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PARK CITY, Utah (Reuters) - "Push: Based on the Novel by Sapphire" claimed three prizes on Saturday including best drama by the jury and audiences at the Sundance Film Festival, putting it on 2009's must-see list for independent film fans.
The dark drama about an overweight teenage girl growing up in Harlem who is neglected and abused by her parents, also earned a special jury prize for acting for Mo'Nique, who shed her image as a comedienne to take the role as the girl's mother.
"This movie made us laugh, made us cry and basically blew our minds," writer/director Mike White, who was on the five-member jury that picked the movie, told the audience at the Sundance awards ceremony.
Lee Daniels, director of "Push," held back tears as he thanked both Sundance organizers and the jury, saying they "tapped into the truth of what I was trying to get at."
He said the movie was important because "it spoke to every minority in Harlem, that's in Detroit, that's in Watts ... that can't read, that's obese and we turn our back on."
Documentary honors were split among several titles, with "We Live in Public," which chronicled 10 years in the life of Internet pioneer Josh Harris, winning the jury prize, and "The Cove," about the capturing of wild dolphins in the town of Taiji, Japan, taking home the audience award.
Sundance, backed by Robert Redford's Sundance Institute for filmmaking, is the top gathering for U.S. independent cinema, and each year the movies seen there are released to fanfare in theaters around the United States and the world.
Award winners are named by juries of industry veterans, as well as by voting from audiences. A win gives the movies a promotional boost as they enter the crowded market for mostly low-budget movies made outside Hollywood's mainstream studios.
Other main U.S. winners included "Sin Nombre," which took home the best director prize for Cary Joji Fukunaga and best cinematography for Adriano Goldman. Set in Mexico, "Sin Nombre" tells of immigrants looking for a better life in the United States and the gangs that control the routes to the border.
Best screenwriting among U.S. entries went to Nicholas Jasenovec and Charlyne Yi for their love story "Paper Heart."
Among U.S. documentaries, Natalia Almada was best director for her look at 100 years of Mexican history in "El General," and Karen Schmeer was best editor with "Sergio," which tells of the late U.N. trouble-shooter Sergio Vieira de Mello.
Bob Richman claimed the honor for top cinematography with "The September Issue," a behind-the-scenes look at Vogue fashion magazine and its iron-willed editor Anna Wintour.
In recent years, Sundance has sharpened its focus on international filmmakers, too, by beginning competitions in world cinema categories, and the 10-day festival's multiple award winners in that grouping were drama "Five Minutes of Heaven" and documentary "Afghan Star," each with two honors.
"Afghan Star," which looks at an "American Idol" type of singing contest in Afghanistan, was given the audience award for best world documentary, and its maker, Havana Marking, was named best director. The jury prize for best documentary went to "Rough Aunties," about sexual abuse in South Africa.
Among world cinema dramas, "Five Minutes of Heaven," about two men on opposite sides of Northern Ireland's conflict between Catholics and Protestants earned Oliver Hirschbiegel and Guy Hibbert, best director and writer, respectively.
But the jury prize for best international drama went to Chile's "The Maid" ("La Nana"), about class division in that South American country, and the audience award was given to U.K. film "An Education," a girl's coming-of-age tale based on a book by writer Nick Hornby and directed by Lone Scherfig.
Reporting by Bob Tourtellotte; Editing by Peter Cooney