-year-old audience award for a film in the World Cinema category was voted to Chinese helmer Zhang Yimou’s reflective look at a family’s life in a small village, “The Road Home.”

In the Latin American Cinema section, the jury prize was shared by Sandra Werneck’s “Possible Loves,” a playful look at destiny from Brazil, and Maria Novaro’s femme road movie from Mexico, “Without a Trace.” Special jury mention went to “Coffin Joe: The Strange World of Jose Mojica Marins,” a docu about the Brazilian horror film meister, directed by Andre Barcinski and Ivan Finotti.

‘Gina’ tops shorts

Jury prize for shorts was bestowed on Paul Harrill’s “Gina, An Actress, Age 29.” Shorts given honorable mentions were Daniel Loflin’s “Delusions in Modern Primitivism,” Dean Kapsalis’ “Jigsaw Venus,” Jonah Hall’s “Metropopular,” Anthony Dominici’s “Peter Rabbit and the Crucifix,” Christian Bruno and Sam Green’s “Pie Fight ’69,” Elyse Couvillion’s “Sweet” and David Kartch’s “Zen and the Art of Landscaping.”

Members of the dramatic competition jury were Darren Aronofsky, Joan Chen, Kasi Lemmons, Bingham Ray and Gavin Smith.

Serving on the documentary jury were Randy Barbato, R.J. Cutler, Anne Makepeace, Merata Mita and Freida Lee Mock.

Latin American jury was comprised of Fabiano Canosa, Elpidia Carrillo and Gerardo Chijona, while Robert Hawk, Laura Kim and Guinevere Turner judged the shorts.

The Sundance/NHK Intl. Filmmakers Award, designed to support the next screenplays of emerging talents, was shared by Michael Burke for “The Mudge Boy” (U.S.), Daniel Burman for “Every Stewardess Goes to Heaven” (Latin America), Fatima Jebli-Ouazzani for “Halima’s Paradise” (Europe) and Hidenori Sugimori for “Woman of Water” (Japan).

Deliberations by the dramatic competition jury, which lasted for more than five hours from Friday night through the wee hours of Saturday, were said to involve a gradual narrowing of quite disparate initial views until a consensus was reached. Jurors reported that the debate was bracing and articulate, with no critical camps or rancor, and that all members could comfortably stand by the final selections.

Production values

Televised awards ceremony was spiffier and more “produced” than ever before. Donal Logue served as an affable host. General feeling expressed by critics and filmmakers was that this was a very solid Sundance, with a significantly above-par dramatic competition and a customarily excellent lineup of documentaries.

Consensus also held that the Premieres section was by far the weakest, with many mediocre films obviously selected for the name personalities connected to them.

Richard Linklater’s digitally shot “Tape,” a very funny and nervy three-character piece based on Stephen Belber’s play and starring Ethan Hawke, Uma Thurman and Robert Sean Leonard, was shown in the American Spectrum late in the game and emerged as a fest favorite.

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