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Sundance Institute to honor storytellers with inaugural opening night event Jan. 19

Ryan Coogler, Nikyatu Jusu and W. Kamau Bell
Sundance Film Festival
Ryan Coogler, Nikyatu Jusu and W. Kamau Bell

The evening will honor inspiring storytellers whose journeys have been connected to Sundance throughout the years while raising funds and awareness for the institute. All proceeds will help support the institute’s year-round work to uplift global independent voices through artist programs, grants and other initiatives.

MORE INFO: Opening Night: A Taste of Sundance

“Kicking off the 2023 edition of the festival with this new celebration is a great opportunity to champion the storytellers we support and contribute to sustaining Sundance Institute grants, mentorships and other critical resources that enable artists to bring their stories to life," Sundance Institute CEO Joana Vicente said.

The institute will present the first annual Sundance Institute | Variety Visionary Award to Ryan Coogler, a writer/director/producer whose credits include "Creed," "Black Panther" and "Black Panther: Wakanda Forever."

The honor recognizes a notable Sundance Institute alumni who is deeply connected to the organization and its programs and has established an extraordinary career.

Coogler has an ongoing connection to Sundance Institute, having gone through the Feature Film Lab where he developed "Fruitvale Station" as a 2012 Screenwriters Lab fellow, continued to receive additional creative, tactical and granting support on the project and made his directorial debut with the film at the 2013 festival.

The film went on to win both the U.S. Grand Jury Prize for dramatic film and the Audience Award for U.S. dramatic film, two of the festival's top honors.

In addition, he has served as an advisor for the 2013 Screenwriters Intensive and an artist trustee.

"The institute has been a constant source of support, resources and access to so many incredible filmmakers and I pray that it will continue to thrive for the sake of us who know the depths of its effects personally and for the fledgling storytellers that the institute is destined to support in the future," Coogler said.

The annual Vanguard Awards will also be presented during the evening, honoring artists whose work highlights the art of storytelling and creative independence in nonfiction and fiction. The Vanguard Award for nonfiction will be presented to W. Kamau Bell, director of "We Need to Talk About Cosby," and the Vanguard Award for fiction will go to Nikyatu Jusu, director of "Nanny."

Kamau and Nikyatu join the likes of past honorees such as Ryan Coogler (who received the award in 2013), Siân Heder, Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson, Radha Blank, Lulu Wang, Dee Rees, Damien Chazelle, Marielle Heller, Benh Zeitlin, Boots Riley and many more.

Additional honorees will be announced in the coming weeks.

The Sundance Film Festival runs from Jan. 19 to Jan. 29, 2023.