'Push' takes Sundance grand jury award

6:10 PM PST 01/24/2009 by Steven Zeitchik, AP

'An Education' receives world audience, world cinematography awards

Read Duane Byrge's review of "Push"

A story of an abused inner-city teenager trying to set her life right moved audiences and the jury at the Sundance Film Festival, as "Push: Based on the Novel by Sapphire," won both the grand jury award and the audience award in the U.S. dramatic competition in Park City.

The wins marked only the second time this decade that one film has taken both prizes -- Mexican-American coming-of-age tale "Quinceanera" did it in 2006 -- and proved another feather in the cap of the word-of-mouth sensation and its star, Gabourey Sidibe.

The movie, which Lee Daniels directed from a script by Damien Paul, picked up a third prize when Mo'Nique received a special jury award for her performance as an abusive mother. Cinetic Media is repping rights to the picture.

There were a number of multiple-award winners named when Jane Lynch hosted the annual bash in Park City on Saturday night.

Lone Scherfig's "An Education," a look at a girl (Carey Mulligan) who falls for an older man in 1960's London, won the world cinema audience award in the dramatic category as well as the world cinematography award in the category. Sony Pictures Classics bought rights to the Nick Hornby-penned pic during the festival.

Focus Features immigrant tale "Sin Nombre," Cary Joji Fukunaga's story of Mexicans in the U.S., scored the directing award in the U.S. dramatic category as well as the excellence in cinematography award in that section.

"Five Minutes of Heaven," the I.R.A. forgiveness pic directed by Oliver Hirschbiegel and written by Guy Hibbert, won the world cinema directing award in the dramatic category as well as the world cinema screenwriting award.

And Havana Marking's "Afghan Star" won both the audience award for documentary in the world cinema section and the world cinema directing award for documentary. The pic tells the story of amateur singers who risk their lives to compete on Pop Idol under the repressive Taliban.

Indeed, socially-conscious subject matter, often set against difficult global circumstances, attracted the interest of both juries and audiences at the festival. "Rough Aunties," Kim Longinotto's story of abused children in the slums of South Africa, scored the world cinema jury prize for documentary.

And the environmental docu "The Cove," Louie Psihoyos' examination of the efforts of a group of environmental activists who fight dolphin poaching off the coast of Japan, won the audience award for U.S. documentary.

Other films going home with major prizes include "We Live in Public," Ondi Timoner's look at technology's effects on modern social dynamics, which took the grand jury prize for U.S. documentary, and "The Maid," a Chile-set story of a dysfunctional household that's directed by Sebastian Silva, which won the world cinema jury prize in the dramatic category.

Despite its difficult subject matter, "Push" has had a unique resonance. In addition to its prizes, it garnered strong critical response (THR's Duane Byrge called it "a disturbing, overwhelming story" with "crystalline performances" and an "edgy and effervescent screenplay") even as it wowed filmgoers around Park City.

The Weinstein Company has been one of the pre-eminent suitors of the pic, whose domestic rights are still in play.



"Push: Based on the Novel by Sapphire" (the subtitle is in part to pay homage to its phenom author and in part to distinguish from Summit's upcoming Dakota Fanning thriller of the same name), takes a raw but still tender look at Precious Jones (Sidibe), an illiterate girl who is raped by her father and emotionally abused by her mother but still manages to find meaning and hope.

The movie is the sophomore directing effort of Daniels, who also produced the 2001 interracial romantic drama "Monster's Ball," which scored an Oscar for Halle Berry.

An award at Sundance does not immediately translate into mainstream commercial success, though it sometimes can, as it did in the case of movies like "Capturing the Friedmans" and "Maria Full of Grace." In recent years a prize in Park City has at the least also prefigured other recognition and kudos.

Last year, for instance, both "Man on Wire" and "Frozen River" received major awards; both films went on to earn Oscar nominations this past week.

In other prizes announced Saturday, the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award went to Nicholas Jasenovec and Charlyne Yi for their comedic quasi-documentary about love, "Paper Heart," while the directing award for U.S. doc went to "El General," the saga of Mexican politics directed by Natalia Almada.

Activist and political topics reined in other categories too: U.S. Documentary Editing Award went to Greg Barker's activist portrait "Sergio," and its editor Karen Schmeer, with the world cinema award in the category going to Asian journalism tale "Burma VJ.," which was edited by Janus Billeskov Jansen and Thomas Papapetros.

Anna Wintour portrayal "The September Issue" won the excellence in cinematography award for a U.S. doc. Swimming doc "Big River Man" won the world cinema version of the prize.

And Benoit Delépine and Gustave de Kervern's "Louise-Michel," a French-language dark comedy about laid off workers who seek Mafia-flavored revenge against their former employers, took home a a world cinema special jury prize for originality.

Other special jury prizes went to "Tibet in Song" "Good Hair," "Humpday" and Catalina Saavedra of "The Maid."  Fox Searchlight's "Adam" took the Alfred P. Sloan Prize for picture with a science theme or character.

The U.S. dramatic jury was comprised of Virginia Madsen, Scott McGehee, Maud Nadler, Mike White and Boaz Yakin. The doc jury featured Patrick Creadon, Carl Deal, Andrea Meditch, Sam Pollard and Marina Zenovich. World dramatic jurors included Colin Brown, Christine Jeffs and Vibeke Windelo, while world doc consisted of Gillian Armstrong, Thom Powers and Hubert Sauper.

The Sundance Film Festival concludes its 25th edition on Sunday.
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