The 2023 Sundance Film Festival (Jan. 19–29) marked a triumphant return of the first in-person event since the pandemic hit in March 2020, which pivoted Sundance (and almost every other film festival) online. This year’s festival saw a vigorous representation of Black stories beautifully rendered by Black filmmakers, and some took home the festival’s top prizes. 

A.V. Rockwell’s mesmerizing directorial and screenwriting debut, “A Thousand and One,” won the Grand Jury Prize in the U.S. Dramatic Feature Competition, and deservingly so. Rockwell tells a profoundly American story of a mother and son living for each other in a gentrifying city, often uninterested in the reality of their lives. With a career-defining performance from Teyana Taylor as a mother fiercely committed to making a future for her child, “A Thousand and One” is an elegant ode to the power of family as an anchor in an ever-changing world. 

“Going to Mars: The Nikki Giovanni Project,” directed by Joe Brewster and Michèle Stephenson, was awarded the Grand Jury Prize in the U.S. Documentary Feature Competition. “Going to Mars” is an intimate vérité, visually innovative treatment of poetry, enhanced by archival footage, that take us on a journey through the dreamscape of legendary poet Giovanni as she reflects on her life and legacy. 

Winning the Special Jury Award, Verite, World Cinema Documentary Competition was “Against the Tide” by filmmaker Sarvnik Kaur. Continuing the winning streak for the third consecutive year of Documentary films from India at Sundance (“All That Breathes” and “Writing with Fire”), Kaur weaves an acutely humanistic and intimate approach in her profile of two indigenous fishermen, Rakesh and Ganesh, who are at a crossroads in both their friendship and profession. Immersing the viewer in their experiences, where neither man is hero or villain in the choices they make to survive in an imperiled world, she presents a microcosmic, sea-level view of the fragility of humanity’s relationship with the changing environment.

Other stand-out films by artists of color at Sundance this year were:

“Little Richard: I am Everything,” a documentary feature directed by Academy Award-nominee Lisa Cortes, explodes the whitewashed canon of American pop music and shines a clarifying light on the Black, queer origins of rock & roll, and establishes the genre’s big bang: Richard Wayne Penniman. The film is an essential and long overdue re-examination of a rock & roll icon, his queerness and his impact on the music industry as a whole, and what it means to have a legacy.

Academy Award-winner Roger Ross Williams’s feature-directing debut biopic “Cassandro,” starring Gael García Bernal in the title role, tells the real-life story of the gay Latino wrestler Cassandro, the “Liberace of lucha libre.” Ross crafts an engaging and compelling origin story of an outsider turned unlikely superstar.

Spinning outside the intense screening schedule were landmark events and panels hosted by MACRO Lodge, founded by producer Charles D. King. MACRO’s panels included the cast of “Harlem” and a sneak preview of the new season; a conversation with the cast and creatives of “Young. Wild. Free,” including Sanaa Lathan; and of course, their signature star-studded after-parties.

Across the board, Sundance scored well this year in presenting BIPOC, LGBTQ+ and inclusive stories, especially since, after a two-year gap, the industry had all eyes and ears on this pivotal film festival that predominantly defines and shapes the entertainment industry’s awards season later in the calendar year.

Here is the full list of winners of the 2023 Sundance Film Festival:

Festival Favorite Award

Director: Christopher Zalla

U.S. Dramatic Competition

Grand Jury Prize

“A Thousand and One”
Director: A.V. Rockwell

Audience Award

“The Persian Version”
Director: Maryam Keshavarz

Directing Award

Sing J. Lee
“The Accidental Getaway Driver”

Jury Award: Creative Vision

“Magazine Dreams”
Director: Elijah Bynum

Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award

Maryam Keshavarz
“The Persian Version”

Special Jury Award: Acting

Lio Mehiel

Jury Award: Ensemble 

“Theater Camp”
Directors: Molly Gordon, Nick Lieberman

U.S. Documentary Competition

Grand Jury Prize

“Going to Mars: The Nikki Giovanni Project”
Directors: Joe Brewster, Michèle Stephenson

Audience Award

“Beyond Utopia”
Director: Madeleine Gavin

Directing Award

Luke Lorentzen
“A Still Small Voice”

Special Jury Award: Clarity of Vision

“The Stroll”
Directors: Kristen Lovell, Zackary Drucker

Special Jury Award: Freedom of Expression

“Bad Press”
Directors: Rebecca Landsberry-Baker, Joe Peeler

Jonathan Oppenheim Editing Award

Daniela I. Quiroz
“Going Varsity in Mariachi”

World Cinema Documentary Competition

Audience Award

“20 Days in Mariupol” (Ukraine)
Director: Mstylav Chernov

Grand Jury Prize

“The Eternal Memory” (Chile)
Director: Maite Alberdi

Directing Award

“Smoke Sauna Sisterhood” (Estonia/France/Iceland)
Director: Anna Hints

Special Jury Award: Verite Filmmaking

“Against the Tide” (India)
Director: Sarvnik Kaur

Special Jury Award: Creative Vision

“Fantastic Machine” (Sweden/Denmark)
Director: Axel Danielson

World Cinema Dramatic Competition

Audience Award

“Shayda” (Australia)
Director: Noora Niasari

Grand Jury Prize

“Scrapper” (UK)
Director: Charlotte Regan 

Directing Award

Marija Kavtaradze
“Slow” (Lithuania/Spain/Sweden)

Special Jury Award: Creative Vision

“Animalia” (France/Morocco/Qatar)
Director: Sofia Alaoui

Special Jury Award: Best Performance

Rosa Marchant
“When It Melts” (Belgium/Netherlands)

Special Jury Award: Cinematography

Lílis Soares
“Mami Wata” (Nigeria)


Audience Award

“Kokomo City” 
Director: D. Smith

Innovator Award

“Kokomo City”
Director: D. Smith

Short Films Awards

Grand Jury Prize

“When You Left Me on That Boulevard” (U.S.A.)
Director: Kayla Abuda Galang

Jury Award: U.S. Fiction

“Rest Stop”
Director: Crystal Kayiza

Jury Award: Directing, International

Valeria Hofmann
“AliEN0089” (Chile)

Jury Award: Directing, U.S.

Jarreau Carrillo
“The Vacation”

Jury Award: Animation

“The Flying Sailor”
Directors: Wendy Tilby, Amanda Forbis (Canada)

Jury Award: Nonfiction

“Will You Look at Me” (China)
Director: Shuli Huang

Jury Award: International Fiction

“The Kidnapping of the Bride” (Germany)
Director: Sophia Mocorrea

Previously Announced Winners

Alfred P. Sloan Feature Film Prize

“The Pod Generation”
Director: Sophie Barthes

Amazon Studios Nonfiction Award 

Jess Devaney
“It’s Only Life After All”

Amazon Studios Fiction Award

Kara Durrett
“The Starling Girl”

Sundance Institute | Adobe Mentorship Award for Editing Nonfiction

Mary Manhardt

Sundance Institute | Adobe Mentorship Award for Editing Fiction

Troy Takaki

Sundance/NHK Award 

Olive Nwosu

Sundance Institute | Stars Collective Imagination Awards 

Tamara Shogaolu 
“40 Acres”

Navid Khonsari, Vassiliki Khonsari and Andres Perez-Duarte 
“Block Party Bodega”

Vanessa Keith 
“Year 2180”

Gayle Stevens Volunteer Award

Carlos Sanchez

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