A cantankerous, and newly mustached, Oliver Stone proved you don’t have to have a sense of humor to provide inspiration to a new generation of comedic filmmakers at the 8th Annual U.S. Comedy Arts Festival. Stone, along with Kevin Haasarud, Director of the Film Program, and Tamara Krinsky, Film Associate Director, presented both the jury awards, AND a brand new Nintendo GameBoy, to a handful of talented filmmakers. Following a trend from this year’s Sundance Film Fest that subverts the dominant paradigm, women and documentarians were the big winners at the USCAF Film Discovery Awards in Aspen’s historic Wheeler Opera House. Presented separately was the Audience Award for Best Feature, which was given to “Super Sucker,” written, directed by, and starring Jeff Daniels.
Best Director: Bill Weber & David Weissman ^ THE COCKETTES
Best Actress: Rachel Griffiths ^ VERY ANNIE MARY
Best Actor: Torket Peterson ^ JALLA! JALLA!
Best Screenplay: Sarah Sugarman ^ VERY ANNIE MARY
Best Short: THE COMEBACK ^ directed by Trent Cooper
Audience Award for Best Feature: SUPER SUCKER ^ directed by Jeff Daniels
The largest celebrity event of the film program series was the premiere of “Death to Smoochy.” On hand to support and celebrate the film were its stars Robin Williams, Ed Norton, and Danny DeVito (who also directed), as well as comedy legend Catherine O’Hara, Salma Hayek, and star in the making, Michelle Krusiec (“Pumpkin”).
USCAF TRIBUTE TO FREE SPEECH ^ The U.S. Comedy Arts Festival, in association with the First Amendment Center, presented an all-star tribute to a handful of the comedy pioneers, activists, and gadflies instrumental in the fight to keep free speech alive in the land of the free. Ken Paulson, executive director of the First Amendment Center, opened the ceremony with a chilling opinion poll collected soon after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. While still in a state of shock, nearly 40% of Americans polled said that they would support censorship in the media, while almost 35% of Americans polled believed that the First Amendment went too far in guaranteeing freedom of speech. Do these people realize the First Amendment is — by definition — the FIRST law ever passed in this country, practically the very definition of America? Luckily, 65% disagree with the forces of censorship.
The irony was not lost on the likes of Dick & Tommy Smothers, Dick Gregory, George Carlin, and Bill Maher, all recipients. Interestingly, each denied their roles as Free Speech Activists, insisting they were simply utilizing their constitutionally protected freedoms. Free Speech operants, who had either collided with the forces of censorship, or had used their freedom of expression to draw attention to issues essential to humanity. Tommy Smothers remarked, “When Dick and I were doing our show, I didn’t know what we were doing was important until they shut us up.” Dick Gregory talked about the upside of being a threat to the status quo: “I did benefit from the government tapping my phone. I never had to pay a bill. Somebody asked me, ‘How do you know your phone is being tapped?’ And it’s 1963, and I said, ‘Anytime a Negro can owe Bell Telephone $75,000 and they don’t cut the phone off — it’s tapped!'” On hand to present the Freedom of Speech Awards to the above, respectively, were comic David Steinbrenner, satirist Gary Trudeau (“Doonesbury”), actor Don Cheadle (“Traffic”), and Chris Mathews (Host of TV’s “Hard Ball”).
Check out FILMTHREAT.com’s FILM FESTIVAL ARCHIVES for more fest news!

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