'Freedom Writers,' 'Venus' tie for top feature

Paramount’s “Freedom Writers” and Miramax’s “Venus” tied for top feature film honors in this year’s Humanitas Prize competish, designed to recognize scribes of works that aim to offer insights into the human condition.

“Writers” screenwriter Richard LaGravenese and “Venus” scribe Hanif Kureishi will share the $25,000 in prize money for the category, handed out along with seven other awards Tuesday during a luncheon ceremony at the Hilton Universal Hotel.

“Writers,” starring Hilary Swank as a teacher working with tough kids in an inner-city high school, was praised for its “fervent belief” that one person can make a difference in the lives of children. “Venus,” starring Peter O’Toole as a man captivated by his friend’s grandniece, drew Humanitas attention for dealing with the “painful humiliations and deprivations that can come with aging.”

In the 90-minute telefilm field, Peter Morgan, an Oscar nominee this year for “The Queen,” took the Humanitas trophy and $25,000 prize for HBO Films’ “Longford.”

NBC’s “ER” prevailed in the $15,000 hourlong TV category for episode “There Are No Angels Here,” penned by R. Scott Gemmill and David Zabel. Jennifer Crittenden won the $10,000 prize in the 30-minute TV field for her “Oh God, Yes” seg of CBS’ “The New Adventures of Old Christine.” Both “ER” and “Old Christine” are produced by Warner Bros. Television.

PBS’ “Jakers! The Adventures of Piggley Winks” was selected in the $25,000 children’s animation category, for the seg “The Gift,” by Sindy McKay, Dennis Haley and Marcy Brown. Disney Channel telepic “Molly: An American Girl on the Home Front,” penned by Anna Sandor, was recognized in the $25,000 children’s live-action category.

The Sundance indie feature honor went to Salvatore Stabile, screenwriter of “Where God Left His Shoes.” The David and Lynn Angell fellowship award was claimed by USC student Jonny Mais, who submitted a spec of Showtime’s “Weeds” dubbed “Pot Chocolate.”

Veteran comedy writer-producer Larry Gelbart was also honored at the 33rd Humanitas luncheon with the Kieser Award, named for org founder Father Ellwood “Bud” Kieser.

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