Living in the Past: A Look Back at the Last Decade of the Sundance Film Festival


Nate von Zumwalt

Fall foliage, crisp wintry air, Thanksgiving turkey—autumn hardly begets a period of intense film contemplation. Nevertheless, we’re roughly two months out from the 2013 Sundance Film Festival, and there’s a feverish, borderline manic temperament that pervades the Sundance Institute offices. Staffers have shed the fleeting tranquilities of summer and are standing face-to-face with next year’s Festival—except, “next year” is deviously misleading. As our programmers withdraw to the dark recesses of screening rooms and staff inboxes inundate with inquiries and requests, we ready for another Festival—the 29th of its kind. In advance of the 2013 film program announcement scheduled for later this month, we glance back at the past decade of greatest hits from the Sundance Film Festival.


The Station Agent, Thomas McCarthy (Audience Award, Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award)

“The Station Agent seems to have been written especially for Peter Dinklage, Patricia Clarkson, and Bobby Cannavale. They are near perfection as the principal cast, squaring off in opposite corners and each fighting, in his or her own way, the urge to connect.” -Festival Director John Cooper

Capturing the Friedmans, Andrew Jarecki (Grand Jury Prize, Documentary)


Primer, Shane Carruth (Alfred P. Sloan Feature Film Prize, Grand Jury Prize)

Super Size Me, Morgan Spurlock (Directing Award)

“Spurlock’s grueling drive-through diet spirals him into a physical and emotional metamorphosis that is downright harrowing and will make you think twice about picking up another Big Mac.” –Senior Programmer David Courier


Murderball, Henry Alex Rubin and Dana Adam Shapiro (Special Jury Prize for Editing and Audience Award)

“It’s a film about relearning everything you’ve ever known–from brushing your teeth to driving a car to having sex. It’s a film about standing up, even after your spirit–and your spine-have been crushed.” –Director of Programming Trevor Groth

Hustle & Flow, Craig Brewer (Audience Award)


Iraq in Fragments, James Longley ( Editing Award, Directing Award, Excellence in Cinematography)

“A stunning, electric collage of hypnotic sights, evocative sounds, and arresting voices, Iraq in Fragments listens to diverse points of view in three Iraqi enclaves.” –Senior Programmer Caroline Libresco

A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints, Dito Montiel (Directing Award)

“Just the way memories can flood consciousness, Montiel uses the same motif to flood the screen with his stories. The past gets layered upon the present, and the film comes to life.” –Festival Director John Cooper


Hear and Now, Irene Taylor Brodsky (Audience award)

“In this deeply personal memoir, filmmaker Irene Taylor Brodsky documents her deaf parents’ complex decision to undergo a risky and controversial medical procedure–the only one that can actually restore a sense.” –Senior Programmer David Courier

Once, John Carney (World Cinema Audience Award)

“Great music aside, what makes this film special is how little effort it seems to exert. If it’s possible to be blindsided by simplicity–a light touch, Once does it.” –Senior Programmer John Nein


Man on Wire, James Marsh (World Cinema Grand Jury)

Frozen River, Courtney Hunt (Grand Jury Prize)

“A wonderfully directed film full of atmosphere, heart, and outstanding performances by Melissa Leo and Misty Upham, Frozen River is ultimately about the strength that resides in family and the way hope in a dire situation can be uncovered by courage and trust.” –Senior Programmer Shari Frilot


The Cove, Louie Psihoyos (Audience Award)

“The largest supplier of dolphins in the world is located in the picturesque town of Taiji, Japan. But the town has a dark, horrifying secret that it doesn’t want the rest of the world to know.” -Director of Programming Trevor Groth

Precious (FKA Push: Based on the novel by Sapphire), Lee Daniels (Grand Jury Prize)

“Don’t be misled—Push is not a film wallowing in the stillness of depression; instead, it vibrates with the kind of energy derived only from anger and hope. The entire cast are amazing; they carry out a firestorm of raw emotion.” –Festival Director John Cooper


Restrepo, Sebastian Junger and Tim Hetherington (Grand Jury Prize)

“Ever wonder what it’s really like to be in the trenches of war? Look no further. Restrepo may be one of the most experiential and visceral war films you’ll ever see.” –Senior Programmer David Courier

Winter’s Bone, Debra Granik (Grand Jury Prize, Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award)


Like Crazy, Drake Doremus (Grand Jury Prize, Special Jury Prize for Acting)

Senna, directed by Asif Kapadia (World Cinema Audience Award)

“Told solely through the use of archival footage, Asif Kapadia’s documentary is a thrill ride worthy of its daring subject. Adrenaline will be pumping as cameras from inside Senna’s car put you smack-dab in the driver’s seat.” -Senior Programmer David Courier


Beasts of the Southern Wild, Benh Zeitlin (Grand Jury Prize)

Beasts of the Southern Wild exists entirely in its own universe: mythological, anthropological, folkloric, and apocalyptic. Benh Zeitlin’s first feature (a Sundance Institute Feature Film Program project) employs a cast of nonactors—reflecting its grassroots production—to fiercely portray the bond between father and daughter in a world where only the strong survive.” –Senior Programmer John Nein

Searching for Sugar Man, Malik Bendjelloul (World Cinema Audience Award)

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