Ryan Coogler’s Fruitvale, based on the true story of the fatal shooting of Oscar Grant in Oakland on New Year’s Day 2009, has won both the Grand Jury Prize and the Audience Award in the U.S. Dramatic Competition at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. Steve Hoover’s Blood Brother has also been doubly crowned in the U.S. Documentary Competition. So here’s the full list of winners, with overviews of what’s being said about them.
U.S. Grand Jury Prize: Dramatic
Fruitvale. We’ve got an entry on this one.
U.S. Grand Jury Prize: Documentary
Blood Brother. “Addressing the heartrending issue of children living with HIV and AIDS is enormously complex, but Blood Brother accomplishes the challenge with sufficient grace and empathy to give hope to anyone concerned with this global affliction,” writes Justin Lowe in the Hollywood Reporter. But writing for Screen, Anthony Kaufman finds that “in focusing on Rocky Bratt, a young man from Pittsburgh who has dedicated his life to helping the ailing youngsters, Blood Brother misses its mark, emphasizing the struggles of a wandering Westerner, as seen by his filmmaker best-friend, rather than giving a fuller understanding of the painfully tragic lives of those he wants to help.” Dennis Harvey in Variety: “No dilettante or saint, Braat is utterly sincere in having found a true home here, and the docu effectively channels his deep attachment to the orphanage residents. Despite its ostensibly depressing subject and a few tough-to-watch sequences, Blood Brother is never less than engrossing, and it’s often delightful.” Filmmaker gets a few words with Hoover.
World Cinema Grand Jury Prize: Dramatic
Jiseul. “Re-creating a 1948 massacre of civilians by the South Korean army on that nation’s Jeju Island, Jiseul uses disconnected images in pristine monochrome to tell a story that’s as hazy and haunting as a half-forgotten nightmare,” writes Maggie Lee for Variety. “As if struggling to come to terms with the inhumanity he depicts, helmer-scribe O Muel employs film vocabulary of considerable formal beauty and emotional restraint, but doesn’t add enough narrative clarity to turn his chronicle of a little-known event into the powerful historical indictment it should be. Béla Tarr apostles may see a kindred spirit in this fest-bound item, which garnered four awards at Busan before its Sundance bow.” Interviews with O Muel: Filmmaker and Indiewire.
World Cinema Grand Jury Prize: Documentary
A River Changes Course “offers an impressionistic portrait of life among three rural Cambodian families over a two-year timespan,” writes Dennis Harvey in Variety. “Pollution, clear-cutting and other typical developing-nation woes are making their livelihoods more difficult, though those causes aren’t spelled out here, and that lack of contextualizing makes this verite feature best viewed by those already familiar with the country’s recent history and politics.” Director Kalyanee Mam “does nothing to play up the poverty she finds here,” notes John DeFore in the Hollywood Reporter: “rather, it’s presented as a plain fact of life.” Mam describes the “many challenges in making this film” for Filmmaker.
Audience Award: World Cinema Dramatic
Metro Manila. “More of a slow-burner than an outright actioner, [Sean Ellis’s] Metro Manila reveals how the pitfalls of surviving urban life can drive even a principled family to the ends of desperation,” writes Justin Lowe in the Hollywood Reporter. From the festival’s synopsis: “Seeking a brighter future in megacity Manila, Oscar Ramirez and his family flee their impoverished life in the rice fields of the northern Philippines. But the sweltering capital’s bustling intensity quickly overwhelms them, and they fall prey to the rampant manipulations of its hardened locals.” More from Nicholas Bell (Ioncinema) and Alissa Simon (Variety).
Audience Award: World Cinema: Documentary
The Square. “Jehane Noujaim, whose credits include the Al Jazeera documentary Control Room, tries to makes sense of the sprawling Arab Spring movement by focusing on Egyptian activists in Tahrir Square,” explains Logan Hill in a piece on social movement docs in the New York Times. For James Greenberg, writing in the Hollywood Reporter, The Square “captures the immediacy and intensity of the Egyptian revolution from the inside as it’s happening…. Egypt-born and U.S.-educated Noujaim, who directed the 2001 Sundance Grand Jury Prize winner Startup.com, managed to be in the right place at the right time in January 2011 when hundreds of thousands of young people took over Cairo’s Tahrir Square and forced the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak after 30 years of a repressive military regime. But this was just the beginning of an ongoing process. Noujaim finished her film four days before its screening at Sundance as events in Egypt and the fate of the revolution were still playing out.” More from John Anderson in Variety. In the Los Angeles Times, Steven Zeitchik tells the story of Noujaim’s arrest during the film’s making, when the police “disappeared” her for a few days, “moving her from jail cell to jail cell a few hours outside Cairo…. Redemption came unexpectedly. A tweet from Noujaim’s lawyer friend about the filmmaker’s disappearance alerted a legal colleague who happened to be visiting the jail; recognizing the filmmaker from a photo in the tweet, the lawyer pressured the guards by threatening to organize a protest outside the prison. Noujaim was released. She returned to Tahrir Square the next day.”
Audience Award: U.S. Dramatic presented by Acura
Audience Award: U.S. Documentary presented by Acura
Audience Award: Best of NEXT
This Is Martin Bonner. It’s “a mood piece, a character study and an exercise in poetic gesture possessed of a sort of evanescent, secular spirituality,” finds John Anderson in Variety. “Chad Hartigan’s second feature (after Luke and Brie Are on a First Date) is Americana of a very immediate sort, a tale of redemption that may leave its viewers with an uncanny sense of peace.” In the Hollywood Reporter, David Rooney calls the film “a contemplative twin character study that charts the parallel attempts of two very different men to restart their lives after reaching turning points. Acted with smart restraint and shot with corresponding composure, this is a somber, slow-moving drama built out of small but acutely observed moments of naturalistic human behavior.” For Indiewire, Nigel M. Smith interviews Paul Eenhoorn, who plays Martin Bonner. Interviews with Hartigan: Filmmaker and Indiewire.
Directing Award: U.S. Dramatic
Afternoon Delight. “The premise of Afternoon Delight, admittedly, does not sound terribly appealing,” grants Cory Everett at the Playlist: “to spice up their sex life, a Silverlake couple goes for a night out at a gentleman’s club and subsequently take in a stripper in need of help. From that logline alone you can glean that their relatively buttoned-up sex lives will get a jolt of temporary excitement, the threat of infidelity will loom larger in their house and this will undoubtedly turn out to be a very big mistake for all of them.” But, surprise: “Afternoon Delight is one of the unexpected highlights of this year’s Sundance Film Festival.” THR‘s Todd McCarthy disagrees, finding “not much delightful” about it at all. David D’Arcy in Screen: “Jill Soloway’s debut feature about a bored housewife (Kathryn Hahn) who befriends a young stripper (Juno Temple) seems destined for a women’s cable channel.” Alissa Simon in Variety: “Although there are moments when it feels the plot might move in unexpected directions, in the end, the expected cliches reign.” HitFix‘s Gregory Ellwood: “Thankfully, Kathryn Hahn’s impressive dramatic performance pulls the picture through most of the rough patches.” Eugene Hernandez interviews Hahn and Josh Radnor, who plays the husband. Soloway tells Filmmaker that she’s turned to Cassavetes for inspiration.
Directing Award: U.S. Documentary
Cutie and the Boxer. Site. Zachary Heinzerling’s debut “begins as an adoring portrait of Japanese artist Ushio Shinohara and his wife Noriko, who have lived in New York for several decades,” writes Sam Adams at the AV Club. “But it’s quickly revealed as a complicated film about a marriage unbalanced by Ushio’s boundless, and often fruitless, ambition, and Noriko’s thwarted attempts to return to making her own art.” This “beautifully shot, painfully intimate look at the aging couple’s struggle to survive amid personal and financial strain is both heartbreaking and intricately profound,” finds Indiewire‘s Eric Kohn. “This is a story about creative desire so strong it hurts.” More from James Greenberg (THR), Alissa Simon (Variety), and Eve Weston (LA Weekly), who watches Shinohara paint-box. Yes, that’s a verb. RADiUS-TWC has acquired North American and French rights, report Jay A. Fernandez and Anne Thompson at Indiewire. More from Jordan M. Smith (Ioncinema) and Kim Voynar (Movie City News). Indiewire interviews Heinzerling.
Directing Award: World Cinema Dramatic
Directing Award: World Cinema Documentary
The Machine Which Makes Everything Disappear. “Tinatin Gurchiani’s accomplished first feature… offers an impressionistic, somewhat poetical view of current life in her native former Soviet territory,” writes Dennis Harvey in Variety. “Those already well-versed in Georgia’s recent history will get the most from a series of real-life character sketches occasionally cryptic for their lack of contextualizing explanation.” Duane Byrge in the Hollywood Reporter: “Gurchiani lures townsfolk with a movie casting call… She attracts a mostly motley cross-section of provincial dreamers, depressives and the nearly destitute. One of the applicants, a somber tattooed woman, opines that she wishes there would be a machine that would make her disappear. That title, at least, is more alluring than what this film actually is—a visit to the depressed, rural mire of a nondescript country.” Indiewire‘s Jay A. Fernandez reports that Icarus Films has acquired all North American distribution rights.
Cinematography Award: World Cinema Dramatic
Lasting. The award goes to cinematographer Michal Englert. “The passions of young love and what happens with something dramatic and awful threatens to tear that love apart is at the core of Jacek Brocuch’s beautifully shot and engagingly performed Lasting (Nieultone),” writes Screen‘s Mark Adams, calling it a “stylishly made drama driven by impressive performances despite any sense of real originality in the storyline.” More from John DeFore (THR). Indiewire interviews Borcuch, who’s “also a screenwriter, actor, and musician. His past films include Tulips, Kallafiorr and All That I Love, which also played Sundance and was Poland’s Oscar entry in 2011.”
Cinematography Award: U.S. Documentary
Dirty Wars. It’s “a vital, gripping film demonstrating how America’s secretive, any-means-necessary approach to the War on Terror, far from ending with the Bush/Cheney era, has escalated under Barack Obama,” writes John DeFore in the Hollywood Reporter. “Its ugly truths may have seen plenty of sunshine (and even admiration) since the killing of Osama bin Laden, but the film’s narrative drive offers a compelling package for viewers numbed by one news report after another about civilian deaths and secret hit lists.” Here in Keyframe, Susan Gerhard notes that “like the seventies political conspiracy dramas (and investigative stories) that preceded it, in the end, it’s the guileless American public—too in thrall to the volume of ‘official’ storytelling to see the horrific truth hidden in plain sight—who is, in part, to blame.” Richard Rowley is the DOP, director, and editor. Investigative reporter Jeremy Scahill and filmmaker David Riker are credited as screenwriters. At Indiewire, Jay A. Fernandez and Anne Thompson report that Sundance Selects has picked up North American rights. More from Amy Goodman (Guardian), Anthony Kaufman (Slate), and Rob Nelson (Variety).
Cinematography Award: U.S. Dramatic
Cinematography Award: U.S. Dramatic
Cinematography Award: World Cinema Documentary
U.S. Documentary Special Jury Award for Achievement in Filmmaking
Inequality for All. “Most documentary filmmakers struggle and strive to find and film an interviewee with inside skinny, deep knowledge and first-hand experience with the subject,” writes James Rocchi for MSN. “In his new documentary Inequality for All, director Jacob Kornbluth (The Best Thief in the World, Haiku Tunnel) takes a look at the U.S. economy… with Robert Reich, former Secretary of Labor under President Clinton, whose work at the highest levels of government goes back to the Ford administration. Warmly funny and self-effacing—but never fast and loose with the facts—Reich is a natural on-camera, and Kornbluth’s film conveys the issue of the widening spread between the richest and the poorest cleanly and clearly with visual graphs that never overwhelm or under-think. We spoke with Reich and Kornbluth in Park City.” So, too, did the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s Eugene Hernandez, while Indiewire interviews Kornbluth alone. More on the film from Andrew Barker (Variety), Daniel Fienberg (HitFix), and Sheri Linden (THR). Carole Cadwalladr has a backgrounder for the Observer.
U.S. Documentary Special Jury award for Achievement in Filmmaking
American Promise. “Filmmakers Joe Brewster and Michèle Stephenson dedicated 12 years of their family’s life to American Promise,” writes Geoff Berkshire in Variety, “and the payoff turns out to be more than just a glorified home movie. In this intimate look at what it’s like to be young, black and male in a largely white private school, Brewster and Stephenson chart the progress of their son, Idris, and his friend and peer, Seun, through Middle School at New York’s prestigious Dalton School, and then as they go their separate ways, to high school. The result isn’t as revelatory or dramatic as like-minded landmark Hoop Dreams, but remains riveting nonetheless.” At 140 minutes, “American Promise is substantive and emotionally epic, one of the most thoughtful and nourishing films I’ve seen for this year’s Festival,” writes Daniel Fienberg at HitFix. Interviews with Brewster and Stephenson: Filmmaker and Indiewire.
U.S. Dramatic Special Jury Award for Acting
Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley, The Spectacular Now. I want to post a separate entry on this one, so more soon.
U.S. Dramatic Special Jury Award for Sound Design
World Cinema Dramatic Special Jury Award
Circles. “Serbian director Srdan Golubovic tackles the scars of war in Circles, a straightforward and ultimately moving film about the damage done to people’s soul from the hostilities that racked the region for years,” writes James Greenberg in the Hollywood Reporter. “But this is not a political film, dealing instead with the emotional baggage and the aftermath of fighting.” Ioncinema‘s Nicholas Bell: “A followup to his successful 2007 noir tinged The Trap, Golubovic’s latest isn’t without out its merits, but like its predecessor in the director’s filmography, suffers greatly from borrowing stylistically from one too many similarly themed ventures.” Film Threat‘s Mark Bell: “It could’ve been a revenge horror story, or some overly schmaltzy redemption epic, but instead it approaches its themes with more contemplation than caricature for dramatic effect, resulting in more for the audience to sink their teeth into.” Indiewire interviews Golubovic.
World Cinema Documentary Special Jury Award for Punk Spirit
Pussy Riot – A Punk Prayer. Marlow Stern for the Daily Beast: “Formed in August 2011, on the day Vladimir Putin returned to Russian presidential politics, [Pussy Riot] is comprised of 11 rotating female members who don colorful balaclavas and stage guerrilla-style protest performances in very public sites around their native Moscow and post videos of them to YouTube. The balaclavas are an ode to the punk group Guerrilla Girls, but also from the paintings of Kazimir Malevich, whose later Suprematist works are in colorful shapes. The ladies’ frenetic, lo-fi, riot grrrl punk anthems touch on feminism, gay rights, and anti-Putin obloquies.” Sam Adams at the AV Club: “At this point, Pussy Riot is best known for the international outcry over the arrest and conviction of three members on charges of ‘hooliganism motivated by religious hatred,’ stemming from their pop-in performance in an Orthodox cathedral…. But directors Mike Lerner and Maxim Pozdorovkin wisely keep their focus on the three women themselves.” More from John Anderson (Variety: “the young women’s vulnerability and defiance make for stirring viewing”), David D’Arcy (Screen: “ripe for a remake as a feature”), Jordan Hoffman (Film.com: “it doesn’t offer more than what you’d have learned clicking all those Pussy Riot news articles that hit your Twitter feed last year”), Justin Lowe (THR: “displays an endearing scrappiness and commitment to speak truth to power”), and Kim Voynar (Movie City News: “One of the most culturally and politically relevant films to come out of Sundance this year”). Filmmaker gets a word with Lerner, and at Indiewire, Peter Knegt