SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL January 19-29, Park City, Utah. Rating: NNNNN
Park City, Utah - It's official: immigrants are the new movie stars.
The Sundance jury gave its top dramatic prize to Quinceañera , the story of a Latina's 15th-birthday traumas, by directors Wash Westmoreland and Richard Glatzer . It won the audience award, too.
Best documentary went to God Grew Tired Of Us , Christopher Quinn 's portrait of three Sudanese men, former child soldiers, who migrate to the U.S. and find it a strange, bewildering country. Their first visit to a supermarket is like something out of E.T.
God Grew Tired Of Us also won the audience prize for best doc. This is the first time in Sundance history that both jury and audiences gave the top prizes to the same two films.
And in Canadian news, Julia Kwan took home a Special Jury Prize for Eve & The Fire Horse , her story of growing up between Chinese and Canadian traditions in 70s Vancouver.
So foreigners got it going on. But these are still mostly stories about immigrants rather than immigrants' stories. There's a difference. As Quinceañera co-director Westmoreland observed from the stage of the Park City Racquet Club on awards night, "I'm English, Richard's a New Yorker, and we're both gay." Their depiction of a pregnant, teenage Mexican girl in L.A. is an impressive piece of fiction, but hardly a slice of American truth.
But truth is what audiences want. This year Sundance turned into a church of authentic revelation, with crowds lining up to learn the facts about who makes their coffee ( Black Gold ), who rates their films ( This Film Is Not Yet Rated ) and what happens in Iraq ( The Ground Truth, Iraq In Fragments ).
After a screening of Black Gold, a Park City doctor offered up a $10,000 cheque to support coffee farmers in Ethiopia. The largesse broke out again at a screening of God Grew Tired Of Us, when a Texas woman got up and handed a cheque for $25,000 to one of the film's subjects, John Bul Dou , to support a clinic he's building in Sudan.
In the face of that kind of adulation, fiction films barely stood a chance. The Illusionist , in which Ed Norton plays a lovestruck Viennese magician opposite Paul Giamatti 's police inspector, came off as ridiculously silly, even as it served up bodice-ripping, hocus pocus entertainment.
Michel Gondry 's The Science Of Sleep , in which Gael García Bernal bounces off the walls as a Mexican-French illustrator trying to woo Charlotte Gainsbourg , might as well have been a Saturday morning cartoon for people on 'shrooms. Gondry's working without the rigorous scriptwriting of Charlie Kaufman here, and it shows.
The one drama that stays with me after 10 days in the dark is So Yong Kim 's In Between Days . A quiet, up-close portrait of a Korean immigrant girl - there they are again - it's shot in a wintry Toronto of bus shelters and electrical fields. Kim told me she was heavily influenced by the Dardenne brothers' film Rosetta. That shows, too. In Between Days is disciplined, heartbreaking filmmaking. It took home a Special Jury Prize for independent vision.
For daily Sundance reports go to www.nowtoronto.com/minisites/sundance/2006 .