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Middle East docs take Sundance audience, jury awards
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PARK CITY, Utah: Films from Syria and Palestine have taken top honors at the Sundance Film Festival’s documentary competitions.

During Saturday evening’s awards ceremony it was announced that Talal Derki won the World Cinema Grand Jury Prize: Documentary for his “Return to Homs.”

The Audience Award: World Cinema Documentary, meanwhile, went to Nadav Schirman, director of “The Green Prince.”Shot over two years, Talal Derki’s film traces the journey of anti-regime activists in the city of Homs from civil resistance to armed militancy to death – martyrdom, as it is termed locally – the only end they can imagine in this conflict.

Taking up characters like Basset – once ranked his country’s second best goalkeeper, now a teenage leader of the Free Syrian Army – the doc follows how rebel controlled enclaves of the city came under siege, transforming them into prisons and reducing rebel fighters to rodents, crawling through the sewers or scampering through deserted homes.

Schirman’s “The Green Prince” is an adaptation of Mossab Hassan Youssef’s 2010 autobiography of the same name. It throws a spotlight on, the oldest son of Hamas founder Sheikh Hasan Youssef, who spent 10 years (1997 to 2007) at the heart of the Palestinian Islamist movement as an Israeli mole, working for the Shin Bet internal security services, before relocating to the U.S. and converting to Christianity.

In Sundance’s domestic feature film competition, top honors went to “Whiplash,” the dramatic story of a drummer who pursues excellence at all costs, which collected both audience and jury prizes for American dramatic films.

The musical drama by writer-director Damien Chazelle opened the independent film showcase last week and rode a wave of positive buzz throughout the 10-day event.

Chazelle made his Sundance debut last year with a short version of “Whiplash” intended to gain financial support for the feature-length film. The feature stars 26-year-old Miles Teller as an aspiring jazz drummer and veteran actor J.K. Simmons as his unforgiving instructor.

Chazelle thanked his actors “who really made this movie work.”

The 28-year-old filmmaker drew on his personal experiences as a member of a high school jazz band as inspiration for the film.

The documentary “Rich Hill,” a coming-of-age story about the inhabitants of a tiny town in Missouri, won the jury award for U.S. documentary. The American documentary about music’s healing effects on dementia, “Alive Inside: A Story of Music & Memory,” won the audience award.

Actors Nick Offerman and Megan Mullally hosted the ceremony at the Basin Recreation Fieldhouse in Park City, Utah. – With The Daily Star

For more information, please see www.Sundance.org/festival.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on January 27, 2014, on page 16.
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Story Summary
Films from Syria and Palestine have taken top honors at the Sundance Film Festival's documentary competitions.

During Saturday evening's awards ceremony it was announced that Talal Derki won the World Cinema Grand Jury Prize: Documentary for his "Return to Homs".

In Sundance's domestic feature film competition, top honors went to "Whiplash," the dramatic story of a drummer who pursues excellence at all costs, which collected both audience and jury prizes for American dramatic films.

Chazelle made his Sundance debut last year with a short version of "Whiplash" intended to gain financial support for the feature-length film.

The documentary "Rich Hill," a coming-of-age story about the inhabitants of a tiny town in Missouri, won the jury award for U.S. documentary.
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