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Deaf-family story ‘CODA’ and concert film ‘Summer of Soul’ are multiple award winners at Sundance

Siân Heder’s “CODA” won four awards and earned a $25 million distribution deal, both festival records.

(Photo courtesy of Mass Distraction Media / Sundance Institute) Sly Stone performs in 1969 at the Harlem Culture Festival, which is the subject of Ahmir "Questlove" Thompson's documentary "Summer Of Soul (Or, When The Revolution Could Not Be Televised)." The film won the Grand Jury Prize and Audience Award.

Movies about music — one in which a hearing daughter of deaf parents discovers her singing voice, the other a celebration of an unjustly forgotten concert event — were the big winners at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival’s awards ceremony Tuesday night.

“CODA,” director Siân Heder’s warm-hearted tale of a Massachusetts fishing family whose daughter (Emilia Jones) is her deaf family’s translator, won four awards — a record for a Sundance film. It won both the Grand Jury Prize and the Audience Award in the U.S. Dramatic competition, and the jury also gave the Directing Award to Heder and a special prize to the ensemble cast.

[Read more: Here are The Tribune’s unofficial picks for the best of Sundance]

“I’m handless!” signed deaf actor Troy Kotsur in the video acceptance speech after “CODA” won the Audience Award. Kotsur and Oscar winner Marlee Matlin play the parents of Jones’ character. The awards ceremony, like most of the festival, was streamed online because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This movie was just an incredible experience to make,” Heder said when the Grand Jury Prize was announced. “Now the response from everybody was just like …” She finished the sentence by signing an explosion of joy.

“CODA” had already won a different prize earlier in the festival: a distribution deal, reportedly for a record $25 million, from AppleTV+. The movie should debut on the streaming service later this year.

(Photo courtesy of Sundance Institute) Emilia Jones plays the daughter of deaf parents in "CODA," by Siân Heder. It's an official selection of the U.S. Dramatic Competition at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival.

In the U.S. Documentary competition, the concert film “Summer of Soul (… Or When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised)” also won the Grand Jury Prize and Audience Award.

Director Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson, known as the bandleader of The Roots, assembled long-forgotten videotaped footage of the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival, a series of concerts — the same summer as Woodstock — featuring Stevie Wonder, Sly and the Family Stone, Nina Simone, the Staples Singers and more.

“I didn’t even know this was a contest, yo,” Thompson said in one of his acceptance videos. In the other, he added, “This is beyond dreams coming true. … My purpose and my goal was to just not drop the ball, and make my people proud of me.”

Another multiple winner was the Kosovo-made drama “Hive,” about a woman (Yllka Gashi) facing down the patriarchy as she starts a small business. The movie won the Grand Jury Prize and Audience Award in the World Cinema Documentary competition, and the Directing Prize for Blerta Basholli.

(Alexander Bloom | courtesy of Sundance Institute) Yllka Gashi stars as a Kosovo woman who starts a business, in "Hive," a Kosovo/Swiss/Macedonian/Albanian co-production by Blerta Basholli. It's an official selection of the World Cinema Dramatic Competition at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival.

In the World Cinema Documentary competition, the animated story “Flee” — which tells of an Afghan refugee’s journey to a new life in Denmark — won the Grand Jury Prize. It received a distribution deal from Neon Films, and will be released in the United States with an English-language cast including Riz Ahmed (“Sound of Metal”) and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (“Game of Thrones”).

The Audience Award in the World Cinema Documentary competition went to the Indian film “Writing With Fire,” which follows women in India’s low-caste Dalit community starting their own newspaper. The jury also gave the film’s directors, Rintu Thomas and Sushmit Ghosh, a special prize for “impact for change.”

One of the most moving acceptance speeches was delivered by veteran character actor Clifton Collins Jr., who received a special jury prize for acting for his leading role in director Clint Bentley’s drama “Jockey.” Collins plays an aging horse racer who thinks he might have one last winning season in him.

“This is all beyond overwhelming, but my gratitude’s even bigger than that feeling,” Collins said. “That tells me the one thing that connects us all — the ability to feel, to have compassion and empathy — transcends race, creed and color. I think that’s the very essence of what we do. We long to be remembered, and, more importantly, to affect, touch and inspire change, positive change.”

One of the stranger acceptance speeches came from Gregory Barnes, whose short film “The Touch of the Master’s Hand,” won the Short Film Jury’s prize for U.S. fiction. The film, based on Barnes’ experiences as a Latter-day Saint missionary and made with a mostly ex-LDS crew, centers on a young missionary making a shocking confession to his mission president.

(Fide Ruiz-Healy | courtesy of Sundance Institute) Samuel Sylvester, foreground with hand raised, plays a missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in "The Touch of the Master’s Hand" by Gregory Barnes, an official selection of the Shorts Program at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival.

Barnes shot his acceptance video outside the Latter-day Saint temple in Los Angeles, and ended his thanks with his version of a traditional LDS cheer: a “Hosanna shout,” waving a tissue in the air and intoning, “Hosanna! Hosanna! To God and the lamb!”

The winners announced Tuesday will stream on the festival’s digital platform one more time Wednesday, the seventh and final day of the shortened festival.

2021 Sundance Film Festival winners

Here are the winners named Tuesday for awards in the 2021 Sundance Film Festival:

Grand Jury Prize

• U.S. Dramatic • “CODA,” directed by Siân Heder.

• U.S. Documentary • “Summer of Soul (… Or When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised),” directed by Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson.

• World Cinema Dramatic • "Hive" (Kosovo/Switzerland/Macedonia/Albania), directed by Blerta Basholli.

• World Cinema Documentary • "Flee" (Denmark/France/Sweden/Norway), directed by Jonas Poher Rasmussen.

Audience Award

• U.S. Dramatic • “CODA,” directed by Siân Heder.

• U.S. Documentary • “Summer of Soul (… Or When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised),” directed by Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson.

• World Cinema Dramatic • "Hive" (Kosovo/Switzerland/Macedonia/Albania), directed by Blerta Basholli.

• World Cinema Documentary • “Writing With Fire” (India), directed by Rintu Thomas and Sushmit Ghosh.

• Next • “Ma Belle, My Beauty,” directed by Marion Hill.

Next Innovator Award

• Next • “Cryptozoo,” directed by Dash Shaw.

Directing Award

• U.S. Dramatic • Siân Heder, “CODA.”

• U.S. Documentary • Natalia Almada, “Users.”

• World Cinema Dramatic • Blerta Basholli, “Hive” (Kosovo/Switzerland/Macedonia/Albania).

• World Cinema Documentary • Hogir Hirori, “Sabaya” (Sweden).

Screenwriting

• U.S. Dramatic (Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award) • Ari Katcher and Ryan Welch, "On the Count of Three."

Documentary Editing

• U.S. Documentary (Jonathan Oppenheim Award) • Kristina Motwani and Rebecca Adorno, “Homeroom.”

Special Jury Prize

• U.S. Dramatic • for ensemble: The cast of “CODA.”

• U.S. Dramatic • for acting: Clifton Collins Jr., “Jockey.”

• U.S. Documentary • for nonfiction experimentation: Theo Anthony, “All Light, Everywhere.”

• U.S. Documentary • for emerging filmmaker: Parker Hill and Isabel Bethencourt, “Cusp.”

• World Cinema Dramatic • for creative vision: Baz Poonpiriya, “One for the Road” (China/Hong Kong/Thailand).

• World Cinema Dramatic • for acting: Jesmark Sciculuna, “Luzzu” (Malta).

• World Cinema Documentary • for verité filmmaking: "President," directed by Camilla Nielsson.

• World Cinema Documentary • for impact for change: "Writing With Fire" (India), directed by Rintu Thomas and Sushmit Ghosh.

Short Film Awards

• Grand Jury Prize: “Lizard” (United Kingdom), directed by Akinola Davies Jr.

• Jury Prize, U.S. Fiction: “The Touch of the Master’s Hand,” directed by Gregory Barnes.

• Jury Prize, International Fiction: “Bambirak” (United States/Germany), directed by Zamarin Wahdat.

• Jury Prize, Non-Fiction: “Don’t Go Tellin’ Your Mama” (United States/Germany/France/Italy), directed by Topaz Jones and Rubberband.

• Jury Prize, Animation: “Souvenir Souvenir” (France), directed by Bastien Dubois.

• Special Jury Award, Screenwriting: Serhat Karaaslan, “The Criminals” (France/Romania/Turkey).

• Special Jury Award, Acting: Deanna Gibson, “Wiggle Room.”

Alfred P. Sloan Prize

• “Son of Monarchs” (Mexico/United States), directed by Alexis Gambis. (Previously announced.)

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