Sundance Institute Announces Inaugural ‘Opening Night: A Taste of Sundance’ Event; Ryan Coogler, Nikyatu Jusu and W. Kamau Bell to Be Honored

The Sundance Institute has announced the inaugural edition of “Opening Night: A Taste of Sundance,” presented by IMDbPro, which will take place on Jan. 19 in Park City, Utah to kick off the Sundance Film Festival. The evening will honor breakout storytellers whose journeys have been connected to Sundance throughout the years while raising funds and awareness for the Institute. Following the event, the festival will run through until Jan. 29.

The evening will honor “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” director Ryan Coogler 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 established an extraordinary career that personifies a unique perspective embodying a commitment to impactful storytelling.

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“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,” Coogler said. “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.”

The annual Vanguard Awards presented by Acura will be given during the evening, honoring artists whose work highlights the art of storytelling and creative independence in both nonfiction and fiction. The Vanguard Award for nonfiction will be presented to W. Kamau Bell, director of “We Need to Talk About Cosby,” while the Vanguard Award for fiction will go to Nikyatu Jusu, director of “Nanny.”

Bell and Jusu join past honorees such as Coogler, who received the award in 2013, Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson, Lulu Wang and more.

“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,” Bell said. “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.”

“Nanny,” Jusu’s screenwriting and directing feature film debut, was the first horror film to win the Sundance Grand Jury Prize in 2022. The film 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,” Jusu said. “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.”

Proceeds raised from the evening will support the Institute’s year-round work uplifting global independent voices through artist programs, granting and other initiatives. Supporters of the event include the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Foundation, Acura and Variety. Ticket information can be found at the Sundance website.

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