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Ryan Coogler, W. Kamau Bell and Nikyatu Jusu honored at Opening Night: A Taste of Sundance
Ryan Coogler, W. Kamau Bell and Nikyatu Jusu

Sundance announced the inaugural edition of Opening Night: A Taste of Sundance, an evening that kicks off the Festival by honoring inspiring and breakout storytellers whose journeys have been connected to Sundance throughout the years while raising funds and awareness for the Institute. Ryan Coogler will receive the Sundance Institute | Variety Visionary Award, the Vanguard Award for nonfiction will be presented to W. Kamau Bell and the Vanguard Award for fiction will go to Nikyatu Jusu.

Opening Night: A Taste of Sundance will take place on January 19, 2023 in Park City, Utah during the Sundance Film Festival; and the Sundance Film Festival runs from January 19-29, 2023.

The evening will honor Ryan Coogler, writer/director/producer (Creed, Black Panther, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever) with the first annual Sundance Institute | Variety Visionary Award. The award recognizes a notable Sundance Institute alumni who is deeply connected to the organization and its programs, and has proceeded to establish an extraordinary career that personifies a unique perspective embodying a commitment to impactful storytelling. Coogler has an ongoing connection to Sundance Institute, having gone through the Feature Film Lab where he developed Fruitvale Station as a 2012 Screenwriters Lab fellow, continued to receive additional creative, tactical, and granting support on the project, and made his directorial debut with the film at the 2013 Festival. The film went on to win both the U.S. Grand Jury Prize for dramatic film and the Audience Award for U.S. dramatic film, two of the Festival’s top honors. In addition, he has served as an Advisor for the 2013 Screenwriters Intensive and an artist trustee.

The Vanguard Award for nonfiction will be presented to W. Kamau Bell, director of We Need to Talk About Cosby, and the Vanguard Award for fiction will go to Nikyatu Jusu, director of Nanny. Kamau and Nikyatu join the likes of past honorees such as Ryan Coogler (who received the award in 2013), Siân Heder, Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson, Radha Blank, Lulu Wang, Dee Rees, Damien Chazelle, Marielle Heller, Benh Zeitlin, Boots Riley, and many more.

Ryan Coogler is a writer, director, and producer. His film, three-time Academy Award winner Black Panther, became the most successful domestic release of 2018. Coogler co-wrote and directed the highly anticipated sequel Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, in theaters now. His production company, Proximity Media, founded with Zinzi Coogler and Sev Ohanian, has produced Space Jam: A New Legacy, the Academy Award winning Judas And The Black Messiah, the upcoming Creed III, Ironheart, and Underrated.

“Ten years ago, I was filled with an immense sense of gratitude when I was selected by Michelle Satter and her staff for the Screenwriting Lab of 2012,” said Ryan Coogler. “My experience there provided me with momentum that has propelled me forward through a decade of professional work. It is with an even deeper sense of gratitude that I accept this honor. The Institute has been a constant source of support, resources, and access to so many incredible filmmakers, and I pray that it will continue to thrive for the sake of us who know the depths of its effects personally and for the fledgling storytellers that the Institute is destined to support in the future.”

W. Kamau Bell is a comedian, director, and executive producer of the Showtime documentary We Need to Talk About Cosby. He’s the host and executive producer of CNN’s United Shades of America and the author of The New York Times bestseller, “Do The Work: An Antiracist Activity Book,” co-written with Kate Schatz.

“One of the happiest days during the production of We Need to Talk About Cosby was when I told the crew that we had been accepted to Sundance,” said W. Kamau Bell. “With a project as thorny and nuanced as our series, there were many days when I thought no one outside of us would understand what we were all attempting to do. It is an extreme honor to be invited to accept this award for all the work and care that the crew and I put into our series.”

Nikyatu Jusu is a writer, director, and Assistant Professor in Film & Video. Jusu’s short vampire film Suicide by Sunlight debuted at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival. Nanny is Jusu’s screenwriting and directing feature film debut and the first horror film to win the Sundance Grand Jury Prize in 2022. Nanny was supported through the Sundance Institute’s Screenwriter, Directors, Producer, and Catalyst Labs.

“I don’t use the term ‘family’ loosely, but I can unequivocally say that my adopted community at Sundance has become just that,” said Nikyatu Jusu. “I’ve navigated a serpentine, lonely, often times herculean climb as I pursued my passion for filmmaking over the years, so to be embraced by this filmmaking community of fellow hungry artists, material resources, mentorship, and most importantly access, has ignited the fire I need to endure this industry journey. I hope to give back to other aspiring filmmakers in the ways Sundance has so generously given to me. My gratitude knows no bounds.”

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