'Wire' docu wins Sundance Grand Jury

4:00 AM PST 01/27/2008 by Gregg Goldstein, Steven Zeitchik

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PARK CITY -- "Man on Wire," James Marsh's documentary look at Philippe Petit's 1974 tightrope walk between the Twin Towers, took home both the Grand Jury and the Audience Prize in the World Cinema category Saturday at the Sundance Film Festival.

In other top prizes, Courtney Hunt's single-mother immigrant drama "Frozen River" scored the Dramatic Grand Jury Prize and Jonathan Levine's coming-of-age dramedy "The Wackness," in which a young pot dealer in mid-'90s New York finds a mentor and customer in his shrink, took home the Dramatic Feature Audience award.

Sony Pictures Classics was a double-winner in its own right -- it picked up North American rights to both of those films during the fest.

The U.K.-produced "Wire" had not yet found a U.S. distributor as of Saturday evening, though a deal was expected as early as this week. Director Marsh thanked the jury and audience. "You've got impeccable taste," he quipped.

Also at the ceremony, the grand jury handed best documentary to Tia Lessin's and Carl Deal's Hurricane Katrina docu "Trouble the Water," which uses extensive footage from before and after the 2005 disaster to expose the real stories of the hurricane's impact on New Orleans.

Lessin told the crowd of a different kind of debut -- the birth of a baby this week to Kimberly Rivers-Roberts and Scott Roberts, two characters featured in the film.

The Audience Award for best documentary went to Josh Tickell's "Fields of Fuel," the portrait of a man fighting the oil industry. "Make fuel, not war!" producer Greg Reitman exhorted the audience in his acceptance speech.

The audience award in World Cinema for best dramatic feature went to the first-ever indie feature from Jordan: Amin Matalqa's "Captain Abu Raed," an intergenerational drama about an elderly janitor at the Amman airport and a group of children who come into his life.

William H. Macy, whose Hollywood sendup "The Deal" played the fest, served as master of ceremony. Before giving a monologue composed by stringing together a host of titles that played the festival, Macy excused his off-color riff. "This is what happens when there's a writer's strike," he said. "No professional writer had anything to do with what I'm about to tell you."

The World Cinema dramatic jury prize went to Jen Jonsson's "The King of Ping Pong," a Swedish feature that tells of a neglected teenager who seeks solace in ping-pong.

The docu jury also handed a special jury prize to Lisa Jackson's "The Greatest Silence," the HBO Docs pic about rape in the Congo.

The dramatic jury handed its special jury prize to "Anywhere, U.S.A.," Chusey Haney-Jardine's collection of oddball vignettes from across the country. Director thanked fest for "accepting our weirdness, our mustaches, our pistachios," evoking some elements of the movie.

Clark Gregg's "Choke" won a special jury prize, dramatic for best ensemble cast; Sam Rockwell, Anjelica Huston and Kelly Macdonald all star.

(For a full list of awards and jurors, please see Sundance.org.)

In other awards, four directors scored big at the ceremony. Nanette Burstein won the docu directing award for this week's Paramount Vantage pickup "American Teen," a comic chronicle of four Indiana high school seniors.

Lance Hammer won the dramatic directing award for his Southern family tragedy drama "Ballast," which also saw Lol Crowley take home a cinematography award.

Nino Kirtadze won the world cinema docu directing award for the French tale of a right-wing Russian man who holds sway over his acolytes in "Durakivo: Village of Fools."Anna Melikyan won the world cinema dramatic directing award for "Mermaid," the story of a fantasy-prone young girl who is forced to face a harsher reality as she grows up.

Picking up the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award for outstanding achievement in writing were Alex Rivera and David Riker, who penned the dystopian sci-fi thriller "Sleep Dealer."

Some of the most entertaining moments of the ceremony came when the dramatic grand jury handed out its prize.

Jury chief Quentin Tarantino began by recounting a shutout of his own. "In 1992, for 'Pulp Fiction,' I got fuck-all tonight," Tarantino quipped. If you don't win, he continued, "it ain't that fun of a night."

Then, a moment later, "Frozen River" director Courtney Hunt took the podium to accept her prize, and gave a call-out to her husband Donald Harwood. "He raised the money for the movie. And it was not pretty at all," she said.
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