The spin on Sundance

The prizewinning films demonstrate a mood of political reckoning and emotional retrenchment

SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL January 18-28, Park City, Utah. Rating: NNNNN

Park City — In what seems like an instant, guys are breaking down the Yarrow Cinema and turning it back into a hotel ballroom. Up on Main, gifting lounges are stripped of swag and packed into trucks headed for Los Angeles.

There’s no glamour to the end of a film festival. Roll up a red carpet and it’s just dead weight.

Even with the sometimes staggering star presence Bono and John Cusack having a drink at a restaurant on Main, Eddie Murphy ‘s bodyguards clearing a washroom so he could use it there’s been a grim air to this year’s Sundance. And even with distributors signing cheques for over $40 million, there’s no sense of euphoria.

Instead, this was the Sundance of political reckoning and emotional retrenchment. It opened with Chicago 10 , a frenzied documentary about 60s protest, and ended with Life Support , a downbeat drama about a woman living with HIV. Last year the buzz was all Little Miss Sunshine . This year it was Dakota Fanning ‘s rape scene.

You can see the new mood in the prizes. Christopher Zalla ‘s Padre Nuestro won the Grand Jury Prize for best U.S. drama. It’s about two illegal immigrant Mexican kids in New York. Jason Kohn won for best U.S. doc. His Manda Bala (Send A Bullett) looks at the culture of corruption and murder in Brazil. In both films, white American directors find Latin American desperation and violence on their doorstep.

The audience awards, on the other hand, celebrated the emotional reservoir of family. Irene Taylor Brodsky ‘s Hear And Now won the prize for most popular U.S. documentary. Brodsky follows her deaf parents as they decide to undergo cochlear implant surgery. The prize for most popular U.S. drama went to James Strouse ‘s Grace Is Gone , with John Cusack as a Midwest father who can’t bear to tell his daughters that their soldier mother has been killed in Iraq.

It’s no surprise Grace Is Gone won an audience award. Not only does it star Cusack successfully burrowing into a character role, but it can serve as both pro-military comfort or anti-war elegy. And beyond its emotional force as family drama, it also works as a metaphor for America’s response to the horrors in Iraq. Cusack’s character, who hides from the fact of his wife’s death and distracts his daughters with a road trip to an amusement park, becomes a schlumpy stand-in for the Bush administration, or maybe just cable TV.

But will audiences pay to see all this grief? “Maybe Not,” says the Cat Power song that closes Grace Is Gone. Maybe not.


Sundance 2007 winners

Grand Jury Prize, U.S. Documentary Manda Bala (Send A Bullet) (Jason Kohn)

Grand Jury Prize, U.S. Dramatic Padre Nuestro (Christopher Zalla)

Audience Award, U.S. Documentary Hear And Now (Irene Taylor Brodsky)

Audience Award, U.S. Dramatic Grace Is Gone (James C. Strouse)

Directing Award, U.S. Documentary Sean Fine and Andrea Nix Fine (War/Dance)

Directing Award, Dramatic Jeffrey Blitz (Rocket Science)

World Cinema Jury Prize, Documentary Enemies Of Happiness (Eva Mulvad and Anja Al Erhayem, Denmark)

World Cinema Jury Prize, Dramatic Sweet Mud (Dror Shaul, Israel)

World Cinema Audience Award, Documentary In The Shadow Of The Moon (David Sington, UK)

World Cinema Audience Award, Dramatic Once (John Carney, Ireland)

Special Jury Prizes for Acting Jess Weixler (Teeth) “for a juicy and jaw-dropping performance,” and Tamara Podemski (Four Sheets To The Wind) “for a fully realized physical and emotional turn.”

Special Jury Prize, Documentary No End In Sight (Charles Ferguson), “in recognition of the film as timely work that clearly illuminates the misguided policy decisions that have led to the catastrophic quagmire of the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq.”

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