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Canadian filmmakers win big at indie-minded Slamdance film festival

The documentary “Elliot” earned the jury prize for best documentary at the indie film festival Slamdance.

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The documentary “Elliot” earned the jury prize for best documentary at the indie film festival Slamdance.

Canadian filmmakers are a smash at Slamdance.

Four homegrown projects were among the winners at the closing ceremony for the indie film festival.

The co-production "Copenhagen" won the audience award for narrative feature, the documentary "Elliot" earned the jury prize for best documentary, the francophone "Daybreak" won the jury award for narrative short and the Canada-U.K. film "Glass Eyes of Locust Bayou" claimed the jury award for documentary short.

The impressive haul was a surprise for "Elliot" filmmaker Jaret Belliveau, who says he and co-director Matthew Bauckman have been celebrating their win since Thursday night's awards bash.

"It was a really great night for Canadians," Belliveau said Friday from Park City, Utah.

The Moncton, N.B., filmmakers shot, directed, edited, wrote and co-produced their documentary, focused on a wannabe action star who pours his life into making low-budget martial arts movies.

The 32-year-old Belliveau said he was especially pleased to see Simon Mercer's "Glass Eyes of Locust Bayou" win in the documentary short category, since the similarly themed film opened for the "Elliot" screenings.

The 35-year-old Mercer is from Dundas., Ont., and now lives in London, England.

He turned his lens on Arkansas-based filmmaker Phil Chambliss, whose "DIY films straddle fact and fiction, good and evil."

Mercer left Slamdance before the closing awards gala and said he was stunned to learn the news Friday.

"I only just started kind of making this a serious hobby about three years ago," Mercer said from his adopted home in London.

"And the first thing I made was with pretty much a souped-up camcorder that you take on your holidays or something like that. It was just kind of a labour of love which helped me get this one made and now I think something like this legitimates me.

"I can say with a straight face I'm a filmmaker now as opposed to someone who does it as a little fun hobby on the side."

Mercer said he was impressed with the enthusiasm of the Slamdance audience and recounted spotting Hollywood star Philip Seymour Hoffman in town for the concurrent Sundance Film Festival.

He said he hopes the win for his $8,000 short will help secure funding for future projects.

As part of their prize, Belliveau and Bauckman won $3,500 in legal services and $5,000 in Kodak film.

Belliveau said he believes "Elliot" stood out because of its unique story.

"We really tried to make sure it was very cinematic," said Belliveau, who also credits a Slamdance programmer with championing the Halifax-set film.

"Elliot is the ultimate dreamer, is the ultimate filmmaker in a sense because he doesn't let anything get in his way. He just wants to get these movies done and he's such a lovable character and by the end he's not so lovable. So people are on a pretty wild ride with Elliot and his cast and crew. ... I think that all just stays with people."

Belliveau said he and Bauckman now hope to get "Elliot" into more film festivals, and eventually secure a theatrical release.

"We were really blown away by some of the reviews we got. It's been really well-received and we're just really excited to see what's going to happen next," he said.

"There's lots of opportunity for us coming up."

"Copenhagen," a co-production with the U.S. and Denmark directed by Mark Raso, centres on immature William, who sets off to find his last living relative in Denmark's capital.

The 10-minute, Montreal-set "Daybreak," directed by Ian Lagarde, centres on the growing tension in a group of children just entering adolescence.

The indie-minded Slamdance festival wrapped Thursday. It focuses on projects made for less than $1 million.

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