Lower East Side laffer wins festival's top award

DEAUVILLE, France — “Long Way Home,” writer-director Peter Sollett’s intimate comedy about the romantic tribulations of Hispanic teens on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, won the American Film Festival’s Grand Prix, the Gold Flame, here Sunday night.

First-time helmer Sollett, who had to leave Deauville for Toronto to present his film — which preemed in Un Certain Regard at Cannes — conveyed his thanks live by phone, saying the prize was that much more of an honor because the level of the 10-title competition had been so high.

The film, a Franco-American co-production, will be released by Mars Films in Gaul early in 2003.

Jury Prize, the Silver Flame, was a tie between Robin Williams starrer “One Hour Photo,” written and directed by Mark Romanek, and Michael Cuesta’s “L.I.E.”

Brian Cox, who stars in “L.I.E.” as a man with a weakness for young boys, told the audience that “It’s exactly a year since this movie opened in New York and had to close a few days later due to the horrific offense of 9/11. The film has resurfaced. It’s a testament to the film that it has endured.”

Clarkson wins

The Ralph Lauren Fragrances prize, which honors the best performance by an actor or actress, went to Patricia Clarkson for her role in “The Safety of Objects.” Scripter-helmer Rose Troche’s drama about the intertwining of four families and one suburban landscape gardener also won the Intl. Critics Prize. Pic, which co-stars Glenn Close, Dermot Mulroney and Mary Kay Place, is the only prize winner that does not yet have a French distrib lined up.

Deauville accords equal weight to shorts and features, with jury prez Pierre Lescure and his nine fellow jurors awarding the Gold Flame to “Crossing” by Jeremy Passmore and the Silver Flame to “Passengers” by J.T. Walker.

Passmore’s 12-minute exploration of a young man whose panhandling technique involves deliberately being hit by cars also won the coveted Canal Plus prize, which means the USC-produced short will be shown on all Canal Plus affiliates in Europe.

Writer-director Bob Dolman, whose well-received comedy “The Banger Sisters” closed the fest, described the Deauville concept as “truly a gesture of love and peace,” adding: “I love that your culture is honoring American films and culture. I wish America would honor foreign cultures more than it does.”

“Taxi 3″ hails Sly

Sylvester Stallone says producer Luc Besson has cast him in a small role in “Taxi 3,” the third installment of the hit Gallic franchise.

“Taxi 2,” about a cop without a driver’s license forced to work with a renegade cabby, pulled in more than 10 million admissions.

Stallone made the surprise announcement during a closing weekend visit to the American Film Festival here with “Avenging Angelo,” in which he starred with the late Anthony Quinn.

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