Sundance Film Festival announces 2023 award winners

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Filmmakers gathered in the Ray Theater Friday morning as the Sundance Film Festival celebrated its 8th day by announcing this year’s Sundance Film Festival Awards.

This year’s festival featured 111 feature-length and 64 short films selected from 15,856 submissions. Sundance Institute CEO Joana Vicente took a moment to celebrate the contributions of all of the contributing filmmakers before announcing the awards.

“There is magic from our shared experience at the festival,” Vicente said. “As always, this festival was a celebration of artists and film lovers everywhere.”

The U.S. Grand Jury Prizes went to A.V. Rockwell’s “A Thousand and One” in the dramatic competition and Joe Brewster’s “Going to Mars: The Nikki Giovanni Project” in the documentary competition. Charlotte Regan’s “Scrapper” won in the World Cinema Dramatic competition, and Maite Alberdi’s “The Eternal Memory” won in the World Cinema Documentary category. “Kokomo City”, directed by D. Smith, won the Adobe NEXT Innovator award.

Director D. Smith poses after winning the Adobe NEXT Innovator award for “Kokomo City.” This is Smith’s directorial feature film debut. (Marissa Lundeen)
A.V. Rockwell is interviewed after winning the U.S. grand jury prize in the dramatic competition. Rockwell directed the film “A Thousand and One.” (Marissa Lundeen)

The Festival Favorite Award was given to Christopher Zalla’s “Radical,” with other audience awards being given to Maryam Keshavarz’s “The Persian Version” in the U.S. Dramatic Competition, Madeleine Gavin’s “Beyond Utopia” in the U.S. Documentary competition, Noora Niasari’s “Shayda” in the World Cinema Dramatic category and Mstyslav Chernov’s “20 Days in Mariupol” in the World Cinema Documentary competition.

Mstyslav Chernov, a Ukrainian filmmaker, journalist and director of “20 Days in Mariupol,” gratefully accepted the award and hopes his film will bring empathy and attention to the plight of Ukrainians amidst their continued war with Russia.

“We’ve seen such a strong response from the audience — tears and anger and compassion. Ukrainians come to see it and say, ‘Thank you for telling this story,'” Chernov said. “As painful as it is, it is an important story to be told. Apart from being a historical record, I hope this film reaches a large audience and will therefore raise support for Ukrainians.”

Director Mstyslav Chernov and producer Michelle Mizner discuss their film “20 Days in Mariupol.” “20 Days in Mariupol” won the award for World Cinema Documentary. (Marissa Lundeen)

Various other jury awards were also given for directing, screenwriting and editing. Luke Lorentzen’s “A Still Small Voice” won the Directing Award: U.S. Documentary and Sing J. Lee’s “The Accidental Getaway Driver” won the Directing Award: U.S. Dramatic.

The Directing Award: World Cinema Documentary went to “Smoke Sauna Sisterhood”, directed by Anna Hints, and the Directing Award: World Cinema Dramatic was presented to Marija Kavtaradze’s “Slow.” Maryam Keshavarz’s “The Persian Version” won the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award: U.S. Dramatic and Daniela I. Quiroz’s “Going Varsity in Mariachi” won the Jonathan Oppenheim Editing Award: U.S. Documentary.

“Winning this award means the world. It means to trust myself — to trust my vision, trust my heart and to trust that even when the journey is full of challenges, when you stay true to the course in your heart, you can fly,” Anna Hints, Estonian director of “Smoke Sauna Sisterhood,” said after winning the jury award for best directing in the World Cinema Documentary category.

Estonian filmmaker Anna Hints celebrates winning the jury award for best directing in the world cinema documentary category. Hints directed the film “Smoke Sauna Sisterhood.” (Marissa Lundeen)

10 additional Special Jury Awards were given and can be found on the Sundance Institute’s website.

Seven jury prizes were awarded to short films, with Kayla Abuda Galang’s “When You Left Me On That Boulevard” winning the Short Film Grand Jury Prize and Crystal Kayiza’s “Rest Stop” winning Short Film Jury Award: U.S. Fiction.

Shuli Huang wrote, directed and produced the short film “Will You Look At Me,” which won the Short Film Jury Award: Non-Fiction. Huang describes the film as a “love letter for my mother.”

“Winning this award means a lot to me, but I really hope it means a lot to my mother. I really wish she could be here to share this award with me today,” Huang said.

Shuli Huang discusses winning the Short Film Jury Award:Non-Fiction. Huang directed the film “Will You Look At Me.” (Marissa Lundeen)

The Directing Award: U.S. Dramatic recipient Sing J. Lee shared a piece of advice for students as they pursue creative endeavors.

“Each one of us has a soul and a reservoir of memories from our family and from ourselves. I truly believe you should start from there because it helps cultivate your own self-belief,” Lee said. “It’s all too often you diminish yourself because you think your stories aren’t worth something in comparison to others, but they really are. Cultivate from there because it’s the most honest voice you’ll ever have.”

The Sundance Film Festival is a safe space for “global creative refugees who find refuge in this mountain town,” Karim Amer, one of the jurors for the World Cinema Documentary Competition, said.

This year’s festival featured a diverse group of filmmakers, with the highest number of female directors as well as directors of color in Sundance history. Over the course of the festival’s 10 days, Sundance acts as a “refuge” for filmmakers from across the world, showcasing and celebrating stories that may have otherwise gone unheard and unseen.

Sundance will celebrate its final day on Sunday, Jan. 29.

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