Teyana Taylor, from left, A.V. Rockwell, Aaron Kingsley Adetola, William Catlett and Josiah Cross attend the premiere of A Thousand and One at The Ray Theater during the 2023 Sundance Film Festival on Sunday 22 January 2023, in Park City, Utah. (Photo: AP)
“A Thousand and One,” a drama about an impoverished single mother and her son in New York City, won the Sundance Film Festival's grand jury prize in the U.S. dramatic competition, while “Going to Mars: The Nikki Giovanni Project” was awarded the top prize in the U.S. documentary category. This year's winners were announced at an awards ceremony Friday afternoon in Park City, Utah, which included an audience prize for the documentary “20 Days in Mariupol.”
Writer Jeremy O. Harris, filmmaker Eliza Hittman and actor Marlee Matlin judged the U.S. dramatic competition.
Harris, through tears, said he asked to give the grand jury prize to “A Thousand and One” and writer-director A.V. Rockwell himself.
“Never have I seen a life so similar to my own rendered with such nuance and tenderness” Harris said. “This film reached into my gut and pulled from it every emotion I've learned to mask in these spaces.”
Rockwell, who made her feature debut with the film, was similarly emotional.
“This has been such a long journey for me but the institute has been such a beautiful support system,” Rockwell said.
“20 Days in Mariupol,” a first-person account of the early days of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, won the audience prize for world cinema documentary. A joint project between The Associated Press and PBS “Frontline,” the film utilizes 30 hours of footage AP journalist Mstyslav Chernov and his colleagues shot in the besieged Ukrainian city before they were extracted.
“I want to thank everyone who believed in us: AP, Frontline and Sundance and all the audiences who did not turn away,” Chernov said. “This is not an achievement, this is a privilege.”
Sing J. Lee won the directing award in U.S. dramatic for “The Accidental Getaway Driver.” The team from “Theater Camp” was recognized with a special jury prize for ensemble. Lio Mehiel received the special jury award for their performance in “Mutt. And the drama “Magazine Dreams,” in which Jonathan Majors plays an amateur bodybuilder, was recognized for creative vision.
“Everyone in this room, everyone, every person, we give you our deepest props and our deepest respect,” Matlin said through an interpreter. She also gave a shout-out to her “CODA” team, who won big at the festival two years ago. Her Oscar winning co-star Troy Kotsur was in the audience cheering her on.
Other grand jury prizes winners were: “Scrapper,” in world cinema, about a 12-year-old girl living alone on the outskirts of London after her mother's death; and “The Eternal Memory,” in world cinema documentary, about the effects of Alzheimer's on a relationship of 25 years.
Other audience award winners included “The Persian Version,” for U.S. Dramatic, “Beyond Utopia,” for U.S. Documentary and “Shayda” for World Cinema Dramatic. The “festival favorite” award went to “Radical,” starring Eugenio Derbez as an inspirational teacher in a Mexican border town.
In total, 12 films premiered in the world cinema documentary section, including films about climate change, Syria, growing up during apartheid and the International Chopin Piano Competition. “The Eternal Memory,” about a couple dealing with Alzheimer's, won the category's grand jury prize.
Other prize winners in the category included “Fantastic Machine,” for creative vision, “Against the Tide” for verite filmmaker, and “Smoke Sauna Sisterhood” for directing.
Several Sundance winners from last year were recently nominated for Oscars, including documentaries “Navalny” and “All That Breathes.”
Many Sundance films came to the festival with distribution in place. Apple TV+ debuted “Still: A Michael J. Fox Story” and “Stephen Curry: Underrated.” Neon had “Infinity Pool,” A24 brought six films including “All Dirt Roads Taste of Salt,” “You Hurt My Feelings,” “Past Lives.” Searchlight had the South London rom com “Rye Lane.”
There were also several big acquisitions made at the festival this year. Apple TV+, who got its first best picture win when it paid $25 million for “CODA” out of Sundance, scooped up John Carney's (“Once”) musical rom com “Flora and Son,” with Eve Hewson and Joseph Gordon Levitt. Netflix secured the rights to the corporate thriller “Fair Play,” with Alden Ehrenreich and Phoebe Dynevor, made and sold by MRC. Both films went for a reported $20 million. Searchlight also bought Molly Gordon and Nick Lieberman's mockumentary “Theater Camp” for a theatrical release later this year.
This year's festival, the first in-person gathering since 2020, debuted 111 feature films and 64 short films. Over 75% of the films are available on Sundance's online platform through Sunday, January 29.
“We're already thinking about the next one,” Sundance CEO Joana Vicente said.