PARK CITY, Utah — Memphis proved to be the lucky charm at the Sundance Film Festival this year, as the winners of the two most coveted awards were both filmed in the Tennessee music capital.
Ira Sachs’ “Forty Shades of Blue,” a small, dark-horse film about the disintegration of a marraige between an older music producer and his young Russian wife, prevailed over several more highly touted entries to take the American Dramatic Grand Jury Prize at the awards ceremony.
Less surprisingly, the American Dramatic Audience Award went to the fest’s biggest commercial success story, Craig Brewer’s “Hustle & Flow,” the story of a pimp who pursues his dream of becoming a rapper. Pic was acquired by Paramount for $9 million after its first screening last weekend.
On the documentary side, Eugene Jarecki’s “Why We Fight,” an analysis of the growth of the military-industrial complex and its driving force in American foreign policy since World War II, snared the Grand Jury Prize as best American docu.
Documentary audience winner was Henry Alex Rubin and Dana Adam Shapiro’s “Murderball,” a look at quadriplegic rugby as very roughly played in wheelchairs.
Sundance gave out more prizes this year than ever before, as the 2005 edition added a full slate of world cinema awards in both the dramatic and documentary categories. A general reckoning placed the overall quality of the docus — American and foreign — very high, far better than the erratic nature of the dramatic fare in both divisions.
The festival’s first World Cinema Dramatic Jury Prize was given to “The Hero,” an Angola/Portugal/France co-production about the aftermath of the civil war in Angola by first-time director Zeze Gamboa. World Cinema Documentary Grand Jury Prize went to Dutch helmer Leonard Retel Helmrich’s “Shape of the World,” a verite look at life in Jakarta, Indonesia.
Audiences voted their top world cinema dramatic award to Susanne Bier’s “Brothers” from Denmark, a study of two very different siblings at a time of unusual crisis, while most popular world cinema docu with audiences was Peter Raymont’s “Shake Hands With the Devil: The Journey of Romeo Dallaire” from Canada, about the Canadian general who could do nothing to stop the 1994 genocide in Rwanda.
Doubly honored on Saturday night was Noah Baumbach, who won the jury’s dramatic directing award as well as the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award for “The Squid and the Whale,” his highly personal portrait of the effects of their parents’ divorce on two brothers in ’80s Brooklyn.
“Hustle & Flow” also copped two prizes, as Amelia Vincent won the dramatic cinematography award.
Documentary directing prize was awarded to Jeff Feuerzeig for “The Devil and Daniel Johnston,” a look at a manic depressive musical genius, while docu cinematography nod went to Gary Griffin for “The Education of Shelby Knox.”
The American dramatic jury, which consisted of Chris Eyre, Vera Farmiga, John C. Reilly, B. Ruby Rich and Christine Vachon, gave two special jury prizes for acting, to Amy Adams for “Junebug” and to Lou Pucci for “Thumbsucker,” as well as two special jury prizes for originality of vision, to Miranda July, who wrote, directed and acted in “Me and You and Everyone We Know,” and to Rian Johnson, director of “Brick.”
The American documentary jury, which was filled out by Jean-Philippe Boucicaut, Gail Dolgin, Steve James, Jehane Noujaim and Stacy Peralta, gave a special jury prize for editing to “Murderball” editors Geoffrey Richman and Conor O’Neill, and a special jury prize to “After Innocence,” directed by Jessica Sanders.
World cinema dramatric jury, which featured Antonia Bird, Mike Goodridge and Fernando Leon de Aranoa, presented a special jury prize to Jorge Gaggero’s “Live-In Maid” from Argentina/Spain, while the world docu jury, on which was found Miriam Cutler, Jean Perret and Penny Woolcock, gave special jury prizes to Sean McAllister’s “The Liberace of Baghdad” (U.K.) and Simone Bitton’s “Wall” (France/Israel).
Werner Herzog’s “Grizzly Man,” about the life and death of grizzly bear lover, protector and victim Timothy Treadwell, which was at or near the top of many festgoers’ lists of best films of the entire festival, received the Alfred P. Sloan Prize, a $20,000 cash award for a film on science and technology.
The American dramatic film widely considered to have been most unfairly neglected by the jury was Robinson Devor’s “Police Beat,” a highly distinctive and sensationally beautiful second feature by “The Woman Chaser” director Robinson Devor. “The Squid and the Whale,” “Thumbsucker,” “Me and You and Everyone We Know,” “Brick,” “Hustle & Flow” and, to a less consistent extent, “Forty Shades of Blue” were generally the other films mentioned as the best by festgoers who saw most of the competition titles, although by common consent there were also several very dubious competition titles that either belonged in other sections such as Frontier or nowhere at all.
The world dramatic competition was short on world premieres, and it will be interesting to follow the section’s progress over the coming year or two to see if the fest can attract more major titles, as its best liked features, such as “Brothers” and “This Charming Girl,” had already been seen at other fests.
Among its world preems, the high-profile Premieres section once again served up quite a few relative disappointments. The opener, Don Roos’ “Happy Endings,” received a sharply divided response. Richard Shepard’s “The Matador,” picked up by Miramax, was regarded as a decent commercial entry, and Rodrigo Garcia’s “Nine Lives,” George C. Wolfe’s “Lackawanna Blues” and Andy Fickman’s “Reefer Madness” enjoyed receptions that were more favorable than not. Less than stellar reactions were accorded to numerous others, including Hal Hartley’s sci-fier “The Girl From Monday,” Michael Hoffman’s “Game 6,” Thomas Vinterberg’s “Dear Wendy,” Dave McKean’s “MirrorMask” and Arie Posin’s “The Chumscrubber.”
Two big hits among the Special Screenings were Dan Geller and Dayna Goldfine’s revelatory documentary “Ballets Russes,” filled with never-before-seen archival footage, and Luc Jacquet’s “The Emperor’s Journey,” about Emperor penguins in Antarctica.
At least two films, Ben Wolfinsohn’s “High School Record” and David LaChapelle’s “Rise,” jumped out from the pack in the American Spectrum.
Most debated film, pro and con, of the Frontier section was William Greaves’ “Symbiopsychotaxiplasm: Take 2 1/2,” while the Midnight attraction that sparked the most talk was David Slade’s elegantly shocking “Hard Candy.”
AMERICAN DRAMATIC GRAND JURY PRIZE
“Forty Shades of Blue” Ira Sachs
AMERICAN DOCUMENTARY GRAND JURY PRIZE
“Why We Fight” Eugene Jarecki
WORLD CINEMA DRAMATIC JURY PRIZE
“The Hero” (Angola-Portugal-France) Zeze Gamboa
WORLD CINEMA DOCUMENTARY GRAND JURY PRIZE
“Shape of the Moon” (Netherlands) Leonard Retel Helmrich
AMERICAN DRAMATIC AUDIENCE AWARD
“Hustle & Flow” Craig Brewer
AMERICAN DOCUMENTARY AUDIENCE AWARD
“Murderball” Henry-Alex Rubin and Dana Adam Shapiro
WORLD CINEMA DRAMATIC AUDIENCE AWARD
“Brothers” (Denmark) Susanne Bier
WORLD CINEMA DOCUMENTARY AUDIENCE AWARD
“Shake Hands With the Devil: The Journey of Romeo Dallaire” (Canada) Peter Raymont
AMERICAN DIRECTING DRAMATIC AWARD
Noah Baumbach, “The Squid and the Whale”
AMERICAN DOCUMENTARY DIRECTING AWARD
Jeff Feuerzeig, “The Devil and Daniel Johnston”
AMERICAN EXCELLENCE IN CINEMATORAPHY AWARD
Dramatic competition: Amelia Vincent, “Hustle & Flow”
Documentary: Gary Griffin, “The Education of Shelby Knox”
WALDO SALT SCREENWRITING AWARD
Noah Baumbach, “The Squid and the Whale”
AMERICAN DRAMATIC SPECIAL JURY PRIZE FOR ACTING
Amy Adams, “Junebug”
Lou Pucci, “Thumbsucker”
SPECIAL JURY PRIZES FOR ORIGINALITY OF VISION
Miranda July “Me and You and Everyone We Know”
Rian Johnson “Brick”
AMERICAN DOCUMENTARY JURY SPECIAL PRIZE FOR EDITING
“Murderball” Geoffrey Richman and Conor O’Neill
SPECIAL JURY PRIZE DOCUMENTARY
“After Innocence” Jessica Sanders
WORLD CINEMA DOCUMENTARY JURY SPECIAL JURY PRIZES
“The Liberace of Baghdad” (U.K.) Sean McAllister
“Wall” (France-Israel) Simone Bitton
WORLD CINEMA DRAMATIC SPECIAL JURY PRIZE
“Live-In Maid”(Argentina-Spain) Jorge Gaggero
2005 ALFRED P. SLOAN PRIZE
“Grizzly Man” Werner Herzog