With a world-beat flourish (thanks to the onstage DJ), the 2006 Sundance Film Festival wrapped up with a precedent-setting edition of the annual awards night and party. For the first time, the documentary and dramatic competitions featured double winners of both the Audience Award and the Grand Jury Prize: God Grew Tired of Us, a docu about Sudanese refugees, and Quinceanera, about a group of Latino teens growing up in the Echo Park section of Los Angeles.
Other multiple winners included A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints (starring Robert Downey Jr. and Chazz Palmintieri, pictured) and Iraq in Fragments.
During an awards ceremony that was largely unremarkable (except for the spectacle of people occasionally falling a couple feet off the orange-and-brown, Todd Oldham-designed stage), the most memorable speech was turned in by Wash Westmoreland, co-director of Quinceanera. “This is a very small film,” he said. “Last year at this time it didn’t exist. … Sundance is like this microscope. It can take something very small and make it very very big and that’s what it’s done for us. Thank you forever.”
Afterward, as Black Eyed Peas’ DJ Motiv8 took over the after-party in da Racquet Club (a follow-up single for Fitty?), filmmakers and scenesters squeezed the last bit ofjuice out of the festival. Sideways director Alexander Payne, head ofthe documentary jury, held court at the bar. He anointed God Grew Tired“the complete package. It’s moving; it’s heartbreaking; it’sinsightful. And it’s also really funny.”
Westmoreland was on to something when he talked about thatmicroscope. As the lights came up after the festival’s final screeningson Sunday, the consensus was the good news-bad news sense that festdirector Geoff Gilmore had succeeded in his mission to take Sundanceback to its true indie roots. The downside of that: few entries incompetition with the obvious commercial/critical upside of last year’s The Squid and the Whale, Junebug, or Grizzly Man. But the upsideis that Sundance did get back to basics. The 30 films I saw (just a quarterof the 120 features playing) ranged from compelling to dismal, but theyall could only have been made in the way they were, namely without anyHollywood meddling. And on a week where Big Momma’s House 2 is No. 1 atthe box office, there’s plenty to be said for that.