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Sundance Film Festival - the big winners and some surprising losers

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 07 February, 2015, 10:49pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 07 February, 2015, 10:49pm
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Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, a dramedy about a high-school senior and his relationship with a classmate with leukaemia, was the big winner at the Sundance Film Festival which concluded last week.

Alfonso Gomez-Rejon's film, which uses animation and other flourishes in its coming-of-age story, took the audience and grand jury prizes in the US dramatic category.

"This movie is about processing loss and celebrating a beautiful life and a beautiful man," Gomez-Rejon said as he accepted the grand jury prize, alluding to his late father, Julio Cesar Gomez-Rejon, to whom the film is dedicated. "This week has been incredibly cathartic for so many reasons," he said earlier upon accepting the audience prize.

The prizes for Me and Earl and the Dying Girl marks the third time in as many years that a film won the top audience and jury honours in the lead category of US dramatic after W hiplash and Fruitvale Station pulled off the feat the past two years.

With its pop-cultural references and intimate look at a confused teenager, Gomez-Rejon's film was a huge crowd-pleaser when it premiered at the festival. Fox Searchlight snapped up rights to the movie for release later this year.

Offbeat imprisoned-children documentary The Wolfpack landed the grand jury prize for best US documentary. Crystal Moselle's movie examines a group of brothers held captive by their father in a New York apartment as they turn to movies and movie re-enactments for redemption.

"I stopped these kids on the street one day and here I am," the filmmaker said in accepting the prize, adding: "Life is surreal." Robert Eggers took the directing prize in the US dramatic category for The Witch, his supernatural story of evil spirits and exorcisms in Puritan-era America.

There were a number of surprises at the awards ceremony hosted by radio and comic personality Tig Notaro - herself the subject of a film at the festival. In an unusual move, the US dramatic jury did not hand out any acting prizes.

Also, Rick Famuyiwa's dramedy Dope, an audience favourite and major acquisition, came away with just one prize, for editing. And The Diary of a Teenage Girl, Marielle Heller's look at a teenager discovering her sexuality in 1970s San Francisco-considered a frontrunner for several awards, landed just one prize, to Brandon Trost for cinematography.

Sundance also carves out categories for global fare. The world cinema grand jury award went to The Russian Woodpecker, Chad Gracia's story of the Ukrainian revolution and artists exploring the connection between Chernobyl and communications weapon from the cold-war era.

"I don't think we can stop Russia with bombs, but I think with a little bit of art and truth maybe we can make some progress," the director said.

One of the film's lead actors took the podium and made an impassioned political plea. "When the Kremlin attacked Chechnya, nothing stopped them. When the Kremlin attacked Georgia, nothing stopped them. Now the Kremlin is attacking Ukraine," Fedor Alexandrovich said. "Save Ukraine please. Tomorrow will be too late."

Politics and social issues were on display often at the awards. After a "special impact" award was conferred on Marc Silver's Jordan Davis movie 3 1/2 Minutes. The mother of the African American teenager gunned down outside a petrol station in November 2012, Lucia McBath, said: "I always wanted Jordan's life to mean something, but I never imagined his life as well as his death would mean so much to so many people." She added: "It would change the consciousness and prick the souls of our nation."

And co-director David Felix Sutcliffe noted that "trusting the FBI is an incredibly dangerous thing to do at this time", upon receiving a special jury prize for breakout first feature.

Meanwhile, the world cinema grand jury prize went to Slow West, John Maclean's story of a young man and his bodyguard (played by Kodi-Smit McPhee and Michael Fassbender) as they travel across the frontier during the civil war. Audience honours in the world dramatic section went to Umrika, Prashant Nair's family drama of immigration and a poor North Indian village, while British filmmaker Louise Osmond's Dark Horse, about a group of friends in Wales who breed a racehorse, won the world cinema documentary audience award.

Over the course of the festival, more than 125 features screened, dozens of deals were consummated and various forms of socialising, professional and otherwise, took place.

Los Angeles Times