Sundance to Honor Christopher Nolan at 2024 Opening Night Gala

The “Oppenheimer” director will receive the first-ever Sundance Trailblazer Award while the annual Vanguard Award will go to Celine Song and Maite Alberdi

Christopher Nolan, Maite Alberdi and Celine Song
SFF24 Opening Night Gala Honorees

The Sundance Institute will honor Christopher Nolan with the first-ever Sundance Trailblazer Award. The Opening Night Gala: Celebrating 40 Years Presented Chase Sapphire, on January 18, 2024 at the DeJoria Center in Utah, will also present the annual Vanguard Award to “Past Lives” writer/director Celine Song and “The Eternal Memory” writer/director Maite Alberdi. Their 40th annual film festival will take place from January 18 through January 28, 2024, as well as online from January 25 to January 28.  

“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. 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,” said Sundance Institute CEO Joana Vicente. “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.”  

Nolan was celebrated at the 2001 Sundance debut with his breakout sensation “Memento.” It garnered that year’s Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award and eventually a Best Original Screenplay Academy Award nomination. The chronologically twisty mystery concerned a man hunting his wife’s killer while unable to retain new memories. The Guy Pearce-starring film catapulted Nolan’s career and helped make him a towering critical and commercial filmmaker with films like “The Dark Knight,” “Interstellar” and “Oppenheimer.” 

Nolan stated, “Presenting ‘Memento’ at the Sundance Film Festival marked a pivotal moment in my career, this award is a full circle moment and testament to the extraordinary influence of independent filmmaking.” 

Meanwhile, the annual Vanguard Awards, presented by Acura, honor artists whose work highlights the art of storytelling and creative independence. The Vanguard Award for Fiction will go to Song. The Vanguard Award for Nonfiction will go to Alberdi. 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, Boots Riley, and many more.   

Celine Song is a playwright best known for “Endlings” and is one of the most exciting new voices in film. Her debut feature, “Past Lives,” premiered at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival. It was eventually released by A24, opening to unanimous praise. Song previously participated as a member of the 2018 cohort for the Sundance Institute Playwrights Retreat at Ucross.   

“I am incredibly honored to receive this award — it really means the world to me,” said Song. “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.”  

Alberdi was the first Chilean woman to be nominated for an Academy Award for “The Mole Agent.” Alberdi has a long history with Sundance. She received a Sundance Documentary Film Grant in 2013 and 2016. She then served on the jury for the 2019 Festival in the World Documentary Competition category. Most recently, “The Eternal Memory” premiered at the 2023 Festival and received the World Cinema Documentary Jury Prize.   

“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,” said Alberdi. “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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