Christopher Nolan Set for Inaugural Sundance Institute Trailblazer Award on Opening Night of 2024 Fest

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Christopher Nolan, Celine Song and Maite Alberdi will be feted at a gala fundraiser on the opening night of the 2024 Sundance Film Festival, the nonprofit Sundance Institute said Wednesday.

The Jan. 18 gathering, which will take place at the DeJoria Center, will “raise critical funds to support independent artists year-round through labs, grants and public programming that nurture artists globally.”

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Nolan, who started in indie film before becoming the director of large-scale studio blockbusters like this year’s Oppenheimer, will be honored with the first-ever Sundance Institute Trailblazer Award. Song, the writer and director of this year’s Past Lives, and Alberdi, who helmed this year’s documentary The Eternal Memory, will each receive the Vanguard Award, Song for fiction and Alberdi for nonfiction.

Meanwhile, former Sundance Institute Board Chair and trustee Pat Mitchell will receive the Vanguard Award for Philanthropy.

“As we step into the 40th edition of the Sundance Film Festival, it is a distinct honor to recognize Christopher Nolan, a prodigious artist whose singular talent and remarkable body of work have made him one of the most respected filmmakers of our time,” Joana Vicente, Sundance Institute CEO, said in a statement. “We are looking forward to spotlighting the unique voices of both Celine and Maite, storytellers we have been supporting and deeply believe in. All three of these storytellers represent Sundance’s values. From the festival to our year-round programs, it is artists that have and always will be at the very core of what we do. We look forward to our guests joining us at the Opening Night Gala and, in turn, enabling us to continue championing independent storytellers and their art that adds great value to our culture.”

“Presenting Memento at the Sundance Film Festival marked a pivotal moment in my career,” said Nolan, referencing his 2001 breakout film. “This award is a full circle moment and testament to the extraordinary influence of independent filmmaking.”

As for the Vanguard Award, previous honorees include W. Kamau Bell, Nikyatu Jusu, Ryan Coogler, Siân Heder, Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson, Radha Blank, Lulu Wang, Dee Rees, Damien Chazelle, Marielle Heller, Benh Zeitlin and Boots Riley.

Song, whose Past Lives premiered at the 2023 edition of Sundance, said, “I am incredibly honored to receive this award — it really means the world to me. Sundance is where I showed my very first film for the very first time, and I will never forget the experience — pacing around the green room at the Eccles, waiting to introduce the film to the world, meeting the audience afterward, being there together with everyone who made the movie with me. Sundance is the place that launched my career as a filmmaker: it’s a home for Past Lives — and a home for me — in the deepest way. Thank you so much.”

Meanwhile, Alberdi, whose long history with Sundance includes premiering her last film, The Mole Agent, at the 2020 edition of the fest, and debuting The Eternal Memory at the 2023 edition, said, “It’s an absolute honor to receive the Vanguard Award. Sundance was the gateway to North American audiences for me and has been hugely supportive of my last two films. I am enormously grateful that the narrative avant-garde is also understood as applying to documentaries and that filmmaking boundaries are continuing to expand.” The Eternal Memory is a film that has taught me so much about the infinite ways of telling, looking at and working with real-life stories and I am proud and humbled to be among such an extraordinary group of filmmakers who have been given this recognition including Ahmir ‘Questlove’ Thompson, Siân Heder, Radha Blank, Lulu Wang, and Nikyatu Jusu — amongst others  whose work I greatly admire.”

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