Sundance Winners: From ‘Nanny’, ‘Navalny’ to ‘Cha Cha Real Smooth’, Indie fest spreads the wealth

Los Angeles, Jan 29 (IANS) The Sundance Film Festival concluded with a virtual awards show with no host this year, just a series of statements and videos parcelled out across two hours via Twitter.
It was a strangely anti-climactic way of wrapping a low-key virtual festival, even as it gave winners a chance to prep polite, crew-inclusive acceptance speeches, reports
The top prize in the US Dramatic category went to grand jury winner ‘Nanny’ by first-time director Nikyatu Jusu, a supernatural-tinged thriller about an undocumented immigrant stuck caring for another mother’s child in order to raise the funds needed to bring her son over from Senegal.
The Audience Award winner in the same category went to ‘Cha Cha Real Smooth’, in which writer-director Cooper Raiff plays an inexperienced party promoter who falls for a single mom (Dakota Johnson) attending many of his events.
The crowd-pleaser marked the biggest sale of the festival so far, scooped up by Apple for $15 million — 1,000 times the budget of Raiff’s SXSW-winning debut, ‘Shithouse’.
The Festival Favourite award went to ‘Navalny’.
This prize, selected by audiences from across all sections of the festival, recognises a late addition to the line-up, protected on account of its political sensitivity, as the documentary tracks Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny while he was recovering from an assassination attempt in Berlin.
Accepting the honour, director Daniel Roher said: “Navalny would be so thrilled if he knew he won the People’s Choice award.”
While ‘Navalny’ may have been the popular choice, the US Documentary jury awarded co-directors Violet Columbus and Ben Klein’s ‘The Exiles’, a high-concept re-examination of the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre through various eyewitnesses.
The project marked a return to Sundance for veteran doc helmer Christine Choy.
In recent years, the once US-centric festival’s world competition categories have emerged as a key launchpad for international films.
Expect to hear plenty more about World Dramatic grand jury winner ‘Utama’ in the coming months, as director Alejandro Loayza Grisi’s portrait of an elderly Bolivian couple deciding whether to abandon their climate-endangered Altiplano home seems well-positioned to represent the country come Oscar time.
Other key international Indie winners include ‘All That Breathes’ and Amazon-based environmental doc ‘The Territory’, which earned both the audience prize and a special jury mention.
In the next category, trans portrait ‘Framing Agnes’ won both the audience prize and the Jill Soloway was presented Innovator Award.
Delivering the most personal of the acceptance speeches, wheelchair-using filmmaker Reid Davenport, whose ‘I Didn’t See You There’ won US Documentary directing honours, addressed the film community: “There are disabled artistes out there trying to get their stories heard, so I ask you — filmmakers, industry leaders, funders, programmers, artistes — to seek them out and to let them in.”
After building a streaming platform in order to host a Covid-safe version of the 2021 edition online, Sundance organisers hoped to return with a hybrid virtual and in-person event this year.
Alas, rising infections due to the Omicron variant forced them to shift the programme online again — dealing a blow to sponsors and filmmakers.
Still, with the infrastructure already in place, the festival was able to make the pivot smoothly, while losing out on much of the excitement and attention generated by the pre-pandemic model.

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