'Clemency,' 'One Child Nation' lead a diverse mix of Sundance Film Festival award winners

'Clemency,' 'One Child Nation' lead a diverse mix of Sundance Film Festival award winners
Actors Michael O'Neill, Danielle Brooks, Alfre Woodard and Aldis Hodge, writer/director Chinonye Chukwu and actors Richard Gunn and Richard Schiff, from the film, "Clemency," photographed at the L.A. Times Photo and Video Studio at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival. (Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

This year’s Sundance Film Festival was not just inclusive in its selections, but in its awards as well. Female filmmakers cleaned up, claiming top prizes in the festival’s U.S. dramatic and documentary and world dramatic competitions, as well as several other key awards throughout the Saturday evening ceremony.

Of the 28 prizes awarded to 23 films — comprising the work of 27 filmmakers — 13 (56.5%) were directed by one or more women and eight (34.8%) were directed by one or more people of color.


In accepting a special jury prize for “vision and craft” in the festival’s U.S. Dramatic competition section, “Honey Boy” director Alma Ha'rel made it clear that female filmmakers deserve a shot beyond the festival circuit. "The hustle is real," she said. "We can do this, let us work."

The top prize in that section went to the death row drama “Clemency,” starring Alfre Woodard and directed by emerging filmmaker Chinonye Chukwu. The bleak but well received film had yet to find a distributor as of the awards ceremony.

In an emotional and impassioned acceptance speech, Chukwu noted the difficulty in getting financing for the film: “You, Sundance, and the people who have seen this film have proven that there is an audience for this film.”

Top honors in the corresponding documentary section went to Nanfu Wang and Jialing Zhang's harrowing "One Child Nation," which explores the lingering impact of China’s “one child” policy.

Rachel Lears' "Knock Down the House" — which followed a handful of women running for the House of Representatives in 2018, including Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez — won the U.S. documentary competition audience award. The film was acquired by Netflix during the festival.

In accepting the award, Lears noted, “This film is about power, it’s about what it takes to believe that you deserve power in the world and it’s about making the politically impossible possible. … We really hope it can be part of a huge groundswell of movement and conversation around changing the face of representation in our democracy.”

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in "Knock Down the House"
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in "Knock Down the House" (Sundance)

Another Netflix acquisition, Steven Bognar and Julia Reichert's "American Factory," about a Chinese-run glass factory in Ohio, took the U.S. documentary directing prize.

Special jury prizes went to documentaries examining Mexican healthcare ("Midnight Family" cinematographer Luke Lorentzen), NASA ("Apollo 11" editor Todd Douglas Miller), social media ("Jawline" emerging filmmaker Liza Mandelup) and the history of lynching ("Always in Season" director Jacqueline Olive, recognized for the film’s “moral urgency”).

The U.S. dramatic audience award went to Paul Downs Colaizzo's crowd-pleasing comedy "Brittany Runs a Marathon," starring Jillian Bell as an overweight woman who undergoes both an exterior and interior transformation. It sold to Amazon in one of the festival’s several high-profile acquisitions.

The high school drama “Share,” which A24 sold to HBO during the festival, nabbed both the Waldo Salt screenwriting award for Pippa Bianco and a special jury prize for leading lady Rhianne Barreto.

Jonathan Majors and Jimmie Fails in "The Last Black Man In San Francisco," which A24 will release later this year.
Jonathan Majors and Jimmie Fails in "The Last Black Man In San Francisco," which A24 will release later this year. (Peter Prato / A24)

A24’s buzzy “The Last Black Man in San Francisco” took the directing prize for Joe Talbot and a special “creative collaboration” prize for its artistic team.

The world cinema dramatic grand jury prize was unanimously awarded to British helmer Joanna Hogg's "The Souvenir," another A24 title, which juror Jane Campion noted was selected for its "poetic sophistication and absolute honesty." Hogg sent in a video acceptance which was shot by the film’s star, Honor Swinton-Byrne (daughter of Tilda Swinton).

Another female filmmaker, Lucía Garibaldi, won the world cinema narrative directing prize for the Spanish-language coming-of-age romance "The Sharks.” And the female-helmed "Queen of Hearts" from Danish director May El-Toukhy, about the romance between a middle-aged woman and her teenage stepson, won the audience award.


Special jury awards went to actress Krystyna Janda, the leading lady of immigrant romance "Dolce Fine Giornata," Japan's "We Are Little Zombies" by Makoto Nagahisa for its “originality,” and Alejandro Landes' hostage drama "Monos" for its “vision.”

"Honeyland" won three prizes in the world documentary competition at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival.
"Honeyland" won three prizes in the world documentary competition at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival. (Sundance)

Macedonian environmental documentary "Honeyland," directed by Tamara Kotevska and Ljubomir Stefanov, won a trio of prizes in the world cinema doc section including the grand jury prize, a special jury award for "impact for change" and a special jury prize for cinematographers Fejmi Daut and Samir Ljuma.

The section's audience award went to Richard Ladkani's "Sea of Shadows" about the nearly extinct vaquita whale, and directing award to Mads Brügger for "Cold Case Hammarskjold," an investigation into the death of a U.N. secretary-general. An additional special jury award for "no borders" went to "Midnight Traveler," in which director Hassan Fazili chronicles his own experience as an Afghan refugee.

"The Infiltrators," a drama about and starring a group of Dreamers, directed by Alex Rivera and Cristina Ibarra, won both the audience and jury prize in the Next section, which spotlights up-and-coming filmmakers.