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Sundance Film Festival goes 'Wild' for strange and controversial

Published February 2, 2012 10:01 am

Awards • Deep South drama, War on Drugs documentary win top honors at film festival.
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Park City • A fantastical movie from the wilds of the Mississippi Delta, a biography of a Chilean folk legend and two harsh examinations of injustice took the top honors at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival.

"Beasts of the Southern Wild," director Benh Zeitlin's phantasmagorical tale of a little girl learning to survive in the build-it-yourself world of a Louisiana village, won the Grand Jury Prize for U.S. Dramatic films at a ceremony Saturday night in Park City.

"We had more freedom to make this film than any first-time filmmaker has ever had," said Zeitlin, a New Yorker transplanted to New Orleans, in accepting the award. "I hope this movie is a flag that goes up to producers to allow filmmakers to explore just not creatively, but to go to the bottom of the earth."

"Beasts of the Southern Wild" also won an award for Ben Richardson's cinematography.

The U.S. Documentary Grand Jury Prize went to "The House I Live In," Eugene Jarecki's personal and analytical look at the War on Drugs, which examined the human toll that 40 years of harsh sentencing and misplaced priorities have taken, particularly on African-Americans.

"What we hoped to do is start a conversation," said Jarecki, who won the Grand Jury Prize in 2005 for "Why We Fight," a documentary on the military-industrial complex. "The War on Drugs is a terrible scar on America."

Director Charles Ferguson, a member of the U.S. Documentary jury, said "The House I Live In" was "a film that made us think and feel in a new and powerful way about this problem."

"The Law in These Parts," which director Ra'anan Alexandrowicz called "a film about law and justice" — namely, the Israeli system in the occupied Palestinian territories — won the Grand Jury Prize for World Cinema Documentary.

The Chilean biopic "Violeta Went to Heaven," a profile of Chilean singer and folklorist Violeta Parra, won the World Cinema Dramatic Grand Jury Prize.

Multiple awards went to "The Surrogate," writer-director Ben Lewin's sexy and sensitive tale of a polio-stricken journalist who hires a sex surrogate to help him lose his virginity. It won the Audience Award for U.S. Dramatic films, and a special jury prize for the ensemble cast, which included John Hawkes, Helen Hunt and William H. Macy.

"The Invisible War," Kirby Dick's examination of the epidemic of rape and sexual assault in America's military, won the U.S. Documentary Audience Award. Producer Amy Zeiring dedicated the award to the servicewomen (and servicemen) who have been victims of rape:

"You are heard, you are appreciated, you are not forgotten, and you are no longer invisible," she said.

In the World Cinema categories, the Audience Awards went to Musa Syeed's Indian drama "Valley of Saints" about a boatman's encounter with an environmental scientist, and Malik Bendjelloul's documentary "Searching for Sugar Man" about the '70s singer Rodríguez, once called "The Latin Bob Dylan" but later forgotten.

Among the ceremony's most unusual moments was when Alison Klayman, director of the documentary "Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry," asked the audience to collectively flip the bird to her camera. The audience obliged, and Klayman said she would send the photo to Ai, the dissident Chinese artist, immediately.

The ceremony's emcee, Parker Posey, was a no-show. The indie actress took ill, so festival director John Cooper enlisted actress and director Katie Aselton — whose horror thriller "Black Rock" premiered earlier in the festival — to help him pinch-hit.


And the winners are ...

Grand Jury Prize

U.S. Documentary • "The House I Live In," directed by Eugene Jarecki

U.S. Dramatic • "Beasts of the Southern Wild," directed by Benh Zeitlin

World Cinema Documentary • "The Law in These Parts" (Israel), directed by Ra'anan Alexandrowicz

World Cinema Dramatic • "Violeta Went to Heaven" (Chile), directed by Andrés Wood

Audience Award

U.S. Documentary • "The Invisible War," directed by Kirby Dick

U.S. Dramatic • "The Surrogate," directed by Ben Lewin

World Cinema Documentary • "Searching for Sugar Man" (Sweden/United Kingdom), directed by Malik Bendjelloul

World Cinema Dramatic • "Valley of Saints: (India/United States), directed by Musa Syeed

Best of NEXT • "Sleepwalk With Me," directed by Mike Birbiglia

Short Film • "The Debutante Hunters," directed by Maria White

Directing Award

U.S. Documentary • Lauren Greenfield, "The Queen of Versailles"

U.S. Dramatic • Ava DuVernay, "Middle of Nowhere"

World Cinema Documentary • Emad Burnat, Guy Davidi, "5 Broken Cameras" (Palestine/Israel/France)

World Cinema Dramatic • Mads Matthiesen, "Teddy Bear" (Denmark)

Screenwriting Award

U.S. Dramatic (the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award) • Derek Connolly, "Safety Not Guaranteed"

World Cinema Dramatic • Marialy Rivas, Camila Gutiérrez, Pedro Peirano, Sebastián Sepúlveda, "Young & Wild" (Chile)

Documentary Editing Award

U.S. Documentary • Enat Sidi, "Detropia"

World Cinema Documentary • Lisanne Pajot, James Swirsky, "Indie Game: The Movie"

Excellence in Cinematography Award

U.S. Documentary • Jeff Orlowski, "Chasing Ice"

U.S. Dramatic • Ben Richardson, "Beasts of the Southern Wild"

World Cinema Documentary • Lars Skree, "Putin's Kiss"

World Cinema Dramatic • David Raedeker, "My Brother the Devil" (United Kingdom)

Special Jury Prize

U.S. Documentary • Two awards: For "an agent of change" to director Macky Alston's "Love Free or Die"; and for "spirit of defiance" to director Alison Klayman's "Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry."

U.S. Dramatic • Two awards: To producers Jonathan Schwartz and Andrea Sperling for "Smashed" and "Nobody Walks"; and for "ensemble acting" to "The Surrogate"

World Cinema Documentary • For "celebration of the artistic spirit" to director Malik Bendjelloul's "Searching for Sugar Man"

World Cinema Dramatic • For "artistic vision" to director Rasit Celikezer's "Can" (Turkey)