Ryan Coogler, Nikyatu Jusu and W. Kamau Bell accept the Sundance Awards

Luca Guadagnino, W. Kamau Bell, Dakota Johnson and Lena Waithe also helped welcome back the in-person event.

“I’ve been getting so many no’s for so long, I thought no was my middle name,” Nikyatu Jusu, the director of last year’s US Dramatic Jury Prize winner “Nanny,” said to a crowd as he received an Honorary Vanguard Award from the Sundance Film Festival. “Sundance is why the industry could no longer ignore me.”

Jusu was one of four Sundance graduates honored Thursday night at a fundraiser and awards gala titled “Opening Night: A Taste of Sundance.” And for each of them, Sundance provided a launch pad to the point where Hollywood needed to know their name. But it was also a time to celebrate Sundance being back in person for the first time since 2020. The festival marked the occasion by highlighting people who have stayed true to Sundance and everything it stands for, even as their careers have taken them to new heights.

Jusu, in particular, said she fell into a “deep depression” when she learned Sundance 2022 would be virtual, but she described the people in the room Thursday night as the survivors of the pandemic who are now “struggling” to get around to make the world a better place for everyone.

Among Thursday’s other honorees were Luca Guadagnino, who won the Sundance Institute International Icon Award, W. Kamau Bell, who won the Vanguard Award for Nonfiction, and Ryan Coogler, who won the Variety Visionary Award. And Thursday’s event from the Basin Recreation Fieldhouse in Park City had several hundred festival-goers, donors, industry experts and talent, all eager to open Sundance 2023 and see what a return to an in-person setting has in store. They were also treated to a short acoustic performance by the Indigo Girls and a plated meal.

Jusu was introduced by Sorry to Bother You filmmaker Boots Riley, who pulled his introductory speech in true style from a massive red hat. Lena Waithe introduced Coogler and described him as a “silent king” who “refuses to speak the king’s English”. Bell was introduced by Roger Ross Williams, who has the film Cassandro at the festival this year. And Guadagnino was introduced by Dakota Johnson, who had the joke of the night when she said she originally tried her hand at playing Peach on Call Me By Your Name. But had she gotten the part, she would have been “another woman that Armie Hammer would have tried to eat.”

Each of the honorees spoke about what Sundance has meant to them and their careers. For Coogler, who broke through with Fruitvale Station almost exactly a decade ago, he recalled being in the Sundance Institute lab with filmmakers like David Lowery, Chloe Zhao and Marielle Heller and awed by the ambition around him was.

“I remember sitting there and listening to these filmmakers talk about their passion for their first feature film and watching their short film I had this weird feeling that if these people would ever get the chance to realize their vision. And boy was I right,” Coogler said. “Whenever these filmmakers win, I feel like I’ve won. It’s an incredible gift for an ex-soccer player trying to navigate the medium. Having a team around me.”

Bell initially introduced himself not as Questlove, as he said a white attendee had confused him, but as “crazy”. Not one of those “cool Donald Glover” guys, but the guy who “is like putting sushi on the grill.” It’s good, but you don’t want to eat it with ribs. His first documentary from last year, We Need to Talk About Cosby, was a constant reminder that this film was his own idea, and if anything went wrong, “I have only myself to blame.” But Sundance blamed him the confidence to realize that he was not just a niche comedian, but a “filmmaker/niche comedian” and that if he could do it, others could too.

“Our madness is our superpower,” Bell said.

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https://www.indiewire.com/2023/01/sundance-awards-ryan-coogler-nikyatu-jusu-w-kamau-bell-1234801941/ Ryan Coogler, Nikyatu Jusu and W. Kamau Bell accept the Sundance Awards

Lindsay Lowe

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