Sundance ’22: “The Exiles,” “Navalny” win big at festival’s awards

Navalny, a surprise final addition to Sundance’s documentary lineup this year, led the way on Friday’s announcement of the 2022 Sundance Film Festival’s award winners. The political doc received the ...
January 28, 2022

Navalny, a surprise final addition to Sundance’s documentary lineup this year, led the way on Friday’s announcement of the 2022 Sundance Film Festival’s award winners. The political doc received the U.S. Documentary Audience Award at this year’s festival, as well as the Festival Favorite Award, which is selected by audience votes.

The political documentary thriller, directed by Daniel Roher, is about Russian opposition leader and anti-corruption activist Alexei Navalny. It covers a period of time in which Navalny survived a 2020 assassination attempt by poisoning with a lethal nerve agent. Navalny and his team partnered with the investigative journalism outlet Bellingcat, as well as international news outlets like CNN, to investigate the assassination.

Roher’s new feature follows his music documentary Once Were Brothers: Robbie Robertson and the Band, which was the opening night film at the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival. Navalny was executive produced by Amy Entelis, Courtney Sexton and Maria Pevchikh. CNN will broadcast the documentary in North America, with HBO Max and CNN+ retaining streaming rights.

The Exiles (pictured) also led the way with a major victory, taking home the U.S. Grand Jury Prize for documentaries. The film, directed by Ben Klein and Violet Columbus, follows documentarian Christine Choy as she tracks down three exiled dissidents from the Tiananmen Square massacre, to find closure on an abandoned film she began shooting in 1989.

The film is Klein and Columbus’ debut feature. Steven Soderbergh, Chris Columbus and Eleanor Columbus are executive producers on the film.

All That Breathes, a documentary feature from filmmaker Shaunak Sen, won the World Cinema Grand Jury Prize for documentaries. The film follows a pair of brothers who devote their lives to protecting a species of bird known as the black kite, which are falling from the polluted sky in New Delhi.

Sen (Cities of Sleep) is an award-winning filmmaker who also received the Sundance Documentary Grant in 2019. Sean B. Carroll and David Guy Elisco are executive producers on All That Breathes, which was a Rise Films production.

The directing award in Sundance’s U.S. Documentary Competition was presented to Reid Davenport for I Didn’t See You There. The filmmaker was inspired by a circus tent that went up outside his Oakland apartment to create this film about visibility and the pursuit of individual agency. Davenport is the founder of Through My Lens, a non-profit amplifying the voices of people with disabilities.

Also in the U.S. documentaries section at Sundance, Fire of Love, directed by Sara Dosa, received the Jonathan Oppenheim Editing Award in the U.S. Documentary Competition. The film tells the story of Katia and Maurice Krafft, two pioneering volcanologists who died in a volcanic explosion. The film was acquired earlier this week by National Geographic Documentary Films.

Descendant received the U.S. Documentary Special Jury Award for Creative Vision. Directed by Margaret Brown, Descendant tells the story of Clotilda, the last ship carrying enslaved Africans to the U.S. It arrived in Alabama 40 years after African slave trading became a capital offense, so the ship was burned and its existence denied. But descendants of its survivors are reclaiming this story.

The Impact for Change award in the U.S. Documentary Competition was awarded to Aftershock. Directed and produced by Paula Eiselt and Tonya Lewis Lee, the documentary shows how two fathers inspire activists, birth-workers and physicians to reckon with the U.S. maternal health crisis, after the men’s partners died of childbirth complications.

This year’s U.S. Documentary Competition jury consisted of Garrett Bradley, Joan Churchill and Peter Nicks.

The Directing Award in the World Cinema Documentary competition at Sundance this year, was awarded to Simon Lereng Wilmont for A House Made of Splinters. In his new film, Wilmont (A Distant Barking of Dogs), a Danish filmmaker, follows the daily lives of kids and staff in an institution for children who have been removed from their homes while awaiting court custody decisions.

Philippa Kowarsky and Signe Byrge Sørensen are executive producers on A House Made of Splinters, which was produced by Cinephil.

The World Cinema Documentary Special Jury Award: Excellence in Verité Filmmaking recognized Midwives, an EyeSteelFilm production directed and produced by Snow Hnin El Hlaing. Filmed over five years, the documentary covers a makeshift medical clinic run by two women in western Myanmar. The documentary was recently acquired by PBS for its POV series.

Rounding out the World Cinema Documentary awards, Alex Pritz’s The Territory received the World Cinema Documentary Special Jury Award: Documentary Craft. The film, which is Pritz’s debut feature, covers the fight of the Indigenous Uru-eu-wau-wau people against encroaching deforestation from illegal loggers and non-native farmers in the Brazilian Amazon. The Territory was acquired this week by National Geographic Documentary Films.

This year’s World Cinema Documentary Competition jury included Emilie Bujès, Patrick Gaspard and Dawn Porter.

The U.S. documentary feature Framing Agnes, directed by Chase Joynt, was recognized with the NEXT Innovator Award. Sundance’s NEXT section includes films that take an “innovative, forward-thinking approach” to storytelling.

Framing Agnes, blends fiction with non-fiction to better understand trans history in the U.S. Joynt’s film sees a cast of contemporary transgender actors reenact case files discovered from a 1950s gender clinic, using performance to enact social change. The files also help to better understand Agnes, a pseudonymized transgender woman who participated in gender health research at UCLA in the 1960s, and has long been seen as a figurehead of trans history.

Joynt previously co-directed No Ordinary Man, a documentary feature about jazz musician Billy Tipton. Joynt also co-produced Framing Agnes with Samantha Curley and Shant Joshi. The documentary was produced by The Film Collaborative.

The short documentary Displaced was recognized by Sundance with the Short Film Jury Award: Nonfiction. The short film, directed by Samir Karahoda, is about two table tennis players in Kosovo, working to keep their sport alive, carrying their tables from one obscure location to another.

Rounding out the short film awards is the Short Film Special Jury Award for Screenwiting was presented to Stranger Than Paradise with Sara Driver. The animated short covers producer Sara Driver’s willingness and ability to smuggle the classic 1984 Jim Jarmusch film across the Atlantic Ocean. Driver was the short film’s writer, which was directed by Lewie and Noah Kloster.

Two awards for non-fiction projects at Sundance were handed out earlier in the festival.

Su Kim was recognized with the 2022 Amazon Studios Nonfiction Producers Award for Free Chol Soo Lee, which she executive produced. The U.S. documentary is about a 20-year-old Korean immigrant, Chol Soo Lee, who was arrested, convicted and sentenced to life in prison for a murder on questionable evidence in San Francisco’s Chinatown. A journalist’s work on the case would help spark a grassroots movement to fight for Chol Soo Lee’s freedom.

Earlier this week, Sundance also honored Toby Shimin with the 2022 Mentorship Award for Editing (Nonfiction).

About The Author
Andrew Tracy joined Realscreen as associate editor in 2021, following 17 years as managing editor of the award-winning international film magazine Cinema Scope. From 2010 to 2020 he also held the position of senior editor at the Toronto International Film Festival, where he oversaw the flagship publication for the organization’s year-round Cinematheque programming and edited its first original monograph in a decade, Steve Gravestock’s A History of Icelandic Film. He was a scriptwriter and consultant on the first season of the Vice TV series The Vice Guide to Film, and his writing and reporting have been featured in such outlets as Cinema Scope, Reverse Shot, Sight & Sound, Cineaste, Film Comment, MUBI Notebook, POV, and Montage.