Following 10 jam-packed days of screenings, panels, press events, and parties, this past Saturday, the jurors for the 2015 Sundance Film Festival announced the winners. The chosen films, both documentary and narrative, featured stories about freedom of expression and denounced the racism that plagues our society. As the filmmakers picked up their awards — all from different countries — they gave impassioned and emotional speeches.
In the World Cinema Documentary Competition, the film The Russian Woodpecker was awarded the Grand Jury Prize. Director Chad Gracia dedicated the award to jailed Ukrainian filmmaker Oleg Sentsov. Even more powerful were the acceptance speeches by the film’s subject, artist Fedor Alexandrovich, and cinematographer Artem Ryzhykov, who called for the West to help Ukraine stop Russia’s military campaign.
Watch the entire 2-hour-long Sundance Closing Night Ceremony
Similarly heartbreaking were the words of those involved with the documentary 3 ½ Minutes, which took home the U.S. Documentary Competition Jury Award for Social Impact. The film focuses on African American teen Jordan Davis’ death and the terrible repercussions of Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” laws. Although director Marc Silver wasn’t present, producer Minette Nelson was very moved by the recognition and decided to let Jordan’s parents, Ron Davis and Lucia McBath, take the stage. Mr. Davis finished his loving speech in honor of his son by chanting one of the most important lines of our time “Black Lives Matter!”
Especially noteworthy was the heavy presence of U.S. Latino and Latin American filmmakers as well as Latino-themed films among those who received awards. Miami-based director Kyle Patrick Alvarez received the Alfred P. Sloan Award for his latest feature The Stanford Prison Experiment, which explores the effects of Dr. Zimbardo’s infamous psychology study that simulated a prison. “I share this award with screenwriter Tim Talbott who’s been working on this script for over 10 years. One of our strong efforts with the film was to try to present the experiment as truthful and accurate as we could,” said Alvarez. The film also won the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award, given to Tim Talbott. Alvarez accepted the award on his behalf and added, “If you’ve written something you believe in, and it’s there in a drawer, don’t let it go away. Keep on fighting, for good material will always rise up.”
In the World Cinema Dramatic Competition, the Brazilian Film The Second Mother received the Special Jury Award for Acting. Director Anna Muylaert and actress Camila Mardila accepted the award on behalf of Regina Case, who plays the protagonist. The director passed on a message from the actress, “Regina said ‘If we win an award I would like to say that my character represents the old Brazil, the one that is disappearing, and Camila’s character represents the new Brazil that’s coming up. I hope that in the new Brazil there is less social injustice, but don’t forget to be like my character, so loving and with so much passion.’ Thank you.”
Filmmaker Matthew Heineman dominated the awards in the U.S. Documentary Competition with his film Cartel Land, which took him and his crew to the trenches of Mexico’s drug-fueled violence. Heineman won both the Special Jury Prize for Cinematography and the Directing Award for U.S. Documentary. “It’s such an honor to be here. I want to dedicate this award to the victims of the senseless violence that has been perpetuated by the drug wars in Mexico. More than 80,000 people murdered and more than 20,000 people missing, my heart goes out to all of them. This award is for them,” said Heineman during his acceptance speech.
Undoubtedly, the big winner at the festival was Alfonso Gomez-Rejón, a filmmaker who grew up in Laredo, Texas, and whose parents are originally from Mexico. After working as a P.A. for numerous productions and wearing multiple hats on others, Gomez-Rejón finally got the chance to direct his debut feature in 2013 with The Town that Dreaded the Sun, a horror flick inspired by the 1976 classic by the same title. But this year with Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, the filmmaker’s career has taken an incredible leap. Incredibly achieved and emotionally affecting, the film, based on the novel by Jesse Andrews, was a hit with audiences, industry, and the festival’s jury. Fox Searchlight acquired the film for $12 million, a record breaking number.
And it gets even better, Gomez-Rejón won the two highest prizes for a narrative film at Sundance, the U.S. Dramatic Competition Audience Award and the Grand Jury Prize joining films like Whiplash, Fruitvale Station, and Beasts of the Southern Wild. During his speech for the Audience Award Gomez-Rejón gushed, “This is an absolute dream. This week has been incredibly cathartic for so many reasons. This movie means so much to me. I want to thank you on behalf of all the artists that work on this film and I want to dedicate this award to all the young artists and filmmakers in Laredo, Texas, my hometown.” On his second opportunity to take the stage, while receiving the Grand Jury Prize, he took a more personal note, “This movie was about processing loss, and to celebrate the beautiful life of a beautiful man, which is my amazing father. This was in his memory and to celebrate him with humor.”
Here is the full list of Latino filmmakers and Latino-themed films that took home prizes…