"Beasts," "The Surrogate" aim for post-Sundance success

Sun Jan 29, 2012 5:31pm EST
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By Christine Kearney

PARK CITY, Utah (Reuters) - Dramas "Beasts of the Southern Wild" and "The Surrogate" won big at the Sundance Film Festival over the weekend, giving the event a burst of energy after early movies with grim sagas and star names failed to impress critics.

"Beasts of the Southern Wild," a poetic, mystical tale of the bond between a father and daughter, set in impoverished Louisiana with a cast of non-actors, won the jury prize for best U.S. drama and another for its cinematography.

"The Surrogate" claimed the audience award for U.S. drama with its witty and inspirational look at a man's quest to lose his virginity while confined to an iron lung, and it could prove to be the bigger winner at box offices when it reaches cinemas.

The film, based on the life of poet and journalist Mark O'Brien, fetched what may be the highest selling price at the festival by the time all the deal-making ends -- a reported $6 million from Fox Searchlight, the studio behind current Oscar hopeful "The Descendants."

"Surrogate" stars Helen Hunt as an oft-naked sex therapist, John Hawkes as O'Brien and William H. Macy as a priest, and together they picked up a special Sundance jury prize for ensemble acting.

Director and writer Ben Lewin said after a screening on Saturday that he tried to capture O'Brien's "self-deprecating humor and view of life as the absurd." Upon accepting his trophy at the award ceremony, he quoted a line from his script: "Love is a journey, that's it."

Another festival favorite, the documentary "Searching for Sugar Man," tells a miraculous tale of a quest to find an obscure 1970s Detroit folk singer known as Rodriguez who was rumored to have shot himself on stage. It picked up the audience award for world documentary and also won a special jury prize.

Malik Bendjelloul, making his directing debut, said his film began as a 6-minute TV story but ended up taking five years to turn into a feature film. It's a touching portrait of a modest, inspirational singer who failed to make it in the United States and quit singing before learning he was a huge hit in South Africa.   Continued...