Cash prizes totaling a whopping $100,000 were doled out to a pair of grateful filmmakers here at the Los Angeles Film Festival on Wednesday night. Steve Collins won the $50,000 cash Target Filmmaker Award for his first feature film, "Gretchen," while the Target Documentary Award, which also included an unrestricted $50,000 cash prize, went to Amy Berg for her new doc, "Deliver Us From Evil." While additional awards are still to be announced on the festival's closing night, Wednesday's ceremony presented perhaps the most coveted cash prizes on the American film festival circuit. At the classy outdoor event, held at the W Hotel in Westwood, Charlize Theron was also in the spotlight, receiving the festival's Spirit of Independence Award.
Despite what was an unfortunately first screening riddled with a number of technical problems here in L.A., Collins and the "Gretchen" team were clearly thrilled to win the big award at the Los Angeles Film Festival. The film, which premiered earlier this year at the 2006 SXSW Film Festival, is the darkly comic story of an awkward teenager who is sent to an emotional treatment center to recover from her obsession with a high school bad boy. In a statement accompanying the announcement, jurors Giulia D'Agnolo Vallan from the Torino Film Festival, filmmaker David Gordon Green and producer Danielle Renfrew, said they selected the movie for its "distinctive vision and truthfulness to its characters, which makes us really want to see what the director will do next."
Produced by Jay Van Hoy, Lars Knudsen and Anish Savjani, "Gretchen" stars Courtney Davis, John Merriman, Steve Root and Becky Ann Baker. The film was written and directed by Steve Collins.
After a burst of media attention, including a segment on CNN earlier this week, Amy Berg's "Deliver Us From Evil" has had audiences buzzing at the LA Film Festival. The film is the story of Father Oliver O'Grady, a sexually abusive Catholic priest whose pedophilia was hidden by the American wing of the church. Told through interviews directly with O'Malley, Berg explores the issues of abuse and corruption within the institution. In a statement, jurors Marie-Therese Guirgis, consultant to Tartan USA, and filmmaker A.J. Schnack said that they chose to honor the film for "the filmmaker's ability to balance the exploration of indefensible evil -- both in one man and in those who would seek to conceal the truth -- and the battle to hold on to one's faith in the face of the worst possible betrayal."
Produced by Amy Berg, Hermas Lassalle, and Frank Donner, "Deliver Us From Evil" features Ann Jyono, Bob Jyono, Marie Jyono, Nancy Sloan, Roger Cardinal Mahoney, Oliver O'Grady, Monsignor Cain, and Tom Doyle. It was written and directed by Amy Berg.
"This was a difficult doc to make," Berg said, in accepting her prize poolside at The W Hotel in Westwood. "It was even more difficult not to make it." She thanked the festival, admitting that organizers invited her back in October and that she was thrilled that she waited until June to debut her feature.
"Thank you very much," offered a happy Steve Collins, "I'll go shop at Target now!"
The other prizewinner, Charlize Theron, was the subject of a bit of a career retrospective (but, don't call it a lifetime achievement award). Critic, author, and radio host Elvis Mitchell engaged the actress in an on stage Q & A and then Woody Harrelson awarded her with the Spirit of Independence trophy.
The festival will present audience awards and additional jury prizes on Sunday at the conclusion of this year's event in Westwood.
[For more from the 2006 Los Angeles Film Festival. please visit indieWIRE's special section.]