Once again thousands of members of the press thirsty to find the next big story, industry folks opening their wallets to buy content, and a plethora of film fans and volunteers caught the annual affliction known as Sundance fever. Those who have been part of the fun for several years and some even for decades, congregated together with newbies in the snow-covered, resort town of Park City, Utah, to watch movies and drink until the wee hours of the night. (Actually only until 1 a.m. since Utah laws prohibit partying past that moment when the party is just about to get fun and Uber surcharges at night were scarier than walking down Main Street on opening weekend.)
Despite all the hurdles one can encounter while Sundancing — like trying to find food after midnight or falling on your face while running to catch a shuttle to that one screening you know is going to be packed — the films made up for the challenging experience that a festival in extremely low temperatures can become. One standout theme among this year’s slate were stories of the absurd and the boldness with which filmmakers tackled them. Swiss Army Man deals with a young man stranded in an island who befriends a decomposing and easily aroused corpse, The Lure is a horror musical that tells the story of two mermaids in 1980s Poland who become singers at a nightclub, Wild centers on a woman who literally falls in love with a wolf, and The Greasy Strangler (which is by far the most WTF film of the fest) tells the story of a murderous man obsessed with greasy food and his socially awkward son who is discovering sexuality very late in life. (That description is the most politically correct version of what this insane film is about, trust me.)
Of course, often the most original films are not the film critic’s favorites. The list of well-reviewed critical darlings includes the hottest ticket in town Manchester By the Sea; a black-and-white Portuguese-language horror flick titled The Eyes of My Mother; and Christine, about the journalist who infamously committed suicide on live TV. (No, this is not a spoiler, a simple Google search would tell you even more about this real life story.) Yet another set of films, which don’t exactly match what the critics raved about, were awarded by Sundance juries this past Saturday in a ceremony hosted by Kiwi filmmaker Taika Waititi.
As everyone expected from the second the premiere screening ended, Nate Parker’s The Birth of a Nation, bought by Fox Searchlight for over $17 million, became the big winner of the night taking home the U.S. Dramatic Grand Jury Prize and the U.S. Dramatic Audience Award. This makes Parker’s film the fourth consecutive film to take both awards, a feat achieved last year by the Tejano director of Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, Alfonso Gomez-Rejón.
The real star of the night was Latin American cinema which has been conquering important awards at the world’s most prestigious festivals for years, and continued its winning streak at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival. First came the well-deserved Alfred P. Sloan Feature Film Prize for the already Academy Award-nominated Colombian masterpiece Embrace of the Serpent, an honor given to a film that explores scientific ideas or themes.
In the World Cinema Documentary competition the Peru-set documentary When Two World Collide by Heidi Brandenburg and Matthew Orzel won a Special Jury Prize for Debut Feature. Asserting Colombia as a cinematic powerhouse going through a fantastic period, Between Sea and Land (La Ciénaga) was awarded the World Cinema Dramatic Special Jury Prize for Acting to both Vicky Hernandez and Manolo Cruz. Visibly overwhelmed by the recognition, Cruz, star and writer of the film about a man with a form of muscular dystrophy, accepted the award by saying, “I’m very excited to be here with all of you because we share this passion for telling stories. I don’t think I’ve ever had an emotional moment as this in my life. This award is for Vicky Hernandez, the best actress in my country, I had the great chance to share this with her. But especially, thanks to God, that allowed us to share our talents with all of you.”
South America was further represented by Ana Katz’s Argentinian-Uruguayan co-production Mi Amiga del Parque, which took home the World Cinema Dramatic Special Jury Prize for Screenwriting. While she had left the cold ski slopes of Utah by the time the awards came around, Katz sent a thank you video dedicating the award to women going through what her characters experience in the film.
The last one of the night for Latin America came once again by the hand of Between Sea and Land, which also took home the World Cinema Dramatic Audience Award for its moving and inspirational narrative. Carlos del Castillo, director of the film was brief, but assured the audience this won’t be the last they’ll see of him, “Thank you to my family. Thank you Manolo. Thank you Carlos. We are here and we are staying here.” Manolo Cruz, who co-wrote the film with Del Castillo, took the stage again to express his gratitude, “I believe we can all agree we do this for the audience. This award was so necessary for us because what we want to tell people about love and if there was this connection with the audience we are on the other side.”
Earlier in the week, Cuban writer-director Armando Capo was named as a recipient of the Sundance Institute Global Filmmaking Award. The $10,000 in prize money will help Capo develop August, a drama that touches upon a young man’s exploration of his first love set in 1990s Cuba.
Although Park City has returned to its normal state and the thousands of people lining up for films and parties have returned to their respective boring lives, the films that made a splash will continue to be part of the conversation for months to come. It wouldn’t be surprising to see some of the names called out last Saturday in Park City, make it to the list of nominations announced on a Thursday morning next January at a certain building in Beverly Hills.
Here are the Latin American winners of the 2016 Sundance Film Festival.