I sat in the front row, up close and personal, for the closing night award ceremonies. I reveled in the space created by the amazing force of Sundance volunteers. Only a few hours earlier, I had watched Welcome to the Rileys, the much talked about film starring James Gandolfini, Kristen Stewart and Melissa Leo, in this venue. Draped in black, lit in a neon purple glow, the space was fully transformed into a chic environment for independent cinema's elite.
After making sure the camera worked, I had time to meet my "row" mates. Jimmy Martin of Slug Magazine flanked my right. When I first met Jimmy on the bus ride over, I thought he was Zachary Quinto from Heroes. Jimmy tells me that even his own mother can't tell the difference between the two in a photo line up. Jimmy writes for Slug Magazine, which is based in Salt Lake City. Michael J. Dunaway of Paste Magazine, a publication based in Atlanta, flanked my left. The three of us formed a tiny Southern coalition. Our consensus was unanimous; this was a GREAT year for Sundance!
"We really believe in this thing called Sundance," said John Cooper, the director of the festival, in his opening remarks. This comment drew loud applause. The laughs came when emcee David Hyde Pierce (Dr. Niles Crane in Frasier) sang his tribute to the competition films. Pierce, a master showman, kept the program moving, and there were no dull spots as each winner came up and gave a humble acceptance speech.
Helpful advice from one of the filmmakers of Homewrecker was "if yo want to make a movie take a Percocet and set a start date." Eric Mendelsohn, who won U.S. Directing Award for 3 Backyard and the hearts of the audience when he said he was having a bit of anxiety attack, dedicated his award to "every one who gets up at 4:00 a.m. to make a movie."
"People just love this sh*!," said stand up comic Louis C.K. referring to this year's Sundance films. "If you just removed the sh*! that goes out there and replace it with the Sundance program," we would have better films. At least that's where I think Louis C.K. was going with the line. The applause drowned out the last part of his cinematic proclamation.
Top honors for 2010 Sundance Film Festival Winners include:
U.S. Grand Jury Prize - Documentary: Restrepo, directed by Sebastian Junger and Tim Hetherington. This film reveals extraordinary insight into the lives of U.S. soldiers fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan.
U.S. Grand Jury Prize – Dramatic: Winter's Bone, directed by Debra Granik and written by Granik and Anne Rosellini. This is an amazing story about an Ozark Mountain girl hunting down her father.
World Cinema Jury Prize – Documentary: The Red Chapel, directed by Mads Brugger. This documentary tells the story of a journalist and comedian who travel to North Korea.
World Cinema Jury Prize – Dramatic: Animal Kingdom, written and directed by David Michod. This film is about a 17 year old boy surviving after his mother's death. He finds himself in the middle of a criminal family and a detective who thinks he can save him.
The Audience awards include: Waiting for Superman, directed by Davis Guggenheim (U.S. Audience Award for Documentary); happythankyoumoreplease, written and directed by Josh Radnor (U.S. Audience Award for Dramatic); Wasteland, directed by Lucy Walker (World Cinema Audience Award for Documentary); Contracorriente (Undertow), written and directed by Javier Fuentes-Leon (World Cinema Audience Award for Dramatic). For the low budget, no budget film in the NEXT category, Homewrecker, directed by Todd and Brad Barnes and written by Todd and Brad Barnes and Sophie Goodhart, took top honors.