By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood January 28, 2012 at 11:43PM
It couldn't have gone any other way. The standout film of Sundance 2012, "Beasts of the Southern Wild," took home the Sundance grand jury prize, along with a cinematography award for Ben Richardson. Fox Searchlight picked up the fest hit, as well as Ben Lewin's nuanced and delicate drama "The Surrogate," which won two prizes, the dramatic audience award and a special jury prize for its extraordinary ensemble acting, led by Helen Hunt and John Hawkes, which will surely be a factor in next year's award season.
"Beasts" director Benh Zeitlin, who shot the film on a constantly flooding delta island below the New Orleans levees with a cast of non-actors, said: "We had more freedom to make this film than any filmmakers in America ever." He exhorted producers to take note of this and let other filmmakers run as wild.
U.S. documentary juror Charles Ferguson said that of all the great docs this year, one "took a tough and humane look at one of America's most troubling problems"--the war on drugs. Eugene Jarecki nabbed the Grand Jury U.S. prize for "The House I Live In," thanking "Nanny Jetter," sitting in the audience in Park City, whose troubled children started Jarecki on his doc journey. Accepting the award, Jarecki pointed out that 2.3 million people are in prison, 1 % of the population, more than any other country, and cited the U.S. "for putting people in jail for non-violent crime, for possession of a drug. It must end. It's madness. It's heartbreaking."
The directing award for U.S. dramatic film went to Ava DuVernay for "Middle of Nowhere," and the directing award for U.S. documentary to Lauren Greenfield for must-see "The Queen of Versailles," which was picked up by Magnolia. Celeb photographer Greenfield thanked Sundance for helping her to "find my voice."
The Waldo Salt screenwriting award went to Derek Connelly for hilarious sci-fi romantic comedy "Safety not Guaranteed," featuring a lovely performance by Mark Duplass as a romantic loner who wants to time travel. The multi-hyphenate had a good festival, also starring in Lynn Shelton's well-received "Your Sister's Sister" opposite Emily Blunt and Rosemary DeWitt, and writing and producing his wife Katie Aselton's second directing gig, the isolated island thriller "Black Rock," which sold to Mickey Liddell and David Dinerstein's LD Distribution. Aselton helped Sundance director John Cooper with hosting chores at the Sundance Awards after actress Parker Posie copped out.
The editing jury prize for a U.S. Doc went to Enat Sidi, "Detropia," for trusting in the power of verite. Jeff Orlofsky won best cinematography for a U.S. doc for "Chasing Ice," which chronicles time lapse photography of the melting Polar ice caps; National Geographic Channel picked up the doc.
Andrea Sperling and Jonathan Schwartz won the U.S. dramatic special jury prize for excellence in independent producing for James Ponsoldt's alcoholic drama "SMASHED,” starring Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Octavia Spencer (who scored an Oscar nomination for "The Help" during Sundance) and “Nobody Walks.”
The winner of one of two US Documentary competition special jury prizes, Alison Klayman, asked the Sundance crowd to flip the bird for a photo she wants to send to Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei, the subject of her documentary, "Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry," who is under house arrest. The other was "Love Free or Die."
The U.S. documentary audience award went to Kirby Dick's must-see "The Invisible War" about the epidemic of rape in the U.S. military.
The world cinema documentary audience award went to music doc "Searching for Sugar Man," which was picked up by Sony Pictures Classics. The film also won a special world cinema doc jury prize.
The Best of NEXT section audience award went to "Sleepwalk with Me" by Mike Birbiglia, whose story debuted on his producer Ira Glass's This American Life.
The World Cinema jury awarded five prizes: the grand jury dramatic prize was given to a Chilean film about a local artist, "Violeta Went to Heaven," Madds Mathieson won the dramatic directing for "Teddy Bear," the screenwriting award for dramatic filmmaking went to "Young and Wild," dramatic cinematography to "My Brother the Devil," editing award to "Indie Game: The Movie," and cinematography award to "Putin's Kiss."