International stories prove popular at Sundance 

For the second year in a row, a film with Mexican-American themes has won the grand jury prize for best U.S. drama at the Sundance Film Festival.

"Padre Nuestro," the heart-rending story of a Mexican teen’s search for his immigrant father in America, follows last year’s surprise grand jury and audience award winner "Quinceañera" at the popular Park City, Utah, event.

"Grace Is Gone," a quiet portrayal of a newly widowed father (John Cusack) who has to tell his daughters that their mother was killed in Iraq, won the audience award for favorite U.S. drama. The film’s writer-director, James C. Strouse, won the Waldo Salt screenwriting award for his work on the film.

"Manda Bala (Send a Bullet)," a Latin American story of government corruption and kidnapping in Brazil, earned the grand jury award in the U.S. documentary competition. Cinematographer Heloisa Passos won the documentary cinematography prize for the same film.

In Bay Area news, the Alfred P. Sloan Prize, which carries a $20,000 cash award for "ideas and issues in science and technology," was awarded to "Dark Matter," directed by Chen Shi-Zheng andstarring Meryl Streep and Aidan Quinn. The film will screen at the 25th San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival, which runs March 15 through March 25.

The documentary editing award went to San Francisco-based Bill Guttenberg and Dan Sturman’s film "Nanking," which was edited by Hibah Sherif Frisina, Charlton McMillian and Michael Schweitzer.

The U.S. audience award winner for documentaries went to "Hear and Now," a poignant story of a deaf couple in their 60s who decide to undergo risky (and controversial) cochlear implant surgery. The film was directed by their daughter, Irene Taylor Brodsky.

The Israeli film "Sweet Mud," directed by Dror Shaul, won the world cinema jury prize. The film portrays a boy dealing with his mother’s mental illness while living on a kibbutz in the 1970s.

Critics also lauded John Carney’s "Once," an Irish film that won the audience award for world cinema. David Sington’s British documentary "In the Shadow of the Moon," a chronicle of the Apollo space program, won the audience award for world documentary.

The U.S. documentary jury presented a special jury prize to director Charles Ferguson’s "No End in Sight," a look at the Bush administration’s handling of the Iraq war. The film was cited "in recognition of the film as timely work that clearly illuminates the misguided policy decisions that have led to the catastrophic quagmire of the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq."

The U.S. dramatic jury gave two special acting prizes, for Jess Weixler’s "juicy and jaw-dropping performance" in the horror comedy "Teeth" and to Tamara Podemski, "for a fully realized physical and emotional turn" as a young American Indian woman on the brink of tragedy in "Four Sheets to the Wind."

Among other Sundance honors:

» Directing, U.S. drama: Jeffrey Blitz, "Rocket Science"

» Directing, U.S. documentary: Sean Fine and Andrea Nix Fine, "War/Dance"

» Cinematography, U.S. drama: Benoit Debie, "Joshua"

» Special jury prize for singularity of vision, U.S. drama: Chris Smith, director, "The Pool"

» Special jury prize, world-cinema dramatic competition: "The Legacy," Gela Babluani and Temur Babluani, directors

» Special jury prize, world-cinema documentary competition: "Hot House," Shimon Dotan, director

» Jury prize, U.S. short films: "Everything Will Be OK," Don Hertzfeldt, director

» Jury prize, international short films: "The Tube With a Hat," Radu Jude, director

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