This was one of the most interesting, difficult to watch films, I’ve had the pleasure of viewing (pun intended – not sorry). Writer/Director Ninja Thyberg nails the opening after the intro titles as the film’s lead character, Bella Cherry, portrayed by Sofia Kappel, is questioned at immigration as to whether she is in the United States for work or pleasure and she demurely coos, “Pleasure,” with a devil-may-care hint of what’s to come.
Unfortunately, after the brief porn-style opening, the narrative got real. Bella has trouble finding a job and eventually shows up to do an adult film audition. She’s nineteen years old, attractive, with beautiful blonde hair, and is looking for some good times. What transpires is the making of an adult film scene. It’s reflexive filmmaking aka we are aware of a film scene about making a film scene. The camera operator is crude and vulgar as he draws the silent ire of Bella. The male character continues the domineering behavior and Bella is trying her best to perform fellatio yet is quite awkward. She’s paid $900 for the day’s work.
From this first sex scene, Bella begins navigating the world of adult film. Although she doesn’t appear comfortable most of the time, she makes friends. Her Swedish mother calls telling her not to give up, stay the course and become successful. There is some miscommunication as Bella is not working in a dentist’s office. Far from it. As the narrative bends into very raw and brutal sex scenes, Bella comes to the realization the adult film industry is about business and comes to the realization that the adult film “stars” are not as whole and authentic as the B-movie actresses that Bella broke in with.
At times maybe Pleasure is a little cliche with its Porn Party where all the stars and industry actors come together at a mansion with a swimming pool and a stunning and expansive view of the surrounding suburban/urban area. Still, Pleasure hits the mark. Though Bella is new to the game she brings her own game. She learns to warm up to the more seasoned girls with her boldness and affinity for their affirmations while relying on her instincts to navigate her experiences with the male-dominated sets, predatory managers, and backbiting competitors.
Moreover, Pleasure uses its explicit portrayal to expose rather than titillate, offering a highly realistic feel for a no-holds-barred worker’s-eye view of the industry. Leading a cast mined from the adult entertainment world, first-time actress Kappel embodies a character who is constantly renegotiating, and re-crafting who she is from the fresh-faced newcomer to the fetish boundary-challenging performer to the ascending industry queen as she expresses herself wholeheartedly and unequivocally to the fullest. It is quite a performance. A must-see!
Pleasure screened in the Midnight Section at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival and honestly, I wasn’t expecting Thyberg’s hardcore approach to illuminating an industry often not thought very highly of and not given much attention. The closest film I’ve seen that delves below the superficial surface of the adult film industry was the 1997 Paul Thomas Anderson helmed Boogie Nights. Pleasure goes deeper and is not a suitable film for an audience under the age of 18. With a runtime of 100 minutes, Pleasure is highly revealing and highly recommended.
*Contains graphic sexual content and sexual violence. Not suitable for audiences under 18.
After viewing Smoke Signals, the Audience Award and Filmmakers Trophy winner at the 1988 Sundance Film Festival, and the first feature film written, directed, and produced by Native Americans, I had an overwhelming desire to see more Indigenous filmmaking. Sundance Film Festival was organized around the guiding principle of giving Native American voices a platform. The 2021 Sundance Film Festival premiered a total of four Indigenous films, three short-form films, and one feature-length film, Wild Indian from Lyle Mitchell Corbine, Jr., (a member of the Northern Wisconsin Bad River Tribe of Lake Superior Chippewa).
Wild Indian opens with a metaphorical scene from possibly the 18th century depicting a Native-American in the woods shooting another Native-American in the distance. In a preceding scene, it is quickly revealed that Makwa, a young Anishinaabe boy, has a rough life. He’s bullied at school and doesn’t get along well at home with his young parents. He often appears with bruises he says he got falling down, but no one believes him.
As he is being questioned in the school’s administrative office a majestic piece of cinematography provides foreshadowing. Makwa has only one friend, Ted-O. Makwa and Ted-O like to escape by playing in the woods, until the day Makwa shockingly murders a schoolmate. After covering up the crime, Makwa runs away and the two boys go on to live very different lives.
Now, as adult men, they must face the truth of what they have done and what they have become. In what feels like going through a time and space continuum, Corbine takes the narrative to California where we are introduced to Michael, a senior-level corporate executive with authority over a Jesse Eisenberg character. In addition, Michael has a stylish home and a beautiful wife. With a strong and compelling visual style that evokes both fascination and dread, it quickly becomes clear Michael, portrayed by Michael Greyeyes, has done terrible, unforgivable things.
Displaying sadomasochist tendencies, Michael is struggling to hold it all together. Meanwhile, a hard-looking adult Ted-O is being released from prison. Ted-O returns to the reservation, camping in the woods and making amends to the murdered boy’s mother with the truth of what happened to her son the day Makwa murdered him. Despite making his amends, Ted-O still suffers inner conflict and decides he must track down Makwa and complete the cycle of justice.
Unfortunately for Ted-O, Michael gains the upper hand and kills Ted-O to continue his life in California while covering up any links to the past. Michael still has to face the presiding District Attorney with jurisdiction over the reservation and the accusation from the murdered boy’s mother, Mrs. Wolf. In a diabolical manner, Michael manages to clear himself.
Wild Indian is a compelling look into the state of Native American life. And, Michael Greyeyes delivers a gripping, enigmatic performance as a modern Native American with a dark past. In addition, Kate Bosworth portrays Michael’s wife in California, with considerable depth and nuance. Jesse Eisenberg delivers a strong supporting performance and is credited as Executive Producer as well. Wild Indian was writer/director Corbine’s feature debut and is sure to become a touchstone in modern Indigenous cinema. Highly recommended.
Ma Belle, Ma Beauty, winner of the NEXT (the NEXT program provides a showcase for what the festival calls “Pure, bold works distinguished by an innovative, forward-thinking approach to story-telling.”) Audience Award, presented by Adobe at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival, follows Bertie (Idella Johnson), Lane (Hannah Pepper), and Fred (Lucien Guignard) who had all three once shared a balanced, functional, polyamorous relationship in New Orleans. At its core, Ma Belle, Ma Beauty, is simply a complicated love story between Bertie and Lane. But it is also much more than that. The film’s director, Marion Hill, is a New Orleans-based director with roots in Vietnam, England, and France, and is known for her direction of the camera in the nuances of femme power, queer sensibilities, and radical sensuality across cultures. In her debut feature, Ma Belle, Ma Beauty, Hill touches eloquently on each aspect with respect and openness.
The mise-en-scene was scrumptious with some help from its employment of Hollywood-esque focusing and resultant eye-pleasing bokeh. The New Orleans-led, acoustic guitar soundtrack helped create tone while providing a much-needed respite from the COVID blues. In addition, a cast of beautiful actors giving powerful and intense performances amped up the narrative. In juxtaposition to the acting and music, and as equally important to the film’s narrative, was the on-location filming of open-air village markets, pristine waterways, and a country estate in the south of France providing a serenely magical quality to the film’s ethereal tone.
Ma Belle, Ma Beauty, opens with Bertie, who married Fred and settled into Fred’s hometown, in southern France continuing to pursue her singing despite, or in spite of, a nagging depression. Soon, however, Lane—their quirky ex who disappeared from their three-way relationship years ago shows up unexpectedly for a surprise visit, bringing new energy and some emotional baggage of her own. As the tensions of unresolved disputes, misaligned intentions, and jealousy surface, the sexual dynamics skyrocket when a lovely painter, Noa (Sivan Noam Shimon), fresh out of her service commitment to the Israeli Army, inserts herself into the mix. And, when the group of friends, including some attractive locals, venture down to the river for frolicking in the sun, Bertie begins experiencing feelings of liberation and the vague yet persistent reawakening of her past sexuality.
Posited as “an interracial, polyamorous, relationship-driven dive into the complexities of sexual fluidity and triangulation” with a promise to deliver a respite from the COVID blues, I felt Hill succeeded triumphantly. Having lived and worked in New Orleans in the immediate aftermath and reconstruction following Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, my interest was piqued upon seeing where the director hailed from. In her “Meet the Artist” introductory video, Hill explained that the film was made with a lot of love as a small group of friends and collaborators from many different places came together in France to make the film. And that all of the post-production and music, which features over twenty New Orleans musicians, was done in New Orleans.
In closing, Ma Belle, Ma Beauty was recently added to the upcoming SXSW (formerly known as South by Southwest) Film Festival slated to run March 16-20, 2021, as a Festival Favorite from acclaimed standouts and selected premieres from around the world. Ma Belle, Ma Beauty is a beautifully constructed film with exquisite mise-en-scene, gorgeous soundtrack, heady acting, and delightful direction. Highly recommended.
Judas and The Black Messiah, recipient of the recently awarded, American Film Institute’s Movie of the Year, made its World Premiere at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival with fanfare. A late, Warner Brothers production, addition to the Premiere category starring Daniel Kaluuya and LaKeith Stanfield, Judas and The Black Messiah was a richly told story of the leadership, revolutionary activism, and eventual assassination of Black Panther Fred Hampton, and powerful addition to the social revolution films of the 1960s and early 1970s.
With the film set in 1968, social unrest in the United States was at the highest it had been in close to 50 years. The New Left was emerging. The Anti-War Movement was underway. Fears and threats of Communism were still present. And Chicago was hosting the 1968 Democratic National Convention. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy had been recently assassinated and as the Black Community looking for new leadership, the Chicago Chapter of the Black Panthers and its chairman, Fred Hampton, saw an opportunity to fill a void and unite the disenfranchised.
All eyes were on Chicago, as the United States continued to deal with the issues at home and abroad. J. Edgar Hoover, the founder and first director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation had turned the organization into a menacing, crime-fighting apparatus. Richard Nixon was elected as the 37th President of the United States under the promise of law and order. Hoover and his FBI saw Hampton as a radical “Black Messiah” threat and managed to compromise a young black male, William O’Neal, portrayed by Stanfield, to infiltrate the Black Panthers and keep tabs on Fred Hampton and the Chicago Chapter. Hampton, portrayed to a tee by Kaluuya, was young, impressionable, and highly charismatic. He rose up in the ranks of the Black Panthers and rallied the New Left, the Anti-War Movement, and the young Communists with his war cry, “I am… a Revolutionary.”
Judas and The Black Messiah, directed by Shaka King, with a cast, led by Kaluuya and Stanfield, and supported by a strong performance from Dominique Fishback portraying Hampton’s life partner, Deborah Johnson, is exceptional as the production design, costuming, makeup and wardrobe move the film into a period piece. And, the writing pulls heavily from historical texts with Black Panther phrases such as “War is politics with blood. Politics is war without blood.” King also manages to pose questions about how to make progress as his characters address the concepts of reform and revolution. While the film is set in 1968-69, these issues are still prevalent today.
Judas and The Black Messiah, an historical drama on par with Gore Vidal’s Lincoln, is an emotionally moving, and at times, riveting film. Seeing history brought to life in a viscerally real and emphatic manner, made the work very compelling to me. Fred Hampton was killed at the age of 21 on December 4th, 1969. The aggrieved parties would wait well over a decade for justice with a civil suit settlement of $1.85 million in 1982 after an initial coroner’s jury inquest in January of 1970 found Fred Hampton’s death justifiable homicide. Watch at your own peril.
CODA (Children of Deaf Adults) despite being somewhat formulaic pushed all the buttons – strong writing, superb acting, and solid production design. Imagine being the only family member who can hear and speak! Basically, that’s where our film’s lead actress finds herself. Actress Emilia Jones portrays seventeen-year-old, Ruby Rossi, a Peppermint Patty, and semi-typical teen in that she goes to high school, has a teenage crush, and feels awkward socially in her hometown of Gloucester, Massachusetts.
What’s not typical is that she engages in a commercial fishing operation with her family before school, signs to communicate with and for her father (Tony Kotsur), mother (Marlee Matlin), and brother (Daniel Durant), haggles with the local fishmonger and sings with a voice most nightingales would be envious of. Despite, all of this, the Director and Writer of CODA, Sian Heder, manages to thread the needle as most of the time it’s wholly plausible that this person is living this life.
CODA so pleased audiences at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival, it walked away with more awards than any film in recent Sundance history. Most notably it took home both the Grand Jury Prize and the Audience Award for best drama. In addition, Apple TV splashed a record-smashing $25 million for the film rights. Until the last few years, no film had reached the $10 million mark. So don’t expect to see CODA out at any local film festivals.
At its most basic essence, CODA is heartwarming, endearing, and full of characters embodied by actors who truly understand the concept of emoting. In my opinion, next to Oscar-winner, Marlee Matlin (Children of a Lesser God), Mexican actor/writer/director/producer, Eugenio Derbez, stands out as he delivers more than one show-stealing moment with his dead-pan presence and energetic delivery. Emilia Jones’s performance is exceptional as her character Rubi’s struggle is self-evident onscreen. Rubi is conflicted with going her own way or continuing to support her family. The issue comes to the forefront when she joins the school’s choir and finds herself attracted to her duet partner and her latent singing ability draws the attention of her tough-love choirmaster, portrayed by Derbez.
As the conflict mounts, Rubi learns to stand in her truth and Director Heder allows the audience to witness and experience the world from the deaf person’s perspective. But wait! There’s more. Heder illuminates the family in a subtle manner with the prime focus on Rubi. Despite their handicap of being deaf, they all engage in what is considered normal activities. There’s sibling rivalry, budding relationship angst, concerns about making a living and supporting a family. And, there’s some hilarious comic relief in the parents’ expressive love for one another.
Normally, I’m not so drawn to a dramedy. Yet, CODA, while predictable at times, pivoted at critical moments creating a most compelling narrative with its expressive, heartfelt acting, its naturalistic, on-location filming, and its strong writing. Not sure when CODA will be available for public viewing. But, I can definitely say. CODA is worth the price of admission. Highly recommended!
While we wait for the film’s release check out the Meet the Artist: Sian Heder on Coda video. You’ll be glad you did!
When I viewed One For the Road, recipient of the 2021 Sundance Film Festival World Cinema Dramatic Special Jury Award: Creative Vision, and directed by Baz Poonpiriya (the first Thai director to feature in Sundance’s World Cinema Dramatic Competition), my mind wandered as I became aware of a thought, “This film reminds me of Wong Kar Wai’s work, In the Mood for Love.” The film had a wonderful soundtrack with some Cat Stevens music along with several mainstream hits, a strong production design, and a lovely mise-en-scene with exquisite cinematography and a touch of colorization. One For the Road follows a young Thai man, who is dying from cancer and has decided to make his final amends by delivering a parting gift to those closest to him on the earthly plane. The narrative structure is non-linear as the director uses flashbacks to inform the viewer and add depth of meaning to the present.
Unfortunately for the film’s lead character, Aood, portrayed by Ice Natara, the only Thai runway model in South Korea, he doesn’t drive and doesn’t own a car. So, he calls on his best friend, Boss, portrayed by actor/singer/model Tor Thanapob, to drive him across Thailand beginning in the north and traversing the length of the country down to the south in order to bring closure with the people from Aood’s past. Only, Boss owns a bar in New York where he seems to be living the dream with an endless lineup of beautiful women that he entertains after hours.
Boss and his family had supported Aood over the years and the two were as close as two blood brothers until a falling out left them estranged. But when Aood tells Boss he is sick and needs Boss’s help to complete a final “to do” list, Boss comes to help. As the two rekindle their friendship, Boss puts up with Aood’s idiosyncrasies and his overt intrusions into people’s lives with his parting gifts. Yet, when Aood tries to give Boss a gift, truths are revealed threatening their friendship while simultaneously offering an opportune moment for redemption.
One for the Road is full of nostalgia as multiple genres come together including romance, buddy film, as well as sex-positive melodrama. It’s very visual, very visceral, and one I was sad to see it end after 136 minutes. But end it did and as the credits began to roll, there it was – a title revealing “Produced by Wong Kar Wai” – “… a filmmaker who specializes in making the evanescent tangible, in capturing fleeting emotions in a style that is always poetic, often ravishing and, despite his films’ surface-level dreaminess, unerringly precise.” (https://www.nytimes.com/2020/11/26/movies/Wong-Kar-wai-romance-films.html) I’m a huge fan of Mr. Wong’s work so all I could do in that moment was sit and smile. What a wonderful gift. (Wong and Baz worked together on One For The Road for three years.)
Director Baz Poonpiriya, a strong storyteller who has come into his own, had previously helmed Bad Genius the 2017 Thai box-office smashing and the record-breaking winner of twelve categories at the 27th Suphannahong National Film Awards (the Thai Oscars), before embarking on One For The Road with Wong. If you’re a fan of Wong, this is a film you don’t want to miss. And, if you’re a fan of Thai film (Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s 2010 Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives turned me on to Thai film), it’s a must-see! Lastly, if you simply enjoy exquisitely told films, I highly recommend you see Baz Poonpiriya’s One For The Road!
The most pleasant surprise of my 2021 Sundance Film Festival screenings goes to Jamie Redford’s Amy Tan: Unintended Memoir. I was deeply saddened upon hearing Redford passed away before the film’s screening. Amy Tan: Unintended Memoir was produced by Karen Pritzker and is a PBS American Masters Picture Production. Tan is most recognized for her Joy Luck Club work. The 1993 film, directed by Wayne Wang, spoke volumes to what was lost between generations illuminated through the onscreen conflict between Chinese-American daughters and their immigrant mothers. The film was based on Tan’s 1989 novel, The Joy Luck Club. To date, Tan has written two widely acclaimed novels, the aforementioned Joy Luck Club and the 1991 The Bonesetter’s Daughter, based on Tan’s own relationship with her mother and the stories of her grandmother. In addition, Tan has written and published two children’s books, six fiction novels, a few short stories, and several non-fiction books including The Opposite of Fate: A Book of Musings (2003) and the 2017 Where The Past Begins: A Writer’s Memoir.
It’s one thing for me to simply reflect and write about Tan’s body of work. It’s entirely another issue for me to delve into Redford’s approach. Utilizing traditional documentary techniques of voice-over narration (in this case Tan’s), archival footage and photos, film clips, direct interviews, personal testimony, and the more recent animation technique, Redford reveals a writer’s life in all its fullness and in all its complexities. As consumers, we all often believe writers simply write and occasionally have to deal with the infamous and godforsaken “writer’s block.”
Furthermore, Tan’s openness in sharing her family’s history, especially the women’s side of it, her own personal process, and professional writing history, allowed Redford to provide a very intimate look into Tan’s impressive body of work and into her psyche. For example, Amy Tan began her career as a technical writer and she found it paid well yet unfulfilling from a humanistic viewpoint. So, in her pursuit of some sort of self-actualization, she became a fiction writer as she felt fiction would actually allow for a more expansive expression of the truth. I suspect, other than her mother, that anyone would have guessed the impact her writing The Joy Luck Club would have on her life, and on audiences here in America and around the world. It was a bonafide game-changer.
I found Redford’s work, Amy Tan: Unintended Memoir, inspiring and heartwarming. On a deeper personal level, I felt I understood how Tan had become one of our most beloved contemporary authors – she learned to listen! Simultaneously, I identified with Tan’s immense intellectual curiosity and her overwhelming desire to express her world experience. Facing racism, misogyny, and intergenerational conflict of growing up in a new world separate and distinct from her mother’s she managed to also write for truth. I was so enthralled after watching Amy Tan: Unintended Memoir, I ordered and purchased two of her books. Currently, Tan has embarked on painting artistry from her home base in the Bay Area of San Francisco, California. Amy Tan: Unintended Memoir, a fascinating portrait of a deeply beloved and deeply poetic American author. Highly recommended!
Until next time. I look forward to seeing you at the movies…
Being a horseracing (often referred to as the “sport of kings”) fan, I felt compelled to see the premiere of 2021 Sundance Film Festival Dramatic Competition selection, Jockey, directed by Clint Bentley. And man, am I glad I did! Without much to go on besides the title, I settled in for what I imagined would be a similar storyline to one of my favorite horseracing films, Seabiscuit.
Jockey centers around Jackson Silva, a successful, well-known racehorse rider (a jockey) seeking a final championship to end his rather illustrious career. Silva is portrayed by the chameleon-like, veteran actor Clifton Collins, Jr., (The Last Castle, Capote, Star Trek). And much like Seabiscuit’s jockey, Red Pollard, portrayed by Tobey Maguire, the often unseen human elements of jockeying are on full display in Jockey.
In Jockey (and a major issue for Red Pollard in Seabiscuit as well) Silva’s need for an optimal weight of 134 pounds and the challenges inherent in getting the targeted weight has serious complications. Over the years his loss of bone mass has decreased the protection for his skeletal structure and the exacerbated effects from the lack of caloric intake on his physical and mental energies are becoming more evident. The lack of skeletal protection comes to the forefront for an aging Jackson Silva as he already has suffered greatly with three broken back incidents from falls and is experiencing issues with his riding form from the early onset of ALS, a rapidly progressing neuromuscular disease affecting the limbs causing increasing weakness and muscle wasting.
Jockey’s storyline doesn’t sugarcoat and Bentley doesn’t whitewash the struggles of being a jockey, let alone a famous jockey like Jackson Silva on the horseracing circuit. With a stellar, nuanced performance from extremely talented Canadian Molly Parker as stable owner Ruth Wilkes, the narrative dives deeper into visceral emotionality and vulnerability as the male/female dynamic provides for a broader gamut of feelings between the characters. One of the film’s great lines comes from Wilkes addressing her concern for Silva’s insistent need to keep riding, “the critical difference between a racehorse and a jockey is a horse doesn’t know when to quit.” The appearance of Moises Arias’s character, Gabrielles Boullait, adds another dimension to the film’s humanity as Gabriel wants to be a jockey just like “his father” Jackson Silva. Silva takes the young man under his tutelage and begins training Gabriel in earnest.
I was pleasantly surprised with Jockey’s narrative as it did entwine some of the Seabiscuit narratives of the hardships of jockeying while also including seedier elements of what goes on when the race is over depicted in David Milch’s short-lived (10 episodes,) Dustin Hoffman led HBO series, Luck. Much of jockey was shot on location at the Surf Paradise Racetrack in Phoenix, Arizona. In my opinion, what separated Jockey from Seabiscuit is the depth Bentley gets from the actors and the writing is excellent. Bentley shares a writing credit with Greg Kwedar, whose self-claimed mission is to tell stories of human connection in difficult places. Mission accomplished as Jockey orbits around a series of multi-faceted relationships with some profound emotional depths. And what separated Jockey from Luck is the intimate focus on the jockey and less focus on stable shenanigans. Very highly recommended viewing!
Sony Pictures Classics announced the night before the premierethatthey acquired all worldwide rights to the film, JOCKEY.
Top Prizes Go To CODA, Summer of Soul (…Or, When The Revolution Could Not Be Televised),Flee, and Hive
CODA, Summer of Soul (…Or, When The Revolution Could Not Be Televised), Hive, Writing With Fire, and Ma Belle, My Beauty Win Audience Awards
Presented by Acura
Park City, UT — After six days and 73 feature films, the 2021 Sundance Film Festival’s Awards Ceremony took place tonight, hosted by actor and comedian Patton Oswalt, with jurors presenting 24 prizes for feature filmmaking and seven for Short Films. Honorees, named in total below, represent new achievements in global independent storytelling. Bold, intimate, and humanizing stories prevailed across categories, with Grand Jury Prizes awarded to CODA (U.S. Dramatic), Summer of Soul (…Or, When The Revolution Could Not Be Televised) (U.S. Documentary), Flee (World Cinema Documentary) and Hive (World Cinema Dramatic).
“This has been a singular Festival for a singular moment,” said Sundance Institute CEO Keri Putnam. “We’ve been able to elevate independent art and celebrate a wonderful slate of films by gathering in new ways, ways that worked thanks to adventurous audiences everywhere, eager to connect and engage with the work and with one another. Watching people come together to connect and discuss exciting new work has been incredibly rewarding – and a resounding confirmation that great independent storytelling inspires rich conversation.”
“This was not a ‘virtual’ festival, it was a real festival and the power of these artists and their work was what made it so,” added Sundance Film Festival Director Tabitha Jackson, “It has been a privilege to help this work meet new audiences and enter the culture with such fanfare, especially now, when breaking through the noise is harder than ever.”
The awards ceremony marks a key point of the 2021 Festival, where 73 feature-length and 50 short films — selected from more than 14,000 submissions — were showcased online via the Festival’s custom-built online platform, as well as in 28 Satellite Screen locations across the United States. Award-winning films will screen for pass holders tomorrow, February 3.
This year’s jurors, invited in recognition of their accomplishments in the arts, technical craft, and visionary storytelling, deliberated extensively before presenting awards from the stage; this year’s feature film jurors were Julie Dash, Cynthia Erivo, Hanya Yanagihara, Ashley Clark, Joshua Oppenheimer, Lana Wilson, Zeynep Atakan, Isaac Julien, Daniela Vega, Kim Longinotto, Mohamed Saïd Ouma, and Jean Tsien. Kate and Laura Mulleavy served as co-jurors for NEXT. Shorts jurors were Raúl Castillo, Tacita Dean, and Inge de Leeuw. A newly-created award, the Jonathan Oppenheim Editing Award for U.S. Documentary, has been created to memorialize the late editor and joins the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award for U.S. Dramatic as a prize named for a beloved member of the Sundance artistic community. This year’s Audience Awards were presented by Sundance alumni Alison Brie, Shira Haas, and Diego Luna.
Feature film award winners in previous years include: Minari, Boys State, Epicentro, Yalda, A Night for Forgiveness, Clemency, One Child Nation, Honeyland, The Souvenir, The Miseducation of Cameron Post, I don’t feel at home in this world anymore., Weiner, Whiplash, Fruitvale Station, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Twenty Feet from Stardom, Searching for Sugarman, The Square, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, Cartel Land, The Wolf Pack, The Diary of a Teenage Girl, Dope, Dear White People, The Cove and Man on Wire.
GRAND JURY PRIZES
The U.S. Grand Jury Prize: Documentary was presented to: Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson, for Summer Of Soul (…Or, When The Revolution Could Not Be Televised) / U.S.A. (Director: Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson, Producers: David Dinerstein, Robert Fyvolent, Joseph Patel) — During the same summer as Woodstock, over 300,000 people attended the Harlem Cultural Festival, celebrating African American music and culture, and promoting Black pride and unity. The footage from the festival sat in a basement, unseen for over 50 years, keeping this incredible event in America’s history lost – until now.
The U.S. Grand Jury Prize: Dramatic was presented to: Siân Heder, for CODA / U.S.A. (Director and Screenwriter: Siân Heder, Producers: Philippe Rousselet, Fabrice Gianfermi, Patrick Wachsberger) — As a CODA – Child of Deaf Adults – Ruby is the only hearing person in her deaf family. When the family’s fishing business is threatened, Ruby finds herself torn between pursuing her love of music and her fear of abandoning her parents. Cast: Emilia Jones, Eugenio Derbez, Troy Kotsur, Ferdia Walsh-Peelo, Daniel Durant, and Marlee Matlin.
The World Cinema Grand Jury Prize: Documentary was presented to: Jonas Poher Rasmussen, for Flee / Denmark, France, Sweden, Norway (Director: Jonas Poher Rasmussen, Producers: Monica Hellström, Signe Byrge Sørensen) — Amin arrived as an unaccompanied minor in Denmark from Afghanistan. Today, he is a successful academic and is getting married to his long-time boyfriend. A secret he has been hiding for 20 years threatens to ruin the life he has built.
The World Cinema Grand Jury Prize: Dramatic was presented to: Blerta Basholli, for Hive / Kosovo, Switzerland, Macedonia, Albania (Director and Screenwriter: Blerta Basholli, Producers: Yll Uka, Valon Bajgora, Agon Uka) — Fahrije’s husband has been missing since the war in Kosovo. She sets up her own small business to provide for her kids, but as she fights against a patriarchal society that does not support her, she faces a crucial decision: to wait for his return, or to continue to persevere. Cast: Yllka Gashi, Çun Lajçi, Aurita Agushi, Kumrije Hoxha, Adriana Matoshi, Kaona Sylejmani.
The Audience Award: U.S. Documentary, Presented by Acura was presented to: Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson for Summer Of Soul (…Or, When The Revolution Could Not Be Televised) / U.S.A. (Director: Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson, Producers: David Dinerstein, Robert Fyvolent, Joseph Patel) — During the same summer as Woodstock, over 300,000 people attended the Harlem Cultural Festival, celebrating African American music and culture, and promoting Black pride and unity. The footage from the festival sat in a basement, unseen for over 50 years, keeping this incredible event in America’s history lost – until now.
The Audience Award: U.S. Dramatic, Presented by Acura was presented to: Siân Heder, for CODA / U.S.A. (Director and Screenwriter: Siân Heder, Producers: Philippe Rousselet, Fabrice Gianfermi, Patrick Wachsberger) — As a CODA – Child of Deaf Adults – Ruby is the only hearing person in her deaf family. When the family’s fishing business is threatened, Ruby finds herself torn between pursuing her love of music and her fear of abandoning her parents. Cast: Emilia Jones, Eugenio Derbez, Troy Kotsur, Ferdia Walsh-Peelo, Daniel Durant, and Marlee Matlin.
The Audience Award: World Cinema Dramatic was presented to: Blerta Basholli, for Hive / Kosovo, Switzerland, Macedonia, Albania (Director and Screenwriter: Blerta Basholli, Producers: Yll Uka, Valon Bajgora, Agon Uka) — Fahrije’s husband has been missing since the war in Kosovo. She sets up her own small business to provide for her kids, but as she fights against a patriarchal society that does not support her, she faces a crucial decision: to wait for his return, or to continue to persevere. Cast: Yllka Gashi, Çun Lajçi, Aurita Agushi, Kumrije Hoxha, Adriana Matoshi, Kaona Sylejmani.
The Audience Award: World Cinema Documentary was presented to: Rintu Thomas and Sushmit Ghosh, for Writing With Fire / India (Directors and Producers: Rintu Thomas, Sushmit Ghosh) — In a cluttered news landscape dominated by men, emerges India’s only newspaper run by Dalit women. Armed with smartphones, Chief Reporter Meera and her journalists break traditions on the frontlines of India’s biggest issues and within the confines of their own homes, redefining what it means to be powerful.
The Audience Award: NEXT, Presented by Adobe was presented to: Marion Hill, for Ma Belle, My Beauty / U.S.A., France (Director and Screenwriter: Marion Hill, Producers: Ben Matheny, Kelsey Scult, Marion Hill) — A surprise reunion in southern France reignites passions and jealousies between two women who were formerly polyamorous lovers. Cast: Idella Johnson, Hannah Pepper, Lucien Guignard, Sivan Noam Shimon.
DIRECTING, SCREENWRITING & EDITING AWARDS
The Directing Award: U.S. Documentary was presented to: Natalia Almada, for Users / U.S.A., Mexico (Director: Natalia Almada, Producers: Elizabeth Lodge Stepp, Josh Penn) — A mother wonders, will my children love their perfect machines more than they love me, their imperfect mother? She switches on a smart-crib lulling her crying baby to sleep. This perfect mother is everywhere. She watches over us, takes care of us. We listen to her. We trust her.
The Directing Award: U.S. Dramatic was presented to: Siân Heder, for CODA / U.S.A. (Director and Screenwriter: Siân Heder, Producers: Philippe Rousselet, Fabrice Gianfermi, Patrick Wachsberger) — As a CODA – Child of Deaf Adults – Ruby is the only hearing person in her deaf family. When the family’s fishing business is threatened, Ruby finds herself torn between pursuing her love of music and her fear of abandoning her parents. Cast: Emilia Jones, Eugenio Derbez, Troy Kotsur, Ferdia Walsh-Peelo, Daniel Durant, and Marlee Matlin.
The Directing Award: World Cinema Documentary was presented to: Hogir Hirori, for Sabaya / Sweden (Director and Screenwriter: Hogir Hirori, Producers: Antonio Russo Merenda, Hogir Hirori) — With just a mobile phone and a gun, Mahmud, Ziyad and their group risk their lives trying to save Yazidi women and girls being held by ISIS as Sabaya (abducted sex slaves) in the most dangerous camp in the Middle East, Al-Hol in Syria.
The Directing Award: World Cinema Dramatic was presented to: Blerta Basholli, for Hive / Kosovo, Switzerland, Macedonia, Albania (Director and Screenwriter: Blerta Basholli, Producers: Yll Uka, Valon Bajgora, Agon Uka) — Fahrije’s husband has been missing since the war in Kosovo. She sets up her own small business to provide for her kids, but as she fights against a patriarchal society that does not support her, she faces a crucial decision: to wait for his return, or to continue to persevere. Cast: Yllka Gashi, Çun Lajçi, Aurita Agushi, Kumrije Hoxha, Adriana Matoshi, Kaona Sylejmani.
The Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award: U.S. Dramatic was presented to: Ari Katcher and Ryan Welch, for On the Count of Three / U.S.A. (Director: Jerrod Carmichael, Screenwriters: Ari Katcher, Ryan Welch, Producers: David Carrico, Adam Paulsen, Tom Werner, Jake Densen, Ari Katcher, Jimmy Price) — Two guns. Two best friends. And a pact to end their lives when the day is done. Cast: Jerrod Carmichael, Christopher Abbott, Tiffany Haddish, J.B. Smoove, Lavell Crawford, Henry Winkler.
The Jonathan Oppenheim Editing Award: U.S. Documentary was presented to: editors Kristina Motwani and Rebecca Adorno, for Homeroom / U.S.A. (Director: Peter Nicks, Producers: Peter Nicks, Sean Havey) — Following the class of 2020 at Oakland High School in a year marked by seismic change, exploring the emotional world of teenagers coming of age against the backdrop of a rapidly changing world.
SPECIAL JURY AWARDS
A U.S. Dramatic Special Jury Award for Ensemble Cast was presented to: the cast of CODA, for CODA / U.S.A. (Director and Screenwriter: Siân Heder, Producers: Philippe Rousselet, Fabrice Gianfermi, Patrick Wachsberger) — As a CODA – Child of Deaf Adults – Ruby is the only hearing person in her deaf family. When the family’s fishing business is threatened, Ruby finds herself torn between pursuing her love of music and her fear of abandoning her parents. Cast: Emilia Jones, Eugenio Derbez, Troy Kotsur, Ferdia Walsh-Peelo, Daniel Durant, and Marlee Matlin.
A U.S. Dramatic Special Jury Award for Best Actor was presented to: Clifton Collins Jr., for Jockey / U.S.A. (Director: Clint Bentley, Screenwriters: Clint Bentley, Greg Kwedar, Producers: Clint Bentley, Greg Kwedar, Nancy Schafer) — An aging jockey is determined to win one last championship, but his dream is complicated when a young rookie shows up claiming to be his son. Cast: Clifton Collins Jr., Molly Parker, Moises Arias.
A U.S. Documentary Special Jury Award: Emerging Filmmaker was presented to: Parker Hill and Isabel Bethencourt, for Cusp / U.S.A. (Directors: Parker Hill, Isabel Bethencourt, Producers: Zachary Luke Kislevitz, Parker Hill, Isabel Bethencourt) — In a Texas military town, three teenage girls confront the dark corners of adolescence at the end of a fever dream summer.
A U.S. Documentary Special Jury Award: Nonfiction Experimentation was presented to: Theo Anthony, for All Light, Everywhere/ U.S.A. (Director: Theo Anthony, Producers: Riel Roch-Decter, Sebastian Pardo, Jonna McKone) — An exploration of the shared histories of cameras, weapons, policing and justice. As surveillance technologies become a fixture in everyday life, the film interrogates the complexity of an objective point of view, probing the biases inherent in both human perception and the lens.
A World Cinema Documentary Special Jury Award: Vérité Filmmaking was presented to: Camilla Nielsson, for President / Denmark, U.S.A., Norway (Director: Camilla Nielsson, Producers: Signe Byrge Sørensen, Joslyn Barnes) — Zimbabwe is at a crossroads. The leader of the opposition MDC party, Nelson Chamisa, challenges the old guard ZANU-PF led by Emmerson Mnangagwa, known as “The Crocodile.” The election tests both the ruling party and the opposition – how do they interpret principles of democracy in discourse and in practice?
A World Cinema Documentary Special Jury Award: Impact for Change was presented to: Rintu Thomas and Sushmit Ghosh, for Writing With Fire / India (Directors and Producers: Rintu Thomas, Sushmit Ghosh) — In a cluttered news landscape dominated by men, emerges India’s only newspaper run by Dalit women. Armed with smartphones, Chief Reporter Meera and her journalists break traditions on the frontlines of India’s biggest issues and within the confines of their own homes, redefining what it means to be powerful.
A World Cinema Dramatic Special Jury Award: Acting was presented to: Jesmark Scicluna, for Luzzu / Malta (Director and Screenwriter: Alex Camilleri, Producers: Rebecca Anastasi, Ramin Bahrani, Alex Camilleri, Oliver Mallia) — Jesmark, a struggling fisherman on the island of Malta, is forced to turn his back on generations of tradition and risk everything by entering the world of black market fishing to provide for his girlfriend and newborn baby. Cast: Jesmark Scicluna, Michela Farrugia, David Scicluna.
A World Cinema Dramatic Special Jury Award: Creative Vision was presented to: Baz Poonpiriya, for One for the Road / China, Hong Kong, Thailand (Director: Baz Poonpiriya, Screenwriters: Baz Poonpiriya, Nottapon Boonprakob, Puangsoi Aksornsawang, Producer: Wong Kar Wai) — Boss is a consummate ladies’ man, a free spirit and a bar owner in NYC. One day, he gets a surprise call from Aood, an estranged friend who has returned home to Thailand. Dying of cancer, Aood enlists Boss’ help to complete a bucket list – but both are hiding something. Cast: Tor Thanapob, Ice Natara, Violette Wautier, Aokbab Chutimon, Ploi Horwang, Noon Siraphun. World Premiere
NEXT INNOVATOR PRIZE PRESENTED BY ADOBE
The NEXT Innovator Prize presented by Adobe was presented to: Dash Shaw, for Cryptozoo / U.S.A. (Director and Screenwriter: Dash Shaw, Producers: Kyle Martin, Jane Samborski, Bill Way, Tyler Davidson) — As cryptozookeepers struggle to capture a Baku (a legendary dream-eating hybrid creature) they begin to wonder if they should display these rare beasts in the confines of a cryptozoo, or if these mythical creatures should remain hidden and unknown. Cast: Lake Bell, Michael Cera, Angeliki Papoulia, Zoe Kazan, Peter Stormare, Grace Zabriskie.
SHORT FILM AWARDS PRESENTED BY SOUTHWEST AIRLINES®
Jury prizes for short filmmaking were awarded at the same ceremony. The Short Film Grand Jury Prize was awarded to Lizard / United Kingdom (Director: Akinola Davies, Jr., Screenwriter: The Davies Brothers). The Short Film Jury Award: U.S. Fiction was awarded to The Touch of the Master’s Hand / U.S.A. (Director and Screenwriter: Gregory Barnes. The Short Film Jury Award: International Fiction was awarded to Bambirak / U.S.A., Germany (Director and Screenwriter: Zamarin Wahdat). The Short Film Jury Award: Nonfiction was awarded to Don’t Go Tellin’ Your Momma / U.S.A., Germany, France, Italy (Directors and Screenwriters: Topaz Jones, rubberband.). The Short Film Jury Award: Animation was awarded to Souvenir Souvenir / France (Director and Screenwriter: Bastien Dubois). A Short Film Special Jury Award for Acting was presented to Wiggle Room / U.S.A. (Directors and Screenwriters: Sam Guest, Julia Baylis). A Short Film Special Jury Award for Screenwriting was awarded to The Criminals / France, Romania, Turkey (Director and Screenwriter: Serhat Karaaslan).
EARLIER SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL AWARDS
The 2021 Alfred P. Sloan Feature Film Prize, presented to an outstanding feature film about science or technology, was presented to Sons of Monarchs. The filmmakers received a $20,000 cash award from Sundance Institute with support from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.
The Sundance Institute | Amazon Studios Producers Award for Nonfiction went to Nicole Salazar, for Philly D.A.
The Sundance Institute | Amazon Studios Producers Award for Fiction went to Natalie Qasabian, for Run.
The Sundance Institute | Adobe Mentorship Award for Editing Nonfiction went to Juli Vizza, and the Sundance Institute | Adobe Mentorship Award for Editing Fiction went to Terilyn Shropshire.
The Sundance Institute | NHK Award went to Meryman Joobeur, for her film Motherhood.
The Sundance Film Festival®
The Sundance Film Festival has introduced global audiences to some of the most groundbreaking films of the past three decades, including Clemency, Never Rarely Sometimes Always, Zola, On The Record, Boys State, The Farewell, Honeyland, One Child Nation, The Souvenir, The Infiltrators, Sorry to Bother You, Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, Hereditary, Call Me By Your Name, Get Out, The Big Sick, Mudbound, Fruitvale Station, Whiplash, Brooklyn, Precious, The Cove, Little Miss Sunshine, An Inconvenient Truth, Napoleon Dynamite, Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Reservoir Dogs, and sex, lies, and videotape. The Festival is a program of the non-profit Sundance Institute. 2021 Festival sponsors to date include: Presenting Sponsors – Acura, SundanceTV, Chase Sapphire, Adobe; Leadership Sponsors – Amazon Studios, AT&T, DoorDash, Dropbox, Netflix, Omnicom Group, Southwest Airlines® , WarnerMedia; Sustaining Sponsors – AMC, Audible, Canada Goose, Canon U.S.A., Inc., Dell Technologies, Documentary Plus, GEICO, IMDbPro, Stella Artois®, Unity Technologies, University of Utah Health, White Claw Hard Seltzer, Zoom; Media Sponsors – The Atlantic, IndieWire, Los Angeles Times, NPR, The New York Times, Variety, Vulture, The Wall Street Journal. Sundance Institute recognizes critical support from the State of Utah as Festival Host State. The support of these organizations helps offset the Festival’s costs and sustain the Institute’s year-round programs for independent artists. sundance.org/festival
As a champion and curator of independent stories for the stage and screen, the nonprofit Sundance Institute provides and preserves the space for artists in film, theatre, film composing, and digital media to create and thrive. Founded in 1981 by Robert Redford, the Institute’s signature Labs, granting, and mentorship programs which are dedicated to developing new work and take place throughout the year in the U.S. and internationally, are supported largely through contributed revenue. Sundance Co//ab, a digital community platform, brings artists together to learn from each other and Sundance Advisors and connect in a creative space, developing and sharing works in progress. The Sundance Film Festival and other public programs connect audiences and artists to ignite new ideas, discovering original voices, and build a community dedicated to independent storytelling. Sundance Institute has supported such projects as Clemency, Never Rarely Sometimes Always, Zola, On The Record, Boys State, The Farewell, Honeyland, One Child Nation, The Souvenir, The Infiltrators, Sorry to Bother You, Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, Hereditary, Call Me By Your Name, Get Out, The Big Sick, Mudbound, Fruitvale Station, City So Real, Top of the Lake, Between the World & Me, Wild Goose Dreams and Fun Home. Join Sundance Institute on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube.
This will be the last daily update for the 2021 Sundance Film Festival. I hope everyone had a chance to experience some of the magic of Sundance these last few days. I know I did!
These are free event highlights for tomorrow, February 2nd, 2021. All of these activities are free to view globally. Sign up for an account at Festival.Sundance.org to access. All times are U.S. Mountain time.
WHAT:On Tuesday, February 2, be a part of the 2021 Sundance Film Festival’s Awards Night Ceremony and see which projects were selected to take home prizes by the jury members and by the 2021 Sundance Film Festival audiences. Free and open to all, join us to see who takes home the top prizes in the U.S. Dramatic Competition, U.S. Documentary Competition, World Dramatic Competition, World Documentary Competition, and NEXT.
WHO:Hosted by actor and comedian Patton Oswalt; along with Sundance’s Keri Putnam (CEO, Sundance Institute), Tabitha Jackson (Festival Director, Sundance Film Festival), and Kim Yutani (Director of Programming, Sundance Film Festival); special appearances by Alison Brie, Shira Haas, and Diego Luna.
Joined by the 2021 Sundance Film Festival jurors: Zeynep Atakan, Raúl Castillo, Ashley Clark, Julie Dash, Tacita Dean, Cynthia Erivo, Isaac Julien, Inge de Leeuw, Kim Longinotto, Laura Mulleavy, Kate Mulleavy, Joshua Oppenheimer, Mohamed Ouma Saïd, Jean Tsien, Daniela Vega, Lana Wilson, and Hanya Yanagihara.