The opening night docs set the bar for Sundance 2021 and held the golden standard. Tonight’s award ceremony for the Sundance Film Festival saw the event’s two Day One selections, Summer of Soul and Flee, win the Grand Jury Prizes for documentary. The films won in the categories for U.S. and World Cinema Documentary, respectively.
The docs are notable winners that rewrite history through formally innovative processes. Summer of Soul changes the narrative that says that Woodstock was the definitive concert event of the summer of 1969. Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson’s debut feature chronicles the unsung history of the Harlem Cultural Festival. Flee, meanwhile, is a riveting account of a gay Afghan refugee’s experience escaping his homeland and surviving on the margins. Directed by Jonas Poher Rasmussen, Flee innovatively uses animation to create experiences that obviously could not be captured on film, while preserving the subject’s anonymity and conveying impressions he can’t articulate in words. Summer of Soul won double honours taking home the Audience Award for U.S. Documentary, while Writing with Fire scored the prize on the World Cinema Front. Flee scored distribution through distributor Neon among the notable Sundance acquisitions with Participant coming aboard the deal later in the festival.
The Sundance docs, and especially winners, habitually set the pace for the year to come. Most of Sundance’s major documentary go on to dominate the festival season and awards circuit.
The full list of documentary winners from Sundance 2021 is as follows:
Grand Jury Prize – U.S. Documentary: Summer of Soul (…Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised) – Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson
Grand Jury Prize – World Cinema Documentary: Flee – Jonas Poher Rasmussen
Audience Award: U.S. Documentary: Summer of Soul (…Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised) – Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson
-Presented by Acura
Audience Award: World Cinema Documentary: Writing with Fire – Rintu Thomas & Sushmit Ghosh
Directing Award: US Documentary: Users – Natalia Almada
Directing Award: World Cinema Documentary: Hogir Hirori, Sabaya
Jonathan Oppenheim Editing Award, U.S. Documentary: Homeroom – Kristina Motwani and Rebecca Adorno
World Documentary Special Jury Award in Verite Filmmaking: President – Camilla Nielsson
World Documentary Special Jury Award in Impact for Change: Writing with Fire – Rintu Thomas & Sushmit Ghosh
US Documentary Special Jury Award for Nonfiction Experimentation: Theo Anthony, All Light, Everywhere
US Documentary Special Jury Award for Emerging Filmmaker: Parker Hill and Isabel Bethencourt, Cusp
Short Film Jury Award for Nonfiction: Don’t Go Telling Your Momma – Topaz Jones and rubberband