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Sundance 2023: African and Middle Eastern Filmmakers Win Big

African and Middle Eastern filmmakers dominate Sundance Film Festival’s Jury and Audience Awards.

Cairo Scene

The Sundance Film Festival has revealed its Jury and Audience Award winners for 2023, and it was a big day for African, Middle Eastern and West Asian filmmakers, especially those who are women directors. Iranian-American director Maryam Keshavarz’s The Persian Version took home the Audience Award and Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award in U.S. Dramatic Competition. The Persian Version is about three generations of Iranian women over the course of decades, and is centred around Leila (Layla Mohammadi), who gets kicked out of the family during a Thanksgiving gathering because of her sexuality. We then get transported to the story of her mother growing up in the 1960s and then raising her daughter in the 80s.

This is one of three films at Sundance this year to be directed by Iranian women, the others being Joonam and Shayda. Noora Niasari’s Shayda took home the Audience Award in the World Cinema Dramatic Competition. The film tells the story of an Iranian woman taking refuge in a women’s shelter in Australia. She’s accompanied by her terrified six year old daughter, having both fled from the abusive father. When the father gets visitation rights to see his daughter, Shayda grows fearful that he might take her back to Iran. Meanwhile, Sofia Alaoui from Morocco took home the Special Jury Award for Creative Vision for her work on Animalia. The hypnotic science-fiction film was my personal favourite film at the festival. You can read my full review of this masterpiece here.

Finally, the Special Jury Award for Cinematography went to Lílis Soares for Mami Wata, which competed in the World Cinema dramatic Competition. The West African folktale features striking black-and white cinematography, and is the first homegrown Nigerian film to debut at the festival. The C.J. Obasi film is set in the oceanside village of Iyi, and tells the story of two sisters trying to bring stability to their village and restore the honour of a mermaid goddess who goes by the name of Mami Wata or ‘Mother Water’. The film is a marvel to look at, and almost every frame could be hung on a museum wall. It was supported by the Red Sea Fund, an initiative of the Red Sea International Film Festival in Egypt.

Find the full list of Sundance winners below:

GRAND JURY PRIZES

U.S. Grand Jury Prize: Dramatic – ‘A Thousand and One’ (dir. A.V. Rockwell)

U.S. Grand Jury Prize: Documentary – ‘Going to Mars: The Nikki Giovanni Project’ (dir. Joe Brewster and Michèle Stephenson)

World Cinema Grand Jury Prize: Dramatic – ‘Scrapper’ (dir. Charlotte Regan)

World Cinema Grand Jury Prize: Documentary – ‘The Eternal Memory’ (dir. Maite Alberdi)

AUDIENCE AWARDS

Audience Award: U.S. Documentary – ‘Beyond Utopia’ (dir. Madeleine Gavin)

Audience Award: U.S. Dramatic – ‘The Persian Version’ (dir. Maryam Keshavarz)

Audience Award: World Cinema Dramatic – ‘Shayda’ (dir. Noora Niasari)

Audience Award: World Cinema Documentary – ‘20 Days in Mariupol’ (dir. Mstyslav Chernov)

Audience Award: NEXT – ‘Kokomo City’ (dir. D. Smith)

FESTIVAL FAVORITE AWARD

‘Radical’ (dir. Christopher Zalla)

JURY AWARDS FOR DIRECTING, SCREENWRITING & EDITING

Directing Award: U.S. Documentary – Luke Lorentzen, ‘A Still Small Voice’

Directing Award: U.S. Dramatic – Sing J. Lee, ‘The Accidental Getaway Driver’

Directing Award: World Cinema Documentary – Anna Hints, ‘Smoke Sauna Sisterhood’

Directing Award: World Cinema Dramatic – Marija Kavtaradze, ‘Slow’

Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award: U.S. Dramatic – Maryam Keshavarz, ‘The Persian Version’

Jonathan Oppenheim Editing Award: U.S. Documentary – Daniela I. Quiroz, ‘Going Varsity in Mariachi’

SHORT FILM AWARDS

Short Film Grand Jury Prize – ‘When You Left Me on That Boulevard’ (dir. Kayla Abuda Galang)

Short Film Jury Award: U.S. Fiction – ‘Rest Stop’ (dir. Crystal Kayiza)

Short Film Jury Award: International Fiction – ‘The Kidnapping of the Bride’ (dir. Sophia Mocorrea)

Short Film Jury Award: Nonfiction – ‘Will You Look at Me’ (dir. Shuli Huang)

Short Film Jury Award: Animation – ‘The Flying Sailor’ (dir. Wendy Tilby and Amanda Forbis)

SPECIAL JURY AWARDS

World Cinema Documentary Special Jury Award for Creative Vision – ‘Fantastic Machine’ (dir. Axel Danielson and Maximilien Van Aertryck)

World Cinema Documentary Special Jury Award for Verite Filmmaking – ‘Against the Tide’ (dir. Sarvnik Kaur)

World Cinema Dramatic Special Jury Award for Creative Vision – ‘Animalia’ (dir. Sofia Alaoui)

World Cinema Dramatic Special Jury Award for Cinematography – Lílis Soares, ‘Mami Wata’

World Cinema Dramatic Special Jury Award for Best Performance – Rosa Marchant, ‘When It Melts’

Short Film Special Jury Award, International: Directing – ‘AliEN0089’ (dir. Valeria Hofmann)

Short Film Special Jury Award, U.S: Directing – ‘The Vacation’ (dir. Jarreau Carrillo)

U.S. Documentary Special Jury Award for Clarity of Vision – ‘The Stroll’ (dir. Kristen Lovell & Zackary Drucker)

U.S. Documentary Special Jury Award for Freedom of Expression – ‘Bad Press’ (dir. Rebecca Landsberry-Baker & Joe Peeler)

U.S. Dramatic Special Jury Award: Ensemble – Cast of ‘Theater Camp’

U.S. Dramatic Special Jury Award: Creative Vision – Creative Team of ‘Magazine Dreams’

U.S. Dramatic Special Jury Award: Acting – Lio Mehiel, ‘Mutt’

NEXT Innovator Award presented by Adobe

‘Kokomo City’ (dir. D. Smith)