Sundance Film Festival 2016

Sundance 2016 - The year of the documentary Art, Technology, Storytelling


“It will always be important for people to go into a movie house, in the dark, collectively, and see a movie on a big screen” 

Robert Redford - day one press conference.


Setting the tone for this year edition, our host, the President of the Sundance Institute and the creator of the Sundance Film Festival, welcomed us again in Park City for the 10 days of one of the most anticipated edition. This year 123 feature-length and 72 short films – selected from 12,793 submissions were screened in Park City, Salt Lake City, Ogden and Sundance, Utah and New Frontier celebrated an important milestone, its 10th anniversary.

And an amazing festival it was!  We call it “the year of the documentary” because the selection was outstanding. From day one, with the premiere of Sky Ladder: The Art of Cai Guo-Qiang, a biographical documentary about the contemporary artist Cai Guo-Qiang from Quanzhou, China, director: Kevin Macdonald. Cai Guo-Qiang is one of the stars of the contemporary art world, who is perhaps best known for the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics.  This documentary film follows him across the world as he creates massive drawings in the sky from fireworks.  The focus of the film is the Sky Ladder, an extraordinary firework event that he finally succeeds to realize, after a series of failed attempts. It is also a close and personal look, inside the daily struggles of the artist, between his national heritage and the continuous search for artistic freedom. As Cai mentioned, he opened his heart and his life to the director of the movie in order for the public to better understand his personal and artistic struggles and the permanent search for a perfect but, idealistic world.

Coming back at Sundance, James Redford presented the documentary Resilience, an exploration of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACES) and the effects of Toxic Stress on children and chronicles the dawn of a movement determined to fight back. The very talented director, reunited with his father on the red carpet at the premiere.

Another returning alumn, the always surprising filmmaker Liz Garbus, came this year on the red carpet with a familiar face, CNN’s Anderson Cooper for the film Nothing Left Unsaid: Gloria Vanderbilt and Anderson Cooper.

It is the bittersweet story of Gloria Vanderbilt's life so far, through the sensitive and careful lens of Liz Garbus, under the very loving and protective eye of her son, Anderson. It is a film about an amazingly resilient woman, that came, as her son is saying, from a lost world that does not exist anymore, a woman that was so blessed but, yet so cursed… a survivor! 

Mapplethorpe: Look at the Pictures, directors: Fenton Bailey, and Randy Barbato is an examination of Robert Mapplethorpe's outrageous life, presented through a series of rediscovered interviews by the artist himself, about his passions and also candid interventions from his brother, friends, and contemporaries. A unique and very personal perspective that sheds a new light on this very controversial artist, “a man with a vision”, who started an artistic and cultural war that still goes on.


The always outspoken Spike Lee, came to Sundance with the documentary premiere of Michael Jackson's Journey from Motown to Off the Wall. Everybody knows the Michael Jackson story and has hummed, sang, danced and lived with his music. He is for all of us and for generations to come, a forever icon, a musical genius, a sad legend. But, we always want to know more, hear more and enjoy more of his legacy. And Spike Lee knows that and he delivers!

The feature films selection this year was also very impressive but, one film is standing out and will probably continue do do so: Nate Parker’s The Birth of a Nation. Not only the film conquered the awards but also  made history, by setting a new record for the biggest Sundance deal of all time when it was acquired by Fox Searchlight for $17.5 million, well above the previous record for the festival, considered to be held by Little Miss Sunshine for $10 million.

Another big deal was the $10 million that Amazon Studios paid for Manchester by the Sea, Kenneth Lonergan’s drama featuring Cassey Affleck.

The game changers in the industry (Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, etc.), took center stage at this edition, provoking some controversy and leaving behind “old players” like Harvey Weinstein. It is a new era for the future of independent film distribution and film in general and in the way the public will watch movies. These are new exiting times that hopefully are not going to take away from the long preserved tradition and the core of the Sundance Film Festival: the importance of storytelling.

New Frontier 2016 – 10 years and counting!

Congratulations to Shari Frilot and her team for bringing an amazing line up of artists from around the world, for the celebration of Virtual Reality and its unbelievable experiences!

From the large-scale installation by Chris Milk, the feature films, live performance, as well as VR experiences and installations, this section of the festival has become a “must see” and attracted huge crowds. Among the great artists present was renowned Australian artist/filmmaker Lynette Wallworth two-time Sundance Film Festival alum with the virtual reality film/journey Collisions.

Although James Franco, one of the festival’s “darlings”, did not make it this year, Tim O'Keefe, who forms the duo Daddy with Franco, performed a selection of original, never heard Daddy songs at a special Canada Goose event.

Even if Main Street is more crowded, the gift lounges more exclusive, the big “players” are changing and the volunteers … (no, the volunteers are always there for you), the Sundance Film Festival remains that “magical” place, where everything and anything can happen, where every year dreams come true, and where its founder, Mr. Robert Redford, continues “to put the focus on the artist…”

At the the closing ceremony the jury and the audience spoke:

- U.S. Grand Jury Prize: Documentary

Weiner / U.S.A.

(Directors: Josh Kriegman, Elyse Steinberg)


- U.S. Grand Jury Prize: Dramatic and Audience Award: U.S. Dramatic,

The Birth of a Nation / U.S.A.

(Director and screenwriter: Nate Parker)


- World Cinema Grand Jury Prize: Documentary

Sonita / Germany, Iran, Switzerland

(Director: Rokhsareh Ghaem Maghami)


- Audience Award: U.S. Documentary, Presented by Acura

Jim: The James Foley Story / U.S.A.

(Director: Brian Oakes)


World Cinema Grand Jury Prize: Dramatic

Sand Storm / Israel

(Director and screenwriter: Elite Zexer)


- Audience Award: World Cinema Dramatic

Between Sea and Land / Colombia

(Director: Carlos del Castillo, Screenwriter: Manolo Cruz)


- U.S. Dramatic Special Jury Award

As You Are / U.S.A.

(Director: Miles Joris-Peyrafitte, Screenwriters: Miles Joris-Peyrafitte, Madison Harrison)