Coogan wins screenplay prize at Venice

Steve Coogan (r) wrote and starred in Philomena, co-starring Dame Judi Dench and directed by Stephen Frears.

The comedian Steve Coogan has won the Best Screenplay award at the Venice Film Festival. He and co-writer Jeff Pope penned the well-received new Stephen Frears film, Philomena, in which Coogan stars as the journalist Martin Sixsmith, helping Dame Judi Dench’s elderly Irish woman trace the son she was forced to give up at birth, fifty years earlier.

The top prize at Venice, the Golden Lion for the best film at the festival, went to a documentary for the first time; Gianfranco Rosi’s Holy GRA — about the Rome ring-road. Rosi said the honour was a breakthrough for documentaries, which were included in the main competition for the first time this year. “I didn’t expect to win such an important prize with a documentary,” Rosi said. “A barrier has been broken.” It was also the first Italian film to win at Venice for fifteen years.

Golden Lion winning documentary maker Gianfranco Rosi

Rosi spent two years in a minivan, circling the ring road, filming conversations with participants as diverse as a count, a paramedic and a botanist tending the palm trees along the road.

The Silver Lion for the best director went to the Greek film-maker Alexandros Avranas, for Miss Violence, about the sexual abuse perpetrated by a grandfather, played by Themis Panou, who won the festival’s best actor prize.

The best actress honours went to Elena Cotta, from Italy, although her role in A Street in Palermo didn’t require her to utter a single word.

Sixteen year old Tye Sheridan won the best young actor prize, as a young boy who looks up to Nicolas Cage’s Joe, in the film of the same name, by David Gordon Green.

The Malaysian-born director Tsai Ming-liang, who won the Golden Lion in 1994 was honoured with the Grand Jury Prize for his new film Stray Dogs, about a father and two children in Taiwan.

The Special Jury Prize went to the German director Philip Groening, for The Police Officer’s Wife.

The festival also honoured the acclaimed horror director William Friedking with a Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement.