UPDATE, 7:45 PM writethru: It’s a double win for The Birth Of A Nation tonight at the Sundance Film Festival awards. First the film written, directed, produced by and starring Nate Parker won the U.S Dramatic Audience Award, and now it has scored the prestigious U.S. Dramatic Jury Award.
“Sundance is like a great summer camp experience,” said a clearly humbled Parker onstage. “This has been like the greatest moment of my career — it just means so much.”
This is the fourth year in a row that the same film has won both the U.S. Audience and Jury awards. Ryan Coogler’s Fruitvale, which was renamed Fruitvale Station upon wide release, won both awards in 2013, Whiplash won in 2014, and Me And Earl And The Dying Girl won last year.
The Birth Of A Nation sealed its Sundance Film Festival tonight with the double wins. Parker’s passion project about Nat Turner’s 19th century slave uprising saw an emotional and acclaimed debut screening January 25 and the very next morning scored a record-breaking $17.5 million rights deal with Fox Searchlight.
“Thank you Lord, thank you Sundance,” Parker said after taking the stage tonight to accept the Audience Award with the film’s producers Jason Michael Berman, Aaron Gilbert, Brenda Gilbert and EP Ryan Ahrens. “I’ve seen first-hand that people are open to the idea of change, and the fact that this is happening means everything to me.
“Thank you to everyone who voted for the film,” he also said to big applause. “I share this with you.”
Made for under $10 million with the likes of San Antonio Spurs star Tony Parker coming in as an executive produce, the visceral Nation depicts the horror of the system of slavery and the 48-hour revolt Turner instigated in 1831 in Virginia. And yes, in this time of the diversity and #OscarsSoWhite discussion in Hollywood, if you feel you recognize the title, it’s because Parker re-appropriated the name of the infamous 1915 film by D.W. Griffith that helped reinvigorate the KKK in America.
With Parker as Turner and Armie Hammer, Gabrielle Union, Penelope Ann Miller, Aja Naomi King and Chike Okonkwo co-starring, the film saw multiple standing ovations and lots of tears at its packed Eccles Theatre premiere. Within minutes, potential buyers were working the phones in the lobby and an all-night bidding war broke out among Searchlight, Netflix, Sony Pictures, the Weinstein Company, Byron Allen’s Entertainment Studios and others.
In the end, it was Searchlight that Parker, his producers and WME went with. “Ultimately with Searchlight I felt a connection and a humanity on just a human level, not to say that it wasn’t there with the others, but there was a relationship and a synergy with respect to what impact we wanted it have on the world – a global approach,” Parker told me just hours after the deal was made.
A global approach for a pic that now has its Sundance double in hand.