And so another Sundance draws to a close. While it may not have been a vintage year for the US Dramatic Competition, there were certainly a few gems among the 40 or so films we've managed to catch over the course of the festival.
Considering themes this year, the big one was suicide. Several films touched on it including Sunshine Cleaning, The Deal, What Happened Next?, Ballast, Diary Of The Dead, King Of Ping Pong, Otto; Or Up With Dead People, with The Last Word using it as its main theme. It certainly made a change from the sex and Iraq obssessions from last year.
Among our favourites were top UK documentary Man On Wire - about a tightrope walker who crosseed between the World Trade Center twin towers, crowd-pleaser Sunshine Cleaning, Swedish coming-of-age drama King Of Ping Pong and soulful romantic dramedy Good Dick. Among the premieres to look out for is the hilarious Steve Coogan starrer Hamlet 2. The documentary strand was, as always, possibly the strongest segment of films here, with Triage and Up The Yangtze also excellent. One thing that stood out to us this year, however, was the general lack of innovation and experimentation in the films on display. Last year, there was a lot of mixing of styles, whereas this year things have taken on a more personal and more pedestrian style. Although less razzamatazz is not necessarily a bad development.
The odd thing about the day of the awards, here, in Park City, is that there are no press screenings, so all that's left to do is try to secure a press ticket for the awards party. Those who have followed these diaries for the past few years will know this is much easier said than done.
It frequently becomes an exercise in frustration, and this year there was no 'overspill' room - although, frankly, this turned out to be a very good thing. Fortunately for us, the media relations seems to have improved and although initially told we probably wouldn't get a ticket we were, in the end, let in.
This year's party had a cowboy theme, which had some seriously odd results. Everyone was given a cute neckerchief with Sundance 08 on it. Less successful, however, were the cowgirls in hotpants that had been hired to dance in covered wagons. I'm not quite sure what an egalitarian pro-women festival can have been thinking. Retro is one thing but some stuff should stay firmly in the past. Oddly, the dancers seemed to disappear into the ether very early on, so perhaps we weren't the only ones who thought it was in pretty poor taste.
William H Macy, however, proved an excellent choice as Master of Ceremonies. Dressed in full cowboy style, he introduced the awards, saying "I cannot but think that the guild will not fault me if I restrict all of my comments to films that are actually in the festival and my experience here at Sundance. And I swear to you no professional writer had anything to do with what I'm about to tell you."
He then used several of the titles of films in competition. That it was a story of movies and masturbation proves the awards weren't being televised... but you can see it here.
First of all the Sundance/NHK International Filmmakers Award was handed out, the winners having already been announced earlier in the week. These help to support emerging filmmakers with their next screenplays, with one recipient being chosen from the US, Europe, Asia and Latin America. Previous films to benefit include The Sleep Dealer (seen at this year's fest) and previous festival favourite The House Of Sand. This year's recipients - who receive $10,000 and a guarantee that NHK will by the Japanese broadcast rights are: Chile's Alejandro Fernandez Almendras, for Huacho, the US's Braden King, for Here, Japan's Aiko Nagatsu, for Apoptosis, and Romania's Radu Jude, for The Happiest Girl In The World.
As the rest of the award winners were announced we were pleased to note that for once in our lives we've actually seen some of them. They are...
Honorable mentions in short filmmaking - Aquarium, August 15, La Corona and Spider.
Jury Prize In Short Filmmaking: International - Simon Ellis's Soft. Great to see the UK's Ellis continuing to pick up awards with this film about youth gangs in suburbia, which also scooped the European Film Academy Short Film Prix UIP at the Edinburgh Film Festival. Shame he wasn't there to pick up his prize.
Alfred P Sloan Feature Film Prize - This is given to a film with a scientific theme and was, this year, presented by Michael (Twin Falls, Idaho) Polish; it went to Alex Rivera for Sleep Dealer - nice to see a NHK winner going on to greater acclaim. This science fiction film about migrant workers is bursting with good ideas... but its tight budget shows.
Introducing the remainder of the awards was Sundance Director Geoff Gilmore. He said: "As the festival comes to a close, I am struck by a profound sense of significance and emergence. It has made me feel as if I am witnessing a new era of independent film." He also took time to thank the 1265 volunteers - and rightly so. We'd all be lost without them.
So, on to the major awards...
World Cinema Cinematography Award: Documentary - Al Massad's Recycle, praised for its "indelible images" by the jury. It concerns a breeding ground for terrorists in Jordan.
World Cinema Documentary Editing Award - Giving the award to Irene Dol for The Art Star And The Sudanese Twins, the jury said it made them "utterly annoyed, almost angry... the film stayed with us and we almost hated it". It concerns artist Vanessa B Croft, who adopts Sudanese twins and incorporates them into her work.
World Cinema Directing Award: Documentary - Nino Kirtadze for Durakovo: Village Of Fools. Another we missed, but which concerns a portly businessman who is determined to keep a village near Moscow free from the shackles of democracy.
World Cinema Jury Prize: Documentary - A win for another Brit here, James Marsh for Man On Wire. This excellent documentary about the tightrope artist Phillipe Petit was a firm favourite with reviews and crowds and will be shown on the BBC's Storyville at some point, so keep an eye out. Collecting his award, James Marsh said he was "lost for words."
World Cinema Special Jury Prize: Dramatic - Blue Eyelids, directed by Ernesto Contreas. We didn't see this one but this film explores "solitude and the quest for love in Mexico".
World Cinema Cinematography Award: Dramatic - Askild Vik Edvardsen for King Of Ping Pong. Praised by the jury for the "transfer of story to screen in a skillful way" and finding "112 different colours of snow". This film certainly has a very specific look, with the snow giving a bleached out background. A deserving winner.
World Cinema Screenwriting Award: I Always Wanted To Be A Gangster, scripted by Samuel Benchetrit. Not one we saw, but apparently concerns four stories centred on a roadside cafe after a small time crook tries to hold it up.
World Cinema Directing Award: Dramatic - Anna Melikyan for Mermaid. Apparently, a Russian modern-day fairytale.
World Cinema Jury Prize: Dramatic - King Of Ping Pong, directed by Jens Jonsson picking up a second award for the coming of age tale that certainly has a haunting quality.
World Cinema Audience Award: Documentary - Man On Wire, directed by James Marsh, does the double. Accepting the award Petit said: "Keep moving mountains, keep growing wings, keep dreaming."
World Cinema Audience Award: Dramatic - Captain Abu Raed, directed Amin Matalqa. This first independent feature to come out of Jordan is about a man who is mistaken for a pilot and who spins inspirational yarns for children. Tony liked this one a lot - a real crowd pleaser.
Audience Award: Documentary - Environmental documentary Fields Of Fuel. Accepting the award, director Josh Tickell said: "May we work together to create a green and sustainable planet for all of our children."
Audience Award; Dramatic - The Wackness - a film we missed but which is about a drug dealing teen who trades pot for therapy sessions with a psychiatrist. Accepting the award, director Jonathan Levine said: "I just accepted an award from William H Macy in a cowboy outfit. That is fucking weird."
Special Jury Prize: Documentary - Greatest Silence: Rape in The Congo. Jurors praised director Lisa F Jackson by the jurors for "courageously and selflessly" using her own personal tragedy. Jackson dedicated her award to "women in a forgotten war".
Special Jury Prize: Dramatic - Anywhere USA, directed by Anthony Haney-Jardine. One we missed but which explores the mores of American life. Described as "refreshing" by the jurors.
Special Jury Prize: Dramatic, Ensemble Cast - Choke. Sam Rockwell "led the charge" said the jurors, and they're right. Although the film itself was less inventive than it perhaps could have been, Rockwell, Anjelica Huston and the rest of the cast never put a foot wrong.
Excellence in Cinematography Award: Documentary - Patti Smith: Dream Of Life. An intimate potrait of the musician.
Excellence in Cinematography Award: Dramatic - Ballast. As noted previously, this left me rather cold, but it is shot in a very naturalistic manner. Cinematographer Lol Crawley, accepting the award, said: "In those times of inevitable unemployment and anxiety I shall look at this and keep the faith."
Documentary Editing Award - Roman Polanski: Wanted And Desired's Joe Bini, for the way it "explores ambiguity with grace".
Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award - Alex Rivera and David Riker again coming up trumps for Sleep Dealer.
Directing Award: Dramatic - Lance Hammer for his debut feature Ballast.
Grand Jury Prize: Documentary - Trouble The Water, directed by Tia Lessin and Carl Deal. This intensely personal document of what it meant to be trapped by the rising waters in New Orleans is one we missed but it sounds fascinating.
Grand Jury Prize: Dramatic - Quentin Tarantino presented the award to Frozen River, directed by Courtney Hunt, saying "it blew my ass fucking away". The drama, about immigration and single mums has since been bought by Sony Pictures Classics.
Awards over, it was time to get down to the business of celebrating. Nice to see so many of the filmmakers still in town. Tarantino was wandering about and we managed to catch a quick word with him as he mingled with the crowd. In the spirit of in-depth journalism (not), I asked him what he thought about the cowgirls. He "loved them" apparently and is "all about cowgirls"... which doesn't really come as too great a surprise having watched Death Proof.
We also had a quick word with Brit director Olly Blackburn, before he dashed off to a final screening of his neat horror Donkey Punch in Park City. We're hoping to have a proper chat with him about the film at a later date, and will bring it to you if we do.
And that, as they say, was just about all folks. Hope you've enjoyed the snow business for another year - look out for full reviews of the films we watched and interviews with those we spoke to coming soon.