Woman-directed films ‘Coda,’ ‘Hive’ and more win big at Sundance Film Festival

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Director and screenwriter Siân Heder’s family drama “CODA” won four awards in the U.S. Dramatic Competition category: the grand jury prize, the directing prize, the audience award and a special jury prize for best ensemble. [Sundance Institute photo]

Opportunities led to accolades at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival.

As previously reported, Sundance achieved gender parity this year: Across 139 films and projects, 50%, or 69, were directed by one or more women; 4%, or six, were directed by one or more non-binary individuals; 50%, or 70, were directed by one or more artists of color; and 15%, or 21, by one or more people who identify as LGBTQ+.

Director and screenwriter Siân Heder’s family drama “CODA” won four awards in the U.S. Dramatic Competition category: the grand jury prize, the directing prize, the audience award and a special jury prize for best ensemble.

The film centers on Ruby (Emilia Jones), a teenager who is a Child of Deaf Adults, or CODA, and the only hearing person in her deaf family. When the family’s fishing business is threatened, Ruby finds herself torn between pursuing her love of music and her fear of abandoning her parents.

“CODA” is the first film in the history of the Sundance Film Festival to earn all three U.S. Dramatic top prizes, according to Variety.

“I hope that this opens the door to people getting that audiences want to see these kinds of stories,” Heder said while accepting the audience award, per Variety. “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.”

“CODA” doesn’t just win awards at Sundance: After the film’s successful opening-night debut, Heder’s drama Sundance broke records when Apple Studios bought the rights for $25 million. According to The Hollywood Reporter, the sale price for “CODA” broke the record set last year with “Palm Springs,” which sold to Neon and Hulu in a deal that was worth $22 million.

“Hive” achieved a Sundance first by garnering the grand jury prize, audience award and directing award in the World Cinema Dramatic Competition. [Sundance Institute photo]

The big winner in the World Cinema Dramatic Competition was another female-helmed film: Writer-director Blerta Basholli’s “Hive.” Like “CODA,” “Hive” achieved a Sundance first by garnering the grand jury prize, audience award and directing award, according to Variety.

“Hive” centers on a single mother, Fahrije (Yllka Gashi) who struggles to get by after her husband goes missing during the war in Kosovo. She sets up her own small business to provide for her kids, but as she fights against a patriarchal society that does not support her, she faces a crucial decision: to wait for his return, or to continue to persevere.

“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,” an emotional Basholli said while accepting the grand jury prize, per Variety. “This is way, way too much for me to handle.”

The audience award for World Cinema Documentary was presented to directors and producers Rintu Thomas and Sushmit Ghosh for “Writing With Fire,” about India’s only newspaper run by Dalit women. [Sundance Institute photo]

They weren’t the only women filmmakers to win at Sundance: The audience award for World Cinema Documentary was presented to directors and producers Rintu Thomas and Sushmit Ghosh for “Writing With Fire,” about India’s only newspaper run by Dalit women. Armed with smartphones, Chief Reporter Meera and her journalists break traditions on the frontlines of India’s biggest issues and within the confines of their own homes, redefining what it means to be powerful. The film also received the World Cinema Documentary Special Jury Award: Impact for Change.

A World Cinema Documentary Special Jury Award: Vérité Filmmaking was presented to director Camilla Nielsson for “President,” which centers on a political crossroads for Zimbabwe. [Sundance Institute photo]

A World Cinema Documentary Special Jury Award: Vérité Filmmaking was presented to director Camilla Nielsson for “President,” which centers on a political crossroads for Zimbabwe. The leader of the opposition MDC party, Nelson Chamisa, challenges the old guard ZANU-PF led by Emmerson Mnangagwa, known as “The Crocodile.” The election tests both the ruling party and the opposition – how do they interpret principles of democracy in discourse and in practice?

In the NEXT category, the Audience Award went to writer-director Marion Hill for “Ma Belle, My Beauty.” [Sundance Institute photo]

In the NEXT category, the Audience Award went to writer-director Marion Hill for “Ma Belle, My Beauty,” about a surprise reunion in southern France that reignites passions and jealousies between two women who were formerly polyamorous lovers.

Three of the four directing winners this year were women, Variety noted.

Among the other big winners at Sundance: “Summer of Soul (…Or, When The Revolution Could Not Be Televised),” the feature documentary directed by the Roots frontman Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson, earned the grand jury and audience awards in the U.S. Documentary Competition.

During the same summer as Woodstock, more than 300,000 people attended the Harlem Cultural Festival, celebrating African American music and culture, and promoting Black pride and unity. The footage from the festival sat in a basement, unseen for more than 50 years, keeping this incredible event in America’s history lost, until “Summer of Soul.”

Also in the World Cinema Documentary Competition, “Flee,” director Jonas Poher Rasmussen’s largely animated film about the life of a gay Afghan refugee, received the grand jury prize, and “One for the Road,” a buddy road movie about two friends traveling through Thailand, earned a special jury prize for creative vision in the World Cinema Dramatic Competition category.

For the full list of winners, click here.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this year’s Sundance Film Festival – which usually takes place in Park City, Utah – went virtual while also offering in-person socially distanced screenings and events at drive-in theaters, independent arthouses and other venues around the country.

“This has been a singular Festival for a singular moment,” said Sundance Institute CEO Keri Putnam in a statement. “We’ve been able to elevate independent art and celebrate a wonderful slate of films by gathering in new ways, ways that worked thanks to adventurous audiences everywhere, eager to connect and engage with the work and with one another. Watching people come together to connect and discuss exciting new work has been incredibly rewarding – and a resounding confirmation that great independent storytelling inspires rich conversation.”

-BAM

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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