A Thousand and One has won the biggest Sundance Film Festival for a U.S. dramatic film debut — the Grand Jury Prize.
The awards were announced Jan. 27, with Going to Mars: The Nikki Giovanni Project winning the Jury Grand Prize for U.S. documentary and Kokomo City winning the NEXT Innovator Award presented by Adobe.
Starring Teyana Taylor, Will Catlett, Josiah Cross, Aven Courtney and Aaron Kingsley Adetola, A Thousand and One follows a young woman who kidnaps her young son from the foster care system to reform her family. One of the jury members wrote in the jury citation how the film reminded them of their own life experiences.
“Never have I seen a life so similar to my own rendered with such nuance and tenderness. I walked out of the theatre and wept in front of people I barely know because this film reached into my gut and pulled from it every emotion I’ve learned to mask in these spaces.”
“As a jury we know how impossible it is to make work that is real, full of pain, and fearless in its rigorous commitment to emotional truth born of oppressive circumstances. It is our honor to award the U.S. Grand Jury Prize: Dramatic to A Thousand and One,” the citation continued.
Director A.V. Rockwell spoke at the premiere about how the film reflected her feelings about her changing New York neighborhood.
“I think growing up in New York and seeing the city change was tough to reconcile,” she said during the audience Q&A at the film’s premiere. “And even watching it again right now, I’m reminded of how hard it is to overcome generational cycles. Families like Inez, Terry and Lucky’s, they have to fight so hard to overcome what the generation before them had to go through.”
“So many new obstacles like gentrification, it’s just so devastating and that’s why this was so urgent for me. And for the Black moms and matriarchs like my mom, how hard they had to fight, I thank them,” she continued. “I feel like society and even within our own community, especially inner-city Black women are so invisible and so misunderstood, it was just so important that I tell this story as best as I could and try to be a voice for them and hopefully let people into their lives a little bit and hopefully understand them a lot better and celebrate them.”
The jury gave Joe Brewster and Michèle Stephenson‘s Going to Mars: The Nikki Giovanni Project the Grand Jury Prize for U.S. Documentary because of the doc’s focus on Giovanni’s perspective and philosophy.
“This film focuses on a singular, unapologetic voice, and through her story it captures the experience of the collective,” states the jury citation. “The strong directorial vision illuminates the joy and the raw reality of the Black experience. Also it is f*****g funny.”
Kokomo City, D. Smith’s documentary about Black transgender women living as sex workers in New York City and Georgia, won NEXT Innovator Award presented by Adobe. The jury found the film to be a “groundbreaking presentation” of the inner world of Black trans women sex workers. The film also won the NEXT audience award.
“For taking the traditional ‘talking heads’ documentary structure and opening it up with the use of camera, sound, editing techniques, and imagery to create a dazzling journey with a fluidity that is entirely new,” stated the jury in their citation. “For a groundbreaking presentation of the lives of black trans women sex-workers in black and white, for taking us into their bedrooms and sharing in their incredible vulnerability as we hear their stories, all the while listening with her camera in a way that is electric and alive.”
“For examining the injustice of a world that relegates so many women to a second-class citizenship and the oppressive nature of gender roles for everyone,” the jury continued. “For making perhaps the funniest movie Sundance has ever shown, and reminding us that the life or death struggle of these women is best understood in their defiant use of humor as a weapon.”
Magazine Dreams, written and directed by Elijah Bynum and starring Jonathan Majors, Haley Bennett, Taylour Paige, Mike O’Hearn, Harrison Page and Harriet Sansom Harris, was awarded the U.S. Dramatic Special Jury Award: Creative Vision. The jury felt the film was “immersive’ and showcased a tremendous use of tension through various film and sound techniques.
“This immersive film’s relentless tension achieved through the rigorous marriage of light, camera movement, sound, and an overwhelming performance left us all disturbed, yet riveted,” wrote the jury. “It will reverberate through audiences to much debate.”
Nigerian filmmaker C.J. “Fiery” Obasi’s’s Mami Wata, which Obasi wrote and directed, won the World Cinema Dramatic Special Jury Award: Cinematography. The film centers around two sisters who must save their village by restoring a mermaid goddess.
“Through each frame, Lilis Soares’ expert lens mesmerized the jury. The richness of the black and white images, combined with the intricate and intimate camerawork of both the performances and natural landscape, elevated this folkloric tale to an intoxicating, visual experience,” wrote the jury.
The Stroll, directed by Kristen Lovell and Zackary Drucker, won the U.S. Documentary Special Jury Award: Clarity of Vision. The documentary focuses on the history of New York City’s Meatpacking District from the point of view of transgender sex workers.
“It demonstrates an intimate look from the people who have the lived experience,” wrote the jury in their citation. “It shows why it is important for the people who are members of the community to be at the helm of their stories.”