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Park City • At a time when Hollywood is under fire for its lack of diversity, the top winner at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival was an epic drama about an African-American slave leading a rebellion in the antebellum South.
"The Birth of a Nation," writer-director-star Nate Parker's grand historic drama, won both the Grand Jury Prize and the Audience Award for U.S. Dramatic films at the festival's closing-night award ceremony Saturday.
The movie, which Parker labored seven years to make, tells the story of Nat Turner, the slave-turned-preacher who led a slave rebellion in Virginia in 1831 in which 60 whites were killed.
"A film like this, being a film that some have called an issue film, it succeeds when it touches people, when it affects people," Parker said. "I've seen first-hand that people are open to the idea of change, and the fact that it's happening to this film means everything to me."
"The Birth of a Nation," whose title Parker deliberately reclaimed from D.W. Griffith's classic and infamously racist 1915 silent epic, took another prize early in the week: A distribution deal with Fox Searchlight Pictures, reportedly for $17.5 million, a Sundance record.
Director Rokhsareh Ghaem Maghami said "the award was when I started working with Sonita. Every day she was awarding me with her energy, and the emotion that I had, and for being, somehow, my daughter the daughter I never had."
In the U.S. Documentary competition, the Grand Jury Prize went to "Weiner," a riveting in-the-moment look at Anthony Weiner's 2013 campaign for New York mayor a campaign derailed by a recurrence of the sexting scandal that forced his resignation from Congress in 2011.
Josh Kriegman, a former chief-of-staff for Weiner who directed the movie with Elyse Steinberg, thanked the other documentary filmmakers at Sundance. "We are so lucky to be part of this community," he said.
The Audience Award for U.S. Documentary went to "Jim: The James Foley Story," director Brian Oakes' intimate portrait of his childhood friend, the conflict journalist who was kidnapped in Syria and beheaded on video by the so-called Islamic State.
"When [Jim] walked into a room, the party started, so the Audience Award is pretty appropriate," Oakes said.
In the World Cinema Dramatic, the Grand Jury Prize went to the Israeli drama "Sand Storm," about a Bedouin mother and daughter in a story of tradition crashing against a changing world.
Director Elite Zexer was giddy with her prize. "It's been a week of talking and talking and talking. And now that I have to say something, I'm speechless," she said.
The Audience Award in the World Cinema Dramatic competition was the Colombian drama "Between Sea and Land," about a man whose disease keeps him from visiting the ocean across the street from his house. The movie also won a special jury prize for actors Manolo Cruz (who also wrote the screenplay, and co-directed with Carlos del Castillo) as the man, and Vicky Hernandéz for portraying his mother.
The Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award went to Chad Hartigan, for writing the fish-out-of-water comedy "Morris From America." The movie, about a 13-year-old black kid from the Bronx (played by Markees Christmas), dealing with adolescence in Germany.
Hartigan joked as he accepted the award: "I'd like to thank the producers … Wait a minute, this is for writing. I did that myself."
"Morris From America" also won a special jury prize for Craig Robinson ("The Office," "Hot Tub Time Machine"), for his role as the boy's father. Another special jury prize for individual performance went to Melanie Lynskey, for playing a tightly wound woman meddling in another couple's marriage in the comedy "The Intervention."
The Directing Award for U.S. Dramatic films went to Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert for the festival's biggest love-it-or-hate-it film, "Swiss Army Man." Dismissed by some as "the farting corpse movie," the film starred Paul Dano as a man on a deserted island who discovers a dead body (played by Daniel Radcliffe), who becomes a handy tool and best friend.
"Yes, we are the movie that had a farting dead corpse, and we still won this award," Kwan said, thanking Sundance for supporting their vision when others didn't. Kwan also had advice for other filmmakers: "Don't ever let anyone tell you what stories you want to tell."
The Directing Award for U.S. Documentary went to Roger Ross Williams for "Life, Animated," a luminous look at a young man with autism and how Disney cartoons helped his family communicate with him.
Williams, who is black, said, "In the age of #OscarsSoWhite and lack of diversity, I want to thank the [Sundance] Institute for supporting artists like me."
The festival concludes Sunday, with the award winners getting one last hurrah at screenings in Park City. More screenings also are set for venues in Salt Lake City.
Here is the full list of winners at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival:
Grand Jury Prize
U.S. Dramatic • "The Birth of a Nation," directed by Nate Parker
U.S. Documentary • "Weiner," directed by Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg
World Cinema Dramatic • "Sand Storm," directed by Elite Zexer (Israel)
U.S. Dramatic • "The Birth of a Nation," directed by Nate Parker.
U.S. Documentary • "Jim: The James Foley Story," directed by Brian Oakes.
World Cinema Dramatic • "Between Sea and Land," directed by Carlos del Castillo and Manolo Cruz (Colombia)
NEXT • "First Girl I Loved," directed by Kerem Sanga.
U.S. Dramatic • Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, "Swiss Army Man"
U.S. Documentary • Roger Ross Williams, "Life, Animated"
World Cinema Dramatic • Felix van Groeningen, "Belgica" (Belgium)
World Cinema Documentary • Michal Marczak, "All These Sleepless Nights" (Poland).
Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award
U.S. Dramatic • Chad Hartigan, "Morris From America"
Special Jury Prizes
U.S. Dramatic • "As You Are," directed by Miles Joris-Peyrafitte
U.S. Dramatic: Breakthrough Performance • Joe Seo, "Spa Night"
U.S. Dramatic: Individual Performance: • Craig Robinson, "Morris From America"; and Melanie Lynskey, "The Intervention"
U.S. Documentary: Editing • Penny Lane, Thom Stylinski, "NUTS!"
U.S. Documentary: Social Impact Filmmaking • "Trapped," directed by Dawn Porter
U.S. Documentary: Writing • Robert Greene, "Kate Plays Christine"
U.S. Documentary: Verite Filmmaking • "The Bad Kids," directed by Keith Fulton and Lou Pepe
World Cinema Dramatic: Acting • Vicky Hernandez and Manolo Cruz, "Between Sea and Land" (Colombia)
World Cinema Dramatic: Screenwriting • Ana Katz and Inés Bortagaray, "Mi Amiga Del Parque" (Argentina/Uruguay)
World Cinema Dramatic: Unique Vision and Design • "The Lure" (Poland), directed by
World Cinema Documentary: Best Debut Feature • "When Two Worlds Collide," directed by Heidi Brandenburg and Mathew Orzel (Peru).
World Cinema Documentary: Cinematography • Pieter-Jan De Pue, "The Land of the Enlightened" (Belgium).
World Cinema Documentary: Editing • Mako Kamitsuna, John Maringouin, "We Are X" (U.K./U.S./Japan).
Alfred P. Sloan Prize • "Embrace of the Serpent" (Colombia)
Short Film Grand Jury Prize • "Thunder Road," directed by Jim Cummings.
Short Film Jury Award: U.S. Fiction • "The Procedure," by Calvin Lee Reeder.
Short Film Jury Award: International Fiction • "Maman(s)," by Maïmouna Doucouré (France).
Short Film Jury Award: Non-fiction • "Bacon & God's Wrath," by Sol Friedman (Canada).
Short Film Jury Award: Animation • "Edmond," by Nina Gantz (U.K.)
Short Film Special Jury Award for Outstanding Performance • Grace Glowicki, "Her Friend Adam."
Short Film Special Jury Award for Best Direction • Andrej Hudecek, "Peacock" (Czech Republic).
Global Filmmaking Awards • Armando Capo, "August" (Cuba); Geetu Mohandas, "Insha' allah" (India); Antonio Piazza and Fabio Grassiandona, "Sicilian Ghost Story" (Italy); Abdullah Taia, "The Treasure" (Morocco).
NHK Filmmakers Award • Atsuko Hirayanagi (Japan), "Oh Lucy!"