The Sundance Virtual Film Festival ended with a virtual awards show – no host this year, just a series of statements and videos spread over two hours via Twitter. It was an oddly anti-climactic way to wrap up a low-key festival, even if it gave the winners a chance to prepare polite and inclusive acceptance speeches.
The top prize in the US Dramatic category went to grand jury winner ‘Nanny’, from debut director Nikyatu Jusu, a supernatural-tinged thriller about an undocumented immigrant stuck caring for another mother’s child in order to raise the necessary funds to bring him son from Senegal.
The People’s Choice winner in the same category was “Cha Cha Real Smooth,” in which writer-director Cooper Raiff plays an inexperienced party promoter who falls for a single mother (Dakota Johnson) attending several of his events. . The crowd’s delight marked the festival’s biggest sale to date, scooped up by Apple for $15 million, 1,000 times the budget of Raiff’s debut album, “Shithouse.”
The Festival Favorite award went to “Navalny”. This prize, selected by audiences from all sections of the festival, recognizes a late addition to the lineup (“Navalny” was only announced last Monday), protected because of its political sensitivity, as the documentary follows the leader Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny as he recovers from an assassination attempt in Berlin. Accepting the honour, director Daniel Roher said, “Navalny would be so thrilled if he knew he won the audience award.”
While “Navalny” may have been the popular choice, the US documentary jury awarded co-directors Violet Columbus and Ben Klein’s “The Exiles,” a high-profile re-examination of the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre to through various eyewitnesses. The project marked a (virtual) return to Sundance for veteran doc helm Christine Choy (“Who Killed Vincent Chin?”).
In recent years, the once U.S.-centric festival’s Global Competition categories have become a key launchpad for international films (like “Hive” and “Flee” last year). Expect to hear a lot more about World Dramatic Grand Jury winner “Utama” in the coming months, as director Alejandro Loayza Grisi’s portrayal of an elderly Bolivian couple deciding to abandon their Altiplano threatened by the climate seems well placed to represent the country come Oscar time.
Other key international winners include ‘All That Breathes’ (World Documentary Grand Prix) and the Amazon-based environmental documentary ‘The Territory’, which won both the Audience Award and a Special Jury Mention.
In the NEXT category, the trans portrait “Framing Agnes” won both the People’s Choice Award and the Innovator’s Award presented by Joey Soloway.
Delivering the most personal of acceptance speeches, wheelchair-bound filmmaker Reid Davenport – whose ‘I Didn’t See You There’ won US documentary filmmaking honors – addressed the filmmaking community “There are artists with disabilities trying to get their stories heard, so I’m asking you – filmmakers, industry leaders, funders, programmers, artists – to seek them out and let them in.
After building a streaming platform to host a COVID-safe version of the 2021 edition online, Sundance organizers hoped to return with a hybrid virtual and in-person event (based in Park City, Utah) this year. . Alas, the rise in infections from the Omicron variant forced them to bring the program back online – a blow to sponsors and filmmakers (a number of whom made the trip to Park City anyway). Yet with the infrastructure already in place, the festival was able to pivot smoothly, while losing much of the excitement and attention generated by the pre-pandemic model.
The full list of winners appears below:
AMERICAN DRAMA COMPETITION
Grand Jury Prize: “Nanny”
Audience Award: “Really Smooth Cha Cha”
Direction: Jamie Dack, “Palm Trees and Power Lines”
Waldo Salt Screenplay Award: KD Davila, “Emergency”
Special Jury Prize for Uncompromising Artistic Vision: Bradley Rust Grey, “blood”
Special Jury Prize for Ensemble Cast: John Boyega, Nicole Beharie, Selenis Leyva, Connie Britton, Olivia Washington, London Covington and Michael K Williams, 892”
AMERICAN DOCUMENTARY COMPETITION
Grand Jury Prize: “The exiled”
Audience Award: “Navalny”
Direction: Reid Davenport, “I Didn’t See You There”
Jonathan Oppenheim Publishing Award: Erin Casper and Jocelyne Chaput, “Fire of Love”
Special Jury Prize for Impact for Change: “Replica”
Special Jury Prize for Impact for Creative Vision: “Descending”
WORLD DRAMA CINEMA COMPETITION
Grand Jury Prize: “Utama”
Audience Award: “Picture of a Girl”
Directing Award: Maryna Er Gorbach, “Klondike”
Special Jury Prize: “Leonor will never die”
Special Jury Prize for Acting for Innovative Spirit: Teresa Sanchez, “Dos Estaciones”
WORLD CINEMA DOCUMENTARY COMPETITION
Grand Jury Prize: “All That Breathes”
Audience Award: “The territory”
Directing Award: “A House Made of Shards”
Special Jury Prize for Documentary Craftsmanship: “The territory”
Special Jury Award for Excellence in Filmmaking Verité: “Midwives”
NEXT Audience Award: “Framing Agnes”
NEXT Innovator Award: Chase Joynt, “Framing Agnes”
Alfred P. Sloan Feature Film Award: “After Yang”
Sundance Institute NHK Prize: Hasan Hadi, “The President’s Cake”
Sundance Institute/Amazon Studios Producers Awards for Narrative Feature Films: Amanda Marshall, “God’s Country”
Sundance Institute/Amazon Studios Producer Awards for Documentary Feature Films: Su Kim, “Free Chol Soo Lee”
Sundance Institute/Adobe Mentorship Award for Documentary Editing: Toby Shimin