'Divine Trash' wins at festival Film: Steve Yeager's documentary about John Waters wins the prestigious Sundance Festival's Filmmakers Trophy.

January 26, 1998|By Ann Hornaday | Ann Hornaday,SUN FILM CRITIC

"Divine Trash," Baltimore filmmaker Steve Yeager's documentary about the life and work of cult auteur John Waters, won the Filmmakers Trophy at the Sundance Film Festival on Saturday.

Yeager, who directed the film and co-produced it with Cindy Miller, was still "in a state of shock" when reached by telephone just minutes after receiving the award.

The Filmmakers Trophy is voted on by the dramatic and documentary directors who are in competition at Sundance. This year, 31 filmmakers voted "Divine Trash" their favorite documentary. They bestowed the Filmmakers Trophy for best dramatic feature on "Smoke Signals," Chris Eyre's film about a Native American boy coming to terms with his late father's legacy.

"Divine Trash" was part of an exceptionally strong documentary roster this year, when such seasoned nonfiction filmmakers as Barbara Kopple, Ken Burns and Penelope Spheeris had films in competition. The Grand Jury Prize for best documentary was shared by "Frat House," Todd Phillips and Andrew Gurland's portrait of fraternity hazing rituals, and "The Farm," Liz Garbus and Jonathan Stack's film about six inmates in a maximum security prison.

"You don't come to these things expecting any kind of award, especially the Filmmakers Trophy, which is decided by your peers," said a breathless Yeager, whose film was one of five Baltimore projects represented at this year's festival. "I've never been in this position, and it's so thrilling just to be in the company of people like Barbara Kopple and Penelope Spheeris."

Past documentary winners of the Filmmakers Trophy are "Theremin," Kopple's "American Dream," Errol Morris' "A Brief History of Time" and "Something Within Me."

Apart from being in such distinguished company, and the recognition of his peers, Yeager noted that the award might have ZTC some practical benefits. "I get to put it on the poster," he said. "I think it may help with the sale, too. Cindy and I were just saying, an award is fine, but selling it is the important thing." Yeager said that four companies had expressed an interest in acquiring "Divine Trash," which includes material Yeager shot in 1972 while Waters was filming "Pink Flamingos," but that he wanted to wait before making a decision.

For Yeager, the personal ramifications of the award far outshone the business concerns. "It validates a 20-year career," he said. "And it makes you want to work harder and make better films and come back next year."

Yeager has been a filmmaker for 15 years, having produced the award-winning documentaries as "Aquarium," about the National Aquarium in Baltimore, and "One Voice," about labor practices at Bethlehem Steel, as well as "Slag," a dramatic adaptation of David Hare's play "Traces." Yeager, a Baltimore native, also produces commercials and industrial films.

"Divine Trash" wasn't the only award-winner with a Maryland connection. "Lift," a script by Boston filmmakers DeMane Davis and Khari Streeter that received the first Maryland Filmmakers Fellowship from the Producers Club of Maryland this year, won the Sundance/NHK International Filmmakers Award. Sponsored by NHK Japanese Broadcasting Company and the Sundance Institute, a $10,000 cash prize, as well as NHK's guarantee to buy Japanese television broadcasting rights, goes to four scripts that show originality and promise.

Jed Dietz, of the Maryland Producers Club, noted that winning the NHK award bodes well for a film's chances: Last year's winner was "Smoke Signals," which won this year's audience award as well as a Filmmakers Trophy and will be released later this year by Miramax Films.

This year's grand jury prize for dramatic feature was "Slam," Marc Levin's humorous look at how poetry redeems the life of a black prisoner in Washington. Dietz said that plans are already under way for a screening of the film for Baltimore students. "When the film was screened at the Egyptian Theater on Friday, the audience just erupted," he recalled. "It was electrifying."

This year's directing award, which recognizes excellence in directing for dramatic and documentary features, went to Darren Aronofsky for "Pi," a quirky black and white tale about a paranoid math genius, and Julia Loktev for "Moment of Impact," a documentary about how Loktev's family copes with her father's illness.

The cinematography award went to Kopple's "Wild Man Blues," a film about Woody Allen that was shot by Tom Hurwitz, and "2by4," Jimmy Smallhome's debut about an Irish construction worker who emigrates to the Bronx. The film was photographed by Declan Quinn.

Spheeris' "The Decline of Western Civilization, Part III," the third installment of her exhaustive history of the punk rock movement, received the Freedom of Expression Award; Lisa Cholodenko received the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award for "High Art," a lesbian romance set in the fashion world starring Ally Sheedy.

"Snake Feed," by Debra Granik, won the Special Recognition in Short Filmmaking Award. Honorable mention went to Jay Rosenblatt for "Human Remains."

Pub Date: 1/26/98

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