The ceremony offered plenty of political commentary, with Sundance Institute executive director Keri Putnam saying: “We know that closing our borders to … international artists stops the flow of ideas and inspiration that is so vital to the global community. We stand with you.”
In a night chock-full of political commentary, Macon Blair’s crime thriller I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore took home the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Awards ceremony.
As the evening’s final award recipient, Blair echoed the anti-Trump sentiments of scores of winners and presenters before him when he said he felt “good in the face of all of this craven, repressive, cruel bullshit that’s going on. Registries and border closings and defunding Planned Parenthood and all this f–king nonsense.”
Though the film about a depressed woman who finds new purpose by tracking down the thieves who burglarized her wasn’t a high-profile title at the festival (it came into Sundance with distribution in place from Netflix and XYZ Films), it managed to impress jurors, who opted for the first-time director’s film over such critical darlings as Call Me by Your Name and top sale The Big Sick.
In a reversal from last year, a female helmer took the top director prize. Eliza Hittman won the U.S. directing award for Beach Rats, a drama about an aimless teen in Brooklyn struggling with issues of identity (last year, Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert won the award for their Swiss Army Man). “Nothing is more taboo in this country than a woman with ambition,” Hittman said while accepting the award.
Top U.S. documentary honors went to Dan Sickles and Antonio Santini’s Dina, which chronicles the relationship of an eccentric suburban woman and a Walmart door-greeter. And Peter Nicks landed the top U.S. directing doc award for The Force. Nicks said he was inspired by the critically acclaimed HBO series The Wire when making the film about the Oakland Police Department. Meanwhile, Matt Ruskin’s Crown Heights, a drama about a wrongful murder conviction that was bought during the festival by Amazon, won the U.S. Dramatic Audience Award. And Matt Spicer and David Branson Smith took the screenplay prize for Ingrid Goes West, which sold to Neon last weekend.
The Incredible Jessica James star Jessica Williams, whose impassioned and humorous speech stole the show at last weekend’s March on Main, hosted the ceremony, held Saturday at the Basin Recreation Field House in Park City. Williams kept it light, joking about the prospect of doing doing mushrooms in Park City and how a Jon Hamm sighting was “one of the most sexually liberating experiences in my entire life.”
But the news of the day, particularly the implementation of President Trump’s executive order banning refugees and some migrants from seven predominantly Muslim countries, was referenced during a number of speeches, including one by Sundance Institute executive director Keri Putnam.
“I want to take a moment to acknowledge the artists and documentary subjects who are from Muslim-majority countries who joined us at this year’s festival to share their work,” she said, prompting an extended standing ovation from the likes of juror Peter Dinklage. “We know that closing our borders to these and other international artists stops the flow of ideas and inspiration that are so vital to the global community. We stand with you, and we stand with all people risking their lives for their values or seeking refuge from violence or persecution who are now denied entry to our county.”
Many of the winners reiterated Putnam’s sentiments or made veiled references to the new president as they accepted their awards. Joshua: Teenager Vs. Superpower director Joe Piscatella, whose film won Audience Award for world cinema documentary, said he hopes his film, which highlights human rights violations by the Chinese government and was bought during the festival by Netflix, emboldens audiences to “stand up in their own country when their government oppresses them.”
Presenter Gael Garcia Bernal made a point of naming some of the countries affected by Trump’s so-called Muslim ban, which went into effect yesterday and whose reverberations are being felt at airports across the country. “Today, I am from Iraq, Iran and Syria,” the Mexican actor said.
In a more comic take on the day’s news, Larry Wilmore said: “Even though I grew up Catholic, today I am a Muslim. Well I have to go to the airport tomorrow so I’ll be Catholic again.”
A new award was unveiled at the festival dubbed the Orwell Award, which went to Bryan Fogel’s hot-button Russian doping doc Icarus. “May there be many more Orwell Awards to come,” said Fogel, stressing the importance of whistleblowers like the one featured in his film.
In addition to the Grand Jury Prize winner, there were a few other surprises during the two-hour ceremony. Environmental cautionary tale Chasing Coral won the Audience Documentary Award, upsetting the dance pic Step, which prognosticators picked. “Can I get a shout out for science?” asked director Jeff Orlowski to cheers from the crowd. He went on to add that he didn’t want to be political. “Climate change shouldn’t be political.”
The festival, which closes out its 33rd incarnation tomorrow, showcased 113 feature-length films, representing 32 countries and 37 first-time filmmakers, including 20 in competition.
Last year, Nate Parker’s The Birth of a Nation took home the Grand Jury Prize as well as the Audience Award, while Elyse Steinberg and Josh Kriegman’s nabbed the top doc prize for Weiner. Brian Oakes’ Jim: The James Foley Story earned the Audience doc award.
A complete list of winners follows:
The U.S. Grand Jury Prize: Documentary was presented by Larry Wilmore to:
Dina / U.S.A. (Directors: Dan Sickles, Antonio Santini) — An eccentric suburban woman and a Walmart door-greeter navigate their evolving relationship in this unconventional love story.
The U.S. Grand Jury Prize: Dramatic was presented by Peter Dinklage to:
I don’t feel at home in this world anymore. / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Macon Blair) — When a depressed woman is burglarized, she finds a new sense of purpose by tracking down the thieves, alongside her obnoxious neighbor. But they soon find themselves dangerously out of their depth against a pack of degenerate criminals. Cast: Melanie Lynskey, Elijah Wood, David Yow, Jane Levy, Devon Graye.
The World Cinema Grand Jury Prize: Documentary was presented by Lynette Wallworth to:
Last Men in Aleppo / Denmark, Syria (Director: Feras Fayyad) — After five years of war in Syria, Aleppo’s remaining residents prepare themselves for a siege. Khalid, Subhi and Mahmoud, founding members of The White Helmets, have remained in the city to help their fellow citizens—and experience daily life, death, struggle and triumph in a city under fire.
The World Cinema Grand Jury Prize: Dramatic was presented by Sonia Braga to:
The Nile Hilton Incident / Sweden, Germany, Denmark (Director and screenwriter: Tarik Saleh) — In Cairo, weeks before the 2011 revolution, Police Detective Noredin is working in the infamous Kasr el-Nil Police Station when he is handed the case of a murdered singer. He soon realizes that the investigation concerns the power elite, close to the President’s inner circle. Cast: Fares Fares, Mari Malek, Mohamed Yousry, Yasser Ali Maher, Ahmed Selim, Hania Amar.
The Audience Award: U.S. Documentary, Presented by Acura was presented by Barbara Kopple to:
Chasing Coral / U.S.A. (Director: Jeff Orlowski) — Coral reefs around the world are vanishing at an unprecedented rate. A team of divers, photographers and scientists set out on a thrilling ocean adventure to discover why and to reveal the underwater mystery to the world.
The Audience Award: U.S. Dramatic, Presented by Acura was presented by Taylor Sheridan to:
Crown Heights / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Matt Ruskin) — When Colin Warner is wrongfully convicted of murder, his best friend, Carl King, devotes his life to proving Colin’s innocence. Adapted from This American Life, this is the incredible true story of their harrowing quest for justice. Cast: Lakeith Stanfield, Nnamdi Asomugha, Natalie Paul, Bill Camp, Nestor Carbonell, Amari Cheatom.
The Audience Award: World Cinema Documentary was presented by Barbara Kopple to:
Joshua: Teenager vs. Superpower / U.S.A. (Director: Joe Piscatella) — When the Chinese Communist Party backtracks on its promise of autonomy to Hong Kong, teenager Joshua Wong decides to save his city. Rallying thousands of kids to skip school and occupy the streets, Joshua becomes an unlikely leader in Hong Kong and one of China’s most notorious dissidents.
The Audience Award: World Cinema Dramatic was presented by Taylor Sheridan to:
Sueño en otro idioma (I Dream in Another Language) / Mexico, Netherlands (Director: Ernesto Contreras, Screenwriter: Carlos Contreras) — The last two speakers of a millennia-old language haven’t spoken in 50 years, when a young linguist tries to bring them together. Yet hidden in the past, in the heart of the jungle, lies a secret concerning the fate of the Zikril language. Cast: Fernando Álvarez Rebeil, Eligio Meléndez, Manuel Poncelis, Fátima Molina, Juan Pablo de Santiago, Hoze Meléndez.
The Audience Award: NEXT, Presented by Adobe was presented by Bridget Everett to:
Gook / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Justin Chon) — Eli and Daniel, two Korean American brothers who own a struggling women’s shoe store, have an unlikely friendship with 11-year-old Kamilla. On the first day of the 1992 L.A. riots, the trio must defend their store—and contemplate the meaning of family, their personal dreams and the future. Cast: Justin Chon, Simone Baker, David So, Curtiss Cook Jr., Sang Chon, Ben Munoz.
The Directing Award: U.S. Documentary was presented by Susan Lacy to:
Peter Nicks for his film The Force / U.S.A. (Director: Peter Nicks) — This cinema verité look at the long-troubled Oakland Police Department goes deep inside their struggles to confront federal demands for reform, a popular uprising following events in Ferguson and an explosive scandal.
The Directing Award: U.S. Dramatic was presented by Jody Hill to:
Eliza Hittman for her film Beach Rats / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Eliza Hittman) — An aimless teenager on the outer edges of Brooklyn struggles to escape his bleak home life and navigate questions of self-identity, as he balances his time between his delinquent friends, a potential new girlfriend, and older men he meets online. Cast: Harris Dickinson, Madeline Weinstein, Kate Hodge.
The Directing Award: World Cinema Documentary was presented by Marina Stavenhagen to:
Pascale Lamche, for her film WINNIE / France (Director: Pascale Lamche) — While her husband served a life sentence, paradoxically kept safe and morally uncontaminated, Winnie Mandela rode the raw violence of apartheid, fighting on the front line and underground. This is the untold story of the mysterious forces that combined to take her down, labeling him a saint, her, a sinner.
The Directing Award: World Cinema Dramatic was presented by Athina Tsangari to:
Francis Lee, for his film God’s Own Country / United Kingdom (Director and screenwriter: Francis Lee) — Springtime in Yorkshire: isolated young sheep farmer Johnny Saxby numbs his daily frustrations with binge drinking and casual sex, until the arrival of a Romanian migrant worker, employed for the lambing season, ignites an intense relationship that sets Johnny on a new path. Cast: Josh O’Connor, Alec Secareanu, Ian Hart, Gemma Jones.
The Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award: U.S. Dramatic was presented by Gael Garcia Bernal to:
Matt Spicer and David Branson Smith, for their film Ingrid Goes West / U.S.A. (Director: Matt Spicer, Screenwriters: Matt Spicer, David Branson Smith) — A young woman becomes obsessed with an Instagram “influencer” and moves to Los Angeles to try and befriend her in real life. Cast: Aubrey Plaza, Elizabeth Olsen, O’Shea Jackson Jr., Wyatt Russell, Billy Magnussen.
A U.S. Documentary Special Jury Award for Inspirational Filmmaking was presented by Julie Goldman to:
STEP / U.S.A. (Director: Amanda Lipitz) — With dreams of becoming the first in their families to attend college, a group of seniors from an inner-city Baltimore girls high school strives to make their step dance team a success against a backdrop of social unrest in a troubled city.
A U.S. Documentary Special Jury Award for Storytelling was presented by Robert Greene to:
Strong Island / U.S.A., Denmark (Director: Yance Ford) — Examining the violent death of the filmmaker’s brother and the judicial system that allowed his killer to go free, this documentary interrogates murderous fear and racialized perception, and re-imagines the wreckage in catastrophe’s wake, challenging us to change.
A U.S. Documentary Special Jury Award for Editing was presented by Diego Buñuel to:
Editors Kim Roberts and Emiliano Battista for Unrest / U.S.A. (Director: Jennifer Brea) — When Harvard PhD student Jennifer Brea is struck down at 28 by a fever that leaves her bedridden, doctors tell her it’s “all in her head.” Determined to live, she sets out on a virtual journey to document her story—and four other families’ stories—fighting a disease medicine forgot.
A U.S. Documentary Special Jury Award: The Orwell Award was presented by Diego Buñuel to:
ICARUS / U.S.A. (Director: Bryan Fogel) — When Bryan Fogel sets out to uncover the truth about doping in sports, a chance meeting with a Russian scientist transforms his story from a personal experiment into a geopolitical thriller involving dirty urine, unexplained death and Olympic Gold—exposing the biggest scandal in sports history.
A U.S. Dramatic Special Jury Award for Best Cinematography was presented by Gael Garcia Bernal to:
Director of Photography Daniel Landin for The Yellow Birds / U.S.A. (Director: Alexandre Moors, Screenwriters: David Lowery, R.F.I. Porto) — Two young men enlist in the army and are deployed to fight in the Iraq War. After an unthinkable tragedy, the returning soldier struggles to balance his promise of silence with the truth and a mourning mother’s search for peace. Cast: Tye Sheridan, Jack Huston, Alden Ehrenreich, Jason Patric, Toni Collette, Jennifer Aniston.
A U.S. Dramatic Special Jury Award for Breakthrough Performance was presented by Jacqueline Lyanga to:
Chanté Adams, in Roxanne Roxanne / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Michael Larnell) — The most feared battle MC in early-’80s NYC was a fierce teenager from the Queensbridge projects with the weight of the world on her shoulders. At age 14, hustling the streets to provide for her family, Roxanne Shanté was well on her way to becoming a hip-hop legend. Cast: Chanté Adams, Mahershala Ali, Nia Long, Elvis Nolasco, Kevin Phillips, Shenell Edmonds.
A U.S. Dramatic Special Jury Award for Breakthrough Director was presented by Jeannine Oppewall to:
Maggie Betts, for her film Novitiate / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Maggie Betts) — In the early 1960s, during the Vatican II era, a young woman training to become a nun struggles with issues of faith, sexuality and the changing church. Cast: Margaret Qualley, Melissa Leo, Julianne Nicholson, Dianna Agron, Morgan Saylor.
A World Cinema Documentary Special Jury Award for Excellence in Cinematography was presented by Marina Stavenhagen to:
Cinematographer Rodrigo Trejo Villanueva for Machines / India, Germany, Finland (Director: Rahul Jain) — This intimate, observant portrayal of the rhythm of life and work in a gigantic textile factory in Gujarat, India, moves through the corridors and bowels of the enormously disorienting structure—taking the viewer on a journey of dehumanizing physical labor and intense hardship.
A World Cinema Documentary Special Jury Award for Commanding Vision was presented by Carl Spence to:
Motherland / U.S.A., Philippines (Director: Ramona S. Diaz) — Taking us into the heart of the planet’s busiest maternity hospital, the viewer is dropped like an unseen outsider into the hospital’s stream of activity. At first, the people are strangers. As the film continues, it’s absorbingly intimate, rendering the women at the heart of the story increasingly familiar.
A World Cinema Documentary Special Jury Award for Masterful Storytelling was presented by Lynette Wallworth to:
RUMBLE: The Indians Who Rocked The World / Canada (Directors: Catherine Bainbridge, Alfonso Maiorana) — This powerful documentary about the role of Native Americans in contemporary music history—featuring some of the greatest music stars of our time—exposes a critical missing chapter, revealing how indigenous musicians helped shape the soundtracks of our lives and, through their contributions, influenced popular culture. Cast: Robbie Robertson, Buffy Sainte-Marie, Martin Scorsese, Tony Bennett, Steven Tyler, Iggy Pop.
A World Cinema Dramatic Special Jury Award for Cinematography was presented by Athina Tsangari to:
Cinematographer Manu Dacosse for Axolotl Overkill / Germany (Director and screenwriter: Helene Hegemann) — Mifti, age 16, lives in Berlin with a cast of characters including her half-siblings; their rich, self-involved father; and her junkie friend Ophelia. As she mourns her recently deceased mother, she begins to develop an obsession with Alice, an enigmatic, and much older, white-collar criminal. Cast: Jasna Fritzi Bauer, Arly Jover, Mavie Hörbiger, Laura Tonke, Hans Löw, Bernhard Schütz.
A World Cinema Dramatic Special Jury Award for Cinematic Vision was presented by Sonia Braga to:
Free and Easy / Hong Kong (Director: Jun Geng, Screenwriters: Jun Geng, Yuhua Feng, Bing Liu) — When a traveling soap salesman arrives in a desolate Chinese town, a crime occurs, and sets the strange residents against each other with tragicomic results. Cast: Xu Gang, Zhang Zhiyong, Xue Baohe, Gu Benbin, Zhang Xun, Yuan Liguo.
A World Cinema Dramatic Special Jury Award for Screenplay was presented by Nai An to:
Screenwriter Kirsten Tan for Pop Aye / Singapore, Thailand (Director and screenwriter: Kirsten Tan) — On a chance encounter, a disenchanted architect bumps into his long-lost elephant on the streets of Bangkok. Excited, he takes his elephant on a journey across Thailand in search of the farm where they grew up together. Cast: Thaneth Warakulnukroh, Penpak Sirikul, Bong.