Sundance winner: It's a 'Push'

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The 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 the grand jury prize and the audience award in the U.S. dramatic competition in Park City.

The wins mark only the third time one film has taken both prizes — the Mexican-American coming-of-age tale "Quinceanera" did so in 2006, as did the Vietnam paternity drama "Three Seasons" in 1999 — and was 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 award when Mo'Nique received a special jury prize for her performance as an abusive mother. Cinetic Media is repping rights to the film.

A number of other multiple-award winners were named when Jane Lynch hosted the annual bash Saturday night.

Lone Scherfig's "An Education," about a girl (Carey Mulligan) who falls for an older man in 1960s London, won the world cinema audience award and the world cinema cinematography award in the dramatic 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 and cinematography awards in the U.S. dramatic category.

"Five Minutes of Heaven," an IRA 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," about Afghani "Pop Idol" contestants who risk their lives competing under the repressive Taliban, won the audience award for documentary in the world cinema section and the world cinema directing award for documentary.

Indeed, socially conscious subject matter, often set against difficult global circumstances, attracted the interest of 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 grand jury prize for documentary. And environmental doc "The Cove," Louie Psihoyos' examination 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 included "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 directed by Sebastian Silva, which won the world cinema grand jury prize in the dramatic category.

Despite its difficult subject matter, "Push" had unique resonance at the festival. In addition to its prizes, it garnered strong critical response. The Weinstein Co. has been a pre-eminent suitor of the pic, for which domestic rights are still in play.

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

The movie is Daniels' sophomore directing gig; he also produced the 2001 interracial drama "Monster's Ball," which scored an Oscar for Halle Berry.

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

Activist and political topics reigned in other categories, too: The U.S. documentary editing award went to Greg Barker's activist portrait "Sergio" and its editor, Karen Schmeer, and the world cinema award in the category went to Anders Ostergaard's Asian journalism tale "Burma VJ," edited by Janus Billeskov Jansen and Thomas Papapetros.

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

The Sundance Film Festival concluded its 25th edition Sunday.
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