Directors Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson & Siân Heder To Be Honored With Sundance Institute’s Vanguard Award

Questlove Sian Heder
Questlove, Siân Heder Mega

On October 20, the Sundance Institute will present the 2021 Vanguard Award to filmmakers Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson and Siân Heder.

Thompson is being recognized for the documentary Summer Of Soul (…Or, When The Revolution Could Not Be Televised), with which he made his directorial debut, with Heder being honored for her groundbreaking festival hit, CODA.

The honorary award created in 2012 is given annually to artists whose innovative, original works spotlight the art of storytelling and embody creative independence. It was expanded this year to recognize works across fiction and non-fiction. Past recipients include Benh Zeitlin, Ryan Coogler, Damien Chazelle, Marielle Heller, Nate Parker, Dee Rees, Boots Riley, Lulu Wang, and Radha Blank.

The Sundance Institute’s Vanguard Award ceremony, featuring conversations with Thompson and Heder, is open to the public. It is free to attend. Fans and supporters of indie cinema can register for the event by clicking here.

“We are especially honored to recognize the visionary and award-winning directors Siân Heder and Ahmir ‘Questlove’ Thompson with the Vanguard Award. We were thrilled to bring enthusiastic audiences together at our Festival to experience the humanity, originality, and independent spirit of their culture-changing films,” said Sundance Founding Senior Director, Artist Programs, Michelle Satter. “Siân and Ahmir join Sundance-supported directors Radha Blank, Ryan Coogler, Dee Rees, Marielle Heller, and others in this annual celebration of singular independent storytellers.”

“I’m extremely honored to receive this award. Storytelling has always been the fiber of my creativity, be it DJing, writing articles/books, podcasting, or teaching,” said Thompson. “Of course, I share this honor with the entire team behind Summer Of Soul. It was an honor to bring this historic event to light for audiences to experience.”

“I’m so grateful to Sundance for the incredible support that they have given to me on my journey as a filmmaker,” added Heder. “I am thrilled and honored to join the company of the artists who have previously received this award, as well as my co-honoree, Ahmir, and his brilliant film.”

Summer Of Soul spotlights the cultural significance of the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival, which celebrated African American music and culture, and promoted Black pride and unity. He directed and exec produced the title, which this year claimed the Sundance Film Festival’s U.S. Documentary Grand Jury Prize, along with its U.S. Documentary Audience Award. The film is currently streaming on Hulu in conjunction with Disney General Entertainment’s Onyx Collective; Searchlight Pictures released it theatrically.

CODA centers on Ruby (Emilia Jones), who is a Child of Deaf Adults—the only hearing person in her family. When her family’s fishing business is threatened, she finds herself torn between pursuing her love of music and her fear of abandoning those she loves most. Heder wrote and directed the film—also starring Marlee Matlin, Troy Kotsur, Daniel Durant and more—which claimed the U.S. Dramatic Grand Jury Prize, the U.S. Dramatic Audience Award, the U.S. Dramatic Directing Award and the Special Jury Prize for Ensemble Cast, following its world premiere at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival. Apple went on to acquire rights to the feature out of the festival, at a record-setting price tag of $25 million, unveiling it globally on Apple TV+ in August. Heder is an alumna of the Sundance Institute’s 2016 FilmTwo Initiative, and had previously premiered Tallulah, which she wrote and directed, at the 2016 Festival.

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