Sundance ’21: “Summer of Soul” wins top doc prize; Nat Geo takes “Playing with Sharks”

Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson’s Summer Of Soul (…Or, When The Revolution Could Not Be Televised) secured the coveted U.S. Grand Jury Prize: Documentary and Audience Award: U.S. Documentary at the 2021 Sundance ...
February 3, 2021

Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson’s Summer Of Soul (…Or, When The Revolution Could Not Be Televised) secured the coveted U.S. Grand Jury Prize: Documentary and Audience Award: U.S. Documentary at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival awards, held last night (Feb. 2).

The festival’s awards ceremony was hosted by actor and comedian Patton Oswalt. Jurors presented 24 prizes for feature filmmaking and seven for short films.

Thompson’s Summer Of Soul (pictured), produced by David Dinerstein, Robert Fyvolent and Joseph Patel, tells the story of the Harlem Cultural Festival, held during the same summer as Woodstock in 1969. The event drew over 300,000 people to celebrate African American music and culture. The documentary unearths footage from the festival after more than 50 years. 

The World Cinema Grand Jury Prize: Documentary went to Jonas Poher Rasmussen’s Flee, produced by  Monica Hellström and Signe Byrge Sørensen; while the Audience Award: World Cinema Documentary was presented to director-producers Rintu Thomas and Sushmit Ghosh for Writing With Fire.

Flee tells the story of Amin, who, on the verge of marriage, is compelled to reveal his hidden past for the first time; while Writing with Fire follows journalists at India’s only newspaper run by Dalit women. 

Related: Jonas Poher Rasmussen opens up about his animated doc “Flee”

Users, Natalia Almada’s examination of the consequences of technological progress, won Sundance’s Directing Award: U.S. Documentary. The film is produced by Elizabeth Lodge Stepp and Josh Penn.

Hogir Hirori’s Sabaya, meanwhile, took home the Directing Award: World Cinema Documentary. The film, produced by Hirori and Antonio Russo Merenda, follows a group into Syria’s Al-Hol as they attempt to save women and girls abducted and held by ISIS as sex slaves.

The newly created Jonathan Oppenheim Editing Award: U.S. Documentary was presented to editors Kristina Motwani and Rebecca Adorno for Homeroom, which follows the class of 2020 at Oakland High School. The film is directed by Peter Nicks and produced by Nicks and Sean Harvey.

Parker Hill and Isabel Bethencourt’s Cusp, about three teenage girls in a Texas military town, was presented the U.S. Documentary Special Jury Award: Emerging Filmmaker; while the U.S. Documentary Special Jury Award: Nonfiction Experimentation went to Theo Anthony for All Light, Everywhere, an exploration of the shared histories of cameras, weapons, policing and justice.

Cusp is produced by Hill and Bethencourt with Zachary Luke Kislevitz; All Light, Everywhere is produced by Riel Roch-Decter, Sebastian Pardo and Jonna McKone.

Finally, the World Cinema Documentary Special Jury Award: Vérité Filmmaking went to Camilla Nielsson for President, which looks at the 2018 Zimbabwe election; and the World Cinema Documentary Special Jury Award: Impact for Change went to Writing With Fire. 

President is produced by Signe Byrge Sørensen and Joslyn Barnes.

In other Sundance news, National Geographic Documentary Films has acquired Sally Aitken’s Playing with Sharks out of this year’s festival.

The film from WildBear Entertainment and Dogwoof documents the life of Australian conservationist and filmmaker Valerie Taylor.

Playing with Sharks is produced by Bettina Dalton and executive produced by Alan Erson for WildBear; Anna Godas and Oli Harbottle for Dogwoof; and Paul Wiegard for Madman Entertainment.

The 2021 Sundance Film Festival ran virtually from Jan. 28 to Feb. 3.

Photo courtesy the Sundance Institute

About The Author
Barry Walsh is editor and content director for realscreen, and has served as editor of the publication since 2009. With a career in entertainment media that spans two decades, prior to realscreen, he held the associate editor post for now defunct sister publication Boards, which focused on the advertising and commercial production industries. Before Boards, he served as editor of Canadian Music Network, a weekly music industry trade, and as music editor for As content director, he also oversees the development of content for the brand's market-leading events, the Realscreen Summit and Realscreen West, as well as new content initiatives.