Sundance ’16: “Weiner,” “Sonita” take doc prizes

Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg's Weiner (pictured) and Rokhsareh Ghaem Maghami's Sonita were among the top winners at this year's Sundance Film Festival.
January 31, 2016

Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg‘s Weiner (pictured) and Rokhsareh Ghaem Maghami’s Sonita were among the top winners at this year’s Sundance Film Festival.

Weiner, which reveals the human story of Anthony Weiner through unrestricted access to his ill-fated New York City mayoral campaign, was presented with the Grand Jury Prize for U.S. Documentary. The film received funding from the Tribeca Film Institute’s TFI Documentary Fund and was recently acquired by streaming giant Hulu.

Sonita, which shadows an 18-year-old Afghan refugee and aspiring rapper as her family attempts to sell her to an unknown husband for US$9,000, was awarded with the Grand Jury Prize for World Cinema Documentary and the Audience Award in the world category. The film in November took the Audience Award at IDFA.

Elsewhere, the audience award in the U.S. Documentary category went to Brian OakesJim: The James Foley Story, while directing awards went to Roger Ross Williams’ Life, Animated and Michael Marczak’s All These Sleepless Nights.

Earlier in the festival, the short film jury award for non-fiction was presented to Sol Friedman for Bacon & God’s Wrath.

The full list of non-fiction winners, with synopses provided by Sundance, follows below:

U.S. Grand Jury Prize: Documentary
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.

World Cinema Grand Jury Prize: Documentary
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.

Audience Award: U.S. Documentary
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.

Audience Award: World Cinema Documentary
Sonita / Germany, Iran, Switzerland (Director: Rokhsareh Ghaem Maghami)

Directing Award: U.S. Documentary
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.

Directing Award: World Cinema Documentary
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.

U.S. Documentary Special Jury Award for Editing
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
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
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
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.”

World Cinema Documentary Special Jury Award for Debut Feature
Heidi Brandenburg and Mathew Orzel for their film When 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
Director and cinematographer Pieter-Jan De Pue for 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
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.

About The Author
Daniele Alcinii is a news reporter at realscreen, the leading international publisher of non-fiction film and television industry news and content. He joins the rs team with journalism experience following a stint out west with Sun Media in Edmonton's Capital Region, and communications work in Melbourne, Australia and Toronto. You can follow him on Twitter at @danielealcinii.