‘Primer’ tops Sundance

Jury awards pic with main prize

This article was updated at 3:07 p.m.

PARK CITY — “Primer,” an ultra-low-budget drama about some young techno entrepreneurs whose discovery forces some difficult decisions upon them, won the grand jury prize at the 2004 Sundance Film Festival.

Award for the dark-horse entry, for which a budget of $7,000 is being bandied about, seemed to surprise no one as much as young writer-director-producer Shane Carruth, who the day before had won the second annual Alfred P. Sloan Prize. That award, earmarked for films stressing aspects of science and technology, is particularly coveted: It comes with $20,000 in cash.

“DIG!,” director-producer Ondi Timoner’s rambunctious look at the friendship and rivalry of two pop musicians, copped the documentary grand jury prize at Saturday night’s ceremony, hosted by former high school classmates Zooey Deschanel and Jake Gyllenhaal.

The much-valued audience award for dramatic feature went to “Maria Full of Grace,” a tense Spanish-language drama produced by HBO about a Colombian drug mule, written and directed by Joshua Marston and produced by Paul Mezey. Fine Line will release the film theatrically.

‘Brothels’ scores

Documentary audience award was bestowed upon “Born Into Brothels,” Ross Kauffman and Zana Briski’s look at the latter’s efforts to teach photography to children of prostitutes in Calcutta. This one came from HBO/Cinemax.

Directing award for dramatic features was given to Debra Granik for “Down to the Bone,” an up-close look at a young mother’s struggle with drug addiction. Lead performer Vera Farmiga snared a special jury prize for her work.

Morgan Spurlock took the docu directing nod for “Super Size Me,” in which he also appeared on camera to illustrate the ill effects of eating three meals a day at McDonald’s for a month.

Cinematography prizes went to Nancy Schreiber for her striking mini-digital work in “November” in the dramatic section, and to Ferne Pearlstein for “Imelda” on the docu side.

Prize adaptation

The Waldo Salt Screewriting Award was given to Larry Gross for his adaptation of two Andre Dubus stories for “We Don’t Live Here Anymore.” Freedom of Expression Award, voted by a special jury to a documentary treating social and political issues, went to Kim Dong-won for “Repatriation,” about the decades-long wait by North Korean prisoners in South Korea to be returned to their native country. On the Freedom of Expression jury were Molly Haskell, Jorgen Leth and Siven Maslamoney.

The World Cinema dramatic audience award was won by the Quebecois hit “Seducing Doctor Lewis,” directed by Jean-Francois Pouliot, written by Ken Scott and produced by Roger Frappier and Luc Vandal.

World Documentary audience nod went to “The Corporation,” also from Canada, directed by Mark Achbar and Jennifer Abbott, written by Harold Crooks, Joel Bakan and Achbar, and produced by Bart Simpson and Achbar. In this film’s acceptance speeches, one of the filmmakers ridiculed the corporate sponsors involved in the Sundance awards and programs. Moments later, presenter John Cameron Mitchell rebutted him by noting the value of corporate donations to countless independent filmmakers.

Special jury prizes

Special jury prizes were given in the dramatic category to “the passion” of writer-director Rodney Evans for “Brother to Brother,” which conjures up the relevance of the Harlem Renaissance to an artist today, and in the documentary section to “Farmingville,” Catherine Tambini and Carlos Sandoval’s examination of the tension surrounding illegal aliens in a Long Island community.

The dramatic competition jury was composed of Lisa Cholodenko, Frederick Elmes, Danny Glover, Maggie Gyllenhaal and Ted Hope. Docu jury was made up of Rory Kennedy, Mary Ellen Mark, Robb Moss, Robert Shepard and Chris Smith.

The jury prize in short filmmaking for U.S. work went to “When the Storm Came,” directed by Shilpi Gupta, and “Gowanus, Brooklyn,” directed by Ryan Fleck. Jury prize for international short filmmaking was awarded to “Tomo,” directed by Paul Catling.

Honorable mentions in short filmmaking were given to “Curtis,” directed by Jacob Akira Okada; “Harvie Krumpet,” directed by Adam Elliot; “Krumped,” directed by David LaChapelle; “Papillon d’Amour,” directed by Nicholas Provost, and “Spokane,” directed by Larry Kennar.

Shorts jurors were Effie T. Brown, Spencer Parsons and Peter Sollett.

Online fest awards

Winners of the Sundance Online Film Festival Viewers Awards were “Bathtime in Clerkenwell,” directed by Alex Budovsky (animation); “Wet Dreams False Images,” directed by Jesse Epstein (short subject), and “The Dawn at My Back: Memoir of a Texas Upbringing,” directed by Carroll Parrott Blue and Kristy H.A. Kang (New Forms Gallery). This jury consisted by Mika Salmi, Cathy Fischer, Sam Black, Jed Rosenzweig and Michael Gough.

The Sundance/NHK International Filmmakers Award honors promising projects based on their screenplays, one apiece from the United States, Europe and Latin America. Winners are Gyorgy Palfi for “Taxidermia” from Europe, Andrucha Waddington for “House of Sand” from Latin America, and Miranda July for “Me You and Everyone We Know” from the U.S. Receiving an honorable mention was Kosuke Hosokami for “Tepid Love” from Japan.

Aside from the high number of pictures acquired for distribution during the festival, one of the most notable aspects of Sundance 2004 was the dramas’ arguable superiority to the documentaries. The normal line is, if you want to see the best films, stick to the documentaries. This year, many of the docus seemed marked more for their political agendas than for artistic excellence. Aside from “DIG!,” “Born Into Brothels” and “Super Size Me,” some of the docus attracting the most notice were “The Fight,” “Home of the Brave,” “I Like Killing Flies” and “Neverland.” Another biggie was “Metallica: Some Kind of Monster,” shown in the American Spectrum.

Winless but admired

In the dramatic competition, the best-liked film not to win any award at all was undoubtedly “The Woodsman,” Nicole Kassell’s nervy, well-made study of a recovering pedophile, with a top performance by Kevin Bacon. Ray McKinnon’s “Chrystal,” about long-term down-and-outers in the Ozarks, has its merits, while Zach Braff’s “Garden State” and Jared Hess’ “Napoleon Dynamite” were crowd pleasers.

World preems of note in the Premieres section were Brad Anderson’s creepy, stylized “The Machinist,” with a cadaverous Christian Bale; Brian Dannelly’s sassy comedy “Saved!”; and, just for fun, Angela Robinson’s lesbian-slanted femme actioner “D.E.B.S.”

Savi Gabizon’s “Nina’s Tragedies” from Israel and Vahid Mousaian’s “Silence of the Sea” from Iran were standouts among new pictures in World Cinema, while Andrei Nekrasov’s “Disbelief” and “Repatriation” from Russia emerged among the World Documentaries.

Big hit for many in the Frontier section, and a lock to be invited to other festivals, was Jonathan Caouette’s videotaped self-portrait of his traumatic life, “Tarnation.”