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`Beasts of the Southern Wild' wins at Sundance

Director Benh Zeitlin, left, and actress Quvenzhane Wallis, right, pose with the Grand Jury Prize Dramatic award for the film 'Beasts of the Southern Wild' during the 2012 Sundance Film Festival Awards Ceremony in Park City, Utah on Saturday, Jan. 28, 2012. Director Benh Zeitlin, left, and actress Quvenzhane Wallis, right, pose with the Grand Jury Prize Dramatic award for the film "Beasts of the Southern Wild" during the 2012 Sundance Film Festival Awards Ceremony in Park City, Utah on Saturday, Jan. 28, 2012. (AP Photo/Danny Moloshok)
By Sandy Cohen
AP Entertainment Writer / January 29, 2012
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PARK CITY, Utah—A mythical film starring an 8-year-old girl and a documentary about the war on drugs took top honors at the Sundance Film Festival.

"Beasts of the Southern Wild" won the grand jury prize in the U.S. dramatic competition, and "The House I Live In" won the same honor in the U.S. documentary category Saturday at the independent film festival's awards ceremony.

Directed and co-written by 29-year-old first-time filmmaker Benh Zeitlin, "Beasts of the Southern Wild" follows a girl named Hushpuppy who lives with her father in the southern Delta. The film also won the cinematography prize.

Zeitlin said he was grateful to the Sundance Institute and labs, where he worked on the film for more than three years.

"This project was such a runt, this sort of messy-hair, dirty, wild child, and we just have been taken care of and just eased along until we were ready to stand up on our own," he said in an interview after the ceremony. "It's just great that it happened here. This is the right place for the world to meet the film."

Zeitlin described his spunky young star, Quvenzhane Wallis, as "the biggest person I know." She said she is ready to be a movie star, but first will be going back to third grade.

Fox Searchlight acquired the film earlier this week.

Eugene Jarecki's documentary "The House I Live In" examines the social, human and financial costs of the war on drugs. The filmmaker won the same award in 2005 for his documentary "Why We Fight."

As he accepted his award, Jarecki called the war on drugs "tragically immoral, heartbreakingly wrong and misguided."

"If we're going to reform things in this country, putting people in jail for nonviolent crime, in many cases for life without parole, for possession of a drug, for sentences longer than is now given for murder in this country, must end," he said.

Kirby Dick's documentary about rape in the military, "The Invisible War," won the audience award, as did Ben Lewin's heartfelt drama "The Surrogate," which stars John Hawkes as a paralyzed 38-year-old man who hires a sex surrogate, played by Helen Hunt, to help him lose his virginity. Fox Searchlight acquired that film, too.

"I don't think most people have ever seen this sort of story before," Lewin said after the ceremony. "I think it was very new and unexpected... From the experiences I've had seeing it with an audience, it seems to be a real emotional ride."

"The Surrogate" also won a special jury prize for its ensemble cast.

World cinema jury prizes went to the documentary "The Law in These Parts," about Israel's legal system in occupied Palestinian territories, and the drama "Violeta Went to Heaven," about Chilean musician Violeta Parra.

The audience favorites in world cinema were the documentary "Searching for Sugar Man," which also won a special jury award, and the drama "Valley of the Saints," which also claimed the Alfred P. Sloan film prize. A second winner of the Sloan Award, which recognizes films with science as a theme or a scientist as a major character, was "Robot and Frank." The film, which premiered at Sundance, stars Frank Langella as a retired jewel thief who befriends the caretaker robot his children have given him, eventually bringing the robot along on his illegal outings.

Other winners:

-- U.S. drama directing award: Ava DuVernay, "Middle of Nowhere."

-- U.S. documentary directing award: Lauren Greenfield, "The Queen of Versailles."

-- World cinema drama directing award: Mads Matthiesen, "Teddy Bear."

-- World cinema documentary directing award: Emad Burnat, Guy Davidi, "5 Broken Cameras."

-- U.S. drama screenwriting award: Derek Connolly, "Safety Not Guaranteed."

-- World cinema screenwriting award: Marialy Rivas, Camila Gutierrez, Pedro Peirano, Sebastian Sepulveda, "Young & Wild."

-- U.S. documentary editing award: Enat Sidi, "Detropia."

-- World cinema editing award: Lisanne Pajot, James Swirsky, "Indie Game: The Movie."

-- U.S. documentary cinematography award: Jeff Orlowski, "Chasing Ice."

-- World cinema drama cinematography award: David Raedeker, "My Brother the Devil."

-- World cinema documentary cinematography award: Lars Skree, "Putin's Kiss."

-- U.S. drama special jury prize for producing: Andrea Sperling and Jonathan Schwartz, "Smashed" and "Nobody Walks."

-- U.S. documentary special jury prizes: "Love Free or Die," "Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry."

-- World cinema drama special jury prize: "Can."

-- Short film audience award: "The Debutante Hunters."

-- Best of NEXT audience award: "Sleepwalk With Me."

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Follow Entertainment Writer Sandy Cohen at www.twitter.com/APSandy.

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