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'Girlfight' gets a Sundance KO

PARK CITY — A brutal drama about female boxers, "Girlfight," was a surprise big winner at the Sundance Film Festival this year — an apt choice since the 10-day event has been touted as the unofficial "Year of the Woman."

And an independent film that some would call a "chick flick" — the romantic comedy-drama "You Can Count on Me" — split the Grand Jury Prize with "Girlfight."

Ironically, "Girlfight," with a cast of virtual unknowns, was directed by a woman, Karyn Kusama. And "You Can Count on Me" (starring Matthew Broderick and Laura Linney) was made by a man, Kenneth Lonergan.

In addition to splitting the festival's biggest award, Kusama's film also took home the Directing Award in Dramatic Competition.

"You Can Count on Me" also won a second award — the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award — acknowledging the feature filmmaking debut of playwright Lonergan.

Those two films received the most prominent prizes, but the movie that received the most awards was "Dark Days," British filmmaker Mark Singer's documentary about an underground community for the homeless in New York City.

"Dark Days" split the Cinematography Award in Documentary Competition with "Americanos: Latino Life in the United States" and won both the Freedom of Expression Award and the Audience Award for Documentary Film, given to the most popular documentary at the festival.

The Grandy Jury Prize in the documentary competition went to "Long Night's Journey Into Day," about South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and was directed by two women, Frances Reid and Deborah Hoffman.

This year's most popular feature film at Sundance was "Two Family House," a '50s-era comedy-drama about two very different families sharing a home. It won the dramatic Audience Award.

In all, 25 festival films, performances and filmmaking efforts received awards or honors this year, which were announced Saturday evening during a ceremony held in the Park City Racquet Club. The event was also broadcast live on television — though only to subscribers of the Sundance Channel (which is available locally to satellite dish subscribers, but not on cable).

Continuing a tradition started five years ago, the festival gave out "Special Jury Awards," including two different performances prizes — to up-and-coming actor Donal Logue ("Blade"), for his performance as a philosophical lothario in "The Tao of Steve," and to much of the cast of "Songcatcher" — including Aidan Quinn, Janey McTeer and Jane Adams — for Outstanding Ensemble Performance.

"The Year of the Woman" tag was actually given to Sundance this year by the press, as there were so many independent features directed by women — more than two dozen in all. But festival officials certainly took notice.

"We've always had our share of films by women, and this year is no exception," said Geoff Gilmore, festival co-director and chief programmer. "What's refreshing, aside from the sheer number of films from them is the breadth and depth of the work. It's a very encouraging sign for the whole filmmaking industry."

The 2000 Sundance Film Festival ends today with screenings of the award winners in Park City theaters.