Tribeca 2015: Offbeat romance ‘Virgin Mountain’ lands top prizes

Tribeca Film Festival Co-founder Robert De Niro and director Camilla Nielsson, whose film "Democrats" scored the prize for documentary, share a moment after the Tribeca Film Festival awards ceremony.
Tribeca Film Festival Co-founder Robert De Niro and director Camilla Nielsson, whose film “Democrats” scored the prize for documentary, share a moment after the Tribeca Film Festival awards ceremony.
(Kena Betancur / AFP / Getty Images)

Something’s rockin’ in the state of Denmark. The country pulled off a near sweep of the top jury prizes at the Tribeca Film Festival on Thursday, though many of the films were about subjects far from Copenhagen.

An Icelandic-Danish collaboration, Dagur Kári’s oddball love story “Virgin Mountain,” took honors for narrative feature, actor and screenplay. Fellow Danish production “Bridgend,” Jeppe Rønde’s tale of a suicide-riddled town, won for lead actress, editing and cinematography in the narrative category.

And “Democrats,” a Danish production in which Camilla Nielsson examines Zimbabwe’s dysfunctional government, scored the prize for documentary.

Tribeca handed out its prizes Thursday at the festival’s new headquarters in downtown Manhattan. On Saturday, the festival also announced its audience awards — Felix Thompson’s rural coming-of-age story “King Jack” nabbed the prize in the narrative category and “Transfatty Lives,” the DJ Patrick O’Brien’s exploration of his battle with ALS, landed documentary honors.

In “Virgin,” the Icelandic comedian Gunnar Jónsson stars as Fúsi, a very large man who lives with his mother but finds an unlikely romantic prospect when he reluctantly takes a line-dancing class.


Produced by Hollywood’s go-to Icelandic director Baltasar Kormakur, “Virgin” has received strong reviews for its subtle comedy and likable protagonist; the jury noted that “Beyond the deceptively small frame of a mismatched love story, the film deals with the issues of bigotry, loneliness, bullying, mental illness, and ultimately the triumph of the human spirit and the meaning of love.”

“Virgin,” which does not yet have U.S. distribution, will look to follow in the footsteps of other Tribeca crowd-pleasers that found strong niche business after playing the fest, such as Andy Garcia’s screwball family comedy “City Island” and last years Clark Terry pic “Keep on Keepin’ On.”

Of Jonsson, who took lead actor, the jury said his mixture of “comedy and sadness evokes Chaplin and Keaton, with a complete lack of tricks, pretense or condescension.” (Whoopi Goldberg, Dylan McDermott, and Burr Steers were among the narrative jurors.)

“Bridgend” stars Hannah Murray, who won the actress prize for her role as Sara, a young woman who arrives in a depressing town and finds herself caught in the place’s pattern of glumness after she falls for a local. Rønde based “Bridgend” in part on a real-life Welsh town where the suicide rate is abnormally high.

And in “Democrats,” Nielsson examines the bizarre structures holding Robert Mugabe in power. Variety, which called the film ”riveting,” noted its improbable real-life tale — “at once important and impishly entertaining, brightened by the kind of eccentric local color that cannot be forged or imagined.” The movie will look to follow in the path of “Point and Shoot,” Marshall Curry’s Libyan revolution doc that won a top prize last year.

Among other awards handed out Thursday was a special jury mention for the vérité train doc “In Transit,” Albert Maysles final film; new narrative director for Zachary Treitz, director of the Civil War dramedy “Men Go to Battle;” a special jury mention in the new-narrative category for Stephen Fingleton, director of the thriller “The Survivalist”; and a newly created Albert Maysles new documentary director prize, which went to Ewan McNicol and Anna Sandilands for “Uncertain,” their observational piece on a small Texas town.

Tribeca closes Saturday night with an anniversary screening of “Goodfellas” hosted by Jon Stewart. The winning films screen Sunday.