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2009 Sundance Awards Ceremony: 'Push' sweeps!

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The early buzz seemed almost absurd — Mo’Nique, what are you wearing to the Oscars? — but after all was said and done, director Lee Daniels and the cast of Push: Based on the novel by Sapphire emerged from the 2009 Sundance Film Festival victorious. The harrowing film won both the Audience and Grand Jury awards in the U.S. Dramatic Competition, as well as a Special Jury Prize for Mo’Nique’s performance as the unbearably cruel mother to Precious Jones, an obese, illiterate girl struggling to survive growing up in Harlem. “Insanely awesome” is how first-time actress Gabourey Sidibe (Precious) described the culmination to her whirlwind of a festival. “I feel like I live in a bubble. Like this isn’t real. Like this is the land of Oz or something.”

Push works on so many different levels,” said Sundance director Geoffrey Gilmore after the ceremony, held at Park City’s Racquet Club Saturday night. “It has such an emotional power to it, but it’s not just some kind of sentimental bath. You don’t understand that film until you watch the whole thing. You can’t say we’ve seen this before. You haven’t seen this before.”

Other multiple winners included Cary Joji Fukunaga’s Central American immigrant saga Sin Nombre, which earned directing and cinematography honors; Havana Marking’s Afghan Star, a documentary on Afghanistan’s version of American Idol, whose Audience and directing awards were gleefully accepted by  “Afghani Ryan Seacrest” Daud Sediqi; Irish drama Five Minutes of Heaven (starring Liam Neeson), lauded for directing and screenwriting; and The Maid (La Nana), which won the World Cinema Jury Prize for dramatic film as well as a Special Jury prize for lead actress Catalina Saavedra. The Grand Jury Prize for U.S. Documentary was won by Ondi Timoner’s We Live In Public, repeating the honor she earned in 2004 for DiG!

An Education — with a script by author Nick Hornby and featuring a breakout performance from actress Carey Mulligan — took home both the World Cinema Dramatic Audience Award and a prize for its cinematography. “You make films because you want them to be seen by someone,” said its director Lone Scherfig, who believes the recognition will help her movie accomplish just that. “You want to show somebody something, or share something with somebody, make other people laugh at the same things that you do. That’s the point.”

Nine thousand films were considered for 120 spots in 2009, which marked the 25th anniversary of the festival; 1585 volunteers were celebrated for their help in keeping the machine running for ten straight days. The ceremony itself (emceed by actress Jane Lynch) felt something like a high-end prom crossed with the last day of summer camp, and was generally enthusiastic, if slightly underattended, with the mid-Sundance inauguration of Barack Obama emerging as everyone’s defining moment: the new President was referenced repeatedly in speeches by Americans and foreigners alike, appeared on a t-shirt worn by presenter and 500 Days of Summer star Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and received an honorary credential from Sundance Institute executive Ken Brecher. (Mentioned just slightly fewer times were the mid-Sundance fisticuffs between Variety film critic John Anderson and Dirt! publicist Jeff Dowd, which received a decidedly more awkward response.)

But the night truly belonged to Push director Daniels, who experienced a series of grand public breakdowns as his film took award after award. “I’m sorry, I’m b-tchin’ out,” he apologized backstage, as tears streamed down his face and he struggled to praise his cast (including both Mariah Carey and Lenny Kravitz in dramatically understated roles) between sobs. “There’s so much love,” he said. “We don’t have no money. We got $2 to make some s— happen. We’re doing this story about this fat black girl who doesn’t have a voice. They’re all in it for the craft.” When asked to look at the bigger picture for his film — which still lacks distribution — he explained, “I think [this win] means there’s hope for people of color. Just because Obama’s president doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to translate down to our world of cinema. And I think what it does is reiterate and strengthen this power of, Get yourself a freakin’ video camera. And you go out and tell your truth. That’s what I started doing as a kid, and I think inevitably, it led to this. It’s just so much hope.”

2009 Sundance Film Festival Award Winners

Grand Jury Prize: U.S. Documentary We Live in Public

Grand Jury Prize: U.S. Dramatic Push: Based on the novel by Sapphire

World Cinema Jury Prize: Documentary Rough Aunties

World Cinema Jury Prize: Dramatic The Maid (La Nana)

Audience Award: U.S. Documentary The Cove

Audience Award: U.S. Dramatic Push

World Cinema Audience Award: Documentary Afghan Star

World Cinema Audience Award: Dramatic An Education

Directing Award: U.S. Documentary El General, director Natalia Almada

Directing Award: U.S. Dramatic Sin Nombre, written and directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga

World Cinema Directing Award: Documentary Afghan Star, directed by Havana Marking

World Cinema Directing Award: Dramatic Five Minutes of Heaven, directed by Oliver Hirschbiegel

Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award Nicholas Jasenovec and Charlyne Yi, Paper Heart

World Cinema Screenwriting Award Guy Hibbert, Five Minutes of Heaven

U.S. Documentary Editing Award Sergio

World Cinema Documentary Editing Award Burma VJ

Excellence in Cinematography Award: U.S. Documentary The September Issue, cinematographer Bob Richman

Excellence in Cinematography Award: U.S. Dramatic Sin Nombre, cinematographer Adriano Goldman

World Cinema Cinematography Award: Documentary Big River Man, director/cinematographer John Maringouin

World Cinema Cinematography Award: Dramatic An Education, cinematographer John De Borman

World Cinema Special Jury Prize for Originality Louise-Michel

World Cinema Special Jury Prize: Documentary Tibet in Song

World Cinema Special Jury Prize for Acting Catalina Saavedra, The Maid (La Nana)

Special Jury Prize: U.S. Documentary Good Hair

Special Jury Prize for Spirit of Independence Humpday

Special Jury Prize for Acting Mo’Nique, Push: Based on the novel by Sapphire

More Sundance coverage from EW:

Sundance: Who left with distribution deals?

Sundance: Owen Gleiberman’s closing thoughts on the ’09 festival

Sundance: Derrick Comedy and Mystery Team 

Sundance: Exclusive star portraits!

Other multiple winners included Cary Joji Fukunaga’s Central American immigrant saga Sin Nombre, which earned directing and cinematography honors; Havana Marking’s Afghan Star, a documentary on Afghanistan’s version of American Idol, whose Audience and directing awards were gleefully accepted by  “Afghani Ryan Seacrest” Daud Sediqi; Irish drama Five Minutes of Heaven (starring Liam Neeson), lauded for directing and screenwriting; and The Maid (La Nana), which won the World Cinema Jury Prize for dramatic film as well as a Special Jury prize for lead actress Catalina Saavedra. The Grand Jury Prize for U.S. Documentary was won by Ondi Timoner’s We Live In Public, repeating the honor she earned in 2004 for DiG!

An Education — with a script by author Nick Hornby and featuring a breakout performance from actress Carey Mulligan — took home both the World Cinema Dramatic Audience Award and a prize for its cinematography. “You make films because you want them to be seen by someone,” said its director Lone Scherfig, who believes the recognition will help her movie accomplish just that. “You want to show somebody something, or share something with somebody, make other people laugh at the same things that you do. That’s the point.”

Nine thousand films were considered for 120 spots in 2009, which marked the 25th anniversary of the festival; 1585 volunteers were celebrated for their help in keeping the machine running for ten straight days. The ceremony itself (emceed by actress Jane Lynch) felt something like a high-end prom crossed with the last day of summer camp, and was generally enthusiastic, if slightly underattended, with the mid-Sundance inauguration of Barack Obama emerging as everyone’s defining moment: the new President was referenced repeatedly in speeches by Americans and foreigners alike, appeared on a t-shirt worn by presenter and 500 Days of Summer star Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and received an honorary credential from Sundance Institute executive Ken Brecher. (Mentioned just slightly fewer times were the mid-Sundance fisticuffs between Variety film critic John Anderson and Dirt! publicist Jeff Dowd, which received a decidedly more awkward response.)

But the night truly belonged to Push director Daniels, who experienced a series of grand public breakdowns as his film took award after award. “I’m sorry, I’m b-tchin’ out,” he apologized backstage, as tears streamed down his face and he struggled to praise his cast (including both Mariah Carey and Lenny Kravitz in dramatically understated roles) between sobs. “There’s so much love,” he said. “We don’t have no money. We got $2 to make some s— happen. We’re doing this story about this fat black girl who doesn’t have a voice. They’re all in it for the craft.” When asked to look at the bigger picture for his film — which still lacks distribution — he explained, “I think [this win] means there’s hope for people of color. Just because Obama’s president doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to translate down to our world of cinema. And I think what it does is reiterate and strengthen this power of, Get yourself a freakin’ video camera. And you go out and tell your truth. That’s what I started doing as a kid, and I think inevitably, it led to this. It’s just so much hope.”

2009 Sundance Film Festival Award Winners

Grand Jury Prize: U.S. Documentary We Live in Public
Grand Jury Prize: U.S. Dramatic Push: Based on the novel by Sapphire
World Cinema Jury Prize: Documentary Rough Aunties
World Cinema Jury Prize: Dramatic The Maid (La Nana)
Audience Award: U.S. Documentary The Cove
Audience Award: U.S. Dramatic Push
World Cinema Audience Award: Documentary Afghan Star
World Cinema Audience Award: Dramatic An Education
Directing Award: U.S. Documentary El General, director Natalia Almada
Directing Award: U.S. Dramatic Sin Nombre, written and directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga
World Cinema Directing Award: Documentary Afghan Star, directed by Havana Marking
World Cinema Directing Award: Dramatic Five Minutes of Heaven, directed by Oliver Hirschbiegel
Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award Nicholas Jasenovec and Charlyne Yi, Paper Heart
World Cinema Screenwriting Award Guy Hibbert, Five Minutes of Heaven
U.S. Documentary Editing Award Sergio
World Cinema Documentary Editing Award Burma VJ
Excellence in Cinematography Award: U.S. Documentary The September Issue, cinematographer Bob Richman
Excellence in Cinematography Award: U.S. Dramatic Sin Nombre, cinematographer Adriano Goldman
World Cinema Cinematography Award: Documentary Big River Man, director/cinematographer John Maringouin
World Cinema Cinematography Award: Dramatic An Education, cinematographer John De Borman
World Cinema Special Jury Prize for Originality Louise-Michel
World Cinema Special Jury Prize: Documentary Tibet in Song
World Cinema Special Jury Prize for Acting Catalina Saavedra, The Maid (La Nana)
Special Jury Prize: U.S. Documentary Good Hair
Special Jury Prize for Spirit of Independence Humpday
Special Jury Prize for Acting Mo’Nique, Push: Based on the novel by Sapphire

More Sundance coverage from EW:

Sundance: Who left with distribution deals?

Sundance: Owen Gleiberman’s closing thoughts on the ’09 festival

Sundance: Derrick Comedy and Mystery Team 

Sundance: Exclusive star portraits!

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