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AFI: Lights, Camera, Stars Action and CUT

Late Sunday evening, AFI FEST 2003 ended a glorious run of 10 days and 10 nights of the best films in the world, but not before announcing its coveted Audience Awards and unveiling the World Premiere of Patty Jenkins' MONSTER, starring Charlize Theron.

In front of a sold-out audience at ArcLight's Cinerama Dome, Nancy Collet, the Director of Programming, announced that Jim Sheridan's IN AMERICA took the Audience Award for Feature Film. The film, which stars Samantha Morton and Paddy Considine, follows an Irish family as they relocate to Hell's Kitchen in Manhattan after the death of their son. Sheridan could not be present, but he e-mailed the Festival a thank-you speech. “My girls are absolutely delighted,” wrote Sherdian, referring to his daughters, with whom he co-wrote the script. “It means a great deal to us to win the Audience Award. And I hope many more audiences get to see the film.”

The Audience Award for Short Film went to Sikander Goldau's FRAGILE. After the screenings of the emotional short, many viewers, including members of AFI FEST's staff, were spotted in the ArcLight lobby searching for something to dry their tears. “This was the best festival, and you Americans, you are so good to us. This is best thing that ever happened to me!” said Goldau in his acceptance speech. “I got up this morning and decided to shave. Now I know why!”

“I didn't shave,” joked Amanda Micheli, director of DOUBLE DARE, in her acceptance speech for the Audience Award for Documentary. Micheli's revealing film captures the highs and (painful) lows of two of the most prominent stunt women working today: Zoe Bell, the stunt double for Uma Thurman in KILL BILL; and Jeannie Epper, a legend in the business, who, at 62, continues to work. Reached by phone the next day, Micheli was still in the clouds. “I'm thrilled,” said Micheli, who worked for six years to make the film. “This is the best thing that could happen.”

AFI FEST 2003's Audience Awards are sponsored by the Los Angeles Times and LATIMES.com

Later in the evening, the audience joined MONSTER's star Charlize Theron at the Henry Fonda Music Box Theatre, for Absolut vodka of every flavor, delectable sushi and-a first for nibble food-gazpacho. In between hugging and kissing members of the cast and crew, Theron discussed the challenges of the role, which included adopting Aileen Wuornos' mannerisms, in addition to studying her family background and life before prison. “I just wanted to get Aileen's personality across,” said Theron. “I thought that was very important.”

Theron and the rest of the guests ate, laughed and danced to the music of Amoeba disc jockeys until long past midnight. Finally, when the food had disappeared, and with the growing realization that life must continue the next day (even without AFI FEST), the guests began to leave, including Theron, who made sure to grab a goody bag before disappearing into the night.

Bruno Chatelin

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