Biopic about comic book editor shares top award at Sundance with tale of sexual abuse

By Matthew Beard
Monday 27 January 2003 01:00
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A biopic about the editor of a cult comic book claimed top prize at America's leading independent film festival yesterday.

American Splendor won the grand jury prize at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah. It stars Paul Giamatti as Harvey Pekar, whose mundane life as a hospital filing clerk in Cleveland, Ohio, inspired his subversive comic strips.

Fans claim that by baring his soul in first-person narratives and exposing his neuroses, Mr Pekar's work was a forerunner of reality television. The film, directed by Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini, uses animation, archival video and footage of Mr Pekar and his friends to create what a critic described as a "brisk, bold, hilarious and touching biopic" of a man battling his demons.

Capturing the Friedmans took the grand jury prize for best documentary. It tells the story of an upper middle-class family whose father and son are arrested for child abuse. The documentary blends footage shot by the film-makers with home video taped by the Friedman family.

The Station Agent, a quirky drama about a lonely dwarf who moves into a small town's abandoned train depot and is befriended by two other loners won the audience award for best drama. The film earned the writer, Tom McCarthy, who also directed the drama, the Waldo Salt screenwriting award.

My Flesh and Blood, which chronicles the lives of 11 children with special needs and the woman who cares for them, won the audience award for best documentary. It also won the documentary directing award for Jonathan Karsh.

Catherine Hardwicke won the dramatic directing award for Thirteen, which tells the story of an adolescent girl whose friendship with another girl leads her to experiment with drugs and sex, destroying her relationship with her mother, played by Holly Hunter.

Festival juries gave a trophy for excellence in cinematography to Dana Kupper, Gordon Quinn and Peter Gilbert for Stevie, a documentary about a troubled youth directed by Steve James, who made Hoop Dreams. Derek Cianfrance won the cinematography prize for a drama for Quattro Noza, about street racing in California.

The World Cinema Audience Award went to Whale Rider, about a girl coming of age and her efforts to take her place as the leader of a male-dominated tribal village in New Zealand. The freedom of expression award, for a documentary which, according to Sundance, "informs and educates the public on issues of social or political concern", went to What I Want My Words To Do To You. The documentary, directed by Judith Katz, Madeleine Gavin and Gary Sunshine tells of a group of female prison inmates in a writing workshop.

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The jury members at the festival, which has been run since 1985 by Robert Redford, included the British actress Tilda Swinton.

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