Jawline, Sea of Shadows, American Factory and more emerge as winners as Sundance 2019 wraps
Sundance prize winners are basking in the glow of awards love after a spirited ceremony near Park City, Utah.
In US Documentary Competition, One Child Nation from directors Nanfu Wang and Jialing Zhang won the Grand Jury Prize in a field of 16 contenders. The film investigates the social impact of China's one child policy, which led to "widespread enforcement of sterilization, child abandonment, and state-sponsored kidnappings." Most of the abandoned babies were girls, discarded by families who wanted a male as their single child.
"China's one child nation has affected millions and millions of people and they include not only Chinese people but a lot of people in the rest of the world," Wang told the audience at the awards ceremony. "One person in our film said, 'The saddest thing for a nation is to have no memory.' For us we hope our film will serve as a true record... for people whose lives are affected by it."
I was completely shocked by the reactions because they were amazing.
In World Cinema Documentary Competition, the Grand Jury Prize went to Honeyland, directed by Macedonian filmmakers Ljubomir Stefanov and Tamara Kotevska. They filmed in a tiny village in their native country where a woman named Hatidze tended to her beehives and her elderly and ailing mother.
"It's a story about humanity. That's the easiest and the best way to put it," Kotevska told Nonfictionfilm.com in an interview a couple of days before the awards show. Cinematographer Samir Ljuma added, "For me, when we were filming the scenes with her mother and how she was treating her mother, we find the same thing with the bees--the mother was like a queen bee for the bee, which was Hatidze. She was the one who was taking care of her mom like the bees are taking care of the queen bee."
There is a strong environmental dimension to Honeyland, which speaks to sustainability. Hatidze knows how to manage bee colonies so they don't collapse, but neighbors who move in next door lack that understanding. Their actions threaten to destroy the honey bees that provide Hatidze with her meager income.
In recognition of the film's environmental message, Honeyland also won a Special Jury Prize for Impact for Change. And it won an additional Special Jury Prize for Cinematography, recognizing the work of DPs Ljuma and Fejmi Daut.
The Audience Award in World Cinema Documentary went to Sea of Shadows. Richard Ladkani directed the true-life thriller that exposes how traffickers intent on harvesting coveted swim bladders from the totoaba fish are threatening the entire ecosystem of the Sea of Cortez in Baja, California. The rapacious and illegal trade has put the vaquita whale on the brink of extinction, as huge numbers of the cetaceans have been killed in nets strung to ensnare the totoaba.
"We hoped this film would be here [at Sundance] so we could have a change in Mexico City, in Mexico, with the government, because this is about change. We're trying to put a spotlight on what is going on there," Ladkani said as he accepted the award. "There's a huge crisis... Very bad people, Mexican cartels, the Chinese Mafia, they're trying to feed off our planet, making millions of dollars. And by exposing what is going on there we hope to change this. And by having the whole world see that they just can't do that. They can't feed on our planet and destroy it."
Knock Down the House, the documentary that followed Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and other women Democratic "insurgent" candidates in the 2018 primary election season, won the Audience Award for US Documentary.
On stage, director Rachel Lears thanked "the incredibly courageous women who allowed us to document their stories... This film is about power. It's about what it takes to believe that you deserve to have power in the world. And it's about making the politically impossible, possible."
Matthew Carey is a documentary filmmaker and journalist. His work has appeared on Deadline.com, CNN, CNN.com, TheWrap.com, NBCNews.com and in Documentary magazine.