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"Three Seasons" scooped up three awards at the Sundance Film Festival

Vietnam War films win Sundance top honors

Web posted on:
Monday, February 01, 1999 12:51:57 PM EST

From Correspondent Paul Clinton

PARK CITY, Utah (CNN) -- "I always saw the Vietnamese and Vietnam in one light, and it was never positive," says Tony Bui, the writer and director of "Three Seasons." "So to have the chance to change that a little bit is very warm."

Vietnam-born Bui, who was raised in California, saw his Vietnam War-themed film win the Grand Jury Award, the Audience Award, and the Cinematography Award -- all in the dramatic category -- Saturday night at the Sundance Film Festival.

Shot on a budget of $2 million, the film weaves four stories into a compelling tale of the transition between the country's traditional roots and its modern-day population, which is in turmoil as its people try to find their place in the new Vietnam.

"Three Seasons" writer and director Tony Bui

"I wanted to make a film that was truthful about the spirit of all of us," Bui told the audience at the Sundance awards ceremony. "So much of the themes in the film are themes of things that I struggle with in my own life. It's very gratifying to have something to say and have people want to hear it and want to help you say it."

Bui's film breaks new ground, not only as the first American film to be shot in Vietnam since the war ended, but as the first American film with a script in Vietnamese, and a cast of Vietnamese actors. The only Western actor in the film is Harvey Keitel, who plays an American searching for the daughter he left behind after the war.

Bui met the movie's producers, Jason Kliot and Joana Vicente ("Welcome To The Dollhouse"), at the Sundance Producers Conference in 1996. The film entered the festival with a distribution deal already in place with October Films.

Widows of the Vietnam War are the subject of "Regret to Inform"

'Regret To Inform' wins documentary category

In the documentary category, "Regret To Inform" won the Director's Award for writer/director Barbara Sonnenborn, whose husband was killed in the Vietnam War. The film portrays the devastation of the war as seen through the eyes of women, both American and Vietnamese, who lost husbands in that devastating conflict.

By intercutting the emotional stories from women on both sides of the war, Sonnenborn shows why that war has remained so real for so long, and for so many.

"I want to thank each and every woman in Vietnam and America who so generously poured their hearts out so that this film could be made," Sonnenborn said at the podium after winning her award.

Documentary films at the Sundance Film Festival have received a lot of praise and attention in recent years. Last year's big winner, "When We Were Kings" -- a film about the 'rumble in the jungle' between Mohammed Ali and George Foreman -- went on to win an Academy Award.

Director Chris Smith, accepting the Grand Jury award for "American Movie" at the Sundance award ceremony

This year's Grand Jury winner in the documentary field went to "American Movie." This quirky comedic film examines the archetypical low-budget filmmaker in the form of Mark Borchardt. Director Chris Smith produces funny and sometimes hazardous results in "American Movie" as he follows wannabe filmmaker Borchardt during his desperate efforts to get his film, "Coven," made in his hometown of Menominee Falls, Wisconsin.

Upon winning his award, a very excited Smith said, "After three years of working, it's just the greatest honor you could have to get recognized for all the work you put into this. All the late nights and no sleep and terrible conditions -- it's just great. I don't know, it almost makes it worthwhile."

Referring to the Grand Jury -- the film's subject Borchardt exclaimed, "They gave me a legitimacy in my own mind at least. They're really cool."

Little studio involvement among winners

Sundance has been criticized in recent years over just how independent many of the festival's celebrated independent films are, when so many are benefiting from studio financing before competition at the festival.


Complete list of Sundance 1999 winners

So it is interesting that only two festival winners -- "Three Seasons," which entered the film under the October Films banner, and "Tumbleweed," which picked up distribution from Fine Line Features during the festival -- had studio participation.

"Tumbleweed" won the Filmmakers Trophy in the dramatic category. It is about a single woman who hits the road with her feisty daughter while looking for a new love interest and a support provider. The results are both humorous and savage.

The Filmmakers Trophy for documentaries went to "Sing Faster: The Stagehands' Ring Cycle," a backstage look at the San Francisco Opera's production of Wagner's "Ring Cycle" from the stagehands' perspective.

In all, 27 awards were given out at this year's Sundance Film Awards.

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