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Movie about troubled teenage girl takes top prize

A film about a teenage girl living in Harlem in the 1980s and battling everything from obesity and incest to pregnancy and a mother's mental illness was the big winner as the Sundance Film Festival came to a close this weekend.

Three prizes were given to Push: Based on the Novel by Sapphire, including the grand jury prize in the U.S. drama category and the audience award for an American film. Comic actress Jane Lynch hosted the awards ceremony, which ended the 25th annual 10-day long festival, founded by Robert Redford.

In the World Cinema category, a separate jury gave two prizes to the Chilean drama, The Maid (La Nana) which took the grand jury prize for top dramatic film as well as a special jury prize for actress Catalina Saavedra. The film is about a maid who wreaks havoc on a household after her employer brings home a new servant. The international audience prize went to An Education, the story of an English teenager's fling with an older man in early sixties London. Another double-winner in World Cinema was Five Minutes of Heaven, directed by Oliver Hirschbiegel from a screenplay by Guy Hibbert, which took both directing and screenplay prizes. The movie stars Liam Neeson as a former Irish Protestant teenaged killer, who, 30 years after his crime, seeks to meet with the brother of his victim. The screenplay was developed over a three-year period based on the experiences of two men.

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In the documentary categories, Ondi Timoner's We Live in Public, a look at eccentric Internet pioneer, Josh Harris, won the grand jury U.S. prize, while the international award went to Kim Longinotto's Rough Aunties, about a group of South African women who take care of neglected children.

The American audience award for documentary went to The Cove, an exposé of a highly secret massive dolphin slaughter carried out in a cove in Japan. The American documentary directing award was given to Natalia Almada for El General, a portrait of her great-grandfather, Mexican President Plutarco Elias Calles.

In the international documentary category, the audience prize went to Afghan Star, which looks at the Afghanistan equivalent of the American Idol-style show. Director Havana Marking also won the directing award in the category.

The Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award for best American screenplay went to Nicholas Jasenovec and Charlyne Yi for the largely improvised romantic comedy, Paper Heart, starring comedian Yi and Canadian actor, Michael Cera. Jasenovec described the prize as "strange, considering that there were about five written pages."

Canadians were better represented than ever, with four features and a half-dozen shorts in competition, though only one film, Jason Eisener's short, Treevenge, earned an honourable mention. At the spinoff Slamdance Film Festival, Canadians fared better as Alison McAlpine's Second Sight won a special jury mention for documentary features and Kazik Radwanski won Grand Jury Award for best narrative short for Princess Margaret Blvd. In addition, Simon Ennis won the Dos Equis Most Interesting Film Award for his feature film, You Might As Well Live.

In other Sundance prizes, documentary cinematography awards went to Bob Richman for The September Issue, a portrait of Vogue editor, Anna Wintour, and John Maringouin for Big River Man, about a Slovenian man's swim of the Amazon.

The American documentary editing award went to Karen Schmeer for Sergio, a portrait of the charismatic United Nations High Commissioner, Sergio Vieira de Mello who was killed in Iraq in 2003. The international prize went to Janus Billeskov Jansen and Thomas Papapetros's film, Burma VJ, about Burmese journalists surreptitiously documenting human rights abuses and protests.

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As well as the acting prize for Push, the American competition jurors handed out two other special jury prizes, with Lynn Shelton's comedy, Humpday, about two straight men who decide to appear in a porn film together, winning a nod for "independent spirit," and director Jeff Stilson's Good Hair, with comedian Chris Rock, which looks at issues around African-American women's hair being cited.

The World Cinema dramatic jury also gave out two other awards beside the acting prize for The Maid. Benoît Delépine and Gustave de Kervern's French film Louise-Michel, was praised for its "originality" in a story about female factory workers who hire a hit man to kill a plant-closing executive. Director Ngawang Choephel was also given special mention for his extraordinarily personal effort in making Tibet in Song, about the attempts to preserve Tibetan musical culture in the face of Chinese suppression.

Max Mayer's U.S. dramatic competition entry, Adam, about an engineer with Asperger's Sydrome, won the $20,000 Alfred P. Sloan Prize for films dealing with science and technology.

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Film critic

Liam Lacey is a film critic for The Globe and Mail. More


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