Stories of mothers, poetry and war are winners at 2023 Sundance Film Festival’s awards ceremony

Screams, cheers and whistles echoed at The Ray Theatre in Park City.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) A.V. Rockwell, director of the film "A Thousand and One," winner of the Grand Jury Prize in the U.S. Dramatic competition of the 2023 Sundance Film Festival, at the Awards Ceremony in Park City, on Friday, Jan. 27, 2023.

Park City • Stories about mothers and children, grief and war, and a legendary poet were among the award-winning movies at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival.

Jurors and festival programmers presented awards in a no-frills ceremony Friday at The Ray Theatre in Park City. Winners will be screened in Park City venues over the weekend, as the first in-person Sundance in three years winds down.

“A Thousand and One,” a drama about a mother busting her son out of foster care, won the Grand Jury Prize in the U.S. Dramatic competition. Writer-director A.V. Rockwell thanked everyone who inspired her or helped her get her movie made.

Playwright Jeremy O. Harris, a member of the U.S. Dramatic jury, said of the film, ”never have I seen a life so similar to my own rendered with such nuance and tenderness. I walked out of the theatre and wept in front of people I barely know because this film reached into my gut and pulled from it every emotion I’ve learned to mask in these spaces.”

The Grand Jury Prize for U.S. Documentary went to “Going to Mars: The Nikki Giovanni Project,” directed by husband-and-wife filmmakers Joe Brewster and Michèle Stephenson, that profiles the acclaimed poet.

Stephenson thanked Giovanni for taking part in the film. “This has been a gift to us, to spend time in her aura, to share a piece of her brain,” Stephenson said.

One of the multiple award winners was writer-director Maryam Keshavarz’s “The Persian Version,” a funny and heartfelt story of three generations of Iranian-American women. It won the Audience Award in the U.S. Dramatic competition, and the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award.

“For a kid who went to public school, this is f---ing unbelievable,” Keshavarz said when picking up the screenwriting award. She also thanked her mother, “her co-writer,” who “wrote a whole new life for herself” when the family moved to America.

The Audience Award for U.S. Documentary went to “Beyond Utopia,” director Madeleine Gavin’s film that follows the grueling journey of people escaping North Korea.

Gavin thanked the Korean subjects of the film who trusted her. There are 25 million North Koreans, she said, and “I hope this movie gets their voices out.”

The Festival Favorite, an audience award, went to director Christopher Zalla’s “Radical,” starring Eugenio Derbez as a teacher at an underfunded school in a Mexican border town.

Festival programming director Kim Yutani asked winners to keep their acceptance speeches short, because “we have some jury members that have to get to the airport.” Specifically, she was referring to “CODA” star Marlee Matlin, a member of the U.S. Dramatic jury. The ceremony was finished in a brisk 90 minutes.

The exuberance of the winners was pronounced. More than once, winners getting photographed by the media outside the theater gave a shout that could be heard inside the auditorium.

Sundance Institute CEO Joana Vicente, in her opening remarks, gave “huge congratulations to all the extraordinary artists who are taking risks telling stories without compromise and creating work that entertains and sparks conversations.”

The awards ceremony was an emotional send-off to a festival that finally returned to in-person activities after three years. It celebrated the art, community and the joy of film.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Mstyslav Chernov, the director of "20 Days in Mariupol," hugs Michelle Meisner after his film won won the audience prize for world cinema documentary at the Sundance Film Festival awards ceremony in Park City, on Friday, Jan. 27, 2023.

Here are the award winners:

U.S. Dramatic competition

Grand Jury Prize • “A Thousand and One,” written and directed by A.V. Rockwell.

This award was presented by Jeremy O. Harris and Marlee Matlin.

Audience Award • “The Persian Version,” written and directed by Maryam Keshavarz.

Directing Award • Sing J. Lee for “The Accidental Getaway Driver.”

Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award • Maryam Keshavarz for “The Persian Version.”

Special Jury Prizes • Ensemble: “Theater Camp” ; Creative Vision: “Magazine Dreams” ; Acting: Lío Mehiel in “Mutt”

U.S. Documentary competition

Grand Jury Prize • “Going to Mars: The Nikki Giovanni Project,” directed by Joe Brewster and Michèle Stephenson.

Carla Gutierrez said of the film, “This film focuses on a singular, unapologetic voice, and through her story it captures the experience of the collective. The strong directorial vision illuminates the joy and the raw reality of the Black experience. Also it is f---ing funny.”

Audience Award • “Beyond Utopia,” directed by Madeleine Gavin.

Directing Award • Luke Lorentzen for “A Still Small Voice.”

Jonathan Oppenheim Editing Award • Editor Daniela I. Quiroz for “Going Varsity in Mariachi.”

Special Jury Prizes • Clarity of Vision: “The Stroll”; Freedom of Expression: “Bad Press.”

World Cinema Dramatic competition

Grand Jury Prize • “Scrapper” (United Kingdom), written and directed by Charlotte Regan.

The jury citation for this award read, “A charming and empathetic film full of integrity and life. Scrapper is a poignant study on grief and how the protagonist attempts to shrink her world ... The jury was drawn by the honest and sincere performances, strong direction, playful cinematography, and impressive script.”

Audience Award • “Shayda” (Australia), written and directed by Noora Niasari.

Directing Award • Marija Kavtaradze, director of “Slow” (Lithuania/Spain/Sweden).

Special Jury Prizes • Creative Vision: “Animalia” (France/Morocco/Qatar); Cinematography: Lílis Soares for “Mami Wata” (Nigeria); Acting: Rosa Marchant, “When It Melts” (Belgium/Netherlands).

World Cinema Documentary competition

Grand Jury Prize • “The Eternal Memory” (Chile), directed by Maite Alberdi.

In their citation for this award, the jury said, “This film opened our hearts by bringing us closer to the meaning of life and death, and the element that threads sense into all of it - love. Through a simple yet complex portrayal of a confinement, it brings us to the lives of these fascinating characters who make us wiser and more loving the longer we stay with them.”

Audience Award • “20 Days in Mariupol” (Ukraine), directed by Mstyslav Chernov.

Directing Award • Anna Hints, for “Smoke Sauna Sisterhood” (Estonia/France/Iceland).

Special Jury Prizes • Creative vision: “Fantastic Machine” (Sweden/Denmark) ; Vérité Filmmaking: “Against The Tide” (India).

Festival Favorite

Winner • “Radical,” directed by Christopher Zalla.


Next Innovator Award • “Kokomo City,” directed by D. Smith.

Audience Award • “Kokomo City,” directed by D. Smith.

Alfred P. Sloan Feature Film Prize

Given to a movie that depicts science and technology. The winner, announced before the festival, is “The Pod Generation,” directed by Sophie Barthes.

Short Film Program

Grand Jury Prize • “When You Left Me On That Boulevard.”

The jury citation for this film said, “From the first moment, we were fully on board for this rowdy ride. An uproarious take on extended family, irreverence and tradition with incredible attunement to details and frame.”

Jury Prize, Nonfiction • “Will You Look At Me.”

Jury Prize, International Fiction “The Kidnapping of the Bride.”

Jury Prize, U.S. Fiction • “Rest Stop.”

Jury Prize, Animation • “The Flying Sailor” (Canada).

Special Jury Prizes • Directing (International): Valeria Hofmann, “ALiEN0089″; Directing (U.S.): Jarreau Carrillo, “The Vacation.”

Slamdance Film Festival

AGBO Fellowship • Tij D’Oyen, director of “Lollygag.”

Narrative Feature • Grand Jury Prize: “Waiting for the Light to Change,” directed by Linh Tran; Honorable Mention and Audience Award: “Where the Road Leads” (Serbia), directed by Nina Ognjanović.

Documentary Feature • Grand Jury Prize and Audience Award: “Starring Jerry as Himself,” directed by Law Chen; Honorable Mention: “Silent Love” (Poland), directed by Marek Kozakiewicz.

Unstoppable • Grand Jury Prize: “Millstone,” directed by Peter Hoffman Kimball; Honorable Mention: “My Eyes Are Up Here” (U.K.), directed by Nathan Morris; Audience Award: “American Pot Story: Oaksterdam,” directed by Dan Katzir & Ravit Markus.

Breakouts Feature • Grand Jury Prize: “The Underbug” (India), directed by Shujaat Saudagar; Honorable Mention: “Onlookers” (USA, Laos), directed by Kimi Takesue; Audience Award:

Episodes • Grand Jury Prize: “Palookaville,” directed by Theodore Collatos; Honorable Mention: “Off Fairfax,” directed by Erica Eng; Audience Award: “Honeycomb,” directed by Sam Roden.

Narrative Shorts • Grand Jury Prize: “The Sidewalk Artist,” directed by David Velez and Brandon Rivera; Honorable Mention: “Gwendoline” (France) directed by Joaquim Bayle.

Documentary Short • Grand Jury Prize: “The Unicorn in Snowpants Suddenly Ran Off” (Germany), directed by Philipp Schaeffer; Honorable Mention: “Moomin” (USA, Israel), directed by Zach Dorn.

Experimental Short • Grand Jury Prize: “Red Threads” (USA/China), directed by Yuchi Mal Honorable Mention: “Grillz & Mirrors,” directed by Michael U. Olowu.

Animated Shorts • Grand Jury Prize: “Hot Dogs!,” directed by Frank Volk; Honorable Mention: “Sliver Cave” (China), directed by Caibei Cai.

The George Starks Spirit of Slamdance Award • Aaron David Harris, director of the Digital, Interactive and Gaming (DIG) project “H-Squad: The Interactive Experience.”

Outstanding Acting Award • Jerry Hsu, “Starring Jerry as Himself.”