Sundance jury honors 'Padre Nuestro,' 'Manda Bala'


PARK CITY -- The Sundance Film Festival grand jury honored Christopher Zalla's illegal immigration drama "Padre Nuestro" and Jason Kohn's Brazilian corruption documentary "Manda Bala (Send a Bullet)" with its top prizes Saturday night.

Some features seemed to justify their high sales prices with popular appeal. James C. Strouse's family drama "Grace Is Gone" took home the Audience Award: Dramatic, while David Sington's Apollo program chronicle "In The Shadow Of The Moon" won the World Cinema Audience Award: Documentary. They sold for $4 million to Weinstein Co. for worldwide rights and $2.5 million to $3 million to ThinkFilm for North American rights (excluding TV), respectively. Sington noted onstage that Saturday was the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 1 incident that killed three astronauts.

Two films won two awards each. "Grace is Gone" landed 29-year-old writer Strouse the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award, and Heloisa Passos was honored for documentary excellence in cinematography for "Manda Bala."

"I've been a nervous wreck the entire time I've been here," said "Manda Bala" director Kohn after delivering an exuberant, four-letter-word-filled speech at the awards and leaving a message for his onetime boss, documentary director Errol Morris. A rep at his sales agent Cinetic Media, which hasn't yet sold the film, warned him it would be a "rollercoaster" week, with people paying attention, then not. "My self worth has gone up and down. It's definitely up now," he said.

Two-time "Grace" winner Strouse said after the awards that "to be honest, this was the one I was hoping for." The first-time helmer is currently looking at different projects and trying to get more of his fiction published, but a friend is trying to pull him down to Earth. "He told me 'You need to come back home. Sundance isn't the center of the world,'" he laughed.

The World Cinema Jury Prizes went to Dror Shaul's Israeli kibbutz drama "Sweet Mud" for dramatic feature and the Afghani political examination "Enemies of Happiness" from Denmark for documentary feature.

Other awards revolved around people longing to connect through sound. Irene Taylor Brodsky's autobiographical tale of parents who undergo surgery to cure their deafness, "Hear and Now," won the Audience Award: Documentary prize, and director John Carney's much buzzed about Irish musical romance "Once" took home the World Cinema Audience Award: Dramatic.

Brodsky brought her parents onstage, pointed to them and said "This says it all," then thanked Sundance for providing screenings for the hearing impaired.

Carney said "I hope I don't wreck this by crying -- doing something Irish and emotional," but he held back the tears and reflected on how he turned from a struggling filmmaker a year ago to a success with the help and music of his friends.

Top directing awards went to Jeffrey Blitz for his teen comedy "Rocket Science" from Picturehouse/HBO Films and Sean Fine and Andrea Nix Fine's Ugandan conflict documentary "War/Dance" from ThinkFilm.

"Ten years ago I came here as a student and ended up sleeping on a bathroom floor," Blitz said. "This year the real prize is that I had my own bed."

The Documentary Jury gave a special jury prize to Charles Ferguson's Iraq war feature "No End In Sight." The director gave a special thanks to his $7,000 a day bodyguards, who formed a human wall around him and the few people who were brave enough to be interviewed in Baghdad. "It might be too late for Iraq, but I hope it's not too late for this country to conduct itself differently in the future," he said.

The Independent Film Dramatic Competition jury delivered two special prizes for acting: Jess Weixler for "a juicy and jaw-dropping performance" as a girl with deadly anatomy in Mitchell Lichtenstein's "Teeth"; and Tamara Podemski for "a fully realized physical and emotional turn" as a big city sister who invites her brother from a Native American reservation to stay with her in director Sterlin Harjo's "Four Sheets to the Wind."

Podemski gave a tear-filled speech, noting the "years of self help books" it took her to get through "a lot of crappy work."

Weixler showed up late after almost missing the show. She was on a plane when a stewardess said "You're going to Utah next!", prompting the actress to "just scream in her face." Discussing her character, she added, "I'm glad people connected to a girl with teeth in her vagina."

The jury also honored Chris Smith with a Special Jury Prize for Singularity of Vision for his story of a young Indian hotel worker, "The Pool."

Benoit Debie won best cinematography for a dramatic film for the thriller "Joshua." The Independent Film Competition Documentary jury gave its documentary editing award to Hibah Sherif Frisina, Charlton McMillan and Michael Schweitzer for the Chinese genocide chronicle "Nanking."

Two other special jury prizes were issued. The World Cinema Documentary Competition Jury honored Shimon Dotan's Israeli/Palestinian conflict examination "Hot House," and its Dramatic Jury counterpart honored Gela and Temur Babluani's longstanding feud drama "The Legacy (L'Heritage)."

Sundance festival director Geoff Gillmore hosted the event, and his stylish wardrobe prompted presenter and NPR critic Elvis Mitchell (in an uncharacteristic pop culture reference) to comment "When did Geoff become John Shaft?"