‘Throne’ takes crown at Turin film festival

Crowds packed screenings

TURIN, Italy — Record crowds packed screenings and even the more challenging sidebar programs pulled significant numbers at the 17th Turin Film Festival — a strong start for newly appointed event director Stefano Della Casa. Fest wrapped Saturday.

The $17,000 top prize in the international feature competition went to debuting Indian director Murali Nair’s “Throne of Death,” a bitter fable of a poor Kerala villager sentenced to die in the electric chair. Pic began its highly praised festival run earlier this year at Cannes, where it picked up the Camera d’Or award.

Headed by Portuguese helmer Alberto Seixas Santos, the competition jury, which included Rosanna Arquette, American director Alexander Payne, Brazilian cineaste Paulo Cesar Saraceni and Italian critic Enrico Ghezzi, also awarded two special jury prizes of $6,000 each.

These went to Fox Searchlight’s Australian pickup about the troubled reunion of a quarrelsome clan, “Soft Fruit,” by first-time feature director Christina Andreef; and to Tunisian Mahmoud Ben Mahmoud’s drama “Les Siestes Grenadine,” dealing with cultural and family conflicts during a young woman’s return from Senegal to her native Tunisia.

Overall fest attendance surged by 20%, pushing the admissions count up from 56,000 in 1998 to almost 63,000 tickets during this year. Sidebars that proved surprisingly popular included Italian Spotting, a lineup of recent docus highlighting increased activity in that previously undernourished sector. Back for the third time, the fest’s Americana section this year provided one of its most stimulating lineups, embracing offbeat indies, docus and quirky studio fare such as Trey Parker’s “South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut,” Alexander Payne’s “Election” and Wes Anderson’s “Rushmore.”

Fest’s biggest success this year was the retrospective of maverick director John Carpenter’s films, screenings of which were consistently SRO.

Other fest prizes include the Cipputi Award for representation of the working world to Laurent Cantet’s French drama “Human Resources” and the public prize to Polish director Urszula Urbaniak’s “The Junction.” Winner of the international short film competition was Park Heung-sik’s “A Day” (South Korea), with special jury prizes going to Mehdi Jafari’s “Pilgrimage” (Iran) and Marina de Van’s “Psy-Show” (France).