Sundance Follow Up: 'Epicentro,' 'Boys State' Honored as Festival Competes With Oscar Countdown
Attention of many attendees divided between festival and build up to Academy Awards in Hollywood
The Motion Picture Academy's decision to compress the Oscar schedule this year--moving up the awards ceremony two weeks--impinged on the Sundance Film Festival in multiple ways. The Oscar Luncheon, for instance, took place on Monday, January 27 at the height of Sundance, diverting a number of nominees from Park City to Hollywood--including Laura Nix (nominated for the short documentary Walk Run Cha-Cha) and Marshall Curry (nominated for the live action short The Neighbor's Window). Publicists also shuttled between LA and Utah, attending to their nominees and Oscar campaigns while simultaneously working to promote films at Sundance.
I spoke with many publicists, including some for the festival, who all lamented the calendar overlap; to a person, they also expressed hope the Academy will revert to the old timetable next year.
As with so many other people at this year's festival, my attention was similarly divided between Oscars and Sundance. Instead of writing exclusively about the festival, I spent my time in Utah writing almost exclusively about nonfiction Oscar contenders (seven pieces for Deadline.com in the course of Sundance). So I've got some catching up to do on Sundance.
To that end, notes on some of the winners at the Sundance Awards show Saturday night:
Epicentro, director Hubert Sauper's fascinating look at contemporary Cuba--and its history at the epicenter of competing empires--won the Grand Jury Prize for World Cinema Documentary. On stage at the Basin Recreation Fieldhouse outside Park City, Utah, Sauper thanked what he calls the film's "prophets"--the vibrant young people who guided him on his exploration of Havana. They are noted equally for their utter charm and impressive understanding of geopolitics.
"I dedicate really this prize to the young prophets, who are 10-, 11-year-old children from Cuba... and also to all the people in Cuba and in the world who are fighting for their voices and for their rights," Sauper said as he stood next to producer Martin Marquet. "And I'm so happy that we as filmmakers can do that--give them their voices and give them their rights."
Epicentro is a film that manages to be both dreamlike, immersive and intellectually rigorous at the same time, revealing the ways the American empire has attempted to impose control on Cuba dating to the time of the Spanish-American War at the end of the 19th century. There is a fairly tale-like quality to the Cuba of today depicted in Epicentro, a country without the material wealth of the U.S. and yet possessing riches beyond price.
I had a seat at the Redstone to watch a screening of Boys State, directed by Jesse Moss and Amanda McBaine, which ended up winning the Grand Jury Prize for U.S. Documentary. But a breaking news assignment for Deadline (on the last-minute visa granted to Dr. Amani, subject of the Oscar-nominated The Cave, to come to the U.S.) pulled me out before the lights went down.
"Boys State is a political coming-of-age story, examining the health of American democracy through an unusual experiment: a thousand 17-year-old boys from across the state of Texas gather together to build a representative government from the ground up," Sundance programmers wrote of the film. "High-minded ideals collide with low-down dirty tricks as four boys of diverse backgrounds and political views navigate the challenges of organizing political parties, shaping consensus, and campaigning for the highest office at Texas Boys State--governor."
On stage, Moss thanked production company Concordia Studios and the film's editor and cinematographers. He added thanks "To the boys themselves in the film--Robert, Steven, Rene and Ben--for trusting us to tell their stories, Texas Boys State, for a film about civil discourse in a moment where we profoundly, profoundly, need it."
Benjamin Ree's The Painter and the Thief won a Special Jury Award for Creative Storytelling, honoring a film that tells the story of an accomplished artist who goes out of her way to befriend a man convicted of stealing two of her valuable canvases. The painter, Czech native Barbora Kysilkova, joined Ree on stage as he accepted the award. The "thief," Karl-Bertil Nordland, could not attend Sundance, Ree previously explained, because as a felon he couldn't obtain a U.S. visa.
See the full list of documentary winners below.
Here's a gallery of images I took at the awards show:
These are the other documentary winners at Sundance 2020:
The U.S. Grand Jury Prize: Documentary was presented to: Jesse Moss and Amanda McBaine, for Boys State / U.S.A. (Directors: Jesse Moss, Amanda McBaine, Producers: Amanda McBaine, Jesse Moss)
The World Cinema Grand Jury Prize: Documentary was presented to: Hubert Sauper, for Epicentro / Austria, France, U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Hubert Sauper, Producers: Martin Marquet, Daniel Marquet, Gabriele Kranzelbinder, Paolo Calamita)
The World Cinema Documentary Special Jury Award for Cinematography was presented to: Mircea Topoleanu and Radu Ciorniciuc, for Acasa, My Home
A World Cinema Documentary Special Jury Award for Editing was presented to: Mila Aung-Thwin, Sam Soko, and Ryan Mullins, for Softie
The Short Film Jury Award: Nonfiction was awarded to John Was Trying to Contact Aliens / U.S.A. (Director: Matthew Killip)
The Sundance Institute | Amazon Studios Producers Award for Documentary Features went to Diane Becker and Melanie Miller of Fishbowl Films, for Whirlybird.
The Audience Award: U.S. Documentary, Presented by Acura was presented to: Nicole Newnham and Jim LeBrecht, for Crip Camp / U.S.A. (Directors: Nicole Newnham, Jim LeBrecht; Producers: Sara Bolder, Jim LeBrecht, Nicole Newnham)
The Audience Award: World Cinema Documentary was presented to: Jerry Rothwell, for The Reason I Jump / United Kingdom (Director: Jerry Rothwell; Producers: Jeremy Dear, Stevie Lee, Al Morrow)
The Directing Award: U.S. Documentary was presented to: Garrett Bradley, for Time / U.S.A. (Director: Garrett Bradley; Producers: Lauren Domino, Kellen Quinn, Garrett Bradley))
The Directing Award: World Cinema Documentary was presented to: Iryna Tsilyk, for The Earth Is Blue as an Orange / Ukraine, Lithuania (Director: Iryna Tsilyk, Producers: Anna Kapustina, Giedrė Žickytė)
A U.S. Documentary Special Jury Award for Editing was presented to: Tyler H. Walk, for Welcome to Chechnya / U.S.A. (Director: David France, Producers: Alice Henty, David France, Askold Kurov, Joy A. Tomchin)
A U.S. Documentary Special Jury Award for Innovation in Non-fiction Storytelling was presented to: Kirsten Johnson, for Dick Johnson Is Dead / U.S.A. (Director: Kirsten Johnson, Screenwriters: Nels Bangerter, Kirsten Johnson, Producers: Katy Chevigny, Marilyn Ness)
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.