Perhaps the most argued-about competition entry in the Sundance Film Festival, "Poison" impressed jurors enough for the film to walk away with the dramatic Grand Jury Prize on Friday night.
Meanwhile, the documentary Grand Prize was split between two films - "American Dream," which won two additional documentary awards as well, and "Paris Is Burning.""Poison," written and directed by Todd Haynes, is an ambitious trio of stories told in distinctive styles. Screenings of the film prompted much debate among audiences who either felt the film was innovative and startling or ambiguous and alienating. There seemed to be more negative than positive feedback among general festivalgoers, though the jury obviously disagreed.
Barbara Kopple's "American Dream" is a heartfelt chronicle of the events surrounding the mid-1980s Hormel strike in Austin, Minn., remarkable for its non-judgmental approach and the several points of view it employs.
"Paris Is Burning" is Jennie Livingston's look at black and Hispanic homosexuals who have formed their own "underclass" society in New York.
"American Dream" also won the documentary Audience Award, considered quite prestigious because it is a direct indicator of what moviegoers are enjoying - and may play a part in helping a film get a distribution deal. On the dramatic side, the Audience Award went to "One Cup of Coffee," the story of an over-the-hill minor-league baseball player during the '50s, which enchanted audiences at every screening and was easily the festival's biggest word-of-mouth hit.
The documentary Filmmakers Trophy, a peer award voted by filmmakers whose works are entered in competition, also went to "American Dream," while the dramatic Filmmakers Trophy went to "Privilege," a uniquely structured meditation on menopause.
The cinematography awards went to David and Albert Maysles for the documentary "Christo in Paris," which chronicles the artist's 10-year obsession with wrapping a 17th-century bridge in fabric as an artistic statement, and Arthur Jafa for the drama "Daughters of the Dust," about a struggling black family at the turn of the century that finds progress infringing on tradition.
The Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award, new this year, was split between two dramatic competition films, both comedies with serious subtexts - "Trust," written and directed by Hal Hartley, and "Hangin' with the Homeboys," written and directed by Joseph B. Vasquez.
A special jury prize also was awarded to 19-year-old Matty Rich for his dramatic film "Straight Out of Brooklyn," a study of a troubled black family in the projects of Red Hook, which, whether or not they connected with the movie, audiences seemed to agree was quite a remarkable first-time effort for one so young.
John Sayles, whose latest movie, "City of Hope," was a festival highlight, acted as master of ceremonies for the awards banquet Friday evening. Members of the dramatic jury were Mirabella magazine entertainment editor Karen Durbin, producer Heather Johnson ("The Big Dis"), director Gus Van Sant ("Drugstare Cowboy") and producer Catherine Wyler ("Memphis Belle"). Dramatic jury members were filmmaker St. Clair Bourne ("Making `Do the Right Thing' "), director Jill Godmilow ("Waiting for the Moon"), filmmaker Marcel Ophuls ("Hotel Terminus: The Life and Times of Klaus Barbie") and Village Voice writer Amy Taubin.
Festival officials rightly declared the 1991 festival a huge success and proof that the voice of independent filmmakers is still viable in the ever-changing movie industry.
By the end of the final screenings Sunday, the festival will have sold some 40,000 tickets, well ahead of last year. Ticket revenue does not put the festival in the black, however, which is why there are corporate-sponsor donations received by the festival each year.