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2016 Sundance Film Festival Award Winners include “The Birth of a Nation”

Though many were obviously keeping a close eye on the guild awards over the weekend, something else of note also went down. Yes, the Sundance Film Festival announced their awards for 2016. As a general rule, it helps to take some sort of prize from Sundance if you want to be an Oscar contender, but it’s not a requirement. Still, what it does is build buzz, and that’s essential in translating acclaim from Park City to the precursor season. That’s a long way away for 2016 titles, but at least one movie managed to set itself nicely to contend all year long. As you’ll see below, it’s no guarantee of success, but it’s hardly a harbinger of doom either. As such, the winners here now have something solid to hand their hats on.

Basically, the big winner was Nate Parker’s passion project The Birth of a Nation. His long brewing biopic of Nat Turner and the slave rebellion he led was well received at Sundance, so this result wasn’t a huge shock. Still, it received both the prestigious Grand Jury Prize as well as the Audience Award, so that’s a strong feather in its cap for the moment. Also doing well was the coming of age story Morris from America as well as the political documentary Weiner, the hybrid work Kate Plays Christine, and more. These are potentially some of the flicks to watch out for as the year progresses. They’re not automatically in the Academy Award hunt, but they have at least a temporary leg up. If you’re looking out for strong contenders, look out for The Birth of a Nation.

Keep in mind, there were other big time awards contenders that weren’t honored, such as Kenneth Lonergan’s Manchester by the Sea, so this is hardly the be all end all (I especially think that Casey Affleck is going to be a huge contender from that film in the Best Actor race). It’s just one early glimpse at some potentially strong Sundance titles. There’s also the documentary Newtown, along with plenty of others that just weren’t cited here over the weekend. Again, this bodes well for The Birth of a Nation and Weiner, no doubt abut that, but don’t in any way count out Manchester by the Sea. It could wind up being as big a player this upcoming season as any other indie release. We’ll just have to sit tight and wait for fall release dates to see how these all ultimately do…

Here now are all the award winners from the 2016 Sundance Film Festival:


Grand Jury Prize: “The Birth of a Nation”

Audience Award: “The Birth of a Nation”

Directing: Daniel Scheinart and Daniel Kwan, “Swiss Army Man”

Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award: Chad Hartigan, “Morris From America”

Special Jury Award: Miles Joris-Peyrafitte, “As You Are”

Special Jury Award for Breakthrough Performance: Joe Seo, “Spa Night”

Special Jury Award for Individual Performance: Markees Christmas, “Morris From America”

Special Jury Award for Individual Performance: Melanie Lynskey, “The Intervention”


Grand Jury Prize: “Weiner”

Audience Award: “Jim: The James Foley Story”

Directing Award: Roger Ross Williams, “Life, Animated”

Special Jury Award for Editing: Penny Lane and Thom Stylinski, “NUTS!”

Special Jury Award for Social Impact: Dawn Porter, “Trapped”

Special Jury Award for Writing: Robert Greene, “Kate Plays Christine”

Special Jury Award for Verite Filmmaking: Keith Fulton and Lou Pepe, “The Bad Kids”


Grand Jury Prize: “Sand Storm”

Audience Award: “Between Sea and Land”

Directing Award: Felix van Groeningen, “Belgica”

Screenwriting: Ana Katz and Ines Bortagaray, “Mi amiga del parque”

Special Jury Award for Acting: Vicky Hernandez and Manolo Cruz, “Between Sea and Land”

Special Jury Award for Unique Vision and Design: Agnieszka Smoczynska, “The Lure”


Grand Jury Prize: “Sonita”

Audience Award: “Sonita”

Directing Award: Michal Marczak, “All These Sleepless Nights”

Special Jury Award for Editing: Mako Kamitsuna and John Maringouin, “We Are X”

Special Jury Award for Cinematography: Pieter-Jan De Pue, “The Land of the Enlightened”

Special Jury Award for Debut Feature: Heidi Brandenburg and Mathew Orzel, “When Two Worlds Collide”


Next Audience Award: “First Girl I Loved”

Alfred P. Sloan Feature Film Prize: “Embrace of the Serpent”

Stay tuned to see if these turn into Academy Award players later on this year!

About Joey Magidson

A graduate of Stony Brook University (where he studied Cinema and Cultural Studies), resides in Brooklyn, New York. He contributes to several other film-related websites and is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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