The Sundance Film Festival’s prizes for best U.S. drama on Saturday went to “Push,” the dark yet hopeful story of a young woman finding her way out of nightmarish circumstances in 1980s Harlem.
Based on the 1996 first novel by the poet Sapphire and directed by Lee Daniels, “Push” won both the grand jury and audience awards. The film version is subtitled “Based on the novel by Sapphire” to distinguish it from the Dakota Fanning-Chris Evans sci-fi thriller due out next month.
The penultimate night of the 11-day festival, the nation’s premiere showcase for independent film, was marked by political references and jangled nerves.
Sundance Institute executive director Ken Brecher hoisted an honorary festival pass with the new U.S. president’s name on it, and presenter Joseph Gordon-Levitt tugged at his red Barack Obama T-shirt, saying: “These awards are exercises in democracy, and it’s a good time for democracy right now.”
Gordon-Levitt cheered and gave Daniels a big hug before presenting the audience award to his film, which stars Mo’Nique, Mariah Carey and Paula Patton alongside newcomer Gabourey Sidibe, who plays pregnant 16-year-old Precious Jones.
“This is so important to me because this is speaking for every minority that’s in Harlem, that’s in Detroit, that’s in Watts, that’s being abused, that can’t read, that’s obese and that we turn our back on,” Daniels said. “And this is for every gay little boy and girl that’s being tortured. If I can do this … ya’ll can do
When he picked up the grand jury prize later in the evening, Daniels acknowledged: “I’m drunk. I got like three shots right after we got the last one.”
The grand jury prize for U.S. documentary went to “We Live in Public,” focusing on little-known Internet pioneer Josh Harris and his failed “lifecasting” art projects in 1999 and 2000. The film was directed by Ondi Timoner, whose “Dig!” won the same award in 2004.
Timoner dedicated the honor to Harris, calling him “the first subject I’ve ever had that said I don’t care how you portray me as long as you make a great film.”
Nicholas Jasenovec and Charlyne Yi won the Waldo Salt screenwriting award for “Paper Heart,” a hybrid documentary-improv road movie featuring Yi and Michael Cera.
“I feel sick. I’m sweaty. I smell bad,” said Yi, a performance artist and comedian best known for a bit part in “Knocked Up” and her relationship with Cera.
She finished by addressing other filmmakers in the audience: “Who knows what’ll happen to our films but at least they were seen.”