Live Updates from the 2011 Sundance Film Festival Awards

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Eric Hynes

Hi everyone, and welcome to the live blog for the 2011 Sundance Film Festival Awards Ceremony. I’m Eric Hynes, writer for the Sundance website, and I’ll be your eyes and ears throughout tonight’s festivities.

With traditional host the Park City Racquet Club closed for renovations, this year’s closing night Awards Ceremony moves a few miles north of Park City to the Basin Recreation Fieldhouse at Kimball Junction. The vast, rectangular space has been transformed into a more intimate, fittingly wintry party room by blue and white lights and projections of gently rotating snowflakes (the imagery for this year’s Festival), and a stage done up as a modified ice castle.

The Festival started last Thursday with an opening day press conference that was conspicuously free of any anxious conjecturing about the future of independent cinema—an early sign that the industry was poised to bounce back. Even though recent Sundance Festivals produced breakout hits like Precious and Winter’s Bone, coverage in past years tended to fixate on the dearth of multimillion-dollar sales in the vein of Little Miss Sunshine. With the number and price point of distribution sales way up this year (which is destined to launch a thousand stories of indie revival), perhaps we can return to talking about, rather than around the films.

For his second year as Festival Director, John Cooper added a new category, Documentary Premieres, to acknowledge that each year there as many high-quality, high-profile documentary submissions as there are dramatic ones, and to cement the Festival’s reputation as a primary launching pad for non-fiction films and filmmakers. It’s also cleared space for new voices in the Documentary Competition category, and it’ll be interesting to see which films in this year’s strong lineup of competition films will be recognized by the jury.

All told, 26 awards will be given out tonight—counting 26 ways that an independent film can receive that extra push from the Festival into the larger world. Check this post throughout the night for all the winners.

Updated 7:26 p.m.

Welcoming the MC of the 2011 Sundance Awards ceremony: Tim Blake Nelson.

Nelson, best known for his role in Our Brother Where Art Thou?, and featured in this year’s Festival film Flypaper, enters in a wide-bodied, wooden snowflake costume. He talks in an exaggerated, spittoon-flavored Southern accent, giving a meteorological lesson on how a snowflake is formed, while he’s a snowflake who’s “randy as a mayflower.”

Sans accent now, he describes the difficulties he had finding industry acceptance for his first film, Eye of God. “If you win a prize today, that’s fantastic,” he says. “If you don’t, persevere.” Because your film made it into the Festival, “your film will find life, I promise.”

Nelson’s Top Ten ways to get into Sundance (condensed):
10) Abuse your contacts
9) Hover
8) What would James Franco do?
7) Boys Don’t Cry, the Musical
6) Originality
5) Gratuitous Sex (but only between family members)
4) Cast a former Disney channel star who’s a cross-eyed Asperger’s patient, etc.
3) Patricia Clarkson
2) Onscreen full penetration in 3D
1) Keep making authentic, original, great films and documentaries.

Nelson introduces Festival Director John Cooper, who’s wearing the identical snowflake costume (with white tube socks and sneakers peeking out beneath).

Cooper thanks the Sundance Festival staff and 1,650 Festival volunteers, and announces the inaugural winners of the Sundance Institute/Mahindra Global Filmmaking award, which were announced earlier in the week, and the Gayle Stevens Volunteer Award given to Jeff Aguirre at the beginning of the Festival..

“But we’re going to keep this moving so we can reopen the bar,” he says, before bringing out actor/director Clark Gregg to introduce the Alfred P. Sloan Feature Film Prize, which is presented to a director with an outstanding film focusing on science or technology as a theme, and it comes with a cash award of $20,000.

The prize goes to Mike Cahill for Another Earth. (A film that features, to quote Gregg, “the sudden appearance of an alternate earth.”) Cahill accepts with actress and co-writer Brit Marling. Both are charmingly overwhelmed. “This is the greatest week of our lives,” he says.

Nelson returns without the snowflake costume, introducing the unfailingly dapper, argyle sweater-wearing Trevor Groth, director of programming for the Sundance Film Festival. He announces the winners of the short film competition, which were presented earlier in the week.

Updated: 7:37 p.m.

Jurors Mette Hoffman Meyer, Jose Padilha and Lucy Walker present the World Cinema Documentary awards. Twelve internationally produced films, from India to Iran and beyond, competed in this section this year.

Winner of the World Cinema Special Jury Prize for Documentary Film:

Position Among the Stars (Stand van de Sterren), directed by Leonard Retel Helmrich (Netherlands)
(Position Among the Stars investigates the effects of globalization on Indonesia’s rapidly changing society; it’s also the third part of an ambitious documentary trilogy.) The film was a family affair, with Leonard directing, his sister producing, and her son editing.

Winner of the World Cinema Cinematography Award for Documentary Filmmaking:

Hell and Back Again, cinematography by Danfung Dennis (U.S.A./U.K.)
(Hell and Back Again is told through the eyes of one Marine serving in Afghanistan and his distressing rehabilitation.) Dennis talks of coming back from Afghanistan “with a backpack full of hard drives,” and thanks the troop with which he was embedded, among others.

Winner of the World Cinema Documentary Editing Award:

The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975, edited by Goran Hugo Olsson and Hanna Lejonqvist, and directed by Goran Hugo Olsson. (Sweden/U.S.A.)
(From 1967 to 1975, Swedish journalists chronicled the Black Power movement in America. Combining that 16mm footage, undiscovered until now, with contemporary audio interviews, this film illuminates the people and culture that fueled change and brings the movement to life anew.) The film’s producers accept on behalf of the editors.

Winner of the World Cinema Documentary Directing Award:

Project Nim, directed by James Marsh (U.K.)
(Project Nim explores the story of Nim, the chimpanzee who was taught to communicate with sign language as he was raised and nurtured like a human child.) Submarine sales agent Josh Braun accepts on his behalf. “James couldn’t be here because I think the adoption papers came through for his own chimpanzee.”

Winner of the World Cinema Grand Jury Prize in Documentary:

Hell and Back Again, directed by Danfung Dennis (U.K./U.S.A.)
(Hell and Back Again is told through the eyes of one Marine serving in Afghanistan and his distressing rehabilitation.)
“This is for those that didn’t come back,” says Dennis, up onstage for the second time tonight.

Updated 7:46 p.m.

Tim Blake Nelson is back, this time introducing the jury for the World Cinema Dramatic Competition, the high-octane trio of MoMA chief film curator Rajendra Roy, and directors Bong Joon-Ho and Susanne Bier.

Fourteen films from countries such as Japan, Italy, Colombia and Cuba competed in this section this year. Competing films in the World Dramatic and Documentary sections were selected from 1,869 feature-length submissions.

Winner of the World Cinema Special Jury Prize, Dramatic, for Breakout Performances:

Olivia Colman and Peter Mullan for Tyrannosaur (U.K.)
(Tyrannosaur is about a man plagued by self-destructive violence and rage who gets a shot at redemption through a Christian charity shop worker with a devastating secret of her own.) Neither actor is in attendance, so juror Roy thanks, on their behalf, “the jury for their intelligence and incredible sexual generosity.”

Winner of the World Cinema Cinematography Award, Dramatic:

All Your Dead Ones
, cinematography by Diego F. Jimenez (Colombia)
(All Your Dead Ones is about a peasant who wakes to find a pile of bodies in the middle of his crops, and then finds that it’s a problem that no one wants to deal with.)
“I don’t speak English,” he says, grinning in a bright purple sweater, and proceeds to speak in Spanish. A translator bounds on stage. “He’s very honored and grateful for the award, and he’s happy that Colombian cinema is being recognized here.”

Winner of the World Cinema Screenwriting Award, Dramatic:

Restoration, written by Erez Kav-El (Israel)
(Restoration is about an antique furniture restorer who struggles to keep his workshop alive with the help of a young and mysterious apprentice.)
Accepted by director Yossi Madmoni, who thanks his screenwriter and cast and crew and, “Thank you to all the shuttles in Sundance.”

Winner of the World Cinema Directing Award, Dramatic:

Tyrannosaur, directed by Paddy Considine (U.K.)
Bier accepts on Considine’s behalf, who’s not in attendance.
Here’s my conversation with Paddy Considine from earlier in the Festival.

Winner of the World Cinema Grand Jury Prize, Dramatic:

Happy, Happy (Sykt Lykkelig), directed by Anne Sewitsky (Norway)
(Happy, Happy is about a perfect housewife whose rocky, sexless marriage sends her next door to explore sexual fulfillment.)
“A film that found us identifying with characters very different from our own lives,” says Bier. “I’m really happy happy,” says Sweitsky.

Updated 7:56 p.m.

Tim Blake Nelson introduces Oscar-nominated actress and director of this year’s competition feature, Higher Ground, Vera Farmiga, who presents the Best of NEXT! Audience Award. This was only the second annual edition of the NEXT section.

Winner of the Best of NEXT! Audience Award:

to.get.her, directed by Erica Dunton
“I thought you got a heads up if you were going to win. So I was at the back waiting for the bar to open. I would have worn something nicer. Sorry, mum,” Dunton says. “I had no idea I was making such a controversial and divisive film,” she continues. “I hope more teenage girls and their mothers get a chance to see it.”

Joshua Leonard, who’s all over the Festival this year, starring in Higher Ground and directing and starring in The Lie, presents the World Cinema Audience Awards.

Winner of the World Cinema Audience Award for Documentary Film:

Senna, directed by Asif Kapadia (U.K.)
“I just got back from Salt Lake City, for a screening. I should have dressed in something nicer,” says Kapadia. “This Festival’s restored my faith in festivals,” he continues. “It’s all about the films, the filmmakers and audiences, and every screening is sold out.”

Winner of the World Cinema Audience Award for Dramatic Film:

Kinyarwanda, directed by Alrick Brown (U.S.A./Rwanda)
Big rush of whoops and applause for the film right near the press desk. “It’s been a long road,” Brown says. “Thank you, Sundance, for validating the work that went into this project.” A shout-out to a survivor of the Rwandan genocide, who was a producer on the film. “Glad it was the audience award,” he says. “Because it was not about the hype or the money, but reaching people. Thank you for helping us to change the world.”

Updated 8:15 p.m.

Now, on to the U.S. Competition winners. Goodfella Ray Liotta, who stars in two Festival films this year, The Details and The Son of No One, presents the U.S. Competition Audience Awards.

Winner of the U.S. Documentary Competition Audience Award, presented by Acura:

Buck, directed by Cindy Meehl.
Meehl says it’s Buck Brannaman’s birthday, who’s on stage with a magnificent Western-styled tan blazer and cowboy hat. “This is for all of you who have a passion for what you do,” Brannaman says.

Winner of the U.S. Dramatic Competition Audience Award, presented by Acura:

Circumstance, directed by Maryam Keshavarz
“I know everyone, especially the cast and crew, have given up a lot to do this, because we believe in this story, human rights, and artistic expression,” says Keshavarz.

Here comes a flurry of high-profile presenters and career-changing prizers, with winners walking in the footsteps of the likes of Todd Haynes, Darren Aronofsky, Christopher Nolan and Errol Morris. This year, competing films in the U.S. Dramatic and Documentary sections were selected from 1,943 feature-length submissions.

Juror Jess Search, chief executive of the Channel 4 BRITDOC Foundation, presents the Special Jury Prize for Documentary Film. “As close to a pop star or actor I’m going to get,” Search says, energetically holding her arms aloft. “So I’m going to enjoy it.”

Winner of the Special Jury Prize, U.S. Documentary Competition:

Being Elmo: A Puppeteer’s Journey, directed by Constance Marks
“Appreciative for the programmers making us breakfast this morning,” she says. “But keep your day-jobs. There was a lot of smoke.” Regarding the power of Elmo and pupeteer Kevin Clash, she said “I feel like we’ve been strapped to a rocket,” she says, regarding the power of Elmo.

Juror America Ferrara, the not-remotely-ugly star of Ugly Betty, presents the Special Jury Prizes for Dramatic film.

Winner of the Special Jury Prize, U.S. Dramatic Competition:

Felicity Jones for her performance in Like Crazy.
Ferrera says Jones’ performance “reminds us of why we fall in love in the first place. If you don’t know her name, you will soon,” says Ferrera. With Jones not in attendance – she’s working in England – director Drake Doremus emotionally accepts the award on her behalf.

Juror Jeffrey Blitz, director of Spellbound and Festival films Rocket Science and Lucky, presents the U.S. Documentary Cinematography Award alongside Search.

Winner of the Excellence in Cinematography Award, U.S. Documentary Competition:

The Redemption of General Butt Naked, cinematography by Eric Strauss, Ryan Hill and Peter Hutchens.
A breathless Strauss accepts along with Hutchens, who thanks “everyone in Liberia who opened their doors and made this film possible.”

Juror Tim Orr, who has shot all of David Gordon Green’s films as well as this year’s Salvation Boulevard, presents the U.S. dramatic Cinematography Award.

Winner of the Excellence in Cinematography Award, U.S. Dramatic Competition:

Pariah, cinematography by Bradford Young.
Director Dee Rees accepts, calling Young on her cell phone on her way to the stage. “Brad’s awesome,” she says, before finally connecting with Young. “Yo! You won the cinematography award!” The crowd breaks out in applause, and Reese stays on the phone as she hustles off the stage.

Juror Todd McCarthy, veteran film critic for the Hollywood Reporter, presents another Special Jury Prize.

Winner of the Special Jury Prize, U.S. Dramatic Competition:

Another Earth, directed by Mike Cahill and Brit Marling.
“I was really worried that there weren’t any statesmen left” in the world, Marling says, before crediting the Festival programmers for serving as such. “I feel like there’s something really beautiful going on in the world right now,” says a buoyant Cahill.

Updated 8:38 p.m.

Juror and renowned editor Sloane Klevin presents the U.S. Documentary Editing Award.

Winner of the U.S. Documentary Editing Award:

If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front, edited by Matthew Hamachek and Marshall Curry. Curry accepts the award with Hamachek, who thanks his girlfriend and assistant editor, and Curry, “for hiring me.”

Juror Todd McCarthy returns to present the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award. “This is my 25th year,” says McCarthy, and “this is one of the best Sundances I’ve ever been to,” he observes. “You get older, and the filmmakers always stay the same age,” he adds.

Winner of the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award:

Another Happy Day, written and directed by Sam Levinson
“Even when I introduce my film, I cry. So I don’t know what the fuck is going to happen now,” Levinson says choked up. “The script was just the stepping stone,” he says, haltingly, before stopping altogether. “Fucking Waldo Salt, Jesus Christ.”

Juror Laura Poitras, director of Festival award-winners The Oath and My Country, My Country, presents the U.S. Documentary Directing Award.

Winner of the U.S. Documentary Competition Directing Award:

Resurrect Dead: The Mystery of the Toynbee Tiles, directed by Jon Foy
“I had no idea that such things were possible in life. Just a few weeks ago I was a housecleaner,” Foy says. “This is for all the artists working in obscurity out there,” he adds. “Never give up, because if you do, you know what will happen. If you don’t give up, you don’t know what will happen.”

Juror Kimberly Peirce, director of Boys Don’t Cry and Stop-Loss, presents the U.S. Dramatic Directing Award. Nelson calls her “a wonderful girl to talk to,” among other things. Peirce says she’s back at the Festival for the first time since being here with Boys Don’t Cry, and she’s back with a truly bad-ass, collarless black leather jacket.

Winner of the U.S. Dramatic Competition Directing Award:

Martha Marcy May Marlene, directed by Sean Durkin
Durkin, wearing a grey ski hat and scholarly specs, thanks his mom and dad first. “This is a culmination of all the people I’ve worked with,” he says.

Juror Matt Groening, creator of The Simpsons, presents the top prize for the U.S. Documentary Competition. He’s “changed the way we are as Americans,” says Nelson. “And he’s the hero of my home.” To which Groening says, “I did draw three pictures of Bart Simpson for his kids.” Groening goes on to describe an episode about the Festival he’d made several years earlier, calling it “where Parker Posey meets parka poseurs.” He says he’s surprised he was invited because “usually when we set an episode in a place, we don’t get invited to go there,”

Winner of the U.S. Documentary Competition Grand Jury Prize:

How to Die in Oregon, directed by Peter D. Richardson
“That’s Matt Groening, holy shit,” says Richardson before thanking “the extraordinary individuals who allowed me to enter and document their lives. I love you. This award is for and because of you.”

Before introducing the final presenter, Nelson stops to thank the Festival. “I love Sundance. There’s nothing like this festival. It’s been a great pleasure to hang out with the jurors and fete these wonderful filmmakers.”

Juror and four-time Academy Award winning writer and director Jason Reitman presents the final award of the night, the top prize for the U.S. Dramatic Competition. “I came to this Festival in 1998 when I was still in college. I came as my father’s son, and I left a filmmaker,” he says. “What can I say,” before annoucing the winner, “we love this movie Like Crazy.”

Winner of the U.S. Dramatic Competition Grand Jury Prize:

Like Crazy, directed by Drake Doremus.
Doremus, out of breath and in a valentine pink dress shirt says, “This movie is about love, and about love never dying. Your first love will never leave you. It hasn’t left me and it’s with me here tonight.” At the last second he remembers to add, “Oh, and thank you to Paramount Pictures for buying the movie.”

Nelson signs off by exhorting the crowd to “go and party.” After a record-breaking transition of the fieldhouse to a dance hall, everyone complies.

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