‘Elling’ lands Seattle’s Golden Needle

Jury presents first Asian Tradewinds Award to Thai film

SEATTLE — Norway’s “Elling” walked away with the Golden Space Needle, the top prize at the 28th annual Seattle Intl. Film Festival.

The comic character study, skedded for theatrical release this summer, drew the most audience votes at the fest, which wrapped Sunday in a ceremony at the Seattle landmark.

By the same process, Julio Medem was presented with director kudos for his “Sex and Lucia”; Moritz Bleibtreu won the actor nod, for “Das Experiment”; and Isabelle Huppert was feted yet again for her work in “The Piano Teacher” — narrowly beating out herself in “Merci pour le chocolat.” Auds deemed Deborah Dickson’s warm-hearted “Ruthie & Connie: Every Room in the House” the best docu, with Tasha Oldham’s “The Smith Family” a close runner-up. Short with the most votes was “The Host,” by Australian Nicolas Tomnay.

As part of technical awards previously given by two local post houses, Alpha Cine paid to have Ching C. Ip’s DV feature “See You Off to the Edge of Town,” a beautifully written Hong Kong/U.S. co-production, transferred to 35mm, and Modern Digital moved Alan Jacobs’ tough-minded “American Gun” from film onto high-def vid.

Asian Tradewinds debut

A jury singled out the Thai “Mon-rak Transistor” for the Asian Tradewinds Award — the first time that prize has been given — and gave a special mention to Indonesia’s “Whispering Sands,” by femme helmer Nan Triveni Achnas. Separate juries presented a New Director’s Showcase Award to Raja Amari, for her Tunisian-French co-production “Satin Rouge” (with a special mention for Jano Rosebiani’s “Jiyan,” about Iraq’s treatment of the Kurds), and the New American Cinema Award to John Feldman’s “Who the Hell Is Bobby Roos?,” an edgy vid-shot vehicle for impressionist Roger Kabler, playing a comic trapped by the people he impersonates.

Other strong contenders in the latter competish, mostly American world preems, included veteran Spike Lee editor Barry Brown’s “Winning Girls Through Psychic Mind Control,” with Bronson Pinchot and legit great Ruben Santiago-Hudson as whacked-out musicians; the L.A.-based youth comedy “Monkey Love”; and “The Flats,” a rural drama by local brothers Tyler and Kelly Requa.

Fest buzzes over ‘Kiss’

There was also considerable audience buzz for “Just a Kiss,” a first feature from Fisher Stevens; John C. Walsh’s “Pipe Dream,” with Martin Donovan and Mary Louise Parker as accidental filmmakers; John Sayles’ new “Sunshine State”; and “Mostly Martha,” a perfectly judged character study from Germany’s Sandra Nettlebeck, who was a runner-up for the director nod.

The fest closed Sunday night with another world premiere, “Passionada,” a small-town ethnic drama made by Dan Ireland, who co-founded the SIFF with longtime topper Darryl Macdonald. (Ireland’s “Whole Wide World” also preemed in Seattle.) The pic bowed 200 features and 25 days after the event opened with “Igby Goes Down,” a dark family farce toplining Kieran Culkin, Susan Sarandon and Claire Danes.

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