The 2021 Sundance Film Festival wrapped Tuesday night, with a virtual awards ceremony (hosted by Patton Oswalt) announcing the winners of the long-esteemed festival. The biggest winner of the night is CODA, a drama centered around a high school student who is the child of deaf adults (a phrase for which CODA is an acronym), walking away with the top four prizes in the U.S. Dramatic Competition category: the grand jury prize, the audience award, the directing prize, and a special grand jury prize for best ensemble.
It’s the first film in the festival’s history to win all three top prizes in the U.S. Dramatic category. It should be noted that CODA had already broken an entirely different kind of award—Apple had already outbid competitors like Netflix and Amazon for the film, acquiring it for a record-breaking $25 million (the largest deal ever recorded at Sundance). The film, written and directed by Siân Heder, centers on high school student Ruby (Emilia Jones) as she finds herself forced to choose between her family obligations and her passion for music.
Director Heder said of the film (while accepting the audience award):
“I hope that this opens the door to people getting that audiences want to see these kinds of stories. And I hope that this means that more stories that center deaf characters and characters with disabilities get put front and center because clearly people want to respond to that.”
In the World Cinema Dramatic Competition was Hive, which had won the grand jury prize, audience award, and directing award (yet another first for Sundance). Hive (from director Blerta Basholli) follows a single mother struggling to survive after her husband disappears in the war in Kosovo. While accepting the grand jury prize, Basholli spoke:
“This really, really means a lot … to all the women who really needed their voice to be heard, at Sundance and everywhere in the world. This is way, way too much for me to handle.”
In the U.S. Documentary Competition, both the grand jury and audience awards went to Summer Of Soul (…Or, When The Revolution Could Not Be Televised), a feature documentary directed by the Roots frontman Ahmir ‘Questlove’ Thompson. The film covers the Harlem Cultural Festival, a major music event celebrating African American music in the summer of 1969, using footage that had been hidden in a basement for 50 years and only now uncovered.
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The U.S. Documentary Competition special jury award for nonfiction experimentation was awarded to Theo Anthony’s All Light, Everywhere, a film about concepts of perception and objectivity in a world of constant surveillance. The category’s directing prize went to Natalia Almada for Users, on the relationship of parents and children to technology.
Flee, a documentary about the life of a gay Afghan refugee (itself a largely animated telling of his story) was awarded the grand jury prize in the World Cinema Documentary Competition, while Writing with Fire, focusing on India’s sole newspaper run by Dalit women, received the audience award.
The NEXT category saw the audience award go to My Belle, My Beauty, a film about the reunion of two women in France who once were polyamorous lovers. The category’s innovator award went to animated fantasy Cryptozoo, about a zoo for cryptozoological creatures.
The full slate of winners are listed below:
U.S. DRAMATIC COMPETITION
Grand Jury Prize: “CODA”
Audience Award: “CODA”
Directing: Siân Heder, “CODA”
Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award: Ari Katcher and Ryan Welch, “On the Count of Three”
Special Jury Award for Best Actor: Clifton Collins Jr., “Jockey”
Special Jury Award for Best Ensemble: The cast of “CODA” (Emilia Jones, Eugenio Derbez, Troy Kotsur, Ferdia Walsh-Peelo, Daniel Durant, and Marlee Matlin)
U.S. DOCUMENTARY COMPETITION
Grand Jury Prize: “Summer Of Soul (…Or, When The Revolution Could Not Be Televised)”
Audience Award: “Summer Of Soul (…Or, When The Revolution Could Not Be Televised)”
Directing: Natalia Almada, “Users”
Jonathan Oppenheim Editing Award: Kristina Motwani and Rebecca Adorno, “Homeroom”
Special Jury Award for Emerging Filmmaker: Parker Hill, Isabel Bethencourt, “Cusp”
Special Jury Award for Nonfiction Experimentation: Theo Anthony, “All Light, Everywhere”
WORLD CINEMA DRAMATIC COMPETITION
Grand Jury Prize: “Hive”
Audience Award: “Hive”
Directing Award: Blerta Basholli, “Hive”
Special Jury Award for Acting: Jesmark Scicluna, “Luzzu”
Special Jury Award for Creative Vision: “One for the Road,” Baz Poonpiriya
WORLD CINEMA DOCUMENTARY COMPETITION
Grand Jury Prize: “Flee”
Audience Award: “Writing With Fire”
Directing Award: Hogir Hirori, “Sabaya”
Special Jury Award for Vérité Filmmaking: Camilla Nielsson, “President”
Special Jury Award for Impact for Change: Rintu Thomas, Sushmit Ghosh, “Writing With Fire”
NEXT Audience Award: Marion Hill, “My Belle, My Beauty”
NEXT Innovator Award: Dash Shaw (director), Jane Samborski (animation director), “Cryptozoo”
Alfred P. Sloan Feature Film Prize: Alexis Gambis, “Son of Monarchs”
Sundance Institute/Amazon Studios Producers Award for Narrative Features: Natalie Qasabian, “Run”
Sundance Institute/Amazon Studios Producers Award for Documentary Features: Nicole Salazar, “Philly D.A.”
Sundance Institute NHK Award: Meryam Joobeur, “Motherhood”
Sundance Institute/Adobe Mentorship Award for Editing Nonfiction: Juli Vizza,
Sundance Institute/Adobe Mentorship Award for Editing Fiction: Terilyn Shropshire.