Alejandro G. Iñárritu to Receive Sundance Institute Vanguard Leadership Award

Los Angeles, CA — Sundance Institute today announced it will present its Vanguard Awards to Academy Award winner Alejandro G. Iñárritu and filmmaker Marielle Heller (The Diary of a Teenage Girl) at the fifth Sundance Institute Celebration benefit hosted by Acura in Los Angeles, bringing the creative community together to highlight a great visionary in independent film and an emerging artist with unique talent and creative independence. Iñárritu will be presented with the Vanguard Leadership Award for the originality and independent spirit of his films. Mike Birbiglia will present Heller with the Vanguard Award, presented by Acura.

Iñárritu will be honored for the originality and independent spirit of his films, including Amores Perros (2000), 21 Grams (2003), Babel (2006), Biutiful (2010) and most recently, the four-time Academy Award-winning Birdman (2014). He is the first Mexican director to be nominated for and win the Academy Award for Best Director and by the Directors Guild of America for Best Director. He is also the first Mexican-born director to have won the Prix de la mise en scene or best director award at Cannes (2006). Amores Perros is featured in the Sundance Collection at UCLA, an independent film preservation program established in 1997. He has produced three films that appeared at the Sundance Film Festival: Nine Lives (2005), Mother & Child (2010) and Rudo y Cursi (2009). Iñárritu will be the fourth recipient of the Vanguard Leadership Award, joining philanthropist and former Institute Trustee George Gund, journalist and film critic Roger Ebert and actress and arts advocate Glenn Close.

Keri Putnam, Executive Director of Sundance Institute, said, “Alejandro G. Iñárritu is one of the most original and imaginative filmmakers working today, and his boldness and humanity inspire independent storytellers everywhere. As producer of three films that screened at the Sundance Film Festival, we are proud to count him among the many outstanding independent artists in our community.”

Marielle Heller’s first feature film, The Diary of a Teenage Girl, stars Alexander Skarsgård, Kristen Wiig and Bel Powley and is based on the acclaimed graphic novel of the same name by Phoebe Gloeckner. The film was supported by Sundance Institute’s Feature Film Program Directors and Screenwriters Labs, Creative Producing Summit and Women Filmmakers Fellowship Program and received extensive grant support. The Diary of a Teenage Girl made its world premiere at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival, where it won the Special Jury Award for Excellence in Cinematography and was acquired for distribution by Sony Pictures Classics. Heller is currently in development on a number of films, screenplays and plays. The Vanguard Award will be presented by comedian, writer, actor and filmmaker Mike Birbiglia, who wrote and directed the comedy film Sleepwalk With Me, which was supported by the Sundance Institute Feature Film Program and premiered at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival and won an Audience Award.

Michelle Satter, Founding Director of the Sundance Institute Feature Film Program, said, “Marielle Heller brought a deeply personal voice and vision to her bold approach in adapting the graphic novel The Diary of a Teenage Girl. She exemplifies the very essence of the type of innovative filmmaking the Institute champions, making her a perfect recipient of our Vanguard Award.”

The Vanguard Award, presented by Acura, includes a cash grant and mentorship from industry professionals and Institute staff. Heller will be the fourth recipient of this award, joining past recipients Benh Zeitlin (Beasts of the Southern Wild), Ryan Coogler (Fruitvale Station) and Damien Chazelle (Whiplash). The Vanguard Awards were founded in 2011 to mark the 30th anniversary of the Sundance Institute Feature Film Program and its founding director, Michelle Satter.

The benefit will also celebrate the fifth anniversary of the Institute’s Executive Director Keri Putnam. Building on Sundance Institute President and Founder Robert Redford’s original vision and mission, the Institute’s work has grown to respond to the evolving needs of independent artists. It has deepened its commitment to supporting international artists and audiences in regions including London, China and the Middle East. The Institute’s 24 annual Labs, the centerpiece of its year-round work, last year supported 677 artists from 48 countries working in film, theatre, new media and episodic content. The Institute has also increased its digital presence and awareness and support for female filmmakers.

The Sundance Institute benefit is planned by a Host Committee: Charmaine Bailey & Sean Bailey; Ava DuVernay; Cindy Harrell Horn & Alan Horn; Christine Lahti & Thomas Schlamme; Lyn Davis Lear & Norman Lear; Nadine Schiff-Rosen & Fred Rosen; and Thomas E. Rothman & Jessica Harper. Also in attendance at the benefit will be many other members of the independent film community, including Institute supporters and artists who have participated in Sundance Institute Labs or the Sundance Film Festival, seated with guests to share their stories of how the Institute has helped shape their careers.

Sundance Institute relies on the generosity of supporters who share a commitment to nurturing new artists, supporting unique and diverse creative voices, and furthering the reach of independent feature and documentary films around the world. The benefit will raise crucial funds to offset the non-profit Institute’s year-round programs for artists, including Labs, grants and the Sundance Film Festival.

For information on event tickets and tables or sponsorship opportunities, visit or contact The Sundance Institute Celebration is hosted by Acura.


Sundance Institute
Founded in 1981 by Robert Redford, Sundance Institute is a nonprofit organization that provides and preserves the space for artists in film, theatre, and new media to create and thrive. The Institute’s signature Labs, granting, and mentorship programs, dedicated to developing new work, take place throughout the year in the U.S. and internationally. The Sundance Film Festival and other public programs connect audiences to artists in igniting new ideas, discovering original voices, and building a community dedicated to independent storytelling. Sundance Institute has supported such projects as Beasts of the Southern Wild, Fruitvale Station, Sin Nombre, The Invisible War, The Square, Dirty Wars, Spring Awakening, A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder and Fun Home. Join Sundance Institute on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube.

About Acura
Acura offers a full line of precision crafted performance-luxury vehicles through a network of approximately 270 U.S. dealers. The Acura lineup features five distinctive models – the RLX luxury flagship sedan, the TLX performance luxury sedan, the ILX sport sedan, the 5-passenger RDX luxury crossover SUV, and the seven-passenger Acura MDX, America’s all-time best-selling three-row luxury SUV. The next-generation Acura NSX mid-engine supercar will join the Acura lineup later this year. Acura was recently recognized by for the third consecutive year as leading all luxury brands in retained value after five years of ownership.

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