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Nate Parker’s ‘The Birth of a Nation’ Won 2 Top Sundance Prizes – What Might History Tell Us About Its Oscar Potential?

Nate Parker's 'The Birth of a Nation' Won 2 Top Sundance Prizes - What Might History Tell Us About Its Oscar Potential?

Sundance Institute last night announced the prizes for the 2016 Sundance Film Festival. Of special note, with respect to this blog’s interests, the U.S. Grand Jury Prize: Dramatic went to Nate Parker’s “The Birth of a Nation.” The film also picked up the Audience Award: U.S. Dramatic. A film winning both Grand Jury and Audience top prizes at Sundance is actually a more common occurrence than I initially imagined, after I did a little research. 

For example, just last year, “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl” won both top awards; the year before that, “Whiplash” won both trophies; and the year before that, “Fruitvale Station” picked up both awards; the 3 years prior to that year saw the awards split between 2 different films, but in the 4th previous year, “Precious: Based on the Novel “Push” by Sapphire” won both prizes. In fact, going back about 20 years, I’d say that it’s a 50/50 split – as in, 10 of those years saw 1 film win both awards, and the other 10 saw different films win in each category.

My interest here ultimately is whether there is any established trend between films that won both top prizes at Sundance, and films that were nominated for Oscars for the same year. My research tells me that a film winning both Sundance top awards is not guaranteed of Academy recognition down the road. Going back the last 20 years, those Sundance double-winners tend to do well on the indie award circuit, but don’t get a lot of traction when it comes to the grander stages of the Oscars or the Golden Globes. Of course there have been exceptions, like a couple of those I mentioned above: At the 87th Academy Awards, “Whiplash” won Best Film Editing, Best Sound Mixing, and Best Supporting Actor for J.K. Simmons, and was nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Picture; and “Precious” received six nominations, including one for Best Picture, at the 82nd Academy Awards. Geoffrey Fletcher won for Best Adapted Screenplay. Mo’Nique won the award for Best Supporting Actress. However despite all the accolades “Fruitvale Station” (Ryan Coogler’s feature film debut) received, it wasn’t nominated at all by the Academy; and neither was “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl.”

So will “The Birth of a Nation” become this year’s “Whiplash” or “Precious” (in terms of the above breakdown), or will it one of the other 2 – “Fruitvale” and “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl” – when it comes to the 2017 Oscars?

We’ve got a year to find out.

Other Sundance 2016 prize winners of note include: The Directing Award: U.S. Documentary went to Roger Ross Williams for his film “Life, Animated,” which follows Owen Suskind, an autistic boy who could not speak for years, and who slowly emerges from his isolation by immersing himself in Disney animated movies; The Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award: U.S. Dramatic went to “Morris from America” about thirteen-year-old Morris, a black American, who moves to Heidelberg, Germany, with his father, and as a stranger in a foreign land, falls in love with a local girl, befriends his German tutor-turned-confidant, and attempts to navigate the unique trials and tribulations of adolescence; A U.S. Documentary Special Jury Award for For Social Impact Filmmaking went to Dawn Porter’s “Trapped” which centers on Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers (TRAP) laws that are increasingly being passed by states that maintain they ensure women’s safety and health. But as clinics continue to shut their doors, opponents believe the real purpose of these laws is to outlaw abortion; and a U.S. Dramatic Special Jury Award for Individual Performance went to Craig Robinson for his role in “Morris from America.” 
 
The ceremony is the culmination of the 2016 Festival, which presented 123 feature-length and 72 short films – selected from 12,793 submissions – to independent film-loving audiences in Park City, Salt Lake City, Ogden and Sundance, Utah.
 
Jury prizes were awarded by six groups of film and culture leaders, who screened all films in their respective sections and jointly decided which standout artistic and story elements to recognize. This year’s jurors were: Simon Kilmurry, Jill Lepore, Shola Lynch, Louie Psihoyos, Amy Ziering, Mark Adams, Lena Dunham, Jon Hamm, Avy Kaufman, Franklin Leonard, Randall Poster, Fernanda Solórzano, Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Mila Aung-Thwin, Tine Fischer and Asif Kapadia. In addition, Festival audiences voted for their favorite films to receive five Audience Awards in each of the U.S. and World Competitions and NEXT.

Via press release, the full list of 2016 Sundance Film Festival Feature Film Awards winners follows below.

***
 
The U.S. Grand Jury Prize: Documentary was presented by Louis Psihoyos to:
Weiner / U.S.A. (Directors: Josh Kriegman, Elyse Steinberg) — With unrestricted access to Anthony Weiner’s New York City mayoral campaign, this film reveals the human story behind the scenes of a high-profile political scandal as it unfolds, and offers an unfiltered look at how much today’s politics is driven by an appetite for spectacle.
 
The U.S. Grand Jury Prize: Dramatic was presented by Franklin Leonard to:
The Birth of a Nation / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Nate Parker) — Set against the antebellum South, this story follows Nat Turner, a literate slave and preacher whose financially strained owner, Samuel Turner, accepts an offer to use Nat’s preaching to subdue unruly slaves. After witnessing countless atrocities against fellow slaves, Nat devises a plan to lead his people to freedom. Cast: Nate Parker, Armie Hammer, Aja Naomi King, Jackie Earle Haley, Gabrielle Union, Mark Boone Jr. 
 
The World Cinema Grand Jury Prize: Documentary was presented by Asif Kapadia to:
Sonita / Germany, Iran, Switzerland (Director: Rokhsareh Ghaem Maghami) — If 18-year-old Sonita had a say, Michael Jackson and Rihanna would be her parents and she’d be a rapper who tells the story of Afghan women and their fate as child brides. She finds out that her family plans to sell her to an unknown husband for $9,000.
 
The World Cinema Grand Jury Prize: Dramatic was presented by Apichatpong Weerasethakul to:
Sand Storm / Israel (Director and screenwriter: Elite Zexer) — When their entire lives are shattered, two Bedouin women struggle to change the unchangeable rules, each in her own individual way. Cast: Lamis Ammar, Ruba Blal-Asfour, Hitham Omari, Khadija Alakel, Jalal Masrwa. 
 
The Audience Award: U.S. Documentary, Presented by Acura was presented by Matt Ross to:
Jim: The James Foley Story / U.S.A. (Director: Brian Oakes) — The public execution of American conflict journalist James Foley captured the world’s attention, but he was more than just a man in an orange jumpsuit. Seen through the lens of his close childhood friend, Jim: The James Foley Story moves from adrenaline-fueled front lines and devastated neighborhoods of Syria into the hands of ISIS.
 
The Audience Award: U.S. Dramatic, Presented by Acura was presented by Matt Ross to:
The Birth of a Nation / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Nate Parker) — Set against the antebellum South, this story follows Nat Turner, a literate slave and preacher whose financially strained owner, Samuel Turner, accepts an offer to use Nat’s preaching to subdue unruly slaves. After witnessing countless atrocities against fellow slaves, Nat devises a plan to lead his people to freedom. Cast: Nate Parker, Armie Hammer, Aja Naomi King, Jackie Earle Haley, Gabrielle Union, Mark Boone Jr. 

The Audience Award: World Cinema Documentary was presented by Rose McGowan to:
Sonita / Germany, Iran, Switzerland (Director: Rokhsareh Ghaem Maghami) — If 18-year-old Sonita had a say, Michael Jackson and Rihanna would be her parents and she’d be a rapper who tells the story of Afghan women and their fate as child brides. She finds out that her family plans to sell her to an unknown husband for $9,000.
 
The Audience Award: World Cinema Dramatic was presented by Rose McGowan to:
Between Sea and Land / Colombia (Director: Carlos del Castillo, Screenwriter: Manolo Cruz) — Alberto, who suffers from an illness that binds him into a body that doesn’t obey him, lives with his loving mom, who dedicates her life to him. His sickness impedes him from achieving his greatest dream of knowing the sea, despite one being located just across the street. Cast: Manolo Cruz, Vicky Hernandéz, Viviana Serna, Jorge Cao, Mile Vergara, Javier Sáenz.
 
The Audience Award: NEXT, Presented by Adobe was presented by Taika Waititi to:
First Girl I Loved / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Kerem Sanga) — Seventeen-year-old Anne just fell in love with Sasha, the most popular girl at her L.A. public high school. But when Anne tells her best friend, Clifton—who has always harbored a secret crush on her—he does his best to get in the way. Cast: Dylan Gelula, Brianna Hildebrand, Mateo Arias, Jennifer Prediger, Tim Heidecker, Pamela Adlon.
 
The Directing Award: U.S. Documentary was presented by Amy Ziering to:
Roger Ross Williams for his film Life, Animated / U.S.A. (Director: Roger Ross Williams) — Owen Suskind, an autistic boy who could not speak for years, slowly emerged from his isolation by immersing himself in Disney animated movies. Using these films as a roadmap, he reconnects with his loving family and the wider world in this emotional coming-of-age story.
 
The Directing Award: U.S. Dramatic was presented by Mark Adams to:
Daniel Scheinert and Daniel Kwan for their film Swiss Army Man / U.S.A. (Directors and screenwriters: Daniel Scheinert, Daniel Kwan) — Hank, a hopeless man stranded in the wild, discovers a mysterious dead body. Together the two embark on an epic journey to get home. As Hank realizes the body is the key to his survival, this once-suicidal man is forced to convince a dead body that life is worth living. Cast: Paul Dano, Daniel Radcliffe, Mary Elizabeth Winstead.
 
The Directing Award: World Cinema Documentary was presented by Mila Aung Thwain to:
Michal Marczak for his film All These Sleepless Nights / Poland (Director: Michal Marczak) — What does it mean to be awake in a world that seems satisfied to be asleep? Kris and Michal push their experiences of life and love to a breaking point as they restlessly roam the city streets in search of answers, adrift in the euphoria and uncertainty of youth.
 
The Directing Award: World Cinema Dramatic was presented by Randall Poster to:
Belgica / Belgium, France, Netherlands (Director: Felix van Groeningen, Screenwriters: Felix van Groeningen, Arne Sierens) — In the midst of Belgium’s nightlife scene, two brothers start a bar and get swept up in its success. Cast: Stef Aerts, Tom Vermeir, Charlotte Vandermeersch, Hélène De Vos. 
 
The Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award: U.S. Dramatic was presented by Lena Dunham to:
Chad Hartigan for Morris from America / U.S.A., Germany (Director and screenwriter: Chad Hartigan) — Thirteen-year-old Morris, a hip-hop loving American, moves to Heidelberg, Germany, with his father. In this completely foreign land, he falls in love with a local girl, befriends his German tutor-turned-confidant, and attempts to navigate the unique trials and tribulations of adolescence. Cast: Markees Christmas, Craig Robinson, Carla Juri, Lina Keller, Jakub Gierszał, Levin Henning.
 
U.S. Documentary Special Jury Award for Editing was presented by Jill Lepore to:
Penny Lane and Thom Stylinski for NUTS! / U.S.A. (Director: Penny Lane) — The mostly true story of Dr. John Romulus Brinkley, an eccentric genius who built an empire with his goat-testicle impotence cure and a million-watt radio station. Animated reenactments, interviews, archival footage, and one seriously unreliable narrator trace his rise from poverty to celebrity and influence in 1920s America.
 
U.S. Documentary Special Jury Award for For Social Impact Filmmaking was presented by Simon Kilmurry to:
Trapped / U.S.A. (Director: Dawn Porter) — American abortion clinics are in a fight for survival. Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers (TRAP) laws are increasingly being passed by states that maintain they ensure women’s safety and health, but as clinics continue to shut their doors, opponents believe the real purpose of these laws is to outlaw abortion.
 
U.S. Documentary Special Jury Award for Writing was presented by Shola Lynch to:
Kate Plays Christine / U.S.A. (Director: Robert Greene) — This psychological thriller follows actor Kate Lyn Sheil as she prepares to play the role of Christine Chubbuck, a Florida television host who committed suicide on air in 1974. Christine’s tragic death was the inspiration for Network, and the mysteries surrounding her final act haunt Kate and the production.
 
U.S. Documentary Special Jury Award for Vérité Filmmaking was presented by Shola Lynch to:
The Bad Kids / U.S.A. (Directors: Keith Fulton, Lou Pepe) — At a remote Mojave Desert high school, extraordinary educators believe that empathy and life skills, more than academics, give at-risk students command of their own futures. This coming-of-age story watches education combat the crippling effects of poverty in the lives of these so-called “bad kids.”
 
U.S. Dramatic Special Jury Award was presented by Lena Dunham to:
As You Are / U.S.A. (Director: Miles Joris-Peyrafitte, Screenwriters: Miles Joris-Peyrafitte, Madison Harrison) — As You Are is the telling and retelling of a relationship between three teenagers as it traces the course of their friendship through a construction of disparate memories prompted by a police investigation. Cast: Owen Campbell, Charlie Heaton, Amandla Stenberg, John Scurti, Scott Cohen, Mary Stuart Masterson. 
 
U.S. Dramatic Special Jury Award for Breakthrough Performance was presented by Avy Kaufman to:
Joe Seo for Spa Night / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Andrew Ahn) — Los Angeles’s Korean spas serve not only as meeting places but also as a bridge between past and future for generations of immigrant families. Spa Night explores one Korean American family’s dreams and realities as each member struggles with the overlap of personal desire, disillusionment, and sense of tradition. Cast: Joe Seo, Haerry Kim, Youn Ho Cho, Tae Song, Ho Young Chung, Linda Han.
 
U.S. Dramatic Special Jury Award for Individual Performance was presented by Jon Hamm to:
Melanie Lynskey in The Intervention / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Clea DuVall) — A weekend getaway for four couples takes a sharp turn when one of the couples discovers the entire trip was orchestrated to host an intervention on their marriage. Cast: Melanie Lynskey, Cobie Smulders, Alia Shawkat, Clea DuVall, Natasha Lyonne, Ben Schwartz. 
 
U.S. Dramatic Special Jury Award for Individual Performance was presented by Jon Hamm to:
Craig Robinson in Morris from America / U.S.A., Germany (Director and screenwriter: Chad Hartigan) — Thirteen-year-old Morris, a hip-hop loving American, moves to Heidelberg, Germany, with his father. In this completely foreign land, he falls in love with a local girl, befriends his German tutor-turned-confidant, and attempts to navigate the unique trials and tribulations of adolescence. Cast: Markees Christmas, Craig Robinson, Carla Juri, Lina Keller, Jakub Gierszał, Levin Henning.
 
World Cinema Documentary Special Jury Award for Debut Feature was presented by Asif Kapadia to: Heidi Brandenburg and Mathew Orzel for their filmWhen Two Worlds Collide / Peru (Directors: Heidi Brandenburg, Mathew Orzel) — An indigenous leader resists the environmental ruin of Amazonian lands by big business. As he is forced into exile and faces 20 years in prison, his quest reveals conflicting visions that shape the fate of the Amazon and the climate future of our world.
 
World Cinema Documentary Special Jury Award for Cinematography was presented by Mila Aung Thwain to: Director and cinematographer Pieter-Jan De Puefor his film The Land of the Enlightened / Belgium (Director: Pieter-Jan De Pue) — A group of Kuchi children in Afghanistan dig out old Soviet mines and sell the explosives to child workers in a lapis lazuli mine. When not dreaming of an Afghanistan after the American withdrawal, Gholam Nasir and his gang control the mountains where caravans are smuggling the blue gemstones.
 
World Cinema Documentary Special Jury Award for Editing was presented by Asif Kapadia to:
Mako Kamitsuna and John Maringouin for We Are X / United Kingdom, U.S.A., Japan (Director: Stephen Kijak) — As glam rock’s most flamboyant survivors, X Japan ignited a musical revolution in Japan during the late ’80s with their melodic metal. Twenty years after their tragic dissolution, X Japan’s leader, Yoshiki, battles with physical and spiritual demons alongside prejudices of the West to bring their music to the world.
 
World Cinema Dramatic Special Jury Award for Acting was presented by Fernanda Solórzano to:
Vicky Hernandéz and Manolo Cruz in Between Sea and Land / Colombia (Director: Carlos del Castillo, Screenwriter: Manolo Cruz) — Alberto, who suffers from an illness that binds him into a body that doesn’t obey him, lives with his loving mom, who dedicates her life to him. His sickness impedes him from achieving his greatest dream of knowing the sea, despite one being located just across the street. Cast: Manolo Cruz, Vicky Hernandéz, Viviana Serna, Jorge Cao, Mile Vergara, Javier Sáenz.
 
World Cinema Dramatic Special Jury Award for Screenwriting was presented by Randall Poster to:
Ana Katz and Inés Bortagaray in Mi Amiga del Parque / Argentina, Uruguay (Director: Ana Katz, Screenwriters: Ana Katz, Inés Bortagaray) — Running away from a bar without paying the bill is just the first adventure for Liz (mother to newborn Nicanor) and Rosa (supposed mother to newborn Clarisa). This budding friendship between nursing mothers starts with the promise of liberation but soon ends up being a dangerous business. Cast: Julieta Zylberberg, Ana Katz, Maricel Álvarez, Mirella Pascual, Malena Figó, Daniel Hendler. 
 
World Cinema Dramatic Special Jury Award for Unique Vision and Design was presented by Fernanda Solórzano to: Agnieszka Smoczyńska for The Lure / Poland (Director: Agnieszka Smoczynska, Screenwriter: Robert Bolesto) — Two mermaid sisters, who end up performing at a nightclub, face cruel and bloody choices when one of them falls in love with a beautiful young man. Cast: Marta Mazurek, Michalina Olszanska, Jakub Gierszal, Kinga Preis, Andrzej Konopka, Zygmunt Malanowicz. 

The following awards were presented at separate ceremonies at the Festival:
 
SHORT FILM AWARDS:
Jury prizes and honorable mentions in short filmmaking were presented at a ceremony in Park City, Utah on January 27. The Short Film Grand Jury Prize was awarded to:Thunder Road / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Jim Cummings). The Short Film Jury Award: U.S. Fiction was presented to: The Procedure / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Calvin Lee Reeder). The Short Film Jury Award: International Fiction was presented to: Maman(s) / France (Director and screenwriter: Maïmouna Doucouré ). The Short Film Jury Award: Non-fiction was presented to: Bacon & God’s Wrath / Canada (Director: Sol Friedman). The Short Film Jury Award: Animation was presented to: Edmond / United Kingdom (Director and screenwriter: Nina Gantz). A Short Film Special Jury Award for Outstanding Performance was presented to: Grace Glowicki for her performance in Her Friend AdamA Short Film Special Jury Award for Best Direction was presented to: Peacock / Czech Republic (Director: Ondřej Hudeček, Screenwriters: Jan Smutny, Ondřej Hudeček).
 
The Short Film jurors were star and co-creator of Comedy Central’s Key & Peele, Keegan-Michael Key; development executive at Amazon Studios, Gina Kwon; and chief film critic for MTV, Amy Nicholson. The Short Film program is presented by YouTube.
 
GLOBAL FILMMAKING AWARDS:
The winning directors and projects of the 2016 Sundance Institute Global Filmmaking Awards in recognition and support of emerging independent filmmakers from around the world, are:
 
August (Cuba) / Writer-Director: Armando Capo
In August 1994, Carlos comes of age during the Cuban Raft Exodus. He loses his first love, his friends leave the country, he discovers sex, and for the first time feels afraid about his future.
 
Insha’ Allah (India) / Writer-Director: Geetu Mohandas
11 year old Mullakoya, tired of living in the shadow of the colorful, magical-realist folklore that surrounds his missing older brother, sets off on a treacherous journey from the Lakshadweep Islands in the Arabian Sea to the Indian mainland to search for him.
 
Sicilian Ghost Story (Italy) / Writer-Directors: Antonio Piazza, Fabio Grassadonia
When a local Mafia don’s son is kidnapped, a young Sicilian girl refuses to accept the sudden disappearance of the boy she loves. Based on real life events at the height of the Mafia’s reign in Palermo, Sicilian Ghost Story is a striking and unique look at the power that love has to survive in the darkest of worlds.
 
The Treasure (Morocco) Writer-Director: Abdellah Taia
Janine, a French woman born in Morocco, accompanied by her building manager, Mohamed, set out on an adventure in search of a hidden treasure in the mountains of Atlas. The journey into her past becomes an exploration of post-colonial identity in Morocco.

SLOAN SCIENCE IN FILM AWARDS:
The 2016 Alfred P. Sloan Feature Film Prize, presented to an outstanding feature film about science or technology, was presented to Embrace of the Serpent directed by Ciro Guerra. The film received a $20,000 cash award from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.
 
SUNDANCE INSTITUTE | AMAZON STUDIOS PRODUCERS AWARDS: 
The recipients of the the 2016 Sundance Institute | Amazon Studios Producers Awards are Sara Murphy and Adele Romanski, producers of Morris From America and Julie Goldman, executive producer of Weiner and Life, Animated. Through the Sundance Institute Feature Film Program and Documentary Film Program, the awards grant money to emerging producers of films at the Sundance Film Festival. The award recognizes bold vision and a commitment to continuing work as a creative producer in the independent space.

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