Best of Sundance Film Festival: Winners
By Ayah Bazian

Utah’s main attraction (sorry Zion National Park/Mormon Temple/Great Salt Lake) is drawing to a close, and if you still don’t know what we’re referring to (hint: this article’s title) that means one thing: 2021 award season has officially kicked off. 


Sundance has a host of awards in the short category. There’s the ultimate badge of prestige for short filmmakers, the Grand Jury Prize. Then we have the Jury Award for U.S. Fiction, the Jury Award for International Fiction, The Jury Award for Animation, Non-Fiction, Directing, Acting and Screenwriting. We’ve rounded out some of our favourite Award winners from the past years, and two from this year. Without further ado, here they are:


Special Jury Award for Directing, 2019

It’s always nice when a documentary wins an award for directing. It’s even nicer when said documentary is directed by a woman, and that woman belongs to an indigenous minority. Directed by Alexandra Lazarowich, Fast Horse follows Siksika horseman, Allison Red Crow, as he attempts to form a winning team for the prestigious Calgary Stampede. The sport in question is Indian Relay, born out of the centuries-old Blackfoot tradition of bareback racing. Lazarowich throws you into the heart of the racetrack in a series of dizzying rounds, expertly tracking the riders as they leap from horse to horse at full gallop. Winning comes secondary to preservation. This is clear in the film’s rhythm, which expertly switches between the thunder of hooves and Allison Red Crow’s lyrical wisdom. It’s probably why the film feels refreshingly shorter than its already short 14 minutes – and why Lazarowich snagged her well-deserved win.

Catch the film on Argo.

Grand Jury Prize, 2021

This year’s recipient of Sundance’s top prize is Lizard, a Nigerian film that takes place within the Jesus-bedecked halls of a Lagosian megachurch. When 8-year old Juwon gets kicked out of a Sunday school classroom, she spots a massive lizard skittering into the church’s cool interiors. Unable to resist the urge to follow, the lizard becomes her oblivious leader through the dark underside of church figures, figurines, and followers. There’s a room where women count hordes of cash from offering boxes, flashing sinister smiles as they band up their loot. In another, a pastor seduces a woman from his congregation. Lizard explores the indelible power of curiosity, namely, a child’s curiosity. It taps into that boundary between exhilaration and fear, constantly shifting the line forward until it’s almost too late. I had long-forgotten what it meant to be pulled by an almost uncontrollable urge, to snoop where I am not welcome. In a vivid palette of colour and sound, Lizard reminds you what life felt like when everything, from the immoral to the familiar, was surrounded by an intriguing buzz. 


Grand Jury Prize, 2018

Fauve had its premiere at Sundance in 2018, where it won the Grand Jury Prize. Against the monochrome grey of its landscape, it is the performances of its two young actors, who played brothers, that stands out. The boys engage in that all-too familiar rough and tumble play, which adults often dismiss as innocent. Yet far from adult supervision, the brothers’ displays of bravado go unchecked. When their power game falls prey to the forces of nature, there’s no going back. The final shot gave me goosebumps, and was imprinted into my memory for weeks.

Watch Fauve on Argo.

Special Jury Award for Screenwriting, 2021

This year’s screenplay award went to Les Criminels, an airtight drama about a young couple in Turkey looking for a place to make love. With their homes and dorms out of the question thanks to strict parents and even stricter university staff, they look for a hotel room to do the deed. Yet without a marriage certificate, this proves harder than they thought, resulting in a situation that quickly gets out of hand. Every scene is perfectly placed to add tension, from unwanted calls from the girl’s overbearing mother to a showdown with the hotel receptionist. With a strong script (and, arguably, stronger performances), Les Criminels will have you questioning the social constructs that, more often than not, keep us enslaved. 


Watch The Best of Sundance, through the years, on Argo

Watch The Best of Sundance: Animation 

Watch The Best of Sundance: Women Directors

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