2015 Sundance Film Festival Winners

img_0343.jpg

Sundance was a whirlwind of activities, parties and screenings all on little to no sleep or food. Man, was it a great time!!! My "Sundance Saints" were both named Melissa and AIR BnB and Uber saved my life...literally!!! Having said that, most of the films I screened were wonderfully though-provoking films, but were not among the winning list announced over the weekend.

If the history has taught us nothing, one of these films will surface very strongly closer to next year's Oscar season.

Right here at Carla Renata's Corner is where you will be kept in the loop 2015 Sundance Film Festival Awards - LIVEas to which ones end up on the cutting room floor and which ones will eventually walk away with award gold.

Here is a full list of all the winners from the 2015 Sundance Film Festival

U.S. DRAMATIC Grand Jury Prize Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, Alfonso Gomez-Rejon Greg is coasting through senior year of high school as anonymously as possible, avoiding social interactions like the plague while secretly making spirited, bizarre films with Earl, his only friend. But both his anonymity and friendship threaten to unravel when his mother forces him to befriend a classmate with leukemia. Cast: Thomas Mann, RJ Cyler, Olivia Cooke, Nick Offerman, Connie Britton, Molly Shannon.

Audience Award Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, Alfonso Gomez-Rejon

Directing Award The Witch, Robert Eggers (U.S., Canada) New England in the 1630s: William and Katherine lead a devout Christian life with five children, homesteading on the edge of an impassable wilderness. When their newborn son vanishes and crops fail, the family turns on one another. Beyond their worst fears, a supernatural evil lurks in the nearby wood. Cast: Anya Taylor Joy, Ralph Ineson, Kate Dickie, Harvey Scrimshaw, Lucas Dawson, Ellie Grainger.

Stanford Prison ExperimentWaldo Salt Screenwriting Award The Stanford Prison Experiment, Tim Talbott Based on the actual events that took place in 1971, when Stanford professor Dr. Philip Zimbardo created what became one of the most shocking and famous social experiments of all time. Cast: Billy Crudup, Ezra Miller, Michael Angarano, Tye Sheridan, Johnny Simmons, Olivia Thirlby.

Special Jury Award – Excellence in Cinematography Diary of a Teenage Girl, Brandon Trost Minnie Goetze is a 15-year-old aspiring comic-book artist, coming of age in the haze of the 1970s in San Francisco. Insatiably curious about the world around her, Minnie is a pretty typical teenage girl. Oh, except that she’s sleeping with her mother’s boyfriend. Cast: Bel Powley, Alexander Skarsgård, Christopher Meloni, Kristen Wiig.

Special Jury Award – Excellence in Editing Dope, Lee Haugen Malcolm is carefully surviving life in a tough neighborhood in Los Angeles while juggling college applications, academic interviews, and the SAT. A chance invitation to an underground party leads him into an adventure that could allow him to go from being a geek, to being dope, to ultimately being himself. Cast: Shameik Moore, Tony Revolori, Kiersey Clemons, Blake Anderson, Zoë Kravitz, A$AP Rocky.

Special Jury Award – Collaborative Vision Advantageous, Jacqueline Kim, Jennifer Phang In a near-future city where soaring opulence overshadows economic hardship, Gwen and her daughter, Jules, do all they can to hold on to their joy, despite the instability surfacing in their world. Cast: Jacqueline Kim, James Urbaniak, Freya Adams, Ken Jeong, Jennifer Ehle, Samantha Kim.

U.S. DOCUMENTARY

WolfpackGrand Jury Prize The Wolfpack, Crystal Moselle Six bright teenage brothers have spent their entire lives locked away from society in a Manhattan housing project. All they know of the outside is gleaned from the movies they watch obsessively (and re-create meticulously). Yet as adolescence looms, they dream of escape, ever more urgently, into the beckoning world.

Audience Award Meru, Jimmy Chin, E. Chai Vasarhelyi Three elite mountain climbers sacrifice everything but their friendship as they struggle through heartbreaking loss and nature’s harshest elements to attempt the never-before-completed Shark’s Fin on Mount Meru, the most coveted first ascent in the dangerous game of Himalayan big wall climbing.

Directing Award Cartel Land, Matthew Heineman (U.S., Mexico) In this classic western set in the twenty-first century, vigilantes on both sides of the border fight the vicious Mexican drug cartels. With unprecedented access, this character-driven film provokes deep questions about lawlessness, the breakdown of order, and whether citizens should fight violence with violence.

Special Jury Award – Social Impact 3 1/2 Minutes, Marc Silver On November 23, 2012, unarmed 17-year-old Jordan Russell Davis was shot at a Jacksonville gas station by Michael David Dunn. 3½ Minutes explores the aftermath of Jordan’s tragic death, the latent and often unseen effects of racism, and the contradictions of the American criminal justice system.

Special Jury Award – Verite Filmmaking Western, Bill Ross, Turner Ross For generations, all that distinguished Eagle Pass, Texas, from Piedras Negras, Mexico, was the Rio Grande. But when darkness descends upon these harmonious border towns, a cowboy and lawman face a new reality that threatens their way of life. Western portrays timeless American figures in the grip of unforgiving change.

Special Jury Award – Break Out First Feature (T)error, Lyric R. Cabral, David Felix Sutcliffe With unprecedented access to a covert counterterrorism sting, (T)error develops in real-time, documenting the action as it unfolds on the ground. Viewers get an unfettered glimpse of the government’s counterterrorism tactics and the murky justifications behind them through the perspective of *******, a 63-year-old Black revolutionary turned FBI informant.

Special Jury Award – Cinematography Cartel Land, Matthew Heineman, Matt Porwoll

WORLD CINEMA DRAMATIC

Grand Jury Prize Slow West, John Maclean (UK, New Zealand) Set at the end of the nineteenth century, 16-year-old Jay Cavendish journeys across the American frontier in search of the woman he loves. He is joined by Silas, a mysterious traveler, and hotly pursued by an outlaw along the way. Cast: Kodi Smit-McPhee, Michael Fassbender, Ben Mendelsohn, Caren Pistorius, Rory McCann.

Audience Award – World Cinema Dramatic Umrika, Prashant Nair (India) When a young village boy discovers that his brother, long believed to be in America, has actually gone missing, he begins to invent letters on his behalf to save their mother from heartbreak, all the while searching for him. Cast: Suraj Sharma, Tony Revolori, Smita Tambe, Adil Hussain, Rajesh Tailang, Prateik Babbar.

Directing Award The Summer of Sangaile, Alanté Kavaïté (Lithuania, France, The Netherlands) Seventeen-year-old Sangaile is fascinated by stunt planes. She meets a girl her age at the summer aeronautical show, near her parents’ lakeside villa. Sangaile allows Auste to discover her most intimate secret and, in the process, finds in her teenage love, the only person that truly encourages her to fly. Cast: Julija Steponaitytė, Aistė Diržiūtė.

Special Jury Award – Cinematography Partisan, Germain McMicking (Australia) — Alexander is like any other kid: playful, curious and naive. He is also a trained assassin. Raised in a hidden paradise, Alexander has grown up seeing the world filtered through his father, Gregori. As Alexander begins to think for himself, creeping fears take shape, and Gregori’s idyllic world unravels. Cast: Vincent Cassel, Jeremy Chabriel, Florence Mezzara.

Award – Acting Glassland, Jack Reynor (Ireland) In a desperate attempt to reunite his broken family, a young taxi driver becomes entangled in the criminal underworld. Cast: Jack Reynor, Toni Collette, Will Poulter, Michael Smiley.

Special Jury Award – Acting The Second Mother, Regina Casé, Camila Márdila (Brazil) Having left her daughter, Jessica, to be raised by relatives in the north of Brazil, Val works as a loving nanny in São Paulo. When Jessica arrives for a visit 13 years later, she confronts her mother’s slave-like attitude and everyone in the house is affected by her unexpected behavior. Cast: Regina Casé, Michel Joelsas, Camila Márdila, Karine Teles, Lourenço Mutarelli.

WORLD CINEMA DOCUMENTARY

Russian Woodpecker - Grand Jury Prize The Russian Woodpecker, Chad Gracia, UK A Ukrainian victim of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster discovers a dark secret and must decide whether to risk his life by revealing it, amid growing clouds of revolution and war.

Audience Award – World Cinema Documentary Dark Horse, Louise Osmond (UK) The inspirational true story of a group of friends from a workingman’s club who decide to take on the elite “sport of kings” and breed themselves a racehorse.

Directing Award Dreamcatcher, Kim Longinotto (UK) Dreamcatcher takes us into a hidden world seen through the eyes of one of its survivors, Brenda Myers-Powell. A former teenage prostitute, Brenda defied the odds to become a powerful advocate for change in her community. With warmth and humor, Brenda gives hope to those who have none.

Special Jury Award – Editing How To Change The World, Jim Scott (UK, Canada) In 1971, a group of friends sails into a nuclear test zone, and their protest captures the world’s imagination. Using rare, archival footage that brings their extraordinary world to life, How to Change the World is the story of the pioneers who founded Greenpeace and defined the modern green movement.

Special Jury Award – Impact Pervert Park, Frida Barkfors, Lasse Barkfors (Sweden, Denmark) Follows the everyday lives of sex offenders in a Florida trailer park as they struggle to reintegrate into society, and try to understand who they are and how to break the cycle of sex crimes being committed.

Special Jury Award – Unparalleled Access The Chinese Mayor, Hao Zhou (China) Mayor Geng Yanbo is determined to transform the coal-mining center of Datong, in China’s Shanxi province, into a tourism haven showcasing clean energy. In order to achieve that, however, he has to relocate 500,000 residences to make way for the restoration of the ancient city.

Audience Award – NEXT James White, Josh Mond A young New Yorker struggles to take control of his reckless, self-destructive behavior in the face of momentous family challenges. Cast: Chris Abbott, Cynthia Nixon, Scott Mescudi, Makenzie Leigh, David Call.

Alfred P. Sloan Feature Film Prize (announced Thursday) The Stanford Prison Experiment, Kyle Patrick Alvarez (U.S.)

SHORT FILM PRIZES (announced Thursday)

Short Film Grand Jury Prize World of Tomorrow, Don Hertzfeldt (U.S.) A little girl is taken on a mind-bending tour of the distant future.

Short Film Jury Award: U.S. Fiction SMILF, Frankie Shaw (U.S.) A young single mother struggles to balance her old life of freedom with her new one as mom. It all comes to a head during one particular nap-time when Bridgette invites an old friend over for a visit.

Short Film Jury Award: International Fiction Oh Lucy!, Atsuko Hirayanagi (Japan, Singapore, U.S.) Setsuko, a 55-year-old single so-called office lady in Tokyo, is given a blonde wig and a new identity, Lucy, by her young unconventional English-language teacher. “Lucy” awakens desires in Setsuko she never knew existed.

Short Film Jury Award: Non-fiction The Face of Ukraine: Casting Oksana Baiul, Kitty Green (Australia) Adorned in pink sequins, little girls from across a divided, war-torn Ukraine audition to play the role of Olympic champion figure skater Oksana Baiul, whose tears of joy once united their troubled country.

Short Film Jury Award: Animation Storm hits jacket, Paul Cabon (France) A storm reaches the shores of Brittany. Nature goes crazy, two young scientists get caught up in the chaos. Espionage, romantic tension, and mysterious events clash with enthusiasm and randomness.

Short Film Special Jury Award for Acting Back Alley, Cécile Ducrocq (France) Suzanne, a prostitute for 15 years, has her turf, her regular johns, and her freedom. One day, however, young African prostitutes settle nearby, and she is threatened.

Short Film Special Jury Award for Visual Poetry Object, Paulina Skibińska  A creative image of an underwater search in the dimensions of two worlds — ice desert and under water — told from the point of view of the rescue team, of the diver, and of the ordinary people waiting on the shore.

Day 5: Sundance Film Festival 2015

THE FORBIDDEN ROOM by Eric Hynes

It’s all but impossible to describe all that happens in The Forbidden Room, since it’s all but impossible to track all that’s happening in the moment. So let’s just say it has something to do with a doomed submarine, a woodsman determined to save his beloved from humanoid wolves, a manacled gardener, a soused parachutist attorney, a poisonous skeleton unitard, posthumous drinking buddies, an inner child murderer, and baths, for starters. It’s a film in which digressions aren’t really digressions, but rather thresholds to new flights of fancy, to more and more fervent valentines to lost and imagined cinematic worlds, to beautiful imagery and bawdy jokes.

“I started just be being a little bit tortured or haunted that some lost films by some of our favorite directors couldn’t be watched,” Maddin explained during the post-screening Q&A. “And then I asked Evan [Johnson, the co-director] if he wanted to help me research a bunch of lost film narratives, and then we discovered that we’re sort of glad that these things are lost, because we want to shoot our own versions of them—they sound really good. And then we realized when they were being filtered through the medium of us, and the things that matter to us most, that they all had our voice, and that they all fit together, and that the male characters all tended to be similar in response to female characters, and that there was a kind of jellification of manlinesses as our parents and parents’ parents generations expected men to behave, and then sort of jellified and quivered as much as film emulsions have during the time it took my generation to finally grow up. So it was just a matter of pointing ourselves all in one direction and making sure all the stories rhymed with each other, and fitting them all together.”

2015_Screening__The_Forbidden_Room_Jemal_Countess_0159_(1)

The film makes hay with a full array of early cinematic flourishes, from sprocket jumps and emulsified celluloid to copious intertitles and prominent foley sound, which engendered quite a few questions about process and the material provenance of his mad creation. Maddin confessed the movie was more filmic in spirit than in fact. “I don’t know if I should be giving away recipes, but we just shot digital. I don’t even know if there are any films in the Sundance Film Festival this year,” he said, before continuing in much the same manner as his florid, funny narrative. “But there’s definitely a tribute to emulsion. And since a lot of the stories within the stories within the stories were inspired by lost film stories, it just felt that there should be a nod to emulsion anyway. And just the way that emulsion moves around when it’s aging and buckling and falling apart has always reminded me of what ectoplasm might look like if it moved around—the ectoplasm we know from those old spirit photographs. It just seemed like a nice vertical integration of feelings from start to finish of film history.”

And when asked why he shot in color after working in black-and-white for films such as Brand Upon the Brain! and Dracula: Pages From a Virgin’s Diary, he grew mock testy. “I’m done with black-and-white. Black-and-white is so, I don’t know, yesterday. It’s time for color. It’s time for color,” he said. Then Canada’s greatest unrepentant avant-garde film fetishist added, “I’m trying to make a hit here.”

THE NIGHTMARE by Eric Hynes

A follow-up to his sleeper hit Room 237, in which numerous fanatics of Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining offered audio commentary about its hidden meanings (it debuted at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival), The Nightmare is also a polyphonic tapestry, though this time the subjects appear on camera, and the subject is the horrifically mysterious phenomenon of sleep paralysis. Ascher, who mentions on camera that he’s also suffered from the malady, toggles between eight subjects whose testimonies are both unique and eerily similar—almost invariably it involves a kind of paralyzed liminal state in which a shadowy presence taunts their motionless body. The film dramatizes these experiences with a tone that slides between horror and comedy, documentary and fantasy. After the screening, Ascher asked how many in the audience had experienced sleep paralysis, and about 50 people raised their hands, eliciting gasps from the rest of the crowd.

“When it happened to me, the Internet wasn’t what it is, so it took 2 years before I found out that it was a condition that happened to other people, and that had a name, and that was hugely comforting to me,” Ascher said. “But now, because of where we are with social media, everybody’s able to share their stories and reach out, and I instantly got sucked into the rabbit hole. The amount of thought and difference of opinion was really fascinating to me. I was spending so much time reading that stuff that it made sense to start doing it on the clock.”

"The Nightmare"

Ascher said he looked into the science, psychology, history and folklore of the condition, but ultimately decided to focus entirely on the experiences of those victimized by it. “I was just most interested in first-person accounts, eyewitness testimonies of how they’re trying to make sense of it,” he said. “I’m absolutely certain that people see these things—I know, because I’ve seen them. But whether they’re something that’s generated internally or something we’re externally sensitive to I tend to be kind of agnostic about.” He said they found their subjects by both pursuing people who shared their stories on the Internet, and from people who heard about the project and wanted to become involved. “We had to hire two researchers just to pour through the responses,” he said.

Though it’s all based on actual testimony, the intensity and absurdity of much of the testimony and imagery conjured allowed for Ascher to make a documentary unlike any other—one with both punchlines and terrifying jolts. “I love horror, I love comedy, I love documentary—any good story, no matter what the subject matter, you’ve got to hit those different notes,” he said. To illustrate Ascher’s unique personality and approach, producer Ross Dinerstein described one day of shooting that realized a subject’s vision of a giant metal claw digging into his groin.

“We shot the claw scene, and I just kept saying ‘more blood, more blood’,” he said. “It was Rodney’s birthday the day we shot it, and when we wrapped Rodney almost had tears in his eyes, and he says, ‘There’s no place in the world that I’d rather be than here right now.’ And literally there’s blood everywhere, and there’s this giant claw. And I’m like—that is one weird dude. And I’m sure glad I got involved with this project.”

CARTEL LAND by Jeremy Kinser

Introducing director Matthew Heineman before the premiere of Cartel Land, programmer David Courier told the packed house at the Library Theater he’s happy Matthew is still alive. Heineman, whose 2012 Sundance doc Escape Fire offered a compelling expose on healthcare reform, returns with another tale that blurs the lines between good and evil. Within minutes of watching the chilling chronicle of two Mexican drug cartels, which screened in the U.S. Documentary Competition, the audience understood and shared Courier’s relief that the director survived the incredibly dangerous situations in which he placed himself.

Heineman gained unprecedented and often shocking access to vigilante groups in both north and south of the U.S./Mexican border—a war zone on both sides. Dr. Jose Mireles, a kindly physician known as “El Doctor” in the the state of Michoacán, heads the Autodefensas, an armed citizen’s group dedicated to driving the savage Knights Templar drug cartels out of their towns. Across the border in Arizona’s Altar Valley, known as “Cocaine Alley,” we’re introduced to Tim “Nailer” Foley, a charismatic American vet and former meth addict, who heads a paramilitary group called Arizona Border Recon, determined to prevent Mexico’s drug wars from crossing onto U.S. soil.

In an opening sequence, which could have been lifted from Breaking Bad, Heineman records a team of masked Mexican men cooking meth in the desert in the middle of the night. One of the men explains they they’d like to go straight but being impoverished provides them with no alternative. Heineman embeds himself with the Autodefensas as they fight back against the cartels, capturing harrowing footage of shootouts and speaks with victims affected by the violence.

During the Q&A after the screening, Heineman revealed Cartel Land differs from the film he initially set out to make, which would focus solely on the Nailer and his vigilantes. “Four or five months later someone sent me an article about Mexican vigilantes,” he said. “I realized it could become an amazing parallel structure. A few days later we were in Mexico filming.”

He admitted that the story evolved in ways he could never have imagined. “No one had ever spoken out against the cartel or stood in the square front of of the cartel and said we’re coming after you,” he said, adding “I originally thought I was telling a story of good vs. evil. It became more gray, more complex.”

Asked how to win the war on drugs, Heineman paused while some in the audience laughed at the simplicity of the question. “If I had that answer I wouldn’t be standing in front of you,” he eventually answered.

TAKE ME TO THE RIVER by Jeremy Kinser

With Take Me to the River, director Matt Sobel delivers not only an atypical take on the coming-of-age story, but one of the most original movies at the festival—a button-pushing mindfuck about adolescent sexuality and family secrets that veers between comedy, drama, and thriller sometimes within the same scene. It’s not an easily accessible film, but as described by programmer David Courier during his introduction, it’s the kind that defines what the NEXT section of the festival is about. “It’s a richly textured movie,” he added.

Sobel’s debut feature follows Ryder (Logan Miller, who also stars in The Stanford Prison Experiment), an artistic gay California teen, completely comfortable with his orientation, who travels with his parents (Robin Weigert, Richard Schiff) for a family reunion in the Nebraska farmland. With his shaggy hair, sunglasses and bright red short-shorts, Ryan stands apart from his redneck relatives and is immediately greeted with derision during a cookout. His young cousin Molly (a remarkable Ursula Parker) becomes immediately infatuated and when something offscreen happens in a barn, Ryder becomes the target of suspicion and is further made an outcast by his uncle (a quietly menacing Josh Hamilton), and a long-buried family secret is soon unearthed.

"Take Me to the River"

Sobel, who also wrote the screenplay, said his inspiration came from his own family reunions in Nebraska which he emphasized were far less dramatic than the one depicted in the film. “I had a vivid nightmare about being falsely accused of something at one of these reunions and when i woke up I couldn’t remember exactly what it was,” he shared. “I remembered the feeling of not being able to defend myself and feeling like any sort of logic I’d use to defend myself would just get me in deeper. It became my goal to inject that feeling in a film.”mHe said the opening scene in which Ryder discusses whether he should come out to his conservative relatives was meant to set up audiences to expect a simplistic story, which would later be complicated. “At the end it doesn't matter if he comes out because that’s not what the story is about anymore,” he added.

Some in the audience seemed unsettled by the complexity of Molly, and wondered if she’s a pre-teen seductress. Weigert, who seemed very knowledgable about sociological behavior, disagreed and said she sees Molly as being in a natural phase of development. “Both children are in a state of innocence together,” she suggested. “You see it written on their faces. There’s tremendous gentleness and you don’t see a child being hurt in this movie. You see a child exploring and the parents and adults around the child freaking out and needing to demonize someone for it.” 

BREAKING THE SILENCE, BREAKING THE CYCLE by Christine Benjamin

This year, Sundance received an overwhelming amount of submissions dealing with stories of transformation. More specifically, films centered around sexual trauma, assault, and recovery. It’s no wonder that Caroline Libresco (Director, Special Programs and Senior Programmer, Sundance Film Festival) introduced yesterday’s panel “Breaking the Silence, Breaking the Cycle” with the question that seems to be on everyone’s mind: “So what’s going on here?”

What’s going on is that we’ve been afraid to have conversations surrounding these heavy topics, but storytellers from around the world are pushing forward, determined to make us more aware. With films such as The Hunting Ground, Pervert Park, and Dreamcatcher, it’s hard to ignore the thematic elements bubbling to the surface. Individuals such as Kirby Dick, Kim Longinotto, Frida Barkfors, Lasse Barkfors, and Regina Scully are working tirelessly to help us get out of this cycle we’ve grown accustomed to. The cycle of denial and the cycle of abuse encompass the whole complexity of this social issue.

“We need to start to talk about these issues. We can't come up with solutions until the taboos melt away. That’s why storytellers are all my heros.” Regina Scully so graciously motioned to the audience as she applauded all those on stage with her. The films we have seen in the festival and elsewhere are just the beginning of the conversations that need to take place. That’s why we are using the hashtag #BreakingTheSilence. It’s time to get these stories out there and listen to those who are brave enough to share their voices.

Pat Mitchell, Sundance Institute’s own Chair of the Board and the moderator of yesterday’s discussion, summed it up perfectly as the panel came to a close: “It begins here. It begins with knowledge and knowing, then the outrage. Out of the outrage there are actions that can be taken.”

Carla Renata

Hey My Fellow Movie Lovers...

A Bison, Virgo, devoted daughter, yoga and spinning enthusiasts, graduate of  the "mecca" - Howard University's School of Communications, former publicist, actress, branding influencer and "doggie mom" to an adorably smart-energetic maltese are just a few of the characteristics that make up the essence of me -- Carla Renata.

Formerly of UBNRAdio.com, where I Co-Hosted "On Air With Tony Sweet", this Fall, I will be hosting a new show for Black Hollywood Live owned by E! Correspondent Maria Menounos  and am a freelance contributor for NPR's Weekend All Things Considered.

I absolutely adore talking about all things cinema and it is my sincere hope that although not every opinion I have will or will not be embraced, know that I am extremely grateful for the opportunity to share!  Enjoy and see you on the red carpet!!!