Sundance-Honored "Slam" Acting Duo Feted
by Mark Rabinowitz
Saul Williams and Sonja Sohn, the lead performers in Sundance Grand Jury
Prize winner "Slam," have been named the recipients of the inaugural
Perry Ellis Breakthrough Award, to be given at the IFP Gotham Awards
ceremony in September during the Independent Feature Film Market.
"Slam," which also nabbed the coveted Camera d'Or at the recently
concluded Cannes Film Festival, tells the story of a young man
(Williams) who is arrested on petty drug charges and thrown into the
D.C. city jail. In jail he meets and is influenced by a prison gang
leader, and a young woman (Sohn) teaching a self-expression class for
The award was created "to acknowledge outstanding performances by
relative newcomers from films released in (the year of the award),"
according to an IFP release, and is a juried award. This year's panel
was comprised of writer/director/actor Tom Noonan ("What Happened Was,"
"The Wife"), actors Steve Buscemi ("Fargo," "Tree's Lounge") and Rosie
Perez ("Do the Right Thing," "Fearless"), writer/director David O.
Russell and theater producer Gregory Mosher ("Freak"). At a reception at
the Perry Ellis showroom in Manhattan last night, the winners were
joined by IFP Executive Director Michelle Byrd, "Slam" rep John Sloss,
filmmaker Matthew Harrison ("Kicked in the Head," "Rhythm Thief"),
actors Richard Kind (TV's "Spin City") and Gloria Ruben (TV's "ER"),
producer and uber party guest Gill Holland ("Hurricane Streets,"
"Remembering Sex"), Stratosphere veep and Galway Film Fleadh rep TC
Rice, Indie Magazine honcho Joseph Steuer, Variety's Monica Roman and
Tribeca Film Center's Trina Wyatt, among many others.
In introducing the recipients, Byrd partially explained the process
surrounding the award, explaining, "Saul and Sonja were actually each
considered separately for the award, [but] the jury members felt that their
performances were so dynamic that they really had to give the award to
both of them." In addition to Williams and Sohn, others considered for
the award were: Norman Reedus ("Six Ways to Sunday"), Sam Rockwell
("Lawn Dogs") and Robin Tunney ("Niagara, Niagara").
Sohn and Williams were understandably enthusiastic, considering both the
jury that chose them, and the other talent considered for the award. "I
am absolutely thrilled, just over the moon," said Sohn, "I consider this
my film debut, so to get an award straight off the bat is pretty
exciting." She added, "There are people on that jury that I really
respect and to know that they find some value in what we did just floors
Williams addded, "Having been a part of such a wonderful experience as
'Slam', because that's what it is -- 'Slam' is an experience as opposed to
simply a film. There's a divine message in the film that is very needed
in this world today and I was very fortunate to be amongst those who
were chosen to channel it." Williams continued those thoughts when he
spoke, somewhat cryptically, "Your recognition of Sonja and me...kind
of makes me think of a dying and old decrepit country on its deathbed
recognizing its long lost soul. And indeed like Sonja said, 'Slam' is much
more than a movie, its more of a movement."