Sundance 2017 Awards
What the critics are saying about the winners.
"This has been one of the wildest, wackiest and most rewarding Festivals in recent memory," says Sundance Film Festival director John Cooper in a statement at the top of the festival's announcement of this year's award-winners. "From a new government to the independently organized Women’s March on Main, to power outages, a cyberattack and snow at record levels, the work of our artists rose above it all and challenged and changed us these last ten days."
Here's the full list of winners with notes on what the critics have been saying about them.
U.S. Grand Jury Prize: Documentary
Dan Sickles and Antonio Santini's Dina.
Sundance: An eccentric suburban woman and a Walmart door-greeter navigate their evolving relationship in this unconventional love story.
Critics: For IndieWire's David Ehrlich, "it's a minor miracle that the film sidesteps the number of traps that it sets for itself. Any film about the mentally disabled is a potential minefield of bad ideas, let alone a film that frames its story as an accidental rom-com and plays even its most crushing moments for laughs." At Filmmaker, Vadim Rizov adds that "Dina deserves a lot of credit for venturing into terrain most movies aren’t comfortable enough to acknowledge. I’m not worried about exploitation: the film’s made with the clear comfort of all those participating." The directors "(who previously collaborated on Mala Mala) never condescend to or coddle their vivacious leading lady, and the result is a fascinating love story," writes Alonso Duralde at TheWrap. "Dina is also frequently, surprisingly hilarious, but never at the expense of those on-screen," adds Lawrence N Garcia in the Notebook. More from Vanessa McDonnell (Screen Slate) and Stephen Saito. Filmmaker has a few questions for editor Sofia Subercaseaux.
U.S. Grand Jury Prize: Dramatic
Macon Blair's I don't feel at home in this world anymore.
Sundance: 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.
Critics: We've got an entry gathering reviews right here. The trailer's there, too.
World Cinema Grand Jury Prize: Documentary
Feras Fayyad's Last Men in Aleppo.
Sundance: 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.
Critics: "Fayyad doesn’t flinch from the gruesome details," notes Charlie Phillips in the Guardian. "We see hands, feet and other body parts in the rubble, as well as children’s gaping head wounds: there’s little break from the tears and desperation. This is a 100-minute account of lives lived in hell, without proper medicine and housing, where a gathering of friends is considered a legitimate bombing target, and where children’s hospitals are shelled." Boyd van Hoeij in the Hollywood Reporter: "Frequently heartbreaking and hard to watch…, the film demands to be reckoned with as a testament to the selflessness and courage of these literal life savers, though the constant preference for a purely human approach over even basic contextual information might rub some viewers the wrong way." Screen's Fionnuala Halligan: "People risked their lives to shoot this footage; the fact that it’s a tough watch seems like a poor excuse not to."
World Cinema Grand Jury Prize: Dramatic
Tarik Saleh's The Nile Hilton Incident.
Sundance: 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.
Critics: At Filmmaker, David Leitner suggests that it "darkly unfolds like the very best of Graham Greene… The extraordinary cast, Arab and Sudanese, inhabit their roles like a second skin; you constantly remind yourself they’re acting. Not a false or contrived note in 106 minutes." Nile Hilton "represents the type of penetrating filmmaking that only a writer-director intimately familiar with Egyptian culture but possessing an outsider’s perspective could convincingly accomplish," writes Justin Lowe in the Hollywood Reporter. Nick Schager for Variety: "Like the finest noir, what springs forth from Saleh’s film is the dreary belief that the bad sleep well while the rest are left to suffer in the streets." More from Nick Allen (RogerEbert.com) and Lee Marshall (Screen).
Audience Award: U.S. Documentary
Jeff Orlowski's Chasing Coral.
Sundance: 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.
Critics: "Even for those limited to swimming virtually among parrot fish and sea turtles over vast marine ecosystems of astonishing color and complexity, this superbly crafted documentary is likely to wield an unexpected emotional charge," writes David Rooney in the Hollywood Reporter. "The irrefutable visual evidence presented here would be hard for even the most stubborn climate change skeptics to ignore, detailing devastating losses to one of nature's most stunning creations that also threaten the foundations of a vital food and oxygen source." And at IndieWire, Steve Greene praises the "rousing ending that doesn’t rest on false hope for an immediate reversal." Filmmaker sends its questions to editor Davis Coombe.
Audience Award: U.S. Dramatic
Matt Ruskin's Crown Heights.
Sundance: 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.
Critics: Andrew Barker for Variety: "Essentially structured like a reverse Law & Order episode—in which we are first walked step-by-step through the legal travails of an innocent man, then see exactly how the crime was committed and investigated—the film sketches an effective, if ultimately somewhat schematic, picture of the legal system’s countless crevasses and sinkholes into which a blameless person can easily be shoved." IndieWire's David Ehrlich finds that it "hurtles forward through time like it’s being pulled along by the inertia of prejudice, the script eschewing scenes in favor of moments, rushing through almost every significant opportunity for pathos or character." TheWrap's Alonso Duralde adds that it "doesn’t give us anything here that a documentary couldn’t do better." More from John DeFore (Hollywood Reporter), Dan Mecca (Film Stage, B-), Rodrigo Perez (Playlist, C+) and Brian Tallerico (RogerEbert.com). Interviews: Soheil Rezayazdi (Filmmaker) with Ruskin, Steve Greene (IndieWire) with Asomugha and Steven Zeitchik (Los Angeles Times) with King. Variety's Ramin Setoodeh and Brent Lang report that Amazon Studios has picked up world rights.
Audience Award: World Cinema Documentary
Joe Piscatella's Joshua: Teenager vs. Superpower.
Sundance: 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.
Critics: This is the "rare protest documentary that’s genuinely exciting as well as inspiring," writes Dennis Harvey for Variety. Screen's Allan Hunter: "Piscatella manages to capture the complexity of what has been happening in Hong Kong in recent years, and creates a film that is lively and easily accessible." Filmmaker interviews Piscatella.
Audience Award: World Cinema Dramatic
Ernesto Contreras's Sueño en otro idioma (I Dream in Another Language).
Sundance: 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.
Critics: For Jonathan Holland in the Hollywood Reporter, it's "thought-provoking, visually compelling, and hopefully will help to raise awareness about this indirect form of cultural destruction. But its themes are subordinated to surprisingly bland treatment, so that while it provides plenty of food for thought, for large stretches it’s dramatically defunct, with paper-thin characters playing soap opera roles." Sarah Ward for Screen: "In an feature that often resembles a mix of Icelandic effort Rams and Colombia’s ethnographic-leaning Embrace of the Serpent thanks to narrative and visual commonalities, the personality expressed by the aging men in their eyes and posture alone offers exactly what the film’s title promises: another language."
Audience Award: NEXT
Justin Chon's Gook.
Sundance: 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.
Critics: "At a time when we’re all balancing of the making and seeing of art with fighting against the political nightmare, it’s encouraging to see a film that manages to do both," writes Meredith Alloway for Filmmaker. "In many ways," writes Flavorwire's Jason Bailey, "it falls into the tradition of the so-called 'hood' movies that were in theaters before and after the riots, films like Boyz N The Hood, Juice, and South Central. Like the best of them, it’s also often just a hang-out movie, in which characters joke, jeer, and even dance a bit. Chon doesn’t quite have the instincts of a great filmmaker yet; the pacing is off (particularly towards the end), some of the dialogue is clumsy, and the acting is uneven. But those issues are fairly typical to low-budget indies, and if Gook is occasionally amateurish, it also burns with a young artist’s raw intensity." More from Nick Allen (RogerEbert.com) and John DeFore (Hollywood Reporter). And Filmmaker interviews Chon.
Directing Award: U.S. Documentary
Peter Nicks for The Force.
Sundance: 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.
Critics: Filmmaker's Vadim Rizov suggests that "if you haven’t been paying attention to police brutality-related news these last few years (and you really should be), this would make for a good synoptic primer." In the Guardian, Jordan Hoffman adds that it's "nothing if not another intriguing portrayal of enormous enclosed systems, and the difficulty in turning big ships around." It's "gripping, inspiring—and, ultimately, dispiriting," finds Screen's Tim Grierson. More from Ed Gibbs (Little White Lies) and Brian Tallerico (RogerEbert.com). And Stephen Saito interviews Nicks.
Directing Award: U.S. Dramatic
Eliza Hittman for Beach Rats.
Sundance: 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.
Critics: Our roundup.
Directing Award: World Cinema Documentary
Pascale Lamche for Winnie.
Sundance: 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.
Critics: "Accusations, trials and investigative commissions have been a part of her life for decades," notes THR's Boyd van Hoeij, and Winnie "has the thankless task of sorting through decades of muckraking and controversy, hoping to uncover the complexities and truth of the real person behind the woman once referred to as 'the mother of a nation.' Whether the film succeeds in doing that depends not only on Lamche’s arguments and relative skills but also on the viewer, who needs to decide whether the fact the director was given access to Ms Mandela four times over the course of two years might have had an impact on what (aspects of which) stories got told and how." Screen's Sarah Ward finds that "the documentary’s passion and penchant for juxtaposition shines though." Interviews with Lamche: Filmmaker and Women and Hollywood.
Directing Award: World Cinema Dramatic
Francis Lee for God's Own Country.
Sundance: 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.
Critics: "Skipping some of the more predictable narrative obstacles we’ve come to expect from the coming-out drama, this sexy, thoughtful, hopeful film instead advances a pro-immigration subtext that couldn’t be more timely amid the closing borders of Brexit-era Britain," writes Variety's Guy Lodge. "It is almost—but not quite—a Dales Brokeback," suggests the Guardian's Peter Bradshaw. "It is, in its way, a very British love story, bursting at the seams with unspoken emotions, unvoiced fears about the future, and a readiness to displace every emotion into hard physical work." At TheWrap, Dan Callahan notes that "the camerawork seems in thrall to nature here above all else." For Ioncinema's Nicholas Bell, "despite an impressively brooding silence between its expressive leads, most of the visual cues underscore the narrative beats a bit too prophetically for the film to seem either fresh or exciting." More from Jude Dry (IndieWire), Gregory Ellwood (Playlist, B-), Fionnuala Halligan (Screen) and David Rooney (THR). And Filmmaker interviews Lee.
Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award: U.S. Dramatic
Matt Spicer and David Branson Smith for Ingrid Goes West. They're the directors, too.
Sundance: 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.
Critics: "A protagonist marching into a wedding and macing the bride is a helluva way to start your movie," writes Flavorwire's Jason Bailey. "But it also establishes the stakes of this pitch-black comedy, making it clear that our main character is not only not quite right, but fully capable of acting on it. This puts the viewer on edge; her scary intensity is always just under the surface, and much of the film consists of the filmmakers carefully setting up bowling pins, while we hold our breath waiting for her to start knocking them over." IndieWire's David Ehrlich: "To Spicer’s credit, his film avoids the temptation to become Single White Female with a cell phone. That’s been done, and the first-time director has more ambitious, more skewered, more unwieldy ideas on his mind." More from David D'Arcy (Screen), Peter Debruge (Variety), Gregory Ellwood (Playlist, A-), Vince Mancini (Uproxx), Steve Pond (TheWrap), Jordan Raup (Film Stage, B-), Matt Singer (ScreenCrush) and Brian Tallerico (RogerEbert.com). Filmmaker interviews Spicer. And at IndieWire, Graham Winfrey reports that "Tim League and Tom Quinn’s distribution shingle Neon has acquired the North American rights."
U.S. Documentary Special Jury Award for Inspirational Filmmaking
Amanda Lipitz's Step.
Sundance: 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.
Critics: This "might be the most infectiously entertaining doc since Chris Rock’s Good Hair," writes Geoff Berkshire for Variety. "This ebullient chronicle of a Baltimore girls step team’s senior year matches a fascinating, worthy subject with unabashedly joyful filmmaking." And if it "sounds like The Fits meets Bring It On, you're not far off," suggests THR's David Rooney. It's "a film with all the gifts: you’ll laugh, you’ll cry," promises Screen's Fionnuala Halligan. It "tells a story that highlights the intertwining values of hope and education, and never loses sight of the idea that much more lies ahead," writes IndieWire's Steve Greene.
U.S. Documentary Special Jury Award for Storytelling
Yance Ford's Strong Island.
Sundance: 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.
Critics: "In a formally audacious manner, one that promises to leave many viewers gripped with fresh helplessness, the film mines the defining tragedy of Ford’s life to lay bare the ways in which race and American justice often inharmoniously intersect," writes Brandon Harris for the New Yorker. "It is a brave, revealing film, and one whose topicality has only grown over the many years that it took Ford, a forty-four-year-old former producer for PBS’s documentary program POV, to put it together. As this grisly decade has revealed, there is no shortage of dead black men whose shooting deaths go unresolved in this country, and no shortage of black families for whom justice remains elusive." Strong Island "must surely be considered one of the finest documentaries of 2017 already," writes Charlie Phillips for the Guardian. More from David D'Arcy (Screen), Eric Kohn (IndieWire, A-) and David Rooney (THR).
U.S. Documentary Special Jury Award for Editing
Editors Kim Roberts and Emiliano Battista for Unrest, directed by Jennifer Brea.
Sundance: 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.
Critics: "Though the 'Patient, film thyself' concept is starting to risk overexposure," writes Dennis Harvey for Variety, "Unrest is a high-grade example of the form that’s consistently involving, with content diverse enough to avoid the tunnel-visioned pitfalls of diarist cinema." For IndieWire's Eric Kohn, "Unrest works particularly well once Brea looks beyond the limitations of her own bedridden experiences to document other cases worldwide, providing a stirring collage of stories to illustrate the destructive impact of [Chronic Fatigue Syndrome] and why it remains widely neglected by the medical community." More from John DeFore (THR). And Women and Hollywood interviews Brea.
U.S. Documentary Special Jury Award: The Orwell Award
Bryan Fogel's Icarus.
Sundance: 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.
Critics: "Taking a page from the Morgan Spurlock playbook," writes Variety's Peter Debruge, "Fogel sets out to prove that he can shoot himself full of anabolic steroids and other banned substances, boost his best time, and then slip through the gauntlet of anti-doping tests that await athletes at the finish line. All he needs is an accomplice with loose enough ethical standards to guide him through the system—and that’s what makes his movie such a game-changer." On the other hand, Josh Cabrita in the Notebook: "An Important film for our times blah blah blah, Icarus is exactly the kind of thing I feared it would be: formally anonymous, didactically constructed, and manipulatively orchestrated." Still, for Robert Abele at TheWrap, this is a "a wildly timely movie for our current moment, as issues of cheating, illegitimacy and geopolitical bullies take center stage." More from Nick Allen (RogerEbert.com), David D'Arcy (Screen) and Todd McCarthy (THR).
U.S. Dramatic Special Jury Award for Best Cinematography
Daniel Landin for The Yellow Birds, directed by Alexandre Moors.
Sundance: 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.
Critics: This is a "a broody variation on every war-critical war movie to hit screens since the first wave of Vietnam polemics," writes the AV Club's A.A. Dowd. "In fact, for a while, the film prepares its audience for a kind of modern, nonlinear Full Metal Jacket… But the chronology mostly flattens out once the homecoming portion of the story kicks in, the focus shifting to the mystery of a soldier’s disappearance, the wave of guilt that follows another one back to the States, and the anguish of a mother (Jennifer Aniston) looking for answers." Blue Caprice was Moors's "superior debut," notes Justin Chang in the Los Angeles Times. "In both films he displays an artful eye and a keen fascination with process, showing how a seemingly ordinary chain of events can precipitate terrible acts of violence. What worked so harrowingly well in his first film causes him to falter in his second: a principled urge to explain the inexplicable." More from Gregory Ellwood (Playlist, C), Owen Gleiberman (Variety), Tim Grierson (Screen), Jordan Hoffman (Guardian, 3/5), Richard Lawson (Vanity Fair), Todd McCarthy (THR), Dan Mecca (Film Stage, C), Mike Ryan (Uproxx) and Brian Tallerico (RogerEbert.com). And Filmmaker has a few questions for editor Joe Klotz.
U.S. Dramatic Special Jury Award for Breakthrough Performance
Chanté Adams for Roxanne Roxanne, written and directed by Michael Larnell.
Sundance: 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.
Critics: "A discovery making her screen debut, chosen over hundreds of rivals, Adams displays terrific range and an incandescent screen presence as she effortlessly incarnates Shante over a 10-year period, from puberty to young motherhood," writes THR's Leslie Felperin. And, while for Variety's Owen Gleiberman, "the hardscrabble hip-hop biopic… is in a category all its own," Eloise Ross at 4:3 finds that Larnell "attempts to balance comedy with drama, and it begins with a great energy and beat, but this is quickly drained out." More from Nick Allen (RogerEbert.com), Claudia Puig (TheWrap) and Jordan Ruimy (Film Stage, B). And Filmmaker interview Larnell.
U.S. Dramatic Special Jury Award for Breakthrough Director
Maggie Betts for Novitiate.
Sundance: 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.
Critics: "Betts has a terrifically controlled visual style that matches the timeless, precise, oppressive nature of her setting," writes the Voice's Bilge Ebiri. "She films the rituals of this world with the exactitude of an anthropologist." Novitiate is "a piercing, immersive, and superbly played convent drama in which the suppression of speech is witnessed at both an individual and institutional level," writes Variety's Guy Lodge. "The film marks an impressive first foray into starring vehicles for Margaret Qualley, ideally cast as a teenage nun-in-training…. But the most searing material here is reserved for Melissa Leo, who’s entirely startling as a merciless Mother Superior whose very sense of spiritual purpose is rocked by the new schemata." The LAT's Justin Chang adds that Betts's "nonfiction training can be seen in the immersive, even-handed way she captures the convent’s hushed environs and ritualistic way of life, but it doesn’t account for her remarkable skill with actors." More from Nick Allen (RogerEbert.com), Kate Erbland (IndieWire, A-), Leslie Felperin (THR), Richard Lawson (Vanity Fair) and Dino-Ray Ramos (Tracking Board). Filmmaker interviews DP Kat Westergaard.
World Cinema Documentary Special Jury Award for Excellence in Cinematography
Rodrigo Trejo Villanueva for Machines, directed by Rahul Jain.
Sundance: 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.
Critics: "Machines quickly asserts itself as a tragedy of dehumanization, of workers who abuse the bodies they use for work, and the figureheads who feel no need to respect them," writes Nick Allen at RogerEbert.com. Filmmaker interviews editor Yael Bitton.
World Cinema Documentary Special Jury Award for Commanding Vision
Ramona S. Diaz's Motherland.
Sundance: 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.
Critics: Citing "a wealth of fascinating material," Lawrence N Garcia, writing for the Notebook, adds: "There’s a great documentary to be made here, so it's somewhat frustrating that Motherland is merely quite good." For THR's Justin Lowe, "Motherland not only provides an expressively etched account of specialized medical care, but also a telling perspective on dominant social trends and health care policy issues in the Philippines." "An eye-opening, moving and often shocking film," finds Nikki Baughan, writing for Screen. Women and Hollywood interviews Diaz and Filmmaker has questions for DP Nadia Hallgren.
World Cinema Documentary Special Jury Award for Masterful Storytelling
Catherine Bainbridge and Alfonso Maiorana's Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked the World.
Sundance: 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.
Critics: "The film is structured more or less as a series of individual portraits of 10 significant artists, ranging from Delta blues great Charley Patton to iconic electric guitarist Jimi Hendrix (who was part Cherokee) to living legend Robbie Robertson," writes Joe Leydon for Variety. "A few episodes are less satisfying than others, but only because they spotlight intriguing yet obscure figures that audiences likely would want to learn about in greater detail." For THR's Justin Lowe, this is an "astoundingly rich and resonant music documentary." It's got "great stories to tell and causes to champion making it irresistible for popular music lovers," adds Screen's Allan Hunter. And Women and Hollywood interviews Bainbridge.
World Cinema Dramatic Special Jury Award for Cinematography
Manu Dacosse for Axolotl Overkill, directed by Helene Hegemann.
Sundance: 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.
Critics: This is a "formally impressive but thematically slippery directorial debut," writes Jessica Kiang for Variety, and "the film’s refusal to judge her mercurial, volatile behavior, while laudable, contributes to a sense of ambivalence in the viewer. How much is this eternal, futureless, and absolutely self-centered individual to be envied as an expression of ultimate liberation, and how much should her suspended-animation existence be pitied as a trap?" THR's Jordan Mintzer suggests that "Axolotl Overkill vaguely follows in the footsteps of films by Larry Clark or Gus Van Sant, though its many scenes of decadence are portrayed with all the polish and deliberateness of an Urban Outfitters ad." Screen's Wendy Ide: "Less explicit and confrontational than the novel on which it is based, it could connect with the audience which responded to Eva Husson’s Bang Gang (A Modern Love Story)." More from Nick Allen (RogerEbert.com), Jared Mobarak (Film Stage, B+) and Rodrigo Perez (Playlist, B+).
World Cinema Dramatic Special Jury Award for Cinematic Vision
Jun Geng's Free and Easy.
Sundance: 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.
Critics: "It’s likely that some of the comedy in the latest film from Jun Geng (Youth, The Hammer and the Sickle Are Sleeping) might be a little too culturally specific to fully chime with an international audience," suggests Screen's Wendy Ide. "But the symbolism of a broken-down and largely abandoned industrial expanse populated almost entirely by con-artists is hard to miss." THR's Boyd van Hoeij finds it "unexpectedly funny and dryly absurd," while, at Hammer to Nail, Christopher Llewellyn Reed suggests that it "offers an engaging mix of wit and anomie that recalls the work of Finnish filmmaker Aki Kaurismäki." More from Nick Allen (RogerEbert.com); and Filmmaker interviews Geng.
World Cinema Dramatic Special Jury Award for Screenwriting
Kirsten Tan for Pop Aye. She's directed as well.
Sundance: 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.
Critics: Our roundup.
SHORT FILM AWARDS
Short Film Grand Jury Prize. Makoto Nagahisa's And so we put goldfish in the pool.
Short Film Jury Award: U.S. Fiction. Anu Valia's Lucia, Before and After.
Short Film Jury Award: International Fiction. Francisca Alegría's The Whole Sky Fit in the Dead Cow's Eye.
Short Film Jury Award: Nonfiction. Garrett Bradley's Alone.
Short Film Jury Award: Animation. Volker Schlecht and Alexander Lahl's Broken – The Women's Prison at Hoheneck.
Short Film Special Jury Award for Cinematography. Chintan Rajbhandari for Dadyaa — The Woodpeckers of Rotha, directed by Pooja Gurung and Bibhusan Basnet.
Short Film Special Jury Award for Editing. Blair McClendon for Laps, directed by Charlotte Wells.
Global Filmmaking Awards, presented "in recognition and support of emerging independent filmmakers from around the world on the basis of their next screenplay." Massoud Bakhshi's Yalda (Iran), Maimouna Doucoure's Mignonnes (France), Fernando Coimbra's The Hanged (Brazil) and Agnieszka Smoczynska's Untitled Rock Opera (Poland).
The Sundance Institute / NHK Award. Babak Anvari's I Came By.
Alfred P. Sloan Feature Film Prize, "presented to an outstanding feature film about science or technology." Michael Almereyda's Marjorie Prime. "The premise is both simple and tricky," writes Filmmaker's Vadim Rizov: "in the future, your deceased loved ones can be brought back as holograms for company. Marjorie (Lois Smith), aging and losing her memory, has her late husband Walter (Jon Hamm), eternally in his 40s, for company, a development which makes her daughter Tess (Geena Davis) a little nervous. From this low-key sci-fi premise, Marjorie gets complicated" and "the spirit of late Resnais (e.g. Mélo, You Ain’t Seen Nothin' Yet) hangs heavy." Variety's Guy Lodge finds it to be "a sporadically fascinating but airless adaptation of Jordan Harrison’s Pulitzer-shortlisted study of family, memory, and the artificial intelligence that binds them." More from Jason Bailey (Flavorwire), Josh Cabrita (Notebook), Kate Erbland (IndieWire, C+), Anthony Kaufman (Screen), Jordan Raup (Film Stage, B) and David Rooney (THR). And Filmmaker interviews DP Sean Price Williams.
Amazon Studios Producers Awards. Anish Savjani and Neil Kopp (I don’t feel at home in this world anymore.) and Joslyn Barnes (Strong Island).
For the full 2017 Sundance on Fandor experience, go here.