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Finalists named for 2004 Humanitas Prize

By PAT NASON, UPI Hollywood Reporter   |   June 16, 2004 at 6:27 PM   |   Comments

LOS ANGELES, June 16 (UPI) -- "Dirty Pretty Things," "Finding Nemo" and "Seabiscuit" were named Wednesday as feature-film finalists for the 2004 Humanitas Prize.

"Joan of Arcadia," "The Bernie Mac Show" and "Little Bill" had two nominations each.

The prize was established in 1974 by the late Paulist priest Ellwood "Bud" Kieser "to encourage, stimulate and sustain writers in their humanizing task and to give them the recognition they deserve." Although it doesn't get as much attention as the Oscars or the Emmys, the Humanitas Prize has become one of the most respected honors in Hollywood for writers, producers, networks and studios.

Steven Knight's screenplay for "Dirty Pretty Things" focused on a Nigerian doctor working as a cab driver in London who discovers an illegal trade in human organs. Andrew Stanton, Bob Peterson and David Reynolds were nominated for their screenplay for "Finding Nemo," a comic adventure about a fish who risks everything to rescue his son from captivity in an aquarium. Writer-director Gary Ross was nominated for "Seabiscuit," his screen adaptation of Laura Hillenbrand's best-seller "Seabiscuit: An American Legend."

Father Frank Desiderio, president of the Humanitas Prize, said this year's nominees in general share a common theme -- a sense of hope.

"'Seabiscuit,' to me, is a story of people finding hope in a despairing situation," he said. "I think it's also true in 'Finding Nemo.' In 'Dirty Pretty Things' there's hope for a better life among these refugees."

Desiderio said the same theme runs through the children's live-action nominees.

The nominees for 90-minute TV movies -- "Angels in America," "Iron Jawed Angels" and "Jasper, Texas" -- all aired on HBO.

Tony Kushner was nominated for his miniseries adaptation of his Pulitzer Prize-winning play "Angels in America," a picture of AIDS in America during the 1980s. "Iron Jawed Angels," a story about activists winning women the right to vote, earned a nomination for writers Sally Robinson, Eugenia Bostwick Singer, Raymond Singer and Jennifer Friedes. And Jonathan Estrin was nominated for his screenplay, "Jasper, Texas," an account of the brutal murder of a black man by three white men.

"They all comment on our society, whether it's the women suffragist movement, the AIDS crisis or a hate crime," said Desiderio. "I think in each case it shows how people go beyond themselves to try and make things better."

The CBS drama series "Joan of Arcadia" took two of the nominations in the 60-minute TV category. The third nominee in the category was an episode of NBC's "ER."

In the 30-minute TV category, Fox's "The Bernie Mac Show" took two of the three nominations. The third went to an episode of NBC's "Scrubs."

PBS' "Little Bill" took two nominations in the children's animation category, with the third nomination going to Nickelodeon's "Arthur." The nominees in the children's live-action category were "Crown Heights" (Showtime), "Full-Court Miracle" (Disney Channel) and "Going to the Mat" (Disney Channel).

Desiderio said that, this year more than ever, the Humanitas Prize promotes humanizing television.

"Television that says something about the reality of the human condition is more important than ever in juxtaposition to reality TV, which is dehumanizing," he said. "I don't want to paint all of reality with the same brush, because some of it I think is pretty innocent and might actually be good. But some of it is just awful, and it is humiliating and embarrassing. I just hate to see really good comedy and drama suffer because this is where networks are putting their money."

The nominees in the Sundance feature-film category are Zach Braff for "Garden State," Jacob Aaron Estes for "Mean Creek" and Nicole Kassell and Steven Fletcher for "The Woodsman."

Christopher Carlson, a student at Columbia University's Graduate Film program, has been named the recipient of the "2004 David and Lynn Angell Humanitas Comedy Fellowship." The prize was instituted in memory of "Frasier" writer David Angell and his wife Lynn, who died in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Past winners of the Humanitas Prize have included Steven Bochco ("Hill Street Blues"), Alan Alda ("M*A*S*H"), Steven Zaillian ("Schindler's List") and Aaron Sorkin ("Sports Night," "The West Wing").

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(Please send comments to nationaldesk@upi.com.)

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