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'Jellysmoke' Triumphs at L.A. Film Festival

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LOS ANGELES -- "Jellysmoke," a low-budget drama about a bipolar man looking for love, won the $50,000 filmmaker award at the Los Angeles Film Festival on Saturday, while the documentary prize went to "Everyone Their Grain of Sand," about the struggles of a Mexican border town.

The prizes were handed out at a dinner in Westwood highlighted by the presentation of the inaugural Spirit of Independence Award to George Clooney, the actor/producer behind the modest arthouse releases "Ocean's Eleven" and "Ocean's Twelve."

Clooney, who by his own admission helped kill off the "Batman" series with his starring role in 1997's "Batman & Robin," jokingly expressed relief that the franchise has rebounded with current box office champ "Batman Begins."

"I'm no longer responsible for the 'Batman' franchise," he said in a discussion hosted by film critic Elvis Mitchell. "I could have done that s---. (Batman & Robin director) Joel Schumacher told me Batman was gay."

"Jellysmoke," by contrast, was shot on and off over two years for a total of about 25 days, working around the schedule of its star, Michael Ealy, who found himself in demand with the "Barbershop" films, said its writer/director, Mark Banning.

The film, which does not yet have a distribution deal, should have a universal appeal despite its conceivably grim subject matter, Banning said.

"(The main character) wants what everyone wants," Banning said. "Simply put, (he) tries to get through every day, surrounded by his family that is either in denial or doesn't know how to help him, in his quest for what everyone else wants, this notion to connect with another person."

The documentary winner, "Everyone Their Grain of Sand," which also received a $50,000 cash prize, was directed and produced by Beth Bird. It follows the residents of the Mexican squatter community of Maclovio Rojas, near Tijuana, who face a seemingly hopeless struggle for basic services like education and utilities while the government tries to evict them.

The festival officially wraps on Sunday with the screening of writer/director Don Roos' family satire "Happy Endings" and the presentation of the audience and acting awards.

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