PARK CITY, Utah — Four black film makers and a movie about black Jamaicans working in Florida sugar cane fields came away with awards at the Sundance United States Film Festival, which wound up its 10-day celebration of independent film here Sunday.
Wendell B. Harris Jr., a Michigan film maker, won the $5,000 Grand Jury Prize for his first feature, "Chameleon Street," which is based on the life of the enigmatic William Douglas Street, a Detroit man who--without formal training in any of the fields--managed to impersonate doctors, journalists and lawyers before being caught.
Harris wrote and directed the film and also starred as Street.
A Special Jury Prize was given to Los Angeles film maker Charles Burnett for "To Sleep With Anger," a powerful, sure-handed drama about the disruption brought into the lives of a South-Central Los Angeles family by the visit of a friend from the South (Danny Glover).
The Filmmakers Trophy, voted by the 15 film makers whose works were selected for this year's festival, went to writers-directors Roger and Warrington Hudlin, whose "House Party" is a sweetly raucous teen-age comedy about an elaborate weeknight party that also takes a matter-of-fact look at the realities of inner-city life.
Whether the recent success stories of film makers Spike Lee and Robert Townsend opened some investors' eyes and wallets, the growing strength of black film makers was clearly on display throughout the festival. And, reminiscent of Lee's and Townsend's early financial struggles, Grand Prize winner Wendell Harris revealed how he and his mother, who served as his producer, spent four years raising the $2 million budget for "Chameleon Street."
The film's success at Park City, where such pictures as "The Big Easy" and "sex, lies, and videotape" have begun successful journeys into commercial release, may help "Chameleon Street" find a home with an American distributor.
Veteran observers of the U.S. Film Festival also noted this year a shift in quality from features toward documentaries. There were some strong features premiered, particularly Burnett's "To Sleep With Anger" and Everett Lewis' exceptional "The Natural History of Parking Lots," about \o7 advantaged\f7 youths abandoned in Los Angeles. But overall, the best work showed up among the 16 documentaries.
The documentary committee voted to split its $5,000 Documentary Grand Jury prize between Stephanie Black's "H-2 Worker," a vivid expose about the brutal working conditions of the Jamaican cane cutters flown in to harvest Florida sugar plantations, and pioneer experimental film maker Pat O'Neill's "Water and Power," a visual meditation on California water practices that blends optically layered images, time-lapse photography, spoken text and music.
The documentary jury also gave Special Jury Recognition to a film playing out of competition, Ellen Bruno's "Samsara: Death and Rebirth in Cambodia," a poetic portrait of post-war Cambodia.
The Documentary Film Maker's Trophy went to "Metamorphosis: Man Into Woman," four years in the life of a man undergoing a sex change, directed by Lisa Leeman and produced by Claudia Hoover.
New this year was a $1,000 Cinematography Prize for Excellence. Peter Demming won the award in the dramatic category for "House Party," while Maryse Alberti's work for "H-2 Worker" was cited in the documentary category.