Topical films rule Park City

PARK CITY, Utah — Films touching on some of the burning issues of the day — Iraq, illegal immigration, political corruption — dominated the awards presented Saturday evening at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival.

“Padre Nuestro,” Christopher Zalla’s thriller-style drama about a Mexican boy who travels with illegal immigrants to New York City, won the grand jury prize in the dramatic competition. “Grace Is Gone,” writer-director James C. Strouse’s study of an ordinary man (John Cusack) who has trouble telling his daughters their soldier mother has been killed in Iraq, copped the coveted audience award.

“Grace Is Gone” also snared the Waldo Salt screenwriting award.

Victory by “Padre Nuestro” marked the second year in a row the grand jury prize has gone to a U.S.-set film about Latinos that is significantly in Spanish and directed by Anglos (winner last year was “Quinceanera”).

In the documentary field, “Manda Bala” (Send a Bullet), directed by Jason Kohn, was honored with the grand jury prize. A multilayered dissection of the layers of corruption in Brazil, pic also won the jury’s cinematography prize for Heloisa Passos.

Audience award for doc went to “Hear and Now,” director Irene Taylor Brodsky’s intimate portrayal of her deaf parents’ decision to have cochlear implant surgery that would enable them to hear.

On the international side, Israel’s “Sweet Mud” (Adama Meshugaat), directed by Dror Shaul, a study of a mentally ill woman and her son on a kibbutz in the 1970s, emerged with the World Cinema jury prize. Taking the same prize in the docu competition was Denmark’s “Enemies of Happiness” (Vores Lykkes Fjender), directed by Eva Mulvad and Anja Al Erhayem, about a young woman elected to parliament in Afghanistan in 2005.

World Cinema panels also presented special jury prizes for directing, to French dramatic film “The Legacy” (L’Heritage), by Gela Babluani and Temur Babluani, and to Israeli documentary “Hot House,” by Shimon Dotan.

Audience awards for World Cinema entries went to the Irish musical romance “Once,” directed by John Carney, among dramatic films, and to British helmer David Sington’s docu “In the Shadow of the Moon,” an account of the Apollo lunar program.

In the U.S. competition, directing awards were copped by Jeffrey Blitz for “Rocket Science” in the dramatic section and by Sean Fine and Andrea Nix Fine for “War/Dance” among docus.

Documentary jury also presented a special jury prize to Charles Ferguson’s “No End in Sight,” a comprehensive account of the failures of U.S. Iraq policies.

The dramatic jury’s cinematography award went to Benoit Debie for the suspense feature “Joshua.” Additional special jury prizes went to Jess Weixler and Tamara Podemski for acting in “Teeth” and “Four Sheets to the Wind,” respectively, and to Chris Smith for “singularity of vision” for his India-set feature “The Pool.”

Docu jury presented an editing award for “Nanking” to Hibah Sherif Frisina, Charlton McMillian and Michael Schweitzer.

The Alfred P. Sloan Prize of $20,000, for a film dealing with ideas and issues relating to science and technology, went to “Dark Matter,” directed by Chen Shi-Zhen.

In the area of short films, jury prize was nabbed by “Everything Will Be OK,” directed by Don Hertzfeldt. Jury prize for international short went to “The Tube With a Hat” (Romania), directed by Radu Jude.

Honorable mentions were distributed among “Death to the Tinman,” directed by Ray Tintori; “The Fighting Cholitas,” directed by Mariam Jobrani; Iran’s “Men Understand Each Other Better” (Mardha Hamdigar Ra Behtar Mifahmand), directed by Marjan Alizadeh; “Motodrom” (Germany), directed by Joerg Wagner; “Spitfire 944,” directed by William Lorton; and “t.o.m.” (U.K.), directed by Tom Brown and Daniel Gray. A special jury prize also was voted to the short docu “Freeheld,” directed by Cynthia Wade.

Sitting on the U.S. dramatic competition jury were Catherine Hardwicke, Dawn Hudson, Pamela Martin, Elvis Mitchell (taking over for Mos Def, who bowed out) and Sarah Polley. Judging the documentaries were Alan Berliner, Lewis Erskine, Lauren Greenfield, Julia Reichert and Carlos Sandoval.

World Cinema jurors were, for dramatic films, Carlos Bolado, Lynne Ramsay and U-Wei Bin Haji Saari, and for docus, Raoul Peck, Juan Carlos Rulfo and Elizabeth Weatherford.

Shorts jury was comprised of Jared Hess, Daniela Michel and Mark Elijah Rosenberg.

Alfred P. Sloan jurors were Darren Aronofsky, Ann Druyan, Dr. Brian Greene, Howard Suber and John Underkoffler.

The Sundance/NHK Intl. Filmmakers Award supports the projects of emerging filmmakers from four geographical regions: the U.S., Japan, Europe and Latin America. Winning the award in its 11th year were Lucia Cedron, “Agnus Dei,” Argentina; Caran Hartsfield, “Bury Me Standing,” U.S.; Tomoko Kana, “Two by the River,” Japan; and Dagur Kari, “The Good Heart,” Iceland.

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