'Melon' tops crop at DIFF


ROME -- Branko Schmidt's "The Melon Route" (Put Lubenica), a Croatian drama about a people smuggler who protects the sole survivor of an accident for which he was responsible, was the top film at the first Drake International Film Festival, taking home the award for best film plus the best actress award.

The festival, held near Naples in the city of Caserta, began June 23 and concluded Saturday.

John DeBellis was selected as best director for his work on "The Last Request," a comedy about a son who leaves seminary to carry out his father's last request to have the family name carried on. The DIFF Future Award went to the New Zealand horror spoof "Black Sheep," a comedy about a genetic experiment that turns sheep into bloodthirsty killers -- set in a country with more sheep than people.

Mei Sun, who played the sole survivor of the smuggling accident in "Route," won the prize for actress, while the actor nod was given to "Punk Love" star Robert Blanche.

It was the second time "Route" won an award called DIFF -- the first came last year, when it won the top prize at the Dubrovnik International Film Festival.

One of the low-key festival's main drawing points was its stunning setting: the sprawling and decadent Reggia di Caserta, a World Heritage Site since 1996, which was was built in 1752 as the home of King Charles VII of Naples. Its main palace is considered one of the most beautiful buildings in Europe.