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Sundance, game over: The awards, etc.

Posted by Ty Burr  January 26, 2009 12:17 PM

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My post-mortem on this year's Sundance is on the Globe's front page today, but there's still a little festival housecleaning to do. They held the awards ceremony in Park City Saturday night, and the winners of Sundance 2009 were, as usual, both expected and surprising. The big winner was "Push: Based on the Novel by Sapphire" -- an inner-city drama I wrote about during the fest -- which took both the Grand Jury and the Audience awards in the US Dramatic competition. That's a rare Sundance twofer, and Mo'Nique, who plays the heroine's abusive mother, took home a special jury prize for acting. (Overacting in my book; I'd have given the prize to Gabourey Sidibe in the lead.)

The Grand Jury prize for US Documentary went to Ondi Timoner's scarifying we're-all-connected-and-God-help-us look at Internet pioneer Josh Harris, "We Live in Public," while the audience US doc award went to "The Cove," an expose of dolphin killings in a secluded Japanese harbor. Timoner's a two-time Sundance winner now; she scored with 2004's "Dig!" too.

In the international film categories, the jury named Chile's creepy "The Maid" as Best World Dramatic Film while festival audiences voted for the glossy and ingratiating "An Education," with it's star-making lead performance by Carey Mulligan. The Grand Jury prize for World Documentary was given to "Rough Aunties," about South African women helping victims of sexual abuse, and the Audience award went to one of my favorites, "Afghan Star," which also picked up a directing award for Havana Marking.

The Washington Post has a full list of winners, and here's the festival's announcement.

As always, I regret the films I missed seeing; luckily, a few kind publicists with a few extra DVDs allowed me to post-date my Sundance experience by a few days (so that brings my total to 26 movies seen in 6 days, almost a new personal record). One of these, "Burma VJ," won a deserved documentary editing award and should be coming to HBO sometime soon. (The pay cable giant picked up the TV rights to the film.) Danish director Anders Ostergaard works with the anonymous cameraman of the Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB) to showcase their video footage (and in some cases cellphone footage!) of the late 2007 uprising by monks in the capital city of Rangoon. Rarely will you see a movie that paints a clearer picture of what it's like to live in a police state; rarely will you be so reminded of the fragility and necessity of a free press. If the soldiers in Rangoon see you carrying a camera, that's it -- you're gone. Yet DVB leader "Joshua" (we never see his face, which is just as well) and his crews keep taping and uploading.

A tougher sell is Joe Berlinger's "Crude," about a class-action suit filed by 30,000 indigenous Ecuadoreans against the US corporation Chevron for despoiling the Amazon rainforest. I say it's a tough sell because the movie's really about process -- about an uphill David-vs-Goliath fight that takes place over months and years and in various offices and courtrooms. We see the awful results of toxic pollution -- cancers, sores on two-week-old infants -- and the movie's savvy enough to let us hear the corporate response in full. The focus, though, is strategy: when do you bring in the global popstar (Sting) and his eco-activist wife (Trudie Styler)? When do you let the people speak for themselves? I liked the movie, and I really like Berlinger ("Brother's Keeper," "Paradise Lost," "Metallica: Some Kind of Monster," all co-directed with Bruce Sinofsky), but there's not much closure here (the lawsuit is still pending) and its patient vision of people empowering themselves is more subtly rewarding than audience-rousing. I hope this movie finds a home, and in theaters.

Back in the real world, "Paul Blart: Mall Cop" was the #1 movie in America for the second weekend in a row. We're doomed.

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Ty Burr is a film critic with The Boston Globe.

Mark Feeney is an arts writer for The Boston Globe.

Janice Page is movies editor for The Boston Globe.

Tom Russo is a regular correspondent for the Movies section and writes a weekly column on DVD releases.

Katie McLeod is Boston.com's features editor.

Rachel Raczka is a producer for Lifestyle and Arts & Entertainment at Boston.com.

Emily Wright is an Arts & Entertainment producer for Boston.com.

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