Sundance Film Festival

Coda, Summer Of Soul win top honours

Coda, which takes its title from an acronym for ''child of deaf adult'', stars (above, from far left) Emilia Jones, Troy Kotsur and Marlee Matlin.
Coda, which takes its title from an acronym for ''child of deaf adult'', stars (above, from far left) Emilia Jones, Troy Kotsur and Marlee Matlin. PHOTO: SUNDANCE INSTITUTE/ YOUTUBE

LOS ANGELES • Coda, the heartwarming indie drama about a teenage girl struggling to support her deaf family, scooped the Sundance film festival's top prize on Tuesday, while musician Questlove won documentary honours with his debut.

Taking its title from an acronym for "child of deaf adult", Coda follows a high-school student (Emilia Jones) who is torn between pursuing her passion for music and staying home to help her deaf parents and brother.

Apple purchased the film early in the American festival after a rapturous online response and an intense bidding war between distributors - reportedly shelling out a Sundance record of US$25 million (S$33 million).

Coda is based on French 2014 comedy La Famille Belier, transplanted to the American fishing town of Gloucester by director Sian Heder.

Both Heder and Jones learnt to use sign language for the film, which features several prominent deaf actors in lead roles, including Oscar-winner Marlee Matlin of Children Of A Lesser God (1986).

Coda also won the top Sundance audience award, and prizes for directing and ensemble cast.

American musician Questlove's first movie, Summer Of Soul (...Or, When The Revolution Could Not Be Televised), about the huge Black Woodstock festival that took place in 1969 Harlem, won jury and audience prizes for best documentary.

The film uses never-before-seen footage of the star-studded concert which was attended by 300,000 people and featured singers Stevie Wonder, Nina Simone and Mahalia Jackson, but has largely been lost to history until now.

Hive, about a woman fending for herself in patriarchal war-torn Kosovo, took world cinema drama prizes. The foreign documentary prize went to Flee - an animation about a child refugee from Afghanistan - bought mid-festival by Parasite (2019) distributor Neon.

Top indie film festival Sundance was co-founded by retired actor Robert Redford and is typically held at Park City in the mountains of western state Utah.

But it took place largely online this year due to the Covid-19 pandemic, with all 72 feature films making their premieres via online streaming.

One of the final movies to feature on Tuesday was Amy Tan: Unintended Memoir, a documentary about the author of best-selling Chinese-American immigrant novel The Joy Luck Club (1989).

It was directed by Redford's son James, a film-maker and activist who died in October aged 58 of bile-duct cancer with the movie largely completed.

"He was somebody I trusted so much. I felt he was never going to judge me, he was never going to pity me. He was just going to listen," said Tan.

Producer Karen Pritzker added: "I am only sorry we're not in-person, and that Jamie isn't with us to celebrate."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 04, 2021, with the headline 'Coda, Summer Of Soul win top honours'. Subscribe