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Monday, June 13, 1994 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Aussie Films Awarded Top Honors At Festival

Two low-budget Australian movies dominated the prizes last night as the 20th Seattle International Film Festival finished its 24-day run at the Egyptian Theatre.

The rather mawkish but crowd-pleasing drag-queen comedy, "Priscilla, Queen of the Desert," won the Golden Space Needle awards for most popular film (the Needles are voted by the festival audience) and for best actor (Terence Stamp as a transsexual).

The runner-up in both categories was Rolf de Heer's "Bad Boy Bubby," a much more challenging and substantial Aussie film starring Nick Hope as a sheltered man exposed to the chaos of late-20th-century life. De Heer won the consolation prize of best director, and Hope was there to accept it. Clearly thrilled with the film's unexpected success in Seattle, Hope said it has no American distributor.

Three other films were runners-up for most popular picture: "Eat Drink Man Woman," "Clerks" and the locally filmed "Beans of Egypt, Ma." Other runners-up for best actor: Thomas Gibson ("Love and Human Remains"), Billy Zane ("Reflections on a Crime") and Sihung Lung ("Eat Drink Man Woman").

Also competing for best director were Seattle native Jon Purdy ("Reflections on a Crime"), John Sayles ("The Secret of Roan Inish"), Ang Lee ("Eat Drink Man Woman") and Julio Medem ("The Red Squirrel"). Conspicuously absent from the directors' list was "Priscilla's" writer-director, Stephan Elliott.

The sole American winner was Mimi Rogers, who was present to accept the best actress prize for her strong performance as a disturbed wife in "Reflections on a Crime." She said it was her first acting award and that she was "really happy it was for this film." Her competition included Kerry Fox ("Friends"), Julie Walters (for "Just Like a Woman" and "The Wedding Gift"), Irene Papas ("Up, Down and Sideways") and Karen Sillas ("What Happened Was . . .").

The runaway winner for best documentary was Ray Muller's extraordinary study of an ever-controversial German filmmaker's career, "The Wonderful Horrible Life of Leni Riefenstahl." Trailing far behind were "Colorado Cowboy," "Sex, Drugs and Democracy," "Paul Bowles: The Complete Outsider" and "Eagle Scout: The Story of Henry Nicols."

Nick Park's delightful "The Wrong Trousers," which won this year's Academy Award for best animated short subject, added to its honors when the audience named it best short film in the festival. Runners-up included "Nunzio's Second Cousin," "Scene 6, Take One," "The Most Beautiful Breasts in the World," "Black Rider" and "Death in Venice California."

The festival's jury-voted prize for best new director went to Agnes Merlet for her remarkable French tale of delinquent young brothers, "The Son of the Shark." The runner-up was Ryosuke Hashiguchi for "A Touch of Fever," a story of male prostitutes in Tokyo.

It was a busy final weekend for the festival, which played host to several visiting actors and filmmakers, including Gibson, Purdy, Lee, Rutger Hauer, Jennifer Warren, Chris Eigeman, Zbigniew Zamachowski, Tushka Bergan and Whit Stillman.

A frequently explosive critics' seminar Saturday morning almost turned into a young-vs.-old battle between Time magazine's Richard Schickel, who longed for the good old days of Fellini and Bergman and sustainable art-house careers, and Entertainment Weekly's Owen Gleiberman, who said "this myth has really got to go."

Several panelists mentioned that festivals such as this one, now proliferating across the country, have become the best way to see movies that are more than marketing ventures. Schickel noted that "everybody who reviews movies is a kind of garbage collector," sorting through "essentially worthless" films of "utterly no aspiration." But he added that when confronted with "the richness of a festival it doesn't seem so."

Copyright (c) 1994 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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