Sundance Winners to Watch in 2019

 

Sundance 2019 set the tone for a significant year of change for the festival, which featured 121 feature films with 46% in competition directed by women, and 65% of its accredited film critics selected from under-represented groups.

The Institute’s Executive Director Keri Putnam noted that this year’s mandate of active inclusion, “Celebrated and championed risk-taking artists."

Amidst industry debates about the merits and short-comings of enforcing diversity quotas, this year’s Sundance program made its point clear to the industry that diversity is not only possible, but commercially viable, with several firsts and stand-out talents - regardless of their colour, gender, or minority groupings - presenting masterful break-out films and attracting historic distribution deals.

Of the 28 prizes awarded to 23 films – 13 (56.5%) were directed by one or more women; eight (34.8%) were directed by one or more people of colour; and one (4.3%) was directed by a person who identifies as LGBTQI+.

Actor Mindy Kaling and director Nisha Ganatra attend the World Premiere of  Late Night  - Courtesy of the Sundance Institute

Actor Mindy Kaling and director Nisha Ganatra attend the World Premiere of Late Night - Courtesy of the Sundance Institute

Female-led projects were the critical winners and commercial highlights; Late Night written by lead actor Mindy Kaling was purchased by Amazon for 13 million, The Farewell starring Awkwafina by Lulu Wang closed a deal with A24 for 7 million, Agatha A. Nitecka’s romantic drama The Souvenir also sold to A24 for an undisclosed sum, Honey Boy biopic written by Shia LaBeouf and directed by Alma Har'el sold to Amazon for 14 million, and Brittany Runs a Marathon comedic favourite starring Jillian Bell sold to Amazon for 14 million - just to name a few of the major deals closed to date.

Grand Jury Prizes were awarded to Clemency  (U.S. Dramatic) by the first female African-American director to ever receive the award - Chinonye Chukwu, One Child Nation (U.S. Documentary) by Nanfu Wang and Lynn ZhangHoneyland (World Cinema Documentary) by Tamara Kotevska and Ljubomir Stefanov, and The Souvenir  (World Cinema Dramatic). 

Sundance jurors Jane Campion, Tessa Thompson, Alissa Wilkinson and Senior Programmer John Nein © 2019 Sundance Institute | photo by Dan Campbell - Courtesy of the Sundance Institute

Sundance jurors Jane Campion, Tessa Thompson, Alissa Wilkinson and Senior Programmer John Nein © 2019 Sundance Institute | photo by Dan Campbell - Courtesy of the Sundance Institute

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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.

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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. 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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. 

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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.

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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. 

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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. 

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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.

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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. 

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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. 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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. 

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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.

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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. 

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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. 

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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.

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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.

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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. 

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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.

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.

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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. 

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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.

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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. 

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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 centre. Cast: Maynor Alvarado, Manuel Uriza, Chelsea Rendon, Juan Gabriel Pareja, Vik Sahay. 


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