How ‘CODA’ made history for the Sundance Film Festival with Best Picture Oscar win

For the first time, a movie has gone from premiering at Sundance to Hollywood’s biggest prize.

(Apple TV+) Emilia Jones, Troy Kotsur, Marlee Matlin, and Daniel Durant, from left, star in “CODA,” which won Best Picture at the 94th Academy Awards on Sunday, March 27, 2022. The movie is the first to screen at the Sundance Film Festival before winning Best Picture.

When “CODA” won Best Picture at the 94th annual Academy Awards on Sunday, it made history in many ways — including being the first movie to screen at the Sundance Film Festival before winning Hollywood’s biggest prize.

“CODA” — the story of a teen (Emilia Jones), the only hearing member of a deaf family, who discovers she has a talent for singing — had its premiere on the opening night of the 2021 Sundance Film Festival. The premiere was a virtual one, as the festival went online-only because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The film swept all three categories for which it was nominated. Besides Best Picture, “CODA” won awards for Troy Katsur’s supporting performance as the girl’s gruff but sympathetic father, and also for director Siân Heder’s adapted screenplay (based on a French film).

“I want to thank Sundance for starting this journey,” Heder said to begin her acceptance speech for the screenplay win.

An acronym for “child of deaf adults,” the film also made history for being the first Best Picture winner with a cast mostly made up of deaf actors; besides Katsur, former Oscar-winner Marlee Matlin and actor Daniel Durant played the family’s mom and older son. And the film is the first from a streaming service to win the top honor.

The Best Picture win for “CODA” also marks the first time in 41 years that a movie won Best Picture without any nominations in the so-called “below the line” craft categories — such as editing, cinematography or music. The last movie to pull off that feat was “Ordinary People,” directed by Sundance Institute founder Robert Redford, at the 1981 Oscar ceremony.

“CODA” was a big winner when it premiered at Sundance. It earned a record four awards in the festival U.S. Dramatic competition: Grand Jury Prize, Audience Award, the Directing Award for Heder and a special jury prize for the ensemble cast. It also won financially, as Apple TV+ bought the rights to the film for a record $25 million.

Another movie that premiered at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival’s opening night — Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson’s music documentary “Summer of Soul (… or When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised)” — also won an Oscar on Sunday, for best documentary feature film.

“CODA” is the 21st movie that played Sundance before going on to receive a Best Picture Oscar nomination.

The first was Woody Allen’s “Hannah and Her Sisters,” which played in Park City in 1986, when the event was still called the U.S. Film Festival. (The Sundance Institute took over operations in 1985 and changed the name in 1991.) The film lost Best Picture to Oliver Stone’s “Platoon,” but won three Academy Awards: Allen won original screenplay, while both Dianne Wiest and Michael Caine won for supporting performances.

At last year’s Oscars, four of the 10 Best Picture nominees had played at Sundance: “The Father,” “Minari” and “Promising Young Woman,” all of which debuted at the 2020 festival, and “Judas and the Black Messiah,” which played in the 2021 festival.

All four of last year’s entries also won Oscars. “The Father” won best actor for Anthony Hopkins and adapted screenplay for director Florian Zeller and co-writer Christopher Hampton. “Minari” co-star Youn Yuh-jung won for supporting actress. “Promising Young Woman” won for Emerald Fennell’s original screenplay. “Judas and the Black Messiah” star Daniel Kaluuya won for supporting actor, and the film took the original song category for “Fight for You,” written by H.E.R., Dernst Emile II and Tiara Thomas.

Other past Sundance festival films to get the Best Picture honor are:

• “Moonstruck,” 1988 festival, won three Oscars: actress for Cher, supporting actress for Olympia Dukakis and original screenplay for John Patrick Stanley.

• “Four Weddings and a Funeral,” 1994 festival.

• “In the Bedroom,” 2001 festival.

• “Little Miss Sunshine,” 2006 festival, won two Oscars: supporting actor for Alan Arkin and original screenplay for Michael Arndt.

• “An Education” and “Precious,” 2009 festival. “Precious” won two Oscars: to Mo’Nique for supporting actress and Geoffrey Fletcher for adapted screenplay.

• “The Kids are All Right” and “Winter’s Bone,” 2010 festival.

• “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” 2012 festival.

• “Boyhood” and “Whiplash,” 2014 festival. “Whiplash” won three Oscars: supporting actor for J.K. Simmons, film editing and sound mixing, while Patricia Arquette won a supporting-actress Oscar for her role in “Boyhood.”

• “Brooklyn,” 2015 festival.

• “Manchester by the Sea,” 2016 festival, won two Oscars: actor for Casey Affleck and original screenplay for Kenneth Lonergan.

• “Call Me By Your Name” and “Get Out,” 2017 festival. “Call Me By Your Name” won for James Ivory’s adapted screenplay and “Get Out” won for Jordan Peele’s original screenplay.

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