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'Fruitvale' Wins Big, 'American Promise,' Bradford Young, 'Gideon's Army' Collect Sundance 2013 Awards

by Tambay A. Obenson
January 26, 2013 10:50 PM
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"Fruitvale Station"

Another Sundance Film Festival comes to a close, with the usual Awards ceremony celebrating this year's winners.

Ahead of the official press release from the festival announcing all of this year's award winners, which will likely come later tonight, here are those winners who are of most interest to this blog, given its focus on African Diaspora cinema:

- Congratulations to director Ryan Coogler, his cast and crew, for picking up, not one, but TWO major awards - the 2013 Audience Award in the US Dramatic category, as well as the grand-daddy of them all, the Grand Jury PrizeBeasts of the Southern Wild took home the latter award last year. Coogler graciously accepted the award, joined by some members of his production team. I think I speak for most when I say that I would've been very surprised if the film didn't walk away with at least one trophy, given all the buzz around it since its premiere. The Weinstein Company acquired Coogler's directorial debut, although no word yet on when exactly it'll be released. Michael B. Jordan stars in the film based on the murder of 22-year old Oscar Grant (played by Jordan). Octavia SpencerTristan Wilds and Melonie Diaz co-star. The film is produced by Forest Whitaker. Read our review HERE.

- American Promise, from directors Joe Brewster and Michèle Stephensonwon the US Documentary Special Jury Award. The intimate feature doc follows their son and his best friend, from kindergarten at a private prep school, all the way through high school graduation, the goal being to focus on America’s troubled education system, and its under-served/under-represented young black boys. The completed film is scheduled to air on PBS' prestigious POV program this year, so it should be accessible to most of us. Our review is coming.

- For the second time in the last 3 Sundance festivals, super-duper DP, Bradford Young, wins the Excellence In Cinematography award in US Dramatic competition for lensing 2 features debuting at the festival this year, Mother Of George and Ain't Them Bodies Saints. He won the same award in 2011 for his work on Pariah. It's been a great last 3 Sundances for Young, with at least 5 films shot by him that making their world premieres at the Sundance Film Festival - most of them winning awards in other categories as well. Good work sir! I expect we'll be talking about Mr Young this time next year. Our review of Mother Of George HERE.

- Dawn Porter's feature documentary Gideon's Army won the award for Editing in the US Documentary competition. The fascinating film, which takes its name from the 1963 landmark Supreme Court decision - Gideon v. Wainwright - which guaranteed all defendants facing imprisonment the right to a lawyer, tells the story of a group of the idealistic public defenders working in the Deep South. The HBO presentation will be broadcast on the cable TV network later this year.  Read our review HERE.

One big surprise for me is that Blue Caprice, despite all the strong, positive reactions to it, didn't pick up a single award! It is also still without a distributor, but let's hope that changes sooner than later. The controversial subject matter, and we could say its somewhat controversial star in Isaiah Washington, just might be keeping potential distributors at a distance. Read our review of that film HERE.

Here are the rest of our Sundace reviews, written by Zeba Blay (with at least 2 more on the way):

Sundance 2013 Review: 'Milkshake'

Sundance 2013 Review: George Tillman Jr's 'The Inevitable Defeat of Mister and Pete'

Sundance 2013 Review: Shaka King's 'Newlyweeds'

Sundance 2013 Review: John Akomfrah’s 'The Stuart Hall Project'

Another strong showing for black cinema this year at the nation's top film festival! 24 diasporic films (shorts, features, docs) that all screened at this year's event - a handful of them walking away with distribution deals.

Congrats to all the winners and we'll see you next year!

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  • CareyCarey | January 27, 2013 11:41 AMReply

    From another web site: Coogler said he felt personally connected to the story because he's from Oakland and was born the same year as the subject of his film. "So I'm the same age, same demographic. So when I saw the footage, initially I was heartbroken, frustrated, and the biggest thing was that Oscar looked like us, you know what I mean?" he said. "He looked like any one of my friends -- could have been me, could have been them, and these situations happen again and again."

    After reading those words, I am left to wonder what real impact a movie of this nature has on the social climate in America? Well... Fox Searchlight founder and Sundance juror Tom Rothman said "Fruitvale" was recognized for "its skillful realization, its devastating emotional impact and its moral and social urgency -- and for anyone out there who thinks for one second that movies don't matter and can't make a difference in the world.

    Well, now I'm left to wonder what is the exact impact and difference? And how that impact differs from the messages we received in the movie Precious? I am reminded of Sergio's interview with the author behind the movie, Romona Lofton, better known by her pen name Sapphire. She spoke of the rewards and impact the film "Precious" inspired. The victims in that film, their pain and suffering, are reminiscent of thousands of African American's lives. All the victims in that film ( i.e., the mother (Mo'nique), Precious, the children, the girls in Precious' class, the youth in the neighborhood), all had stories many can echo.

    So again, what's the difference between the messages in "Fruitvale" and "Precious"? I ask that question because many in our community have not "received" Precious with open arms. Why? I wonder if it has anything to do with the colors of the protagonists and the "alleged" or perceived antagonists? Are the messages easier for the black community to accept when the victim and/or the "perp" are white?

    Congratulations to those behind the film "Fruitvale".

  • Manie | January 27, 2013 12:39 AMReply

    Mark my words right now Fruitvale is going to be a best picture Oscar nominee,  Michael B. Jordan a best actor nominee and Octavia Spencer back competing for a second Oscar. Weinstein company don't play around if they have a well reviewed crowd pleaser. They know the Academy better than they know their wives.

  • AccidentalVisitor | January 27, 2013 3:36 PM

    Manie, the consensus from the folks who report on Hollywood is that the selection of women to pick from for Best Actress is typically much slimmer than the candidates of men for Best Actor. This year is no exception.

    You can toss around names like Mirren, Cottliard and Kidman but it doesn't change the fact that their roles didn't generate much buzz and that the films they appeared in playing these roles generated even less. It isn't as if these ladies can conjur up great roles in great films by their names alone. Goodness sakes Kidman appeared in arguably one of the most panned high-profile films of the year ("The Paperboy") so it doesn't matter if she managed not to embarrass herself, no one was going to get nominated for that dreck.

    That being said the five females that were nominated overall still represents a weak field particularly when you compare them to the men. In my opinion Wallis' performance stands out mostly because she is a child. It is a fine performance considering the age of the girl delivering it but it never seemed Awards-worthy to me. Don't gte me wrong. There wasn't a bad perfomance in the bunch, just nothing special with the exception of the older actress from "Amour". Richard Gere and John Hawkes both gave greater performances than at least four of the five chosen actresses, but those two couldn't even make the final five for Best Actor. That is how much tougher the competition is amonst the lead actors. And that's no surprise: 90% of the working screenwriters in Hollywood are white men and they mostly write for white men. Everyone else live on scraps. For women who write about Hollywood this is a sore subject that comes up annually around the time people are putting together their best actress lists.

  • CareyCarey | January 27, 2013 2:20 PM

    Without a doubt it's premature to predict Oscar nominations for any actor, this early in the season. Besides, since most of us have not seen the film, many questions arise. Is Michael B. Jordan's performance the driven force behind the films success? Or is it the story's emotional journey? And its been said that Octavia Butler has a brief appearance.

    Having said that, Zeba Blay (S&A's reviewer on the scene) speaks to Mr. Jordan's performance... "Jordan has turned in what will most definitely be a career-defining performance...." Ummm, that sounds encouraging, but I have to say to those championing his performance that they should be careful what they ask for b/c Zeba continues... "The quiet beauty of the role is that he isn’t perfect - at the top of the film, Oscar has only just ended his weed-selling; a flashback later in the film reveals his mother visiting him in prison for an undivulged crime."

    UT OH, are those words ushering in the winds of "They only give Oscar nominations to black actors who play "negative characters."

    I know, I know, Oscar Grant was a victim, not the bad guy... but, the same can be said about the characters portrayed by Halle Berry, Gabourey Sidibe and to a large degree Mo'Nique's Mary Jones. Just like Oscar Grant, they all were victims with questionable past behavior.

    Anyway, although Ms. Manie would bet a year's salary that Micheal B. Jordan will be nominated next year, I wouldn't be inclined (since I have not seen the film and history speaks a different tone) to walk out on THAT limb or take her bet. However, if I had to bet and since the odds are not in his favor, I'd bet my raggedy hoopty to a loaf of stale bread that Mr. Jordan will not win an Oscar.

    Listen, when I look back at the history of past winners, for the most part they deserved their nominations. I am suggesting that Harvey Weinstein may be a big voice in Hollywood, but the performances generally speak for themselves. So it's yet to be seen rather or not Michael's performance is the cream that floats to the top... or... the lead lyrics in the song "It's Crying Time Again: "We" got robbed"

  • Manie | January 27, 2013 12:21 PM

    Accidental Vistor, Harvey Weinstein got an unknown French guy to win the best actor award over Hollywood favorites like Brad Pitt and George Clooney. You underestimate Harvey at your own peril. Harvey don't follow the rules he makes up his own. I will bet a year's salary that Micheal B. Jordan will be nominated next year. Steve McQueen has no power in Hollywood, they overlooked his last two films. I would bet on Michael B. Jordan getting in over Chiwetel Ejiofor. People were doubting the little girl from Beasts too because they don't understand how the academy works and what films appeal to them. Little Wallis beat Helen Mirren, Marion Cotillard, Nicole Kidman, Rachel Wisez, Mary Elizabth Winstead and more. Don't belittle her accomplishment calling it a weak category. It was tough this year.

  • Nikki | January 27, 2013 12:12 PM

    Well first off it’s too soon to be talking about Oscars for Fruitvale, but let’s take a look. Surprisingly the best actress race looks stronger than best actor for 2013/2014. Regarding Chiwetel, McQueen’s excellent films never receives Oscar recognition and I’m not sure this one will. As for the Butler, Precious is the only film of Daniels that receives acclaim and that one was divisive. So I wouldn’t set my sights high on the Butler.

  • AccidentalVisitor | January 27, 2013 12:02 PM

    I highly doubt Jordan will get nominated for Best Actor. That category tends to have the strongest candidates to choose from considering that there is not , relatively speaking, a dearth of quality lead roles written for men, most particularly white men. Jordan would be an unknown going up against heavy-hitting household names by this time next year and while that may work for the typical weak Best Actress category it ain't likely to fly for Best Actor for an unknown whose performance occurs in a small-budget indie pic. And if things go well for guys like Forest Whiatker and Chiwetel Ejiofor, the Academy will feel that it already has enough black representation if you get my drift.

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