Before I reveal my best of the fest I need to mention the elephant in the room …
Throughout the fest I wanted journalists to be honest with me about why they thought this year's program was lackluster, at least in terms of the narrative features. Amost all of them mentioned the fact that Sundance's militant and adamant stance on inclusivity was to blame. Of course, you won't get these critics admitting that on print, but many personally confessed that was a problem.
Quite honestly, read this THR debate about the fest.
Listen me out, the 2017 and 2018 editions of the fest were tremendous. If anything, Sundance has turned into THE major world fest for documentary and that's fine by me. Non-Fiction as an art form, and because we are living in an age of constant video and photo taking, is expanding in much more interesting ways than non-fiction. This year's crop was again astounding: Cold Case Hammerskjold, Untitled Amazing Jonathan Documentary, David Crosby, Midnight Family, Midnight Traveler, Ask Dr. Ruth, Knock Down the House .. and those are just the ones that I've seen.
As for the winners, something happened after “Whiplash” won both Audience and Jury prizes in 2014. The winners in ‘15, ‘16, ‘17, ‘18 and ‘19 almost de-legitimized the importance of any film that wins dramatic jury. It used to be that if you won the big prize (past winners include “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” “Precious,” “Winter’s Bone,” “American Splendor,” “Fruitvale Station,” “Whiplash”) you could go on to have major backing from critics for awards season. The last few Grand Jury Prize winners have been “The Birth of A Nation,” “Me, Earl and the Dying Girl,” “I Don’t Feel At Home In This World Anymore,” and “The Miseducation of Cameron Post.”
Grand Jury Prize — Clemency, director: Chinonye Chukwu
Directing — The Last Black Man in San Francisco, director: Joe Talbot
Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award — Share, screenwriter: Pippa Bianco
Special Jury Award for Vision and Craft — Honey Boy, director: Alma Har’el
Special Jury Award for Acting — Rhianne Barreto in Share
Special Jury Award for Creative Collaboration — The Last Black Man in San Francisco, director: Joe Talbot
Grand Jury Prize — One Child Nation,” director: Nanfu Wang
Directing — American Factory, directors: Steven Bognar and Julia Reichert
Special Jury Award for Moral Urgency — Always in Season, director: Jacqueline Olive
Special Jury Award for Emerging Filmmaker — Jawline, directed by Liza Mandelup
Special Jury Award for Editing — Apollo 11, director: Todd Douglas Miller
Special Jury Award for Cinematography — Luke Lorentzen for Midnight Family