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by Eugene Hernandez
February 3, 2006 1:56 AM
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PARK CITY '06: "Half Nelson" Dominates Survey of Sundance 06 Critics and Journalists

Ryan Fleck's "Half Nelson" -- and its stars -- topped indieWIRE's first poll of critics and journalists who covered the Sundance Film Festival. The film, which debuted last month in the dramatic Independent Film Competition at Sundance '06, was the overwhelming favorite among a group of 50 members of the media -- reviewers and writers -- who were surveyed this week by indieWIRE. The poll included top film critics and journalists who write for an array of U.S. newspapers, magazines and publications; the Sundance Film Festival does not present a critic's prize at the annual event.

"Half Nelson," directed and co-written by Fleck -- and co-written, edited and co-produced by his creative partner Anna Boden -- was voted best narrative feature at the 2006 Sundance Film Festival in the indieWIRE survey of journalists and critics, beating out the festival's jury and audience prize winner "Quinceanera," by Wash Westmoreland and Richard Glatzer, and Michel Gondry's "The Science of Sleep" -- each received less than half the votes tallied for "Half Nelson."

The film is the story of a Brooklyn, NY public school teacher dealing with addiction (played by Ryan Gosling), who forms an unexpected friendship with one of his troubled students (played by Shareeka Epps). "Half Nelson" is a feature adaptation of Fleck's Sundance award-winner short film, "Gowanus, Brooklyn."

ThinkFilm nabbed "Half Nelson" over the weekend, acquiring worldwide rights to the acclaimed film and the company said today that it is planning a late Summer theatrical release of the film. William Morris Independent brokered the deal. Jamie Patricof, Alex Orlovsky, Lynette Howell, Anna Boden and Rosanne Korenberg produced the film. Additional festival screenings are still being planned, according to ThinkFilm.

"Half Nelson" stars Ryan Gosling and Shareeka Epps led the balloting, as best actor and best actress respectively, in indieWIRE's Sundance '06 journalists and critics poll. Gosling is a Sundance veteran, introduced to Park City audiences back in 2001 with his lead role in Henry Bean's Sundance grand jury prizewinner, "The Believer." Epps starred in Fleck's Sundance 2004 award-winning short, "Gowanus, Brooklyn."

In voting for best documentary at Sundance 2006, journalists and critics chose James Longley's "Iraq in Fragments," which was honored with best director, cinematographer and editor awards by jurors at the festival. The artful documentary explores the diverse points-of-view of Iraqis living in three regions of the war-torn country. Voters handily selected "Iraq in Fragments," but a number of other docs split the vote and are represented as runners-up in the poll (complete survey results are posted below).

In voting for best director, Michel Gondry was voted the top filmmaker by journalists and critics surveyed by indieWIRE. Gondry's "The Science of Sleep" was a popular film with voters, audiences and industry alike. The film ignited a minor bidding war after its debut screening at the festival and was quickly acquired by Warner Independent Pictures. The script for "Science" shared the best screenplay honors, tying with another popular fest entry, "Little Miss Sunshine." That film, by Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, was quickly acquired for more than $10 million by Fox Searchlight.

While a number of the surveyed journalists and critics did not vote in the best short film category, Carter Smith's acclaimed "Bugcrush" topped the poll. The 35-minute short is described by the festival as follows: "A small-town loner's fascination with a dangerously seductive new kid leads him into something much more sinister than he could have imagined."

The complete results of indieWIRE's survey of Sundance 2006 journalists and critics follow:

BEST NARRATIVE FEATURE:
Winner: "Half Nelson" (directed by Ryan Fleck)
Runners-up: "Quinceanera" (directed by Wash Westmoreland & Richard Glatzer and The Science of Sleep" (directed by Michel Gondry)

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE:
Winner: "Iraq in Fragments" (directed James Longley)
Runners-up: "This Film Is Not Yet Rated" (directed by Kirby Dick), "Wordplay" (directed by Patrick Creadon), "American Blackout" (directed by Ian Inaba), "God Grew Tired of Us" (directed Christopher Quinn)

BEST DIRECTOR:
Winner: Michel Gondry ("The Science of Sleep")
Runners-up: Dito Montiel ("A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints') and Ryan Fleck ("Half Nelson")

BEST ACTOR:
Winner: Ryan Gosling ("Half Nelson")
Runner-up: Paul Giamatti ("The Hawk Is Dying" and "The Illusionist")

BEST ACTRESS:
Winner: Shareeka Epps ("Half Nelson")
Runner-up: Jiseon Kim ("In Between Days")

BEST SCREENPLAY:
Winners: "Little Miss Sunshine" (screenplay by Michael Arndt) and "The Science of Sleep" (screenplay by Michel Gondry)
Runner-up: Quinceanera" (screenplay by Wash Westmoreland, Richard Glatzer)

BEST SHORT FILM:
Winners: "Bugcrush" (directed by Carter Smith)
Runner-up: "The Tribe" (directed by Tiffany Shlain)

6 Comments

  • indieid | February 7, 2006 10:59 AMReply

    I agree.. bizarre, hype-filled 'article' pumping up Half Nelson. What's your point IW?

  • john cosgrove | February 3, 2006 4:22 AMReply

    Anything that diminishes the influence of the few

    and provides additional data is useful.

  • john cosgrove | February 3, 2006 4:22 AMReply

    Anything that diminishes the influence of the few

    and provides additional date is useful.

  • fan | February 3, 2006 4:17 AMReply

    Sour grapes for Indiewire? Huh? That the jury award-winners received less than half of the votes that Half Nelson did in this poll is significant. That's news and they're reporting it. A critics poll is a great addition to the Sundance experience and I hope Indiewire continues it.

  • jakec | February 3, 2006 3:47 AMReply

    I am appalled by what was written. Quinceanera won the Dramatic Grand Jury Award not Half Nelson. To write that Nelson was the favorite of a group of 50 not only serves to undermine the Sundance choice but gives the appearance of sour grapes not for Nelson but for Indiewire. Such articles by Indiewire are very unbecoming to your integrity and quite frankly makes me wonder about your organization.

  • jakec | February 3, 2006 3:46 AMReply

    I am appalled by what was written. Quinceanera won the Dramatic Grand Jury Award not Half Nelson. To write that Nelson was the favorite of a group of 50 not only serves to undermine the Sundance choice but gives the appearance of sour grapes not for Nelson but for Indiewire. Such articles by Indiewire are very unbecoming to your integrity and quite frankly makes me wonder about your organization.