"Push," "We Live In Public" Top Sundance

Director Lee Daniels accepts the award for Grand Jury Prize: US Dramatic for "Push" during the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, on Saturday, Jan. 24, 2009. (AP Photo/Peter Kramer)
AP Photo/Peter Kramer
The Sundance Film Festival's prizes for best U.S. drama on Saturday went to "Push," the dark yet hopeful story of a young woman finding her way out of nightmarish circumstances in 1980s Harlem.

Based on the 1996 first novel by the poet Sapphire and directed by Lee Daniels, "Push" won both the grand jury and audience awards. The film is subtitled "Based on the novel by Sapphire" to distinguish it from the Dakota Fanning-Chris Evans sci-fi thriller "Push" due out next month.

Actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt ("Stop-Loss") cheered and gave Daniels a big hug before presenting the audience award to his film, which stars Mo'Nique, Mariah Carey and Paula Patton alongside newcomer Gabourey Sidibe, who plays pregnant 16-year-old Precious Jones.

"This is so important to me because this is speaking for every minority that's in Harlem, that's in Detroit, that's in Watts, that's being abused, that can't read, that's obese and that we turn our back on," Daniels said. "And this is for every gay little boy and girl that's being tortured. If I can do this ... y'all can do this."

When he picked up the grand jury prize later in the evening, Daniels acknowledged: "I'm drunk. I got like three shots right after we got the last one."

The grand jury prize for U.S. documentary went to "We Live in Public," focusing on little-known Internet pioneer Josh Harris and his failed "lifecasting" art projects in 1999 and 2000. The film was directed by Ondi Timoner, whose "Dig!" won the same award in 2004.

Timoner dedicated the honor to Harris, calling him "the first subject I've ever had that said, 'I don't care how you portray me as long as you make a great film.'"

Nicholas Jasenovec and Charlyne Yi won the Waldo Salt screenwriting award for "Paper Heart," a hybrid documentary-improv road movie featuring Yi and Michael Cera ("Juno").

"I feel sick. I'm sweaty. I smell bad," said Yi, a performance artist and comedian best known for a bit part in "Knocked Up" and her relationship with Cera.

She finished by addressing other filmmakers in the audience, "Who knows what'll happen to our films but at least they were seen."

The penultimate night of the 11-day festival, the nation's premiere showcase for independent film, was marked by political references and jangled nerves.

Sundance Institute executive director Ken Brecher hoisted an honorary festival pass with the new U.S. president's name on it, and Gordon-Levitt tugged at his red Barack Obama T-shirt, saying, "These awards are exercises in democracy, and it's a good time for democracy right now."

After the ceremony, Daniels told AP Television, "I think that this movie sort of channels what Obama is about. And that's change. ... It's been received so well because I think that we're in a different head-space. We're in a different head-space as Americans. And I think that's so beautiful."

Though "Push" does not yet have a distributor, Daniels seemed certain it would get out there. "It is my hope that it transcends as it [has] here in Sundance. Because, I don't know, this is like a specialized audience, you know? I hope that America sees it as Sundance has seen it, as Sundance white guys have seen it, and women. Because, I don't know, they're sort of artsy and hip. Is this going to play in Omaha?

"Omaha, don't let me down!"

Other awards presented included:

  • Directing Award, U.S. Documentary: Natalia Almada, "El General"
  • Directing Award, U.S. Dramatic: Cary Joji Fukunaga, "Sin Nombre"
  • World Cinema Directing Award, Documentary: Havana Marking, "Afghan Star"
  • World Cinema Directing Award, Dramatic: Oliver Hirschbiegel, "Five Minutes of Heaven"
  • World Cinema Screenwriting Award: Oliver Hirschbiegel, "Five Minutes of Heaven"
  • U.S. Documentary Editing Award: Karen Schmeer, "Sergio"
  • World Cinema Documentary Editing Award: Janus Billeskov Jansen and Thomas Papapetros, "Burma VJ"
  • Excellence in Cinematography Award, U.S. Documentary: Bob Richman, "The September Issue"
  • Excellence in Cinematography Award, U.S. Dramatic: Adriano Goldman, "Sin Nombre"
  • World Cinema Cinematography Award, Documentary: John Maringouin, "Big River Man"
  • World Cinema Cinematography Award, Dramatic: John De Borman, "An Education"
  • World Cinema Special Jury Prize for Originality: Benoît Delépine and Gustave de Kervern, "Louise-Michel"
  • World Cinema Special Jury Prize, Documentary: Ngawang Choephel, "Tibet in Song"
  • World Cinema Special Jury Prize for Acting: Catalina Saavedra, "The Maid (La Nana)"
  • Special Jury Prize, U.S. Documentary: Jeff Stilson, "Good Hair"
  • Special Jury Prize for Spirit of Independence: Lynn Shelton, "Humpday"
  • Special Jury Prize for Acting: Mo'Nique, "Push: Based on the Novel by Sapphire"

    For more info:

  • 2009 Sundance Film Festival