'Beasts' No Burden for the Sundance Jury This Year

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While most prognosticators are sharpening their knives in anticipation of this year's upcoming Oscars, some of the darker, more indie prospects fornextyear's awards have already emerged, courtesy of the Sundance Film Festival.

Jurors in the documentary categories were Fenton Bailey, Heather Croall, Charles Ferguson, Tia Lessin and Kim Roberts. Eugene Jarecki'sThe House I Live In, about the war on drugs, took the grand jury prize, while Ra'anan Alexandrowicz'sThe Law in These Parts, aboutIsrael's military legal system in theOccupiedPalestinianTerritories, took the World Cinema Jury Prize. (Jurors included Nick Fraser, Clara Kim and Jean-Marie Teno).

The jury for films in the dramatic competition consisted of Justin Lin, Anthony Mackie, Cliff Martinez, Lynn Shelton and Amy Vincent.Beasts of the Southern Wild, written by Benh Zeitlin and Lucy Alibar and directed by Zeitlin, won the Grand Jury Prize. The film features a cast of non-actors playing a group of poor people on the fringe in the Mississippi Delta.

The Surrogate, starring John Hawkes as a poet with an iron lung and Helen Hunt as the sex surrogate hired to deflower him, took home the Audience Award and a Special Jury Prize for ensemble acting. The movie, directed and written by Ben Lewin, is based on the true story of Mark O'Brien. Fox Searchlight Pictures has already acquired rights to the movie.

A Special Jury Prize for Excellence in Independent Film Producing went to Andrea Sperling and Jonathan Schwartz for two movies:SmashedandNobody Walks. The former stars Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Aaron Paul as an alcoholic couple, based on the Koren Zalickas memoir of the same name. Real-life couple Megan Mullally and Nick Offerman co-star, as does currentHollywoodgolden girl Octavia Spencer. The latter stars Olivia Thirlby as a free spirit fromNew Yorkwho wreaks havoc on the life of the family she stays with when visitingLos Angeles. John Krasinski, RoseMarie DeWitt, India Ennenga and Justin Kirk co-star.

Of course, a Sundance win doesn't automatically augur success. For everyLittle Miss Sunshinethere is aBuriedor aGrace is Gone. So there is hope for such other entrants asLiberal Arts(with Elizabeth Olsen and Josh Radnor),Robot and Frank(with Frank Langella) andShadow Dancer(featuring Clive Owen andW.E.breakout Andrea Riseborough).

That's the thing about Sundance. You never know whether a hit there will translate and be a hit for the rest of the world!

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