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Sundance 2015 Winners: Kim Longinotto, Jennifer Phang, Alante Kavaite, Chai Vasarhelyi

Sundance 2015 Winners: Kim Longinotto, Jennifer Phang, Alante Kavaite, Chai Vasarhelyi

Sundance 2015 proved to be an action-packed — and awards-heavy — time for female filmmakers. A number of female filmmakers, especially documentarians, left Park City with prizes from the festival, which were announced Saturday. 

On the narrative-feature front, the US Dramatic Special Jury Award for Collaborative Vision went to Advantageous director Jennifer Phang and screenwriter Jacqueline Kim. Set in the near-future, their sci-fi film focuses on a mother and daughter struggling to handle the instability of the world they find themselves in. 

Phang gave us some insight into her collaboration with Kim when she spoke with Women and Hollywood about Advantageous: “In our writing process, [co-writer] Jacqueline [Kim] and I drew from observation and our research into the challenges of becoming a parent. I also had memories of watching my mother raise my brother and me. I was inspired by the opportunity to externalize the changing personal challenges we all face through different stages of life — using futurism as a platform. I also welcomed a chance to really gaze at how societal values have shaped modern life. I suppose this has been a chance to gaze back at our society’s gaze.” 

Lithuanian filmmaker Alante Kavaite was honored with the World Cinema Dramatic Directing Award for The Summer of Sangaile, which explores a 17-year-old girl’s fascination with stunt planes and the intense bond she forms with another girl of the same age. Kavaite revealed what inspired in the film in an interview with us: “A few years ago, I conducted several film workshops for teenagers. I thoroughly enjoyed working with them, and above all, I enjoyed filming them. At seventeen, on the cusp of adulthood, everything seems possible. I was greatly inspired by the open-minded and intense way in which the teenagers embraced things and expressed themselves. I was captivated by how spontaneous, free, and ingenious they were. This experience brought back feelings from my adolescence. When I was seventeen, like most teenagers, I was in a hurry to make choices, all the while being filled with doubt and fear. I wrote the story for The Summer of Sangailewith the guiding idea that sometimes it only takes a chance encounter with someone who helps you see yourself in a different light to overcome certain difficulties. I wanted this kind and caring individual to be another young girl of the same age, but whose personality was diametrically opposed to Sangaile’s in order to bring out her flaws and contradictions.”

Women’s work onscreen was also acknowledged. The World Cinema Dramatic Special Jury Award for Acting went to Regina Case and Camila Mardila for their performances in The Second Mother, a Portuguese film about a loyal and dedicated live-in housekeeper and her ambitious daughter. 

Unsurprisingly, women were better represented on the documentary front. The US Grand Jury Prize for Documentary was awarded to The Wolfpack, directed by Crystal Moselle. The doc, which shines a spotlight on six brothers (nicknamed “the Wolfpack”) who learn about the world via film, was acquired by Magnolia Pictures. The US Documentary Special Jury Award for Breakout First Feature went to (T)error, co-directed by Lyric R. Cabral. You may recall that Cabral and her collaborator, David Felix Sutcaliffe, also received Women in Film’s Documentary Grant at the festival. (T)error focuses on the use of confidential informants in the “War on Terror.”

Observational filmmaker Kim Longinotto went home with the World Cinema Documentary Directing Award for Dreamcatcher, which chronicles Brenda Myers-Powell’s work to support sex workers and young women at risk in Chicago. In an interview with Women and Hollywood, Longinotto revealed what she’d like audiences to think after watching Dreamcatcher: “I want people to have had an emotional, life-affirming experience and to feel that the film resonates in their own lives. I try to make films where the audience forgets the filmmaking and gets engrossed in the story as it unfolds. I don’t want them to ever feel bored, or that they’re being told what to think, or to feel depressed. I don’t like films about victims — I want to celebrate brave survivors like Brenda and the wonderful women in the film.” Dreamcatcher will have its NY premiere at the Athena Film Festival on Thursday, February 5. 

The World Cinema Documentary Special Jury Award for Impact went to Friday Barkfor’s Pervert Park, a portrait of a trailer park in Florida that houses sex offenders. Barkfor told us why she and her co-director (and husband) Lasse Barkfor were drawn to this dark and under-unexplored subject matter: “We felt it was important to paint an accurate portrait of the sex offenders we met in the park, as we had seen nothing like it described in the media before. We basically wanted to describe the different types of people we met in the park, gain insight into their everyday lives, and examine what put them where they are today and why they have committed their crimes.”

Audiences also showed love for a female-helmed documentary: Chai Vasarhelyi’s (and Jimmy Chan’s) look at elite mountain climbers, Meru, which took home the US Documentary Audience Award. Vasarhelyi referred the project as an “irresistible challenge” in an interview with us: “You can spend years searching for the right story, but this one had all the elements: the obstacles, the characters, and the drama.The cinematography and the conditions in which Meru was filmed drew me to the project. It’s remarkable to think that everything in the film is real; these three men set out to attempt this impossible climb and to film it at the same time. I thought it was an incredible achievement and I saw how I could contribute by working on the structure and interviewing the climbers to get them to open up about their experiences.” 

The World Documentary Audience Award also went to a woman-directed documentary: Louise Osmond’s Dark Horse. Set in Wales, Dark Horse focuses on a group of working-class friends who breed themselves a race horse. “I knew the first time I heard this story that I would do pretty much anything to make it [into a documentary],” said Osmond in an exchange with us.

She continued, “It was so funny and moving and life-affirming; a classic rags-to-riches tale …It was a story about a community that had lost everything, who felt forgotten by the world; it was about the irrepressible, pied-piper spirit of the barmaid (Jan) who bred the foal and persuaded others to share her outlandish dream; it was about a defiant and exuberant journey into an elite and wealthy world and the pride it gave the village to prove themselves the equal of anyone there. Above all, it was about the extraordinary bond the characters forged with this beautiful animal that seemed almost like something from a fable, a phoenix rising from the ashes.”

See below for a list of the women winners at Sundance 2015: 

U.S. Grand Jury Prize for Documentary: The Wolfpack 

U.S.
Dramatic Special Jury Award for Collaborative Vision: Advantageous  

U.S.
Documentary Special Jury Award: Breakout First Feature: (T)error 

U.S.
Documentary Audience Award: Meru

World
Cinema Documentary Audience Award: Dark Horse 

World
Cinema Dramatic Directing Award: Alante Kavaite for The Summer of Sangaile  

World
Cinema Dramatic Special Jury Award for Acting: Regina Case and Camila Mardila for The Second Mother  

World
Cinema Documentary Directing Award: Kim Longinotto for Dreamcatcher  

World
Cinema Documentary Special Jury Award for Impact: Pervert Park 

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