PARK CITY, Utah — For the third year in a row, a movie revolving around immigrants won the grand-jury prize for best U.S. drama at the Sundance Film Festival on Saturday. Only this time, they come from the north.
"Frozen River," a film about a struggling single mother in upstate New York who teams with a Mohawk woman to smuggle people across the Canadian border, is the first feature from director-writer Courtney Hunt. She adapted it from her own 2004 short of the same name.
"Trouble the Water," about the survival of a New Orleans couple through Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath, earned the grand jury award in the U.S. documentary competition at the festival, the nation's top showcase for independent film.
The movie by Michael Moore collaborators Tia Lessin and Carl Deal utilizes footage shot by one of its subjects, Kimberly Rivers Roberts. Roberts traveled to the festival with her husband Scott and gave birth to a daughter, Skyy, in Salt Lake City on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
"We had two world premieres this week," Lessin said.
William H. Macy hosted the awards ceremony Saturday night, opening with an off-color monologue that incorporated the titles of many films at the fest, from "Downloading Nancy" to "Flow: For Love of Water."
"The Wackness," starring a loose and lively Ben Kingsley as a psychiatrist who trades therapy for marijuana, won the audience award for favorite U.S. drama as chosen by balloting among Sundance movie-goers.
"Part of what this is about is making a relationship with an audience, not necessarily making a relationship with a studio or agents or whatever," writer-director Jonathan Levine said dryly. His coming-of-age dramedy had been expected to be picked up for distribution during the festival, but was not.
Sony Pictures Classics purchased "Frozen River," trade papers reported, for under $1 million. Juror Quentin Tarantino described the film, starring Melissa Leo and Misty Upham, as "a wonderful depiction of poverty in America."
"It took my breath away and then somewhere around the last hour, it put my heart in a vice and proceeded to twist that vice until the last frame," Tarantino said.
Meet the Oscar nomineesSwedish filmmaker Jens Jonsson's "King of Ping Pong," about two at-odds brothers who uncover their family history over spring break, earned the jury and cinematography prizes in the world cinema dramatic competition.
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The world cinema jury and audience awards for documentary went to "Man on Wire," British director James Marsh's retelling of French artist Philippe Petit's daring — and illegal — 1974 wire-walk between the twin towers of the World Trade Center.
"Fields of Fuel," activist-filmmaker Josh Tickell's call to break the U.S. from dependence on oil, earned the U.S. audience award for documentaries. Tickell said he made it over 10 years.
Director Amin Matalqa's "Captain Abu Raed," which Sundance said was the first feature film from Jordan in 50 years, won the world cinema audience award.
"This is a dream," a breathless Matalqa said at the ceremony.
Alex Rivera and David Riker won the Waldo Salt screenwriting award for "Sleep Dealer." Rivera, also the director, won the Alfred P. Sloan Prize for ideas and issues in science and technology.
The U.S. dramatic jury, which included Marcia Gay Harden, Diego Luna and Sandra Oh, presented a special jury prize for work by an ensemble cast to "Choke." Actors in the adaptation of Chuck Palahniuk's novel include Sam Rockwell and Anjelica Huston.
Among other Sundance honors:
- Directing, U.S. drama: Lance Hammer, "Ballast."
- Directing, U.S. documentary: Nanette Burstein, "American Teen."
- Cinematography, U.S. drama: Lol Crawley, "Ballast."
- Editing, U.S. documentary: Joe Bini, "Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired."
- Special jury prize for singularity of vision, U.S. drama: Chusy Haney-Jardine, "Anywhere, USA."
- Special jury prize, world cinema dramatic competition: "Blue Eyelids," Ernesto Contreras, director.
- Special jury prize, world cinema documentary competition: "Greatest Silence: Rape in the Congo," Lisa F. Jackson, director.
- Jury prize, U.S. short films: "My Olympic Summer," directed by Daniel Robin, and "Sikumi (On the Ice)," directed by Andrew Okpeaha MacLean.
- Jury prize, international short films: "Soft," Simon Ellis, director.
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