The Sundance Institute is set to honor critically acclaimed multi-hyphenate Radha Blank with the 2020 Vanguard Award, which is given annually to an artist whose work highlights the art of storytelling and creative independence.
The award honors the artistic achievement of her feature film directorial debut The Forty-Year-Old Version, which bowed earlier this year at the Sundance Film Festival and was developed by Blank at the Institute’s Labs.
To celebrate Blank’s achievement, Sundance Collab, a community platform for creators from around the world, will host a special event on December 2. The free event will feature Octavia Spencer, who was an advisor to Blank at the Labs, and a conversation between Blank and fellow Vanguard winner Lulu Wang (The Farewell), who received the honor in 2019.
“Radha’s singular vision, unique voice and comedic tone were immediately captivating,” said Sundance Feature Film Program Founding Director Michelle Satter. “We were proud to offer Rahda the time and space to grow her skills as a writer, director and actor at our Labs. She developed the script with the support of enthusiastic advisors and her creative process was as gratifying to watch as getting to see the premiere at the most recent Sundance Film Festival. We are very excited to celebrate Radha on December 2, and honor her visionary talent with our 2020 Vanguard Award.”
“It’s a thrill to be acknowledged by my Sundance Institute family, who’ve been behind me from the very beginning of the journey for this film,” said Blank. “They provided support of my vision, development of my voice in the screenwriting and directing labs – where I not only received vital mentorship but also cultivated a fellowship with other filmmakers who, just like the wonderful champions at Sundance, will be a cherished part of my life and career from here until forever. Thanks so much Sundance for seeing me, and lifting me up for my first film. Receiving this award affirms my path as a director, and is one hell of a way to begin my career. Thank you!”
Blank’s The Forty-Year-Old Version received the the Directing Award, U.S. Dramatic after its world premiere in the U.S. Dramatic Competition category. Sundance support for the project included development at the Screenwriters Lab, Directors Lab, Creative Producing Summit and Catalyst Forum, as part of the Institute’s programs that discovers, supports and amplifies risk-taking and exciting independent artists across film, theatre and media. Blank also received two Gotham Award nominations including the Bingham Ray Breakthrough Director Award and for Best Screenplay.
“I had to get this story out,” said Blank when she and The Forty-Year-Old Version cast visited the Deadline Studio at Sundance in January. “As an artist in New York, I’ve had my share of troubles and noticed these trends in terms of who decides who gets to tell what story to what audience — and that really frustrated me.” She adds that in addition to that, she lost her mom and best friend and felt that she needed to address it through story.
She continued, “Oftentimes the gatekeepers doubt your ability to tell a story or be an artist because you don’t fit the mold of what they want to present…it was a way to confront my frustrations — and celebrate the city that informs my way of telling stories.”
Written, directed and starring Blank, The Forty-Year-Old Version was acquired by Netflix after its Sundance debut. The film, which debuted on the streamer in October, is based on Blank’s own experiences as a down-on-her-luck New York playwright, who is desperate for a breakthrough before the age of40. But when she foils what seems like her last shot at success, she’s left with no choice but to reinvent herself as rapper RadhaMUSPrime. The film follows Radha as she vacillates between the worlds of Hip Hop and theater on a quest to find her true voice. The Forty-Year-Old Version also features Reed Birney, Oswin Benjamin and Peter Y. Kim.
In addition to Wang, past Vanguard Award recipients include Benh Zeitlin (2012), Ryan Coogler (2013), Damien Chazelle (2014), Marielle Heller (2015), Nate Parker (2016), Dee Rees (2017) and Boots Riley (2018).