‘Slam’ dunk at Sundance

Prison film takes dramatic grand jury award

PARK CITY, Utah — Films exploring lives of confinement in prisons and on an Indian reservation took top honors at the 14th annual Sundance Film Festival, which wrapped Sunday.

The dramatic grand jury prize went to Trimark’s “Slam,” Marc Levin’s tale of a black poet incarcerated on minor drug charges.

The documentary grand jury prize was shared by Andrew Gurland and Todd Phillips, who directed and produced “Frat House” (review, page 10), an investigation into the horrors of fraternity hazing; and Jonathan Stack and Liz Garbus, the filmmakers behind “The Farm,” about a maximum-security prison located in Angola whose inmates are predominantly African-American.

Miramax’s “Smoke Signals,” Chris Eyre’s tale of a young Native American’s struggle to ensure the body of his estranged father receives a proper burial, won two dramatic prizes: the filmmakers trophy and the audience award. It was produced by Scott Rosenfelt and Larry Estes.

Popular on Variety

“The audience award was the one we really wanted,” said screenwriter Sherman Lexie during Saturday’s Sundance awards ceremony at the Park City Racquet Club. Sundance Institute founder Robert Redford could not attend the ceremony because he is editing his film “The Horse Whisperer.”

‘A humane experience’

Geoffrey Gilmore, director of fest programming, told the crowd that the changes made at Sundance this year — including the new Eccles Theater, the renovation of the Egyptian Theater and an improved transportation system — were part of the desire “to ensure that Sundance remains a humane experience.”

Grand jury prize winner “Slam” was produced by former New York nightclub owner Henri Kessler, Richard Stratton and Levin, who has directed numerous documentaries on street gangs, prison life and drug addiction. “This has been an amazing week,” Levin told Daily Variety. “I won a Columbia DuPont journalism award for ‘The CIA: America’s Secret Warriors,’ we sold ‘Slam’ to Trimark and now this.”

Stratton, the founder of Prison Life magazine who spent eight years behind bars for marijuana charges, wrote “Slam” along with three others — Levin, Saul Williams and Sonja Sohn. Stratton discovered Williams two years ago doing a reading at the Nuyorican Poets Cafe in New York. Williams and Sohn also star in “Slam” along with Vibe magazine columnist Bonz Malone and Beau Sia.

“The Farm’s” Stack met his co-director through his legal battle with a right-wing religious group that tried to suppress his earlier docu “Damned in the U.S.A.” Stack’s attorney Martin Garbus won the case and introduced him to his daughter, Liz. The two found former prisoner-turned-author Wilbert Rideau, who acted as their guide at “The Farm.”

“Out of the Past,” the story of a Utah teenage lesbian’s battle to form a gay-straight alliance at her high school, won the audience award for documentary. It was directed and produced by Jeff Dupre.

The docu filmmakers trophy went to Steve Yeager’s “Divine Trash,” an in-depth look at the making of John Waters’ cult classic “Pink Flamingos.” Yeager produced the film along with Cindy Miller.

Easy as ‘Pi’

Darren Aronofsky’s black-and-white film “Pi” won the dramatic directing award. Earlier in the week, the sci-fi thriller, which was produced by Eric Watson, was bought by Live Entertainment.

Capturing the documentary directing prize was Julia Loktev’s “Moment of Impact,” which chronicles the changes that occurred in her family after her father became brain-damaged in an accident. Melanie Judd was producer.

Penelope Spheeris’ “The Decline of Western Civilization, Part III” won the freedom of expression award. Lisa Cholodenko, writer/director of October Films’ “High Art,” received the 1998 Waldo Salt screenwriting award.

Andrea Hart, the star of Benson Lee’s “Miss Monday,” was awarded a special prize for achievement by the dramatic jury, which consisted of Kayo Hatta, Owen Gleiberman, Paul Schrader, Chris Sievernich and Alfre Woodard.

The documentary jurors were Steven Asher, Christine Choy, Lisa Leeman, Pamela Yates and Nick Broomfield, whose film “Kurt and Courtney,” about singer/actress Courtney Love and her late husband rocker Kurt Cobain, was withdrawn from this year’s Sundance fest because of legal issues regarding music clearances.

Carlos Marcovich’s “Who the Hell Is Juliette?” took home the special recognition prize for Latin American cinema.

Debra Granik’s “Snake Feed” received a special recognition award for short filmmaking, while Jay Rosenblatt’s short film “Human Remains” received an honorable mention.

More Film

  • The Painter and the Thief

    Neon Takes Worldwide Rights on Benjamin Ree’s ‘The Painter and the Thief’

    Neon has acquired worldwide rights to “The Painter and the Thief,” directed by Benjamin Ree, which made its world premiere at Sundance, where it won the world cinema documentary special jury prize for creative storytelling. The film was produced by Ingvil Giske and executive produced by Academy Award winning filmmaker Morgan Neville. When two paintings [...]

  • Oliver-Berben-and-Uli-Edel

    Constantin TV, ZDF, Global Screen, Team on 'The Palace' (EXCLUSIVE)

    BERLIN — Constantin Film, the No. 1 German independent behind the “Resident Evil” franchise, is teaming with German public broadcaster ZDF to produce “The Palace,” (“Friedrichstadt-Palast”) a period drama set at the celebrated Berlin music hall. Global Screen will handle international distribution. “Last Exit to Brooklyn’s” Uli Edel will re-team with Constantin Television, directing the [...]

  • Berlin: Embankment Rides With Frankie Dettori

    Berlin: Embankment Rides With Frankie Dettori Documentary 'Frankie'

    Embankment has launched worldwide sales at the European Film Market on feature documentary “Frankie,” the story of champion jockey Frankie Dettori, winner of more than 3,000 races. The film shadows Dettori for one season as, at 49, he looks to win a record third Prix de L’Arc de Triomphe on Enable, his most beloved horse. [...]

  • Pathé Inks Major Pre-Sales on Emilia

    Pathé Inks Major Pre-Sales on Emilia Jones Starrer 'Coda' (EXCLUSIVE)

    Pathé has closed major pre-sales on Sian Heder’s anticipated film “Coda,” starring Emilia Jones, Eugenio Derbez and Marlee Matlin, after unveiling an exclusive promo reel of the film at EFM. An English-language remake of the French smash hit “La Famille Belier,” “Coda” is being produced by Philippe Rousselet and Fabrice Gianfermi at Vendôme Group, alongside [...]

  • Greenwich Takes U.S. Rights to Caroline

    Greenwich Takes U.S. Rights to Oscar-Winner Caroline Link's 'When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit'

    Beta Cinema has sold the German box-office hit “When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit” by Oscar-winner Caroline Link to the U.S. Greenwich Entertainment picked up the rights to the feature, which has attracted almost one million admissions since its Christmas release in Germany alone. German media lauded the film, calling it “a real godsend for the [...]

  • 'H Is for Happiness' Review

    'H Is for Happiness': Film Review

    More often than not, “A” festival competitions privilege the arty over the entertaining, so hats off to the Berlinale Generation section, where the two qualities frequently coexist. A case in point: the delightful coming-of-age dramedy “H Is for Happiness,” which provides feel-good entertainment for the entire family without pandering — and definitely without sacrificing style [...]

  • 'Jinpa' Review

    ‘Jinpa’: Film Review

    After roaming for more than a year on the international festival circuit, “Jinpa” — the latest effort from Tibetan director Pema Tseden (“Old Dog,” “Tharlo”) — has finally launched a limited run in U.S. art houses, where it might find an appreciative if occasionally perplexed audience for its idiosyncratic mix of deadpan wit and understated [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content