Sundance Film Festival Director John Cooper
to Step Aside
Will Assume Newly-Created Emeritus Director Role Following 2020 Festival, After 30 Years on Staff, 11 as Director
Legacies Include Short Film Category & Competition, New Frontier, Festivals in London & Hong Kong
Following Robert Redford’s lead from last year’s press conference, Sundance Film Festival Director John Cooper stepping aside.
Los Angeles — Sundance Institute announced today that John Cooper, Director of the Sundance Film Festival, will move into a newly-created Emeritus Director role following the 2020 Sundance Film Festival. 2020 will mark his 30th Sundance Film Festival, and his 11th year as Festival Director.
The new role will focus on special projects and overseeing the 40th anniversary of the Sundance Institute to be celebrated in 2021. The search for a new Director for the Sundance Film Festival will be led by the Institute’s CEO, Keri Putnam.
During his tenure to date, Cooper has kept the Festival vital and competitive with the growing independent film community and industry. Signature achievements in the Festival’s programming include the creation of the Short Film section and competition, as well as the Documentary Premiere, NEXT and New Frontier sections. His cultivation of the global independent film community, including helming Sundance Film Festival: London and Sundance Film Festival: Hong Kong, have helped build and reinforce the Institute’s year round global presence.
His community-building efforts included creating the Sundance Industry Office and the youth-focused Sundance Ignite Program, as well as early development of the Arthouse Convergence, all the while building systems and staff to handle a growing volume of submissions.
Said Cooper, “This journey has been exhilarating. I’ve been lucky to find my perfect job. l always had the founding principles, passed down by Robert Redford, to guide me. I attribute any success I have had to being part of an amazing staff (past and present) who strive together to help storytellers follow their dreams and launch careers. I’ve got such confidence and pride in the team, and am excited by all that the future holds. I look forward to remaining a part of this fantastic organization in my new role, and creating a seamless transition for new Festival leadership.”
Putnam said, “Cooper’s contributions are immeasurably large and he will be missed in this role…but then again, he will be right down the hall in this new capacity. He’ll lend his vision and experience to key projects, as we build towards our 40th anniversary celebration and look ahead to the coming decades of supporting independent creativity.”
Founded in 1981 by Robert Redford, Sundance Institute is a nonprofit organization that provides and preserves the space for artists in film, theatre, and media to create and thrive. The Institute’s signature Labs, granting, and mentorship programs, dedicated to developing new work, take place throughout the year in the U.S. and internationally. The Sundance Film Festival and other public programs connect audiences to artists in igniting new ideas, discovering original voices, and building a community dedicated to independent storytelling. Sundance Institute has supported such projects as Sorry to Bother You, Eighth Grade, Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, Hereditary, RBG, Call Me By Your Name, Get Out, The Big Sick, Top of the Lake, Winter’s Bone, Dear White People, Brooklyn, Little Miss Sunshine, 20 Feet From Stardom, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Fruitvale Station,I’m Poppy, America to Me, Leimert Park, Spring Awakening, A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder and Fun Home. Join Sundance Institute on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube.
(Source: Press release provided by Sundance Press Office)
Top Prizes Go To Clemency, One Child Nation, The Souvenir and Honeyland
Brittany Runs a Marathon, Knock Down the House, Queen of Hearts and Sea of Shadows Win Audience Awards
Park City, Utah — After 10 days and 121 feature films, the 2019 Sundance Film Festival’s Awards Ceremony took place tonight, with host Marianna Palka emceeing and jurors presenting 28 prizes for feature filmmaking. 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 Clemency (U.S. Dramatic), One Child Nation (U.S. Documentary), Honeyland (World Cinema Documentary) and The Souvenir (World Cinema Dramatic).
“Supporting artists and their stories has been at the core of Sundance Institute’s mission from the very beginning,” said Sundance Institute President and Founder Robert Redford. “At this critical moment, it’s more necessary than ever to support independent voices, to watch and listen to the stories they tell.”
“This year’s expansive Festival celebrated and championed risk-taking artists,” said Keri Putnam, the Institute’s Executive Director. “As the Festival comes to a close, we look forward to watching the stories and conversations that started here as they shape and define our culture in the year to come.”
“These past ten days have been extraordinary,” said John Cooper, Sundance Film Festival Director. “It’s been an honor to stand with these artists, and to see their work challenge, enlighten and charm its first audiences.”
The awards ceremony marked the culmination of the 2019 Festival, where 121 feature-length and 73 short films — selected from 14,259 submissions — were showcased in Park City, Salt Lake City and Sundance, Utah, alongside work in the new Indie Episodic category, panels, music and New Frontier. The ceremony was live-streamed; video is available at youtube.com/sff.
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 jurors were Desiree Akhavan, Damien Chazelle, Dennis Lim, Phyllis Nagy, Tessa Thompson, Lucien Castaing-Taylor, Yance Ford, Rachel Grady, Jeff Orlowski, Alissa Wilkinson, Jane Campion, Charles Gillibert, Ciro Guerra, Maite Alberdi, Nico Marzano, Véréna Paravel, Young Jean Lee, Carter Smith, Sheila Vand, and Laurie Anderson. Festival Favorite, an award voted on by audiences, will be announced in the coming days.
Feature film award winners in previous years include: 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.
Of the 28 prizes awarded tonight to 23 films – comprising the work of 27 filmmakers – 13 (56.5%) were directed by one or more women; eight (34.8%) were directed by one or more people of color; and one (4.3%) was directed by a person who identifies as LGBTQI+.
2019 SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL FEATURE FILM AWARDS
The U.S. Grand Jury Prize: Documentary was presented by Rachel Grady to: Nanfu Wang and Jialing Zhang, for One Child Nation / China, U.S.A. (Directors: Nanfu Wang, Jialing Zhang, Producers: Nanfu Wang, Jialing Zhang, Julie Goldman, Christoph Jörg, Christopher Clements, Carolyn Hepburn) — After becoming a mother, a filmmaker uncovers the untold history of China’s one-child policy and the generations of parents and children forever shaped by this social experiment.
The U.S. Grand Jury Prize: Dramatic was presented by Damien Chazelle to: Chinonye Chukwu, for Clemency / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Chinonye Chukwu, Producers: Bronwyn Cornelius, Julian Cautherley, Peter Wong, Timur Bekbosunov) — Years of carrying out death row executions have taken a toll on prison warden Bernadine Williams. As she prepares to execute another inmate, Bernadine must confront the psychological and emotional demons her job creates, ultimately connecting her to the man she is sanctioned to kill. Cast: Alfre Woodard, Aldis Hodge, Richard Schiff, Wendell Pierce, Richard Gunn, Danielle Brooks.
The World Cinema Grand Jury Prize: Documentary was presented by Verena Paravel to: Tamara Kotevska and Ljubomir Stefanov, for Honeyland / Macedonia (Directors: Ljubomir Stefanov, Tamara Kotevska, Producer: Atanas Georgiev) — When nomadic beekeepers break Honeyland’s basic rule (take half of the honey, but leave half to the bees), the last female beehunter in Europe must save the bees and restore natural balance.
The World Cinema Grand Jury Prize: Dramatic was presented by Jane Campion to: Joanna Hogg, for The Souvenir / United Kingdom (Director and screenwriter: Joanna Hogg, Producers: Luke Schiller, Joanna Hogg) — A shy film student begins finding her voice as an artist while navigating a turbulent courtship with a charismatic but untrustworthy man. She defies her protective mother and concerned friends as she slips deeper and deeper into an intense, emotionally fraught relationship which comes dangerously close to destroying her dreams. Cast: Honor Swinton Byrne, Tom Burke, Tilda Swinton.
The Audience Award: U.S. Documentary, Presented by Acura was presented by Mark Duplass to: Knock Down the House / U.S.A. (Director: Rachel Lears, Producers: Sarah Olson, Robin Blotnick, Rachel Lears) — A young bartender in the Bronx, a coal miner’s daughter in West Virginia, a grieving mother in Nevada and a registered nurse in Missouri build a movement of insurgent candidates challenging powerful incumbents in Congress. One of their races will become the most shocking political upset in recent American history. Cast: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
The Audience Award: U.S. Dramatic, Presented by Acura was presented by Paul Downs Colaizzo to: Brittany Runs A Marathon / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Paul Downs Colaizzo, Producers: Matthew Plouffe, Tobey Maguire, Margot Hand) — A woman living in New York takes control of her life – one city block at a time. Cast:Jillian Bell, Michaela Watkins, Utkarsh Ambudkar, Lil Rel Howery, Micah Stock, Alice Lee.
The Audience Award: World Cinema Documentary was presented by Ray Romano to: Sea of Shadows / Austria (Director: Richard Ladkani, Producers: Walter Koehler, Wolfgang Knoepfler) —The vaquita, the world’s smallest whale, is near extinction as its habitat is destroyed by Mexican cartels and Chinese mafia, who harvest the swim bladder of the totoaba fish, the “cocaine of the sea.” Environmental activists, Mexican navy and undercover investigators are fighting back against this illegal multimillion-dollar business.
The Audience Award: World Cinema Dramatic was presented by Mark Duplass to: Queen of Hearts / Denmark (Director: May el-Toukhy, Screenwriters: Maren Louise Käehne, May el-Toukhy, Producers: Caroline Blanco, René Ezra) — A woman jeopardizes both her career and her family when she seduces her teenage stepson and is forced to make an irreversible decision with fatal consequences. Cast: Trine Dyrholm, Gustav Lindh, Magnus Krepper.
The Audience Award: NEXT, Presented by Adobe was presented by Danielle Macdonald to: The Infiltrators / U.S.A. (Directors: Alex Rivera, Cristina Ibarra, Screenwriters: Alex Rivera, Aldo Velasco, Producers: Cristina Ibarra, Alex Rivera, Darren Dean) — A rag-tag group of undocumented youth – Dreamers – deliberately get detained by Border Patrol in order to infiltrate a shadowy, for-profit detention center. Cast: Maynor Alvarado, Manuel Uriza, Chelsea Rendon, Juan Gabriel Pareja, Vik Sahay.
The Directing Award: U.S. Documentary was presented by Yance Ford to: Steven Bognar and Julia Reichert, for American Factory / U.S.A. (Directors: Steven Bognar, Julia Reichert, Producers: Steven Bognar, Julia Reichert, Jeff Reichert, Julie Parker Benello) — In post-industrial Ohio, a Chinese billionaire opens a new factory in the husk of an abandoned General Motors plant, hiring two thousand blue-collar Americans. Early days of hope and optimism give way to setbacks as high-tech China clashes with working-class America.
The Directing Award: U.S. Dramatic was presented by Desiree Akhavan to: Joe Talbot, for The Last Black Man in San Francisco / U.S.A. (Director: Joe Talbot, Screenwriters: Joe Talbot, Rob Richert, Producers: Khaliah Neal, Joe Talbot, Dede Gardner, Jeremy Kleiner, Christina Oh) — Jimmie Fails dreams of reclaiming the Victorian home his grandfather built in the heart of San Francisco. Joined on his quest by his best friend Mont, Jimmie searches for belonging in a rapidly changing city that seems to have left them behind.
The Directing Award: World Cinema Documentary was presented by Maite Alberdi to: Mads Brügger, for Cold Case Hammarskjöld / Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Belgium (Director: Mads Brügger, Producers: Peter Engel, Andreas Rocksén, Bjarte M. Tveit) — Danish director Mads Brügger and Swedish private investigator Göran Bjorkdahl are trying to solve the mysterious death of Dag Hammarskjold. As their investigation closes in, they discover a crime far worse than killing the Secretary-General of the United Nations.
The Directing Award: World Cinema Dramatic was presented by Ciro Guerra to: Lucía Garibaldi, for The Sharks / Uruguay, Argentina, Spain (Director and screenwriter: Lucía Garibaldi, Producers: Pancho Magnou Arnábal, Isabel García) — While a rumor about the presence of sharks in a small beach town distracts residents, 15-year-old Rosina begins to feel an instinct to shorten the distance between her body and Joselo’s. Cast: Romina Bentancur, Federico Morosini, Fabián Arenillas, Valeria Lois, Antonella Aquistapache.
The Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award: U.S. Dramatic was presented by Phyllis Nagy to: Pippa Bianco, for Share / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Pippa Bianco, Producers: Carly Hugo, Tyler Byrne, Matt Parker) — After discovering a disturbing video from a night she doesn’t remember, sixteen-year-old Mandy must try to figure out what happened and how to navigate the escalating fallout. Cast: Rhianne Barreto, Charlie Plummer, Poorna Jagannathan, J.C. MacKenzie, Nick Galitzine, Lovie Simone.
A U.S. Documentary Special Jury Award for Moral Urgency was presented by Alissa Wilkinson to: Jacqueline Olive, for Always in Season / U.S.A. (Director: Jacqueline Olive, Producers: Jacqueline Olive, Jessica Devaney) — When 17-year-old Lennon Lacy is found hanging from a swing set in rural North Carolina in 2014, his mother’s search for justice and reconciliation begins as the trauma of more than a century of lynching African Americans bleeds into the present.
A U.S. Documentary Special Jury Award: Emerging Filmmaker was presented by Jeff Orlowski to: Liza Mandelup, for Jawline / U.S.A. (Director: Liza Mandelup, Producers: Bert Hamelinck, Sacha Ben Harroche, Hannah Reyer) — The film follows 16-year-old Austyn Tester, a rising star in the live-broadcast ecosystem who built his following on wide-eyed optimism and teen girl lust, as he tries to escape a dead-end life in rural Tennessee.
A U.S. Documentary Special Jury Award for Editing was presented by Alissa Wilkinson to: Todd Douglas Miller, for APOLLO 11 / U.S.A. (Director: Todd Douglas Miller, Producers: Todd Douglas Miller, Thomas Petersen, Evan Krauss) — A purely archival reconstruction of humanity’s first trip to another world, featuring never-before-seen 70mm footage and never-before-heard audio from the mission.
A U.S. Documentary Special Jury Award for Cinematography was presented by Jeff Orlowski to: Luke Lorentzen, Midnight Family / Mexico, U.S.A. (Director: Luke Lorentzen, Producers: Kellen Quinn, Daniela Alatorre, Elena Fortes, Luke Lorentzen) — In Mexico City’s wealthiest neighborhoods, the Ochoa family runs a private ambulance, competing with other for-profit EMTs for patients in need of urgent help. As they try to make a living in this cutthroat industry, they struggle to keep their financial needs from compromising the people in their care.
A U.S. Dramatic Special Jury Award for Vision and Craft was presented by Tessa Thompson to: Alma Har’el for her film Honey Boy / U.S.A. (Director: Alma Har’el, Screenwriter: Shia LaBeouf, Producers: Brian Kavanaugh-Jones, Daniela Taplin Lundberg, Anita Gou, Christopher Leggett, Alma Har’el) — A child TV star and his ex-rodeo clown father face their stormy past through time and cinema. Cast: Shia LaBeouf, Lucas Hedges, Noah Jupe.
A U.S. Dramatic Special Jury Award for Creative Collaboration was presented by Dennis Lim to: Director Joe Talbot for his film The Last Black Man in San Francisco / U.S.A. (Director: Joe Talbot, Screenwriters: Joe Talbot, Rob Richert, Producers: Khaliah Neal, Joe Talbot, Dede Gardner, Jeremy Kleiner, Christina Oh) — Jimmie Fails dreams of reclaiming the Victorian home his grandfather built in the heart of San Francisco. Joined on his quest by his best friend Mont, Jimmie searches for belonging in a rapidly changing city that seems to have left them behind. Cast: Jimmie Fails, Jonathan Majors, Rob Morgan, Tichina Arnold, Danny Glover.
A U.S. Dramatic Special Jury Award for Achievement in Acting was presented by Tessa Thompson to: Rhianne Barreto, for Share / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Pippa Bianco, Producers: Carly Hugo, Tyler Byrne, Matt Parker) — After discovering a disturbing video from a night she doesn’t remember, sixteen-year-old Mandy must try to figure out what happened and how to navigate the escalating fallout. Cast: Rhianne Barreto, Charlie Plummer, Poorna Jagannathan, J.C. MacKenzie, Nick Galitzine, Lovie Simone.
A World Cinema Documentary Special Jury Award for No Borders was presented by Maite Alberdi to: Hassan Fazzili, for Midnight Traveler / U.S.A., Qatar, United Kingdom, Canada (Director: Hassan Fazili, Screenwriter: Emelie Mahdavian, Producers: Emelie Mahdavian, Su Kim) — When the Taliban puts a bounty on Afghan director Hassan Fazili’s head, he is forced to flee with his wife and two young daughters. Capturing their uncertain journey, Fazili shows firsthand the dangers facing refugees seeking asylum and the love shared between a family on the run.
A World Cinema Documentary Special Jury Award for Impact for Change was presented by Nico Marzano to: Tamara Kotevska and Ljubomir Stefanov, for Honeyland / Macedonia (Directors: Ljubomir Stefanov, Tamara Kotevska, Producer: Atanas Georgiev) — When nomadic beekeepers break Honeyland’s basic rule (take half of the honey, but leave half to the bees), the last female beehunter in Europe must save the bees and restore natural balance.
A World Cinema Documentary Special Jury Award for Cinematography was presented by Nico Marzano to: Fejmi Daut and Samir Ljuma, for Honeyland / Macedonia (Directors: Ljubomir Stefanov, Tamara Kotevska, Producer: Atanas Georgiev) — When nomadic beekeepers break Honeyland’s basic rule (take half of the honey, but leave half to the bees), the last female beehunter in Europe must save the bees and restore natural balance.
A World Cinema Dramatic Special Jury Award for Originality was presented by Ciro Guerra to: Makoto Nagahisa, for WE ARE LITTLE ZOMBIES / Japan (Director and screenwriter: Makoto Nagahisa, Producers: Taihei Yamanishi, Shinichi Takahashi, Haruki Yokoyama, Haruhiko Hasegawa) — Their parents are dead. They should be sad, but they can’t cry. So they form a kick-ass band. This is the story of four 13-year-olds in search of their emotions. Cast: Keita Ninomiya, Satoshi Mizuno, Mondo Okumura, Sena Nakajima.
A World Cinema Dramatic Special Jury Award was presented by Charles Gillbert to: Alejandro Landes, for Monos / Colombia, Argentina, Netherlands, Germany, Sweden, Uruguay (Director: Alejandro Landes, Screenwriters: Alejandro Landes, Alexis Dos Santos, Producers: Alejandro Landes, Fernando Epstein, Santiago Zapata, Cristina Landes) — On a faraway mountaintop, eight kids with guns watch over a hostage and a conscripted milk cow. Cast: Julianne Nicholson, Moisés Arias, Sofia Buenaventura, Deiby Rueda, Karen Quintero, Laura Castrillón.
A World Cinema Dramatic Special Jury Award for Acting was presented by Charles Gillbert to: Krystyna Janda, for Dolce Fine Giornata / Poland (Director: Jacek Borcuch, Screenwriters: Jacek Borcuch, Szczepan Twardoch, Producer: Marta Habior) — In Tuscany, Maria’s stable family life begins to erode as her relationship with a young immigrant develops against a backdrop of terrorism and eroding democracy.
The NEXT Innovator Prize was presented by juror Laurie Anderson to: Alex Rivera and Cristina Ibarra, for The Infiltrators / U.S.A. (Directors: Alex Rivera, Cristina Ibarra, Screenwriters: Alex Rivera, Aldo Velasco, Producers: Cristina Ibarra, Alex Rivera, Darren Dean) — A rag-tag group of undocumented youth – Dreamers – deliberately get detained by Border Patrol in order to infiltrate a shadowy, for-profit detention center. Cast: Maynor Alvarado, Manuel Uriza, Chelsea Rendon, Juan Gabriel Pareja, Vik Sahay.
he following awards were presented at separate ceremonies at the Festival:
SHORT FILM AWARDS:
Jury prizes and honorable mentions in short filmmaking were presented at a ceremony in Park City on January 29. The Short Film Grand Jury Prize was awarded to: Aziza / Syria, Lebanon (Director: Soudade Kaadan, Screenwriters: Soudade Kaadan, May Hayek). The Short Film Jury Award: U.S. Fiction was presented to: Green/ U.S.A. (Director: Suzanne Andrews Correa, Screenwriters: Suzanne Andrews Correa, Mustafa Kaymak). The Short Film Jury Award: International Fiction was presented to: Dunya’s Day / Saudi Arabia, U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Raed Alsemari). The Short Film Jury Award: Nonfiction was presented to: Ghosts of Sugar Land / U.S.A. (Director: Bassam Tariq). The Short Film Jury Award: Animation was presented to: Reneepoptosis / U.S.A., Japan (Director and screenwriter: Renee Zhan). Two Special Jury Awards for Directing werepresented to: FAST HORSE / Canada (Director and screenwriter: Alexandra Lazarowich) and The MINORS / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Robert Machoian). The Short Film jurors were Young Jean Lee, Carter Smith and Sheila Vand. The Short Film program is presented by YouTube.
SUNDANCE INSTITUTE | ALFRED P. SLOAN FEATURE FILM PRIZE
The 2019 Alfred P. Sloan Feature Film Prize, presented to an outstanding feature film about science or technology, was presented to The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind. The filmmakers received a $20,000 cash award from Sundance Institute with support from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.
SUNDANCE INSTITUTE | AMAZON STUDIOS PRODUCERS AWARDS
Carly Hugoand Matt Parker received the 2019 Sundance Institute | Amazon Studios Producers Awards for Feature Film. Lori Cheatle received the 2019 Sundance Institute | Amazon Studios Producers Award for Documentary Film. The award recognizes bold vision and a commitment to continuing work as a creative producer in the independent space, and grants money (via the Sundance Institute Feature Film Program and Documentary Film Program) to emerging producers of films at the Sundance Film Festival.
The Sundance Institute / NHK Award was presented to Planet Korsakov (Japan) / Taro Aoshima. 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 Sorry to Bother You, Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, Eighth Grade, Get Out, The Big Sick, Mudbound, Beasts of the Southern Wild, 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®. The Festival is a program of the non-profit Sundance Institute®. 2019 Festival sponsors include: Presenting Sponsors – Acura, SundanceTV, Chase Sapphire, YouTube; Leadership Sponsors – Adobe, Amazon Studios, AT&T, DIRECTV, Dropbox, Netflix, Omnicom, Stella Artois; Sustaining Sponsors – Ancestry, Canada Goose, Canon, Dell, Francis Ford Coppola Winery, GEICO, High West Distillery, IMDbPro, Lyft, RIMOWA, Unity Technologies, University of Utah Health; Media Sponsors – The Atlantic, IndieWire, Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, VARIETY, The Wall Street Journal. Sundance Institute recognizes critical support from the Utah Governor’s Office of Economic Development, and 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. Look for the Official Partner seal at their venues at the Festival. sundance.org/festival
Founded in 1981 by Robert Redford, Sundance Institute is a nonprofit organization that provides and preserves the space for artists in film, theatre, and media to create and thrive. The Institute’s signature Labs, granting, and mentorship programs, dedicated to developing new work, take place throughout the year in the U.S. and internationally. The Sundance Film Festival and other public programs connect audiences to artists in igniting new ideas, discovering original voices, and building a community dedicated to independent storytelling. Sundance Institute has supported such projects as Sorry to Bother You, Eighth Grade, Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, Hereditary, RBG, Call Me By Your Name, Get Out, The Big Sick, Top of the Lake, Winter’s Bone, Dear White People, Brooklyn, Little Miss Sunshine, 20 Feet From Stardom, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Fruitvale Station,I’m Poppy, America to Me, Leimert Park, Spring Awakening, A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder and Fun Home.
In the blistering new documentary premiering at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival, Advocate, Israeli attorney, Lea Tsemel defends Palestinians: from feminists to fundamentalists, from nonviolent demonstrators to armed militants. Politically and socially engaged filmmakers Rachel Lea Jones and Philippe Bellaïche assemble a comprehensive look into Tsemel’s life work beginning with Tsemel as a firebrand law student who, after the 1967 war, fearlessly distributes flyers on campus warning her fellow Israelis to end the occupation or risk a vicious cycle of violence. In Advocate, Tsemel speaks truth to power before the term became popular and for all intents and purposes will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. She’s spent a lifetime going against the grain of Israeli society, and is as much a product of it as she is an exception to it.
Utilizing archival footage, newsreels, still photographs and primary interviews panning twenty-five years, Jones and Bellaïche bring us into the present as they follows Tsemel’s caseload in real time, including the high-profile trial of a 13-year-old boy — her youngest client to date — while also revisiting her landmark cases and reflecting on the political significance of her work and the personal price one pays for taking on the role of “devil’s advocate.” One thing is still eminently clear – interrogators still infuriate her, prosecutors still madden her, judges still frustrate her, verdicts still disappoint her — and clients still break her heart.
Directing duo Rachel Leah Jones and Philippe Bellaïche have assumed the privileged position of a fly on the wall of Tsemel’s practice, where a year of documenting is like gathering a lifetime of evidence as the two push to bring to light and preserve a mush-needed model of advocacy that balances justice and the system responsible for its administration. This evidentiary mission is a powerful testament to not only the wrongs of occupation but also to the faults of those who try to resist it, the failings of those who try to defend them, and the fundamental flaws of a legal system that purports to serve justice but in fact serves the powers that be.
As a Jewish-Israeli lawyer who has represented political prisoners for five decades, Tsemel, in her tireless quest for justice, pushes the praxis of a human rights defender to its limits. As far as most Israelis are concerned, she defends the indefensible. As far as Palestinians are concerned, she’s more than an attorney, she’s an ally. to put it another way, she’s the little boy calling the Emperor naked, i.e. naming the system’s most fundamental fault – the occupier is judging the occupied – while at the same time she’s the boy with his finger in the dam, doing her utmost to uphold the rule-of-law before the flood of injustice drowns us all. Her rebellious spirit and radical zeal prompted one military court judge to say: “If Lea Tsemel didn’t exist, we’d have to invent her.”
Advocate is an extraordinary film, highly engaging and deeply moving. With a fast runtime of 110 minutes it is highly recommended and required viewing for any cinephile engaged in social justice.
Marianne & Leonard – Words of Love, the latest work from Brit documentary filmmaker, Nick Broomfield, is a beautiful yet tragic love story between Leonard Cohen and his Norwegian muse Marianne Ihlen. Broomfield delivers a well-organized and polished film with traditional documentary filmmaking techniques of utilizing voice-over-narration, still photographs with effects, archival footage and present day interviews. Furthermore, Broomfield manages to interview very interesting characters to say the least, all of whom sing the praises of Marianne and share some insightful observations on the semi-reclusive Cohen, most often associated with his best-selling work, Hallelujah that contains most of Cohen’s common themes of religion, politics, isolation, sexuality and romantic relationships. What emerges from Broomfield’s efforts is a well-researched and documented look into the deeply persoanal and spiritual relationship of Leonard Cohen and Marianne Ihlen.
Broomfield begins Marianne & Leonard – Words of Love to when and where the love of Leonard Cohen and Marianne Islen began – on the idyllic Greek island of Hydra in 1960 as part of a bohemian community of foreign artists, writers and musicians. The film follows their relationship from the early days on Hydra, a humble time of ‘free love’ and open marriage, to how their love evolved when Leonard became a successful musician. It was on Hydra in 1968 that director Nick Broomfield, then aged 20, first met Marianne Ihlen. Marianne introduced him to Leonard Cohen’s music and also encouraged Nick to make his first film and was an enormous influence on him.
Marianne and Leonard’s was a love story that would continue for the rest of their lives. Along the way, Broomfield brings to light the tragedy that befell those that could not survive the beauty of Hydra, the highs and lows of Cohen’s career, and the inspirational power that Marianne possessed. Marianne and Leonard died three months apart.
With Marianne & Leonard, Broomfield continues his already strong body of work with a more personal touch.
In the Q & A following the film’s screening, Broomfield credits Marianne’s nurturing soul and gentle encouragement as the catalyst behind his advent into documentary filmmaking. Seemingly, Leonard and Marianne touched something deeply personal inside Broomfield. Following the Q & A I personally thanked Mr. Broomfield for his work and quickly inquired what his next project would be. Broomfield cooly replied he was doing something even more personal – a project about his father. Stay tuned as Broomfield is at the top of his game and I personally look forward to seeing more from this highly original and very authentic filmmaker. Warmly recommended.
David Crosby: Remember My Name, a revealing and deeply personal documentary produced by Cameron Crowe (Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Say Anything…, Jerry Maguire, Almost Famous, and Tom Petty’s Heartbreakers Beach Party)
and from first-time documentarian A.J. Eaton, explores the life and creative renaissance of music icon David Crosby while giving Crosby a platform to make amends to all his legendary band mates from Roger McGuinn of the Byrds to Graham Nash of Crosby, Still and Nash. Both bands are in the Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame. Crosby claims he is entitled to a third induction with the Supergroup of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young and who knows he may be right. He might even gain a forth induction for just the David Crosby Band.
Either way, A.J. Eaton had his work cut out for him. Crosby is a highly intelligent, enigmatic character and has been a cultural force for over fifty years. Crosby faced uncertain future after the 2015 dissolution of Crosby, Stills and Nash following their uninspired and disastrous performance at the White House Christmas Tree lighting.
Racked with health issues and personal obstacles, Crosby has managed to forge a new path at the age of 76. Seeking out younger musicians and recording a pair of critically-praised new albums, Crosby has now set out to make a mark in a world now so different from the generation he came to define in the 60’s. With unflinching honesty, self-examination, regret, fear, exuberance and an unshakable belief in family and the transformative nature of music, Crosby shares his remarkable journey with humor and bite.
While known for his musical contributions, Crosby was also a leading humanist in the early days of the Los Angeles music scene even though Eaton mostly skips over this particular aspect of Crosby during this time. To his credit, Eaton reveals Crosby’s humanism with the incriminating photograph of National Guard weapons being fired at Kent State. Eaton does include some iconic footage from the Byrds and CSN. Notably, Crosby’s outspoken commentary at the Monterey Pop Festival. That’s what makes Crosby, well, Crosby. Interspersed with the archival footage from concerts and television shows are still photographs from Crosby’s early home life with some voice-over narration that captures endearing love for his mother and enduring love of women, especially his wife, Jan. And. there’s the music. Artfully selected compositions underscore the magic of David Crosby’s musicianship.
Interestingly, Eaton uses a non-linear approach with startling effect that provides a powerful clarity to Crosby’s psyche. The film starts with an extreme close-up of Crosby talking, the opening credit roll and the film takes off with David’s imitation of his first encounter with legendary jazz-man John Coltrane. From here, the film became an exciting roller coaster ride, as I didn’t know what was around the next corner. Utilizing band interviews from 2000, 2012, 2015 and a recent excursion through the Hollywood Hills and down the infamous Sunset Boulevard, I sat mesmerized when the ride came back into the station. This iconic figure had just, not only bared his ass, but had bared his soul – and what a sight it was to behold. Highly recommended!
Matt Tyrnauer (Valentino: The Last Emperor, Studio 54, Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood, Citizen Jane: Battle for the City) opened his latest work, Where’s my Roy Cohn? at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival, Friday, January 25th, 2019. Where’s my Roy Cohn? is a documentary and premiered in the Sundance U.S. Documentary Competition. Utilizing traditional documentary techniques of voice-over narration, direct interviews, archival footage and photographic stills, Trynauer exposes Cohn’s malign influence and contextualizes him as a modern Machiavelli who influences our country today at the highest level.
Cohn first came into the public eye as an assistant to J. Edgar Hoover and handled the prosecution of Julius and Ethyl Rosenberg, a Jewish couple arrested, tried, convicted and executed for spying for Russia and securing Manhattan Project documents for the Russian government. Cohn, a twenty-three-year-old fast-rising attorney, claimed to have not only persuaded the presiding judge, Irving Kaufman, to impose the death penalty but also to have had Judge Irving assigned the case. Cohn’s reward for the Rosenberg execution was an appointment as special counsel to the 1950’s, US Senatorial demagogue, Joseph McCarthy.
Tyrnauer provides compelling evidence Cohn was responsible for much of McCarthy’s demagoguery and rise to power. Soon, however, Cohn would cause his own and McCarthy’s fall from grace. During the Army-McCarthy hearings, direct questioning revealed Cohn had a “special relationship” with G. David Schine and pressured the U.S. Army to give Schine preferential treatment. Cohn would resign after he was humiliated and pummeled with homophobic comments during the televised hearings. Cohn claimed everybody wanted him to stay on. According to those who worked with Cohn, this was not the case.
From here, Cohn would go onto be the personification of the dark arts of 20th-century American politics. Cohn became a mover and shaker of dubious means. He fluffed his persona despite inflicting financial losses on his clients and family. Trynauer shockingly unearths the origins of the seditious right wing’s ascent, revealing how Cohn, a deeply troubled master manipulator, has shaped our current political world. Cohn persistently defended himself by attacking his adversaries. Moreover, Cohn utilized the press to generate sensational public sympathy for his plight.
Cohn had refined his strategy well over the years as the primary press leaker during his McCarthy days gaining the friendship of the formidable press magnate, Walter Winchell, and a cadre of ambitious reporters. How Cohn had been able to pressure the judiciary was less clear. To me, his political clout emanated from his wide social circle of wealthy, influential friends. Cohn was known for throwing lavish parties and hobnobbed with almost every imaginable socialite of the day including then artist, Andy Warhol, and re-emerged as a New York power broker, mafia consigliere, white-collar criminal, and, eventually, the mentor of Donald J. Trump.
Following Cohn’s lead, Trump began his flamboyant rise first on Cohn’s shoulders and then his back. Eventually, Trump became the master of personal attacks, hyperbole, sensationalism, and utilizing the press to get out in front of the story. The similarities are uncanny and for me to say the likeness of these character trajectories are disturbing would be an understatement. One of the most powerful and politically revealing films of the festival.
Highly recommended and coming to a screen near you as Director/Writer Matt Trynauer announced during the Q & A that he received a text message informing him, Where’s My Roy Cohn? had been bought by Sony Classic Pictures.
The Infiltrators, screening in the Next category of films presented by Adobe at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival, based on true events inside an Obama-era immigration detention system is a flaccid hybrid of scripted narrative and documentary form directed by Alex Rivera and Christina Ibarra. Rivera and Ibarra follow the plight of Claudio Rojas, a detainee arrested by ICE officials outside his Florida home. Next films are defined as “Pure bold works distinguished by an innovative, forward-thinking approach to storytelling….Digital technology paired with unfettered creativity promises…a greater next wave in American cinema.
The film opens with some negative CGI imagery setting the tone of for what I anticipated would be an expose’. After the introduction, The Infiltrators goes into unchartered territory with an overwhelming amount of re-enactments utilizing sparse amounts of traditional documentary techniques of voice-over narration, archival news footage and direct interviews.
After Rojas, played convincingly by Manuel Uriza, is transferred to the Broward Transitional Center, a detention facility used as a holding space for imminent deportations, his family contacts the National Immigrant Youth Alliance (NIYA), a group of activist Dreamers known for stopping deportations. Believing that no one is free as long as one is in detention, NIYA enlists Marco Saavedra, portrayed by Maynor Alvarado, to self-deport with the hopes of gaining access to the detention center and impeding Rojas’s deportation. Once inside, the character of Marco begins subverting the deportation process with one impeded deportation of Ismael, represented by actor Oscar Perez, and comes to realize this complex, for-profit institution housing hundreds of multinational immigrants, is in essence, a minimum security prison.
In what starts out as a believable situation, the film diverts into moments of questionable authenticity. A few minuscule interviews with the real characters help a little, but to put unspeaking, laughing, real-life character, Samuel Soto, in front of the camera as he is about to be deported mocks a judicial systems based in lawful codes and brings to mind colorful comedy of Hispanics taken by ICE officials from their homes while eating dinner calling back over their shoulder, “Keep my plate warm, I’ll be right back.” In addition, the real subjects have such a small amount of screen time, I was left with a feeling that something was amiss. And it was never more evident than when Rojas arrived at an ICE office for his annual review after “a year of close observation.”
Ibarra (in her Sundance debut) and Rivera (SLEEP DEALER, 2008 Sundance Film Festival) are husband and wife and it’s pretty obvious their work is a passionate affair. The Infiltrators has it’s moments with stunning drone shots of the Broward Transitional Center, in elevating the status of their Dreamer activists, and paying homage to The Last Castle, starring Sundance Institute Founder, Robert Redford. Yet, in the end, the plight of the undocumented goes on unfinished and The Infiltrators doesn’t delve into the millions of dollars detention facilities generate with any substance or depth. It does show power when an inspired group of like-minded individuals come together with a plan – not withstanding a dubious amount of “creative non-fiction” reenactment (scripted narrative). Warmly recommended.
I dropped in at the Grand Theatre in Salt Lake City, Friday night, January 25, 2019, for a Q & A with Writer/Director Bart Freundlich after a 9:15 P.M. screening of his latest work, After the Wedding, starring Julianne Moore, Billy Crudup and Michelle Williams.
Freundlich adapted Susanne Bier’s Academy Award-nominated Danish film of the same title by cleverly changing the characters’ genders to render an elevated melodrama about strong women, fate and motherhood. Stay tuned!
Off to an early start with an 8:30 A.M. screening of Todd Douglas Miller’s (Dinosaur 13) Apollo 11, a Neon Production and CNN Film, this morning at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival’s MARC Theatre. And, I wasn’t disappointed. Miller and his team gained access to the National Archives and Records Administration as well as the NASA archives for their project and I was happy to see another space film after covering Rory Kennedy’s Above and Beyond: NASA’s Journey To Tomorrow this past summer at AFI DOCS in Washington D.C.
Crafted from a newly discovered trove of 65mm footage, and more than 11,000 hours of uncatalogued audio recordings, Miller takes us straight to the heart of NASA’s most celebrated mission with masterful editing and grand storytelling – the one that first put men on the moon, and forever made Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin into household names.
Immersed in the perspectives of the astronauts, the team in Mission Control, and the millions of spectators on the ground, Apollo 11 provided the audience with a look from inside the Apollo 11 spacecraft, the jocular banter of the astronauts as well as the adoring crowds and the tense atmospherics inside Mission Control. Miller delivers a vivid experience of those momentous days and hours in 1969 when humankind took a giant leap into the future fulfilling President Kennedy’s May, 1961 mission of sending a man to the moon utilizing still black and white, and color photographs, newsreel voice-overs and the stunning cinematography treasures captured during the 1969 mission.
With never seen-before footage and a run time of ninety minutes, the film covers nine days in an efficient manner. Miller, a self-described space geek, weaves a warm, emotionally fulfilling narrative with a strong sound design from Eric Milano and riveting music from Matt Morton highlighted with moments from the preparation, liftoff, landing, return and recovery of the famed mission.
But, he could not have managed it without the expert skills of Stephen Slater, a specialist in the NASA film archive, and nominee for the Arthur C Clarke Award for Achievement in Space Media, who had the dubious distinction of syncing the audio for all the soundless archival footage (as none of the footage had any sound!), and Ben Feist, a software engineer at NASA, and the Apollo program historian behind the interactive website Apollo17.org, a web experience that recreates the last mission to the Moon in real time, who created algorithms to streamline the massive audio files. Lastly, all the 16mm and 35mm archival footage was scanned and converted into a large screen format, 4K, utilizing a one-of-a-kind, prototype scanner.
In the Q & A following the screening, Miller playfully referred to Apollo 11 as the ‘Dunkirk in space’ and provided insightful background on how these stored film reels came into being as the failed attempt of MGM and NASA to produce a film together. Miller confessed to always wanting to make a big screen film. Apollo 11 is in the U.S. Documentary Competition and seems to be one of the crowd favorites so far.
This is a must-see film. Hopefully, it’s sooner than later as rumors of a highly anticipated announcement of its distribution in IMAX format is imminent here at Sundance.
Ladies and gentlemen the show will begin momentarily…..
The 2019 Sundance Film Festival with its Risk & Independence theme is underway. With a full house for the Day One Press Conference at the Park City, Utah, Egyptian Theatre this afternoon the President and Founder of Sundance Institute, Robert Redford, strolled out onto the stage and announced he’s moving on. He wholeheartedly thanked the volunteers who stand out in the cold year after year welcoming festival goers. Redford softened the blow of his departure by informing the attendees he feels the festival is in a good place and he intends on spending his time with the films from here on with full confidence in the leadership hierarchy in place. Redford exited the platform upstage giving way to the Sundance Institute’s Executive Director, Keri Putnam.
Putnam assured the press Mr. Redford’s vision is thriving while gently reminding journalists the festival is a non-profit and a powerful supporter of artists amplifying their work and helping to launch their respective careers. Putnam compared the festival to a public square where artists can share a creatively connected community unencumbered from state messaging – something sorely missing in today’s surging nationalist movements. Without further adieu Putnam introduced the programming panel.
Each programmer shared their individual mission within the Sundance Institute of traveling around the world making connections while seeking diversity in the global community of artists and filmmakers. And, according to the panel, it’s not just about the art, it’s also about the deeper implications behind the underrepresented voices. It’s about the intersection of art, culture and community and the overt attempts to devalue media representations that are not aligned with mainstream, conglomerate-controlled (and state-controlled) media. The result is shallow and sensationalist pieces that debase human kind and its diversity. Intermittently, questions previously submitted by journalists were thoroughly discussed.
The 2019 Sundance Film Festival had a record number of submissions, 14,259 to be exact, and began tracking the demographic information of its filmmakers. Dr. Stacy Smith of the University of Southern California, Annenberg Media Center, will present the findings and their implications at the Filmmaker Lodge tomorrow, January 25, 2019. Stay tuned!
Until then, I’ll see you at the movies!
*Featured photo from left to right: John Cooper, Director, Sundance Film Festival; Kim Yutani, Director of Programming; John Nein, Senior Programmer; Shari Frilot, Chief Curator, New Frontier and Senior Programmer; David Courier, Senior Programmer; and, Caroline Libresco, Senior Programmer, and Director, Catalyst and Women at Sundance. (Photo credit: Larry Gleeson/HollywoodGlee)