With occasional reflection on the perpetual absurdity/intrigue of life and society in general.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

2011 Sundance Film Festival - Awards, Information, and Commentary

2011 Sundance Film Festival Award Winners:  

Happy, Happy, Hell and Back Again, How to Die in Oregonand Like Crazy Earn Grand Jury Prizes Audience Favorites Include Buck, CircumstanceKinyawarandaandSenna to.get.her Awarded Best of NEXT! Audience Award

The Grand Jury Prize: Documentary was presented to How to Die in Oregon, directed by Peter D. Richardson. In 1994 Oregon became the first state to legalize physician-assisted suicide. How to Die in Oregon gently enters the lives of terminally ill Oregonians to illuminate the power of death with dignity.

The Grand Jury Prize: Dramatic was presented to Like Crazy, directed by Drake Doremus; written by Drake Doremus and Ben York Jones. A young American guy and a young British girl meet in college and fall in love. Their love is tested when she is required to leave the country and they must face the challenges of a long-distance relationship.

The World Cinema Jury Prize: Documentary was presented to Hell and Back Again, directed by Danfung Dennis. Told through the eyes of one Marine from the start of his 2009 Afghanistan tour to his distressing return and rehabilitation in the U.S., we witness what modern "unconventional" warfare really means to the men who are fighting it. U.S.A./United Kingdom

The World Cinema Jury Prize: Dramatic was presented to Happy, Happy (Sykt Lykkelig), directed by Anne Sewitsky; written by Ragnhild Tronvoll. A perfect housewife, who just happens to be sex-starved, struggles to keep her emotions in check when an attractive family moves in next door. Norway

The Audience Award: Documentary was presented to Buck, directed by Cindy Meehl, for her story about the power of non-violence and master horse trainer Buck Brannaman, who uses principles of respect and trust to tame horses and inspire their human counterparts.

The Audience Award: Dramatic was presented to Circumstance, directed and written by Maryam Keshavarz,in which a wealthy Iranian family struggles to contain a teenager's growing sexual rebellion and her brother's dangerous obsession.

The World Cinema Audience Award: Documentary was presented to Senna, directed by Asif Kapadia; written by Manish Pandey, about legendary racing driver and Brazilian hero Ayrton Senna, taking us on the ultimate journey of what it means to become the greatest when faced with the constant possibility of death. United Kingdom

The World Cinema Audience Award: Dramatic was presented to Kinyarwanda, directed and written by Alrick Brown, which tells the story of Rwandans who crossed the lines of hatred during the 1994 genocide, turning mosques into places of refuge for Muslims and Christians, Hutus and Tutsis. U.S.A./Rwanda

For a complete listing of the Awards follow the Link.

It seems that I have neglected to post updates on the Sundance Film Festival 2011 which just wrapped a few days ago - one of the U.S.'s largest film festivals. I usually try to include regular postings and updates from the major independent film festivals and realize that I have been remiss in reporting on Sundance this year, somewhat intentionally and somewhat by cause of a saturated, ridiculous award season. Let me explain, as typically I am a great proponent of the festival circuit.

It is true, I tend to neglect the "red carpet" season of pointless Hollywood dribble, gratuitous PR/politics, excessive fashion, and the cattle herding of "fame" and leisure class industry darlings that honestly appear to be vacuous puppets on a string - I would rather watch some quality stop motion animation (maybe Team America - "America, F@#% yeah"). Sadly, there are many legitimate artists and industry outsiders thrown into this mix by default (and the monopolization of Studio interests), and the atmosphere is even less flattering to them. They usually seem a bit uncomfortable and degraded by the senseless surroundings, while others swallow it whole as they do their rounds from camera to camera and Seacrest to Seacrest-look-a-like. All i can ever think is, wow, imagine how much philanthropy and causal success could be achieved with the funding that flows into these relatively banal award ceremonies - but most would rather wear the 6-digit monkey suits and dresses and merely mention these causes as they glorify themselves and thank god for their achievements. Now, I love actors (as all directors should), real actors, but some sense of perspective is necessary here - you are actors and filmmakers (mostly mediocre) and some artists - not gods, idols, or golden cows (well, maybe in a metaphorical sense).

I had the pleasure of meeting Zana Briski shortly after she received the 2004 Best Documentary Academy Award for Born into Brothels (an exceptional film by an exceptional woman and artist). She came to one of my classes in Film School for an intimate Q&A and was more honest and introspective than I ever would have imagined. To the bewilderment of many of the young film students with stars in their eyes that asked, "what famous people did you meet?"- she responded, with an obvious internal sadness, that such things (fame and leisure) were of no interest to her and refused to drop names - this is a real artist, a real human being. The class, excluding me and my professor, were disappointed. She went on to say that it was one of the most awkward, uncomfortable, and unrealistic environments that she had ever participated in and that she had no desire to repeat the affair. She held true to her promise as she retreated back to her work - you can follow the link for an update on the photography and minimal filmmaking that she has pursued since - it is honest art.

On a similar note, and with great admiration, Marlon Brando refused to accept his 1972 Academy Award for Best Actor in The Godfather as a statement on Native American rights - with a written rejection delivered by a young Native American activist that stated disapproval of the depiction of their culture in Hollywood cinema.

Unfortunately, it seems like every year more of these endless televised events seem to pop up, one after another - the Golden Globes (the worst of the bunch), SAG Awards, and of course the Academy Awards - I can't even remember the rest. I truly have very little time for any of them, and sadly (and perhaps partially unfair) I tend to throw Sundance Film Fest into this mix as the sweet "indie" darling of the market - though it actually hasn't been "indie" since the 90's when the word actually meant something - just another red carpet affair. Now, good films do come out of Sundance and old Redford seems to be making attempts to bring it back to credibility, but the industry grasp is tough to break.

So, to compensate on some level, and with all respect to the many valid independent artists that receive notoriety and opportunity from the event, I have at least posted the awards from the 2011 Sundance Film Festival and encourage all to delve further to find a few gems. There are always some impressive works that come to light due to the festival, so perhaps I shouldn't be so harsh on the event. Follow the Links below for more information and, please, don't ever misperceive the mainstream awards ceremonies as a comprehensive collection of the year's best and most innovative cinema - they get a few right, but we must dig a little deeper to find many of the innovators and ground-breakers. If you are just catching that cinephile bug, Sundance isn't the worst place to begin. Above is a list of the awards.

Sundance Institute
2011 Sundance Film Festival Awards
Zana Briski.com

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