"Sonita," "Birth of a Nation," Lead Festival Winners
By SEAN P. MEANS | The Salt Lake Tribune
Jan 30 2016
‘Sonita’ and The Birth of a Nation’ among big winners at Sundance awards.
'Sonita' shows us a possible escape route before the insufferable happens.
Rokhsareh Ghaem Maghami’s documentary makes us realise the importance of creativity as a privileged space in which to rest our minds when they are (literally as well as figuratively) bombarded with a thousand doubts, by an endless series of unanswered questions.
Park City • The World Cinema Documentary competition yielded another double winner: "Sonita," the story of an 18-year-old female Afghan rapper trying to avoid being sold off as a child bride — a journey that ultimately brought her to live in Utah. "Sonita" won the Grand Jury Prize and the Audience Award.
|(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Sonita Alizadeh, left, and film maker, Rokhsareh Ghaemmaghami, accept the Grand Jury Award for "Sonita" which won the World Cinema Best Documentary during the Sundance Film Festival awards ceremony in Park City on Saturday. "Sonita" also also won the World Cinema Documentary Audience Award.|
Director Rokhsareh Ghaem Maghami said "the award was when I started working with Sonita. Every day she was awarding me with her energy, and the emotion that I had, and for being, somehow, my daughter — the daughter I never had."
Sonita, in line with its predecessor, Going up the Stairs, paints the portrait of a woman (or rather, a young girl) suffocated by a hyper-conservative society that imposes nefarious and intolerable standards on its citizens. Whilst Akram paints in silence, swallowed up by a life meticulously planned out to the smallest detail, the young Sonita innocently and bravely lives out her dream of becoming a famous rapper in the open. Whilst Going up the Stairs frees the life of its protagonist, Sonita shows us a possible escape route before the insufferable happens.
"Sonita" depicts in detail her perilous journey to freedom and narrow escape to the United States. Sonita fled from a conflict with her parents, who were intent on selling her into marriage to an unknown suitor. The documentary concludes with her arrival at Wasatch Academy where she is currently on scholarship studying with the hope of becoming an attorney specializing in human rights law.
The award-winning documentary dramatizing her life and her courageous crusade to end child marriage won the official Audience Award as the most popular film at the International Documentary Film Festival. The documentary is now an official selection of the Sundance Institute, one of only 120 films chosen from among over 12,000 films submitted for the upcoming 2016 international competition later this month. Sonita’s strong, outspoken opposition to forced marriage has drawn a worldwide following of over a quarter million people who have listened to her music video on Youtube.
|Behind the scenes with director Rokhsareh Ghaem Maghami and rapper Sonita, just moments after the film 'Sonita' was awarded the #Sundance World Cinema Documentary Grand Jury Prize|
Sonita’s extraordinary moral strength has led to her selection by the BBC as among the top 100 women of 2015 and by Foreign Policy magazine as one of the leading Global Thinkers.
As a female rapper in conservative Iran, Sonita’s talents are a liability. But Sonita insists on dreaming big. Her beats are as solid as stones, her rhymes are fierce, and her videos are a piercing howl against the constant injustice, fear, and sexism women must endure. It was only a matter of time before her charismatic presence and spirited eyes changed her fortune, and with the help of acclaimed director Rokhsareh Ghaemmaghami, she is suddenly offered a scholarship that leads her on a dangerous trip back to Afghanistan and ultimately to Utah. All the while, Sonita’s conservative mother insists she must be married off soon, at a price, and threatens to derail Sonita’s life at its most critical juncture.
An intimate portrait of creativity and womanhood, Sonita highlights the rarely seen intricacies and shifting contrasts of Iranian society through the lens of an artist who is defining the next generation.
At a time when Hollywood is under fire for its lack of diversity, the top winner at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival was an epic drama about an African-American slave leading a rebellion in the antebellum South.
"The Birth of a Nation," writer-director-star Nate Parker's grand historic drama, won both the Grand Jury Prize and the Audience Award for U.S. Dramatic films at the festival's closing-night award ceremony Saturday.
The movie, which Parker labored seven years to make, tells the story of Nat Turner, the slave-turned-preacher who led a slave rebellion in Virginia in 1831 in which 60 whites were killed.
"A film like this, being a film that some have called an issue film, it succeeds when it touches people, when it affects people," Parker said. "I've seen first-hand that people are open to the idea of change, and the fact that it's happening to this film means everything to me."
"The Birth of a Nation," whose title Parker deliberately reclaimed from D.W. Griffith's classic and infamously racist 1915 silent epic, took another prize early in the week: A distribution deal with Fox Searchlight Pictures, reportedly for $17.5 million, a Sundance record.
In the U.S. Documentary competition, the Grand Jury Prize went to "Weiner," a riveting in-the-moment look at Anthony Weiner's 2013 campaign for New York mayor — a campaign derailed by a recurrence of the sexting scandal that forced his resignation from Congress in 2011.
Josh Kriegman, a former chief-of-staff for Weiner who directed the movie with Elyse Steinberg, thanked the other documentary filmmakers at Sundance. "We are so lucky to be part of this community," he said.
The Audience Award for U.S. Documentary went to "Jim: The James Foley Story," director Brian Oakes' intimate portrait of his childhood friend, the conflict journalist who was kidnapped in Syria and beheaded on video by the so-called Islamic State.
"When [Jim] walked into a room, the party started, so the Audience Award is pretty appropriate," Oakes said.
In the World Cinema Dramatic, the Grand Jury Prize went to the Israeli drama "Sand Storm," about a Bedouin mother and daughter in a story of tradition crashing against a changing world.
Director Elite Zexer was giddy with her prize. "It's been a week of talking and talking and talking. And now that I have to say something, I'm speechless," she said.
The Audience Award in the World Cinema Dramatic competition was the Colombian drama "Between Sea and Land," about a man whose disease keeps him from visiting the ocean across the street from his house. The movie also won a special jury prize for actors Manolo Cruz (who also wrote the screenplay, and co-directed with Carlos del Castillo) as the man, and Vicky Hernandéz for portraying his mother.
The Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award went to Chad Hartigan, for writing the fish-out-of-water comedy "Morris From America." The movie, about a 13-year-old black kid from the Bronx (played by Markees Christmas), dealing with adolescence in Germany.
Hartigan joked as he accepted the award: "I'd like to thank the producers … Wait a minute, this is for writing. I did that myself."
"Morris From America" also won a special jury prize for Craig Robinson ("The Office," "Hot Tub Time Machine"), for his role as the boy's father. Another special jury prize for individual performance went to Melanie Lynskey, for playing a tightly wound woman meddling in another couple's marriage in the comedy "The Intervention."
The Directing Award for U.S. Dramatic films went to Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert for the festival's biggest love-it-or-hate-it film, "Swiss Army Man." Dismissed by some as "the farting corpse movie," the film starred Paul Dano as a man on a deserted island who discovers a dead body (played by Daniel Radcliffe), who becomes a handy tool and best friend.