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Sundance 2009: Award Winners

January 24, 2009  |  9:49pm

Egyptian Theatre, Park City, Utah

Moments ago in Park City, Utah, the Sundance film festival announced the winners of its 2009 awards.

While the noisiest competition at Sundance often seems to be the one among distributors vying for marketable films, or the one among filmmakers trying to drum up interest in their movies, Sundance also referees an official competition in which juries choose their favorites of the eligible films.

Of the many prizes awarded by juries, the most prestigious are the two “grand jury prizes” for American dramatic and documentary films and the two “world cinema jury prizes” for foreign dramatic and documentary films. Each category has 16 competitors, which means of the hundreds of films screening at Sundance, 64 are in competition.

Here are the winners (and note that so far, not one of the big four has a distributor):

Push: Based on the novel by Sapphire

GRAND JURY PRIZE, DRAMATIC
Last year’s winner: Frozen River
This year: Push: Based on the novel by Sapphire

Of the sixteen films in competition for the Grand Jury Dramatic award, I only saw eight. My choice of those would have been the remarkable Taking Chance, but I’ve heard people talking about Lee Daniels’ Push: Based on the novel by Sapphire all week, just out of earshot. (Don’t confuse the film with a sci-fi thriller with a similar name starring Dakota Fanning that’s coming out in a couple of weeks.)

We Live in Public

GRAND JURY PRIZE, DOCUMENTARY
Last year’s winner: Trouble The Water
This year: We Live in Public

Ondi Timoner’s documentary about Josh Harris’ experiments with Internet exhibitionism is compelling and disturbing stuff. Here are my previous comments. However, I’d have had trouble choosing between this and the admittedly much dryer but even more vital documentary about Nicholas Kristof, Reporter, and Chris Rock’s film about the hair of black women, Good Hair, which humorously delves into a surprisingly rich topic. Also, The September Issue and Art & Copy are fine films that make a good double feature, but I took less away from them in the end.

The Maid

WORLD CINEMA JURY PRIZE, DRAMATIC
Last year’s winner: King of Ping Pong
This year: The Maid

I didn’t see The Maid, so I can’t comment on that film, but I’ve mentioned already how much I like Unmade Beds . And a British film called Bronson is certainly a work to be reckoned with. I’ll have to catch up with The Maid to see how it compares with those two confident films that were vying for the same award.

Rough Aunties

WORLD CINEMA JURY PRIZE, DOCUMENTARY
Last year’s winner: Man On Wire
This year: Rough Aunties

I also didn’t see Rough Aunties, although Big River Man and Thriller in Manila were worthy, if not necessarily mind-blowing, documentaries in the same category.

In addition to the jury prizes, Sundance also gives awards based on audience voting, and those winners are as follows:

AUDIENCE AWARD, DRAMATIC
Last year’s winner: The Wackness
This year: Push: Based on the novel by Sapphire

AUDIENCE AWARD, DOCUMENTARY
Last year’s winner: Fields of Fuel
This year: The Cove

WORLD AUDIENCE AWARD, DRAMATIC
Last year’s winner: Captain Abu Raed
This year: An Education

WORLD AUDIENCE AWARD, DOCUMENTARY
Last year’s winner: Man On Wire
This year: Afghan Star

ALFRED P. SLOAN AWARD for Scientific Content
Last year’s winner: Sleep Dealer
This year: Adam

Every year a committee of “film and science professionals” scours the competition films for some inkling of scientific content. More specifically, they’re looking for “an outstanding feature film focusing on science or technology as a theme, or depicting a scientist, engineer or mathematician as a major character.”

This year they might have found Sam Rockwell, serving a three-year tour on the moon in the aptly named Moon or, I suppose, David Strathairn as a soul-extractor in Cold Souls. But they instead went with Adam whose title character is “an electrical engineer, whatever that is,” as his dear sweet Beth puts it. He makes the electrical components for toys, and eventually the company lets him go. That acts as a catalyst in the film, but I suppose it also reflects the current state of the world of engineers. Also, he loves to talk about stars and telescopes.

For a complete list of awards, see indieWIRE.

See more of our Sundance coverage here.

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