'American Splendor' Shines Brightest at Sundance Festival

From Associated Press

"American Splendor," a sly film biography that stars Paul Giamatti as churlish underground comic-book writer Harvey Pekar, won the grand jury prize, the top dramatic honor at the Sundance Film Festival.

Sundance jurors gave the documentary grand prize to "Capturing the Friedmans," which traces the disintegration of a family after the father and youngest son are arrested for child molestation.

Awards were presented Saturday night, with the top winning films scheduled to screen one last time today as the 11-day showcase of independent films ends.

Written and directed by Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini, "American Splendor" cleverly incorporates animation, archival video and interludes with the real Pekar, whose comic books caustically document his dreary life as a file clerk in Cleveland.

The audience award for dramatic film, chosen in voting by Sundance filmgoers, went to "The Station Agent," a comic portrait of friendship among a misanthropic dwarf, a grieving woman and a motor-mouthed coffee peddler. "The Station Agent" earned the Waldo Salt screenwriting prize for Tom McCarthy, who also directed. Patricia Clarkson received a special-jury prize for outstanding performance for "The Station Agent" and two other Sundance films in which she co-starred.

The cross-dressing Charles Busch also won a special-jury prize for outstanding performance in "Die Mommie Die!" in which he plays an ex-diva who plots to kill her husband with a poisoned suppository. Busch also wrote the screenplay.

"My Flesh and Blood," a documentary that follows a year in the life of a woman who adopted 11 special-needs children including legless girls and terminally ill boys, won the documentary audience award. It also earned the documentary directing prize for Jonathan Karsh.

The dramatic directing award went to Catherine Hardwicke for "thirteen," a tale of a bright teen whose loving relationship with her mother (Holly Hunter) crumbles under the bad influence of a new school chum.

Among other winners:

"Whale Rider," a New Zealand film about a girl who aspires to lead her Maori village, won the world-cinema audience award.

Dana Kupper, Gordon Quinn and Peter Gilbert won the documentary cinematography honor for "Stevie," from "Hoop Dreams" director Steve James, about a troubled youth to whom he was a big brother.

Derek Cianfrance received the dramatic cinematography award for the street-racing tale "Quattro Noza."

"What I Want My Words to Do to You," about female prison inmates coming to grips with their crimes in a writing workshop, won the festival's freedom of expression award.

Special jury prizes for emotional truth went to the dramatic features "All the Real Girls," a painfully authentic examination of young love, and "What Alice Found," a road movie about a girl who falls in with a retired couple who cover their RV expenses through prostitution.

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