Christopher Nolan
Christopher Nolan (Photo Credits – Magnus Nolan)

Christopher Nolan will be honored with the first-ever Sundance Institute Trailblazer Award at the 2024 Sundance Film Festival’s fundraiser, Opening Night Gala: Celebrating 40 Years Presented by Chase Sapphire® which will take place on January 18, 2024. Kicking off the 40th edition of the Sundance Film Festival, the evening will also honor Celine Song and Maite Alberdi — both of whom premiered films Past Lives and The Eternal Memory, respectively, at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival — will each receive the annual Vanguard Award Presented by Acura.

“As we step into the 40th edition of the Sundance Film Festival, it is a distinct honor to recognize Christopher Nolan, a prodigious artist whose singular talent and remarkable body of work have made him one of the most respected filmmakers of our time. We are looking forward to spotlighting the unique voices of both Celine and Maite, storytellers we have been supporting and deeply believe in. All three of these storytellers represent Sundance’s values,” said Joana Vicente, Sundance Institute CEO. “From the Festival to our year-round programs, it is artists that have and always will be at the very core of what we do. We look forward to our guests joining us at the Opening Night Gala and, in turn, enabling us to continue championing independent storytellers and their art that adds great value to our culture.”

Recognizing an artist’s unwavering dedication and notable contributions to the field of independent film, the inaugural Sundance Institute Trailblazer Award will be presented to an individual who exemplifies this legacy: Christopher Nolan. He was celebrated by Sundance two decades ago when his breakthrough film, Memento, screened to great acclaim at the Festival. Memento’s 2001 Sundance debut garnered that year’s Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award and was ultimately nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay. Memento catapulted Nolan’s career, propelling him from independent films to major blockbusters, including The Dark Knight trilogy and this year’s triumph, Oppenheimer. One of the most acclaimed directors of our time, Christopher Nolan boldly pushes the parameters of cinematic storytelling.

“Presenting Memento at the Sundance Film Festival marked a pivotal moment in my career, this award is a full circle moment and testament to the extraordinary influence of independent filmmaking,” said Christopher Nolan.

The annual Vanguard Awards, presented by Acura, honor artists whose work highlights the art of storytelling and creative independence in both nonfiction and fiction. The Vanguard Award for Fiction will be presented to Celine Song, director and writer of Past Lives, and the Vanguard Award for Nonfiction will go to Maite Alberdi, director of The Eternal Memory. Previous honorees include: W. Kamau Bell, Nikyatu Jusu, Ryan Coogler, Siân Heder, Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson, Radha Blank, Lulu Wang, Dee Rees, Damien Chazelle, Marielle Heller, Benh Zeitlin, Boots Riley, and many more.

Maite Alberdi and Celine Song
Maite Alberdi (Maite Alberdi), Celine Song (Matthew Dunivan)

Celine Song is a playwright best known for Endlings and is one of the most exciting new voices in film. Her debut feature, Past Lives, which she wrote and directed, premiered at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival and was released by A24, opening to unanimous praise. Song previously participated as a member of the 2018 cohort for the Sundance Institute Playwrights Retreat at Ucross.

“I am incredibly honored to receive this award — it really means the world to me,” said Celine Song. “Sundance is where I showed my very first film for the very first time, and I will never forget the experience — pacing around the green room at the Eccles, waiting to introduce the film to the world, meeting the audience afterward, being there together with everyone who made the movie with me. Sundance is the place that launched my career as a filmmaker: it’s a home for Past Lives — and a home for me — in the deepest way. Thank you so much.”

Maite Alberdi was the first Chilean woman to be nominated for an Academy Award for The Mole Agent (2021), which premiered at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival. Her unique style, deft approach and intimate portrayal of small worlds has made her one of the most celebrated and important voices in documentary film today. Alberdi has a long history with Sundance: she received a Sundance Documentary Film Grant in 2013 and 2016, and served on the jury for the 2019 Festival in the World Documentary Competition category. Most recently, her film The Eternal Memory premiered at the 2023 Festival and received the World Cinema Documentary Jury Prize.

“It’s an absolute honor to receive the Vanguard Award. Sundance was the gateway to North American audiences for me and has been hugely supportive of my last two films,” said Maite Alberdi. “I am enormously grateful that the narrative avant-garde is also understood as applying to documentaries and that filmmaking boundaries are continuing to expand. The Eternal Memory is a film that has taught me so much about the infinite ways of telling, looking at and working with real-life stories and I am proud and humbled to be among such an extraordinary group of filmmakers who have been given this recognition including Ahmir ‘Questlove’ Thompson, Siân Heder, Radha Blank, Lulu Wang, and Nikyatu Jusu — amongst others whose work I greatly admire.”

The annual opening night gala enables the nonprofit to raise critical funds to support independent artists year-round through labs, grants, and public programming that nurture artists globally. The upcoming Sundance Film Festival will take place January 18–28, 2024 in Park City and Salt Lake City, Utah, as well as online from January 25–28.

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