Immigrant stories ‘Nanny’ and ‘The Exiles’ win top awards at 2022 Sundance Film Festival

Audiences pick ‘Navalny,’ a last-minute addition about a Russian opposition leader, as the Festival Favorite.

(Rina Yang | Sundance Institute) Anna Diop and Rose Decker appear in "Nanny," directed by Nikyatu Jusu, an official selection at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival. The film was given the Grand Jury Prize in the U.S. Dramatic competition.

Movies about an immigrant nanny, a post-collegiate wanderer, and people who challenged the regimes in China and Russia were the big winners at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival.

“Nanny,” writer-director Nikyatu Jusu’s supernatural drama about an undocumented Senegalese nanny (Anna Diop) who is plagued by nightmares as she cares for a rich Manhattan couple’s daughter, was named the Grand Jury Prize winner in the U.S. Dramatic competition.

Award winners were announced Friday afternoon on the festival’s Twitter feed.

“You guys shouldn’t have done it to me like this,” a crying Jusu said in a pre-taped acceptance speech, shot when festival officials told her that her film won.

As she went through a list of thank-yous, Jusu said that her father died of cancer during the COVID-19 pandemic, and “I know that, since he’s been on the other side, he’s been pulling strings on my behalf.”

“[’Nanny’] flooded us with its compassionate and horrifying portrayal of a mother being separated from her child,” said producer Chelsea Barnard, one of the U.S. Dramatic jurors. “This film cannot be contained by any one genre — it’s visually stunning, masterfully acted, impeccably designed from sound to visual effects, and the overall vision, expertly guided by Nikyatu Jusu, comes together offering its audience an electrifying experience.”

The Grand Jury Prize winner in the U.S. Documentary category went to “The Exiles,” which follows legendary filmmaker Christine Choy as she reunites with Chinese exiles more than three decades after the 1989 protests at Tiananmen Square. The film was directed by Violet Columbus and Ben Klein, who were students of Choy at New York University.

(Christine Choy | Sundance Institute) Exiled Chinese dissidents Yan Jiaqi, Wu'er Kaixi and Wan Runnan appear in the documentary "The Exiles," directed by Ben Klein and Violet Columbus, an official selection of the 2022 Sundance Film Festival. The film won the Grand Jury Prize in the U.S. Documentary competition.

“Is that real? … Holy cow,” Columbus (daughter of filmmaker Chris Columbus) said over the Zoom feed when learning “The Exiles” won. “We put our heart and soul into this, and I’m really happy you guys see what we see.”

Filmmaker Joan Churchill, who sat on the U.S. Documentary jury, said the film “is totally original, layered, philosophical and non-linear — challenging our understanding of history.” The jury also picked the film “for celebrating the power of documentary filmmaking and the responsibility of the filmmaker to examine the truth.”

The Festival Favorite Award, voted on by audiences across all 84 feature films playing in the festival, went to director Daniel Roher’s documentary “Navalny.” The film, made by CNN Films and set to screen on CNN and HBO Max later this year, is a profile of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, and the efforts he and investigative journalists took to find out who ordered the poisoning that almost killed him.

(Sundance Institute) Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny is the subject of director Daniel Roher's film "Navalny," premiering Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2022, in the U.S. Documentary competition of the 2022 Sundance Film Festival. The film won the Festival Favorite Award, voted on by festival audiences.

“Navalny” — a last-minute addition to the festival line-up, for which programmers held open a spot for weeks before announcing it — also won the Audience Award in the U.S. Documentary competition.

The Audience Award in the U.S. Dramatic competition went to writer-director-star Cooper Raiff’s coming-of-age romance “Cha Cha Real Smooth.” Raiff stars as a 22-year-old college graduate figuring out what to do with his life — which leads to a job as a “party starter” for bar mitzvahs, and a relationship of sorts with a young single mom (Dakota Johnson).

The Bolivian drama “Utama” won the Grand Jury Prize in the World Cinema Dramatic competition. The film, written and directed by Alejandro Loayza Grisi, follows an elderly Quechua couple whose daily life is threatened by an unusually long drought.

In the World Cinema Documentary category, the Grand Jury Prize went to the Indian/British film “All That Breathes,” directed by Shaunak Sen. It focuses on two brothers who work to save the black kite, a bird species that is threatened by increasing pollution and violence in Delhi.

The Finnish coming-of-age drama “Girl Picture” took the Audience Award in the World Cinema Dramatic competition. Directed by Alli Haapasalo, the movie shows three teen girls, two of them falling in love while the third seeks the rare experience of pleasure.

The Audience Award in the World Cinema Documentary competition went to “The Territory,” made in Brazil by Danish director Alex Pritz. The film follows two indigenous Brazilians fighting back against farmers who have seized a protected area of the rainforest, in order to protect an uncontested group living deep in the forest. The film also won a Special Jury Award for “documentary craft.”

The documentary “Framing Agnes” was a double winner in the Next category, receiving the Audience Award and the Next Innovator Award — voted on by a sole juror, “Transparent” creator Joey Soloway. Directed by Chase Joynt, “Framing Agnes” centers on a group of transgender actors who turn a talk show inside out after learning of a young trans woman in a 1950s gender clinic.

The award announcements over Twitter were appropriate for a festival that played mostly online. The festival canceled its in-person Utah events in early January, because of concerns of increased case counts of COVID-19. Last year’s festival also went online because of the pandemic.

The festival will re-screen the award winners over the weekend on its online portal, festival.sundance.org.

Other winners were:

U.S. Dramatic

Directing • Jamie Dack, “Palm Trees and Power Lines,” a harrowing coming-of-age drama about a 17-year-old girl (Lily McInerny) who falls for a much older man (Jonathan Tucker), who starts grooming her.

Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award • K.D. Dávila, “Emergency,” directed by Carey Williams, a comedy in which two Black college friends (RJ Cyler, Donald Elise Watkins) find an unconscious white girl in their living room, and must decide whether calling 911 is worth possibly getting shot by cops.

Special Jury Award, Uncompromising Artistic Vision • Bradley Rust Gray, “blood,” which follows a widow (Carla Juri) on a trip to Japan, reuniting with an old friend (Takashi Ueno) and considering whether it’s time to love again.

Special Jury Award, Ensemble Cast • John Boyega, Nicole Beharie, Selenis Leyva, Connie Britton, Olivia Washington, London Covington and Michael K. Williams, “892,” directed by Abi Damaris Corbin, based on a true story of a troubled ex-Marine (Boyega) who takes hostages at a Georgia bank office.

U.S. Documentary

Directing • Reid Davenport, “I Didn’t See You There,” in which Davenport points his camera at what he sees from his wheelchair.

Jonathan Oppenheim Editing Award • Erin Casper and Jocelyne Chaput, “Fire of Love,” director Sara Dosa’s profile of married volcanologists Katia and Maurice Krafft, whose obsession over volcanoes — and getting amazing footage of their eruptions — was as strong as their love for each other.

Special Jury Award, Impact for Change • “Aftershock,” directed by Paula Eiselt and Tonya Lewis Lee, which examines the disturbing statistic that Black women are four times as likely to die in childbirth than white women at the same income levels.

Special Jury Award, Creative Vision • “Descendant,” directed by Margaret Brown, which follows the descendants of the enslaved Africans brought to America on the Clotilde, believed to be the last slave ship to disembark in the United States.

World Cinema Dramatic

Directing • Maryna Er Gorbach, “Klondike” (Ukraine/Turkey), about a family living on the border between Ukraine and Russia during the start of war there.

Special Jury Award, Innovative Spirit • “Leonor Will Never Die” (Philippines), written and directed by Martika Ramirez Escobar, in which a retired filmmaker is hit on the head by a TV set, and in her coma becomes the action hero in her unfinished screenplay.

Special Jury Award, Acting • Teresa Sánchez, “Dos Estaciones” (Mexico), directed by Juan Pablo González, as a businesswoman in Mexico’s Jalisco highlands, fighting to keep her tequila factory from collapsing.

World Cinema Documentary

Directing • Simon Lereng Wilmont, “A House Made of Splinters” (Denmark), which follows daily life in a home in eastern Ukraine for children removed from their homes while court custody decisions are pending.

Special Jury Award, Documentary Craft • “The Territory” (Brazil/Denmark/United States), directed by Alex Pritz. (See above.)

Special Jury Award, Excellence in Verité Filmmaking • “Midwives” (Myanmar), directed by Snow Hnin El Hlaing, which follows two midwives in a makeshift clinic in Myanmar.

Short Film Awards

Grand Jury Prize • “The Headhunter’s Daughter” (Philippines), written and directed by Don Josephus Raphael Elblahan.

Jury Award, U.S. Fiction • “If I Go Will They Miss Me,” written and directed by Walter Thompson-Hernández.

Jury Award, International Fiction • “Warsha” (France/Lebanon), written and directed by Dania Bdeir.

Jury Award, Nonfiction • “Displaced” (Kosovo), written and directed by Samir Karahoda.

Jury Award, Animation • “Night Bus” (Taiwan), written and directed by Joe Hsieh.

Special Jury Award, Ensemble Cast • Zélia Duncan, Bruna Linzmeyer, Camila Rocha, Clarissa Ribeiro, and Lorre Motta, for “A wild patience has taken me here” (Brazil), written and directed by Érica Sarmet.

Special Jury Award, Screenwriting • Sara Driver, “Stranger Than Rotterdam with Sara Driver,” directed by Lewie Kloster and Noah Kloster.

Previously announced

Alfred P. Sloan Feature Film Prize (given to an outstanding feature film about science or technology) • “After Yang,” written, directed and edited by Kogonada. (The filmmakers receive a $20,000 cash award from Sundance Institute, with support from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.

Sundance Institute | Amazon Studios Producers Award for Nonfiction • Su Kim, “Free Chol Soo Lee” (U.S. Documentary competition).

Sundance Institute | Amazon Studios Producers Award for Fiction • Amanda Marshall, “God’s Country” (Premieres).

Sundance Institute | Adobe Mentorship Award for Editing Nonfiction • Toby Shimin.

Sundance Institute | Adobe Mentorship Award for Editing Fiction • Dody Dorn.

The Sundance Institute | NHK Award • Hasan Hadi, “The President’s Cake.”