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Domestic-partnership doc wins prize at Sundance

Domestic-partnership doc wins prize at Sundance

The Sundance Film Festival drew to a close on Sunday with organizers calling it a landmark year for independent filmmakers who added breadth and depth to movies dealing with global and domestic issues, war and family.

Cynthia Wade's 38-minute documentary, Freeheld, follows a dying New Jersey police lieutenant as she struggles to leave her pension to her domestic partner. It was the only short documentary to receive a Special Jury Prize this year, which recognizes a unique vision and excellence in filmmaking.

Detective Laurel Hester was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer in 2004. With six months to live, Hester fought to allow her auto-mechanic partner, Stacie Andree, to collect her pension, which would pay for the home they made together.

"Laurel and Stacie believed that their personal story could make a difference for same-sex couples around the nation," Wade said after accepting the award." The Sundance prize is a testament to their faith and belief that their struggle could make a difference in the fight for equality. This award belongs to Laurel and Stacie."

Padre Nuestro won the jury prize Saturday for best film drama by a U.S. filmmaker. The film tells the story of a young illegal immigrant from Mexico who travels to New York seeking a father he never knew.

Manda Bala, a tale of crime and corruption in Brazil, earned the jury award for best U.S. documentary.

Grace Is Gone, starring John Cusack as a father of two whose wife dies in Iraq, picked up the audience trophy for favorite drama and a writing award for filmmaker James Strouse. Grace was also among the movies whose distribution rights were sold in one of the most active markets in years at Sundance.

"For so many different reasons, this work is exceptional in terms of how much of it will get into the marketplace and the range of issues and maturity of the filmmakers," said festival director Geoffrey Gilmore, who hailed 2007 as a "landmark year."

Sundance, which is backed by Robert Redford's Sundance Institute, is the top U.S. gathering for movies made outside Hollywood's mainstream studios, and each year festival favorites top movie marquees worldwide.

With wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and African nations making headlines, "indie" filmmakers at the 2007 edition were looking outward for their subject matter as opposed to the insular and more personal movies that often played at Sundance in the 1990s.

Yet even as that worldview seemed to dominate Sundance 2007, many festival movies were grounded in the idea that family is where people seek safety in troubled times.

Padre Nuestro and Grace were both examples of tales of family bonds set against issues of illegal immigration and death during wartime, respectively.

But those movies were not the only ones. The audience award for best documentary went to Hear and Now, in which filmmaker Irene Taylor Brodsky detailed a year in the life of her deaf parents, who decided to undergo surgery so they could hear.

Sundance juries also handed out honors for international movies, and the World Cinema drama prize went to Israeli movie Sweet Mud, about a boy dealing with his mentally ill mother on a kibbutz in the 1970s.

Denmark's Enemies of Happiness, which details the life of an Afghani woman politician, earned the World Cinema jury prize for best documentary, and a special jury prize went to nonfiction film No End in Sight, about U.S. policy mistakes in the Iraq war.

Like many award winners at Sundance, No End director Charles Ferguson took the opportunity to address the U.S.-led war in Iraq with an eye toward the future, not the past.

"It might be too late for Iraq, but I hope it isn't too late for this country to conduct itself differently in the future," he said.

World Cinema audiences gave In the Shadow of the Moon, an emotional tale of the Apollo astronauts from the United Kingdom's David Sington, the trophy for top documentary, while Irish musical Once earned the audience award for best drama.

Husband-and-wife team Sean Fine and Andrea Nix Fine won the documentary director's award for War/Dance, about child soldiers in Uganda--an issue they said they had no idea existed until they began their work.

Finally, the directing award for film drama went to Jeffrey Blitz for Rocket Science, about a high school stutterer who learns lessons in love while on the debate team. (The Advocate/Reuters)

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