Sundance ’24 | Opening Night Gala

by Tim Gordon

The nonprofit Sundance Institute unveiled details for the 2024 Sundance Film Festival’s fundraiser, Opening Night Gala: Celebrating 40 Years Presented by Chase Sapphire® which will take place on January 18, 2024, at the DeJoria Center in Utah.

Kicking off the 40th edition of the Sundance Film Festival, the evening will honor trailblazing and breakout storytellers, as well as celebrate 40 years of Sundance’s commitment to elevating independent storytelling. 

Christopher Nolan will be honored with the first-ever Sundance Institute Trailblazer Award. Celine Song and Maite Alberdi — both of whom premiered films Past Lives and The Eternal Memory, respectively, at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival — will each receive the annual Vanguard Award Presented by Acura.

For the past 40 years, the Sundance Film Festival has been a foothold for independent filmmaking, acting as a platform not just for discovering unique voices, but also for launching and transforming careers. Recognizing an artist’s unwavering dedication and notable contributions to the field of independent film, the inaugural Sundance Institute Trailblazer Award will be presented to an individual who exemplifies this legacy: Christopher Nolan. He was celebrated by Sundance two decades ago when his breakthrough film, Memento, screened to great acclaim at the Festival. Memento’s 2001 Sundance debut garnered that year’s Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award and was ultimately nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay. Memento catapulted Nolan’s career, propelling him from independent films to major blockbusters, including The Dark Knight trilogy and this year’s triumph, Oppenheimer. One of the most acclaimed directors of our time, Christopher Nolan boldly pushes the parameters of cinematic storytelling.

“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,” said Christopher Nolan.

The annual Vanguard Awards, presented by Acura, honor artists whose work highlights the art of storytelling and creative independence in both nonfiction and fiction. The Vanguard Award for Fiction will be presented to Celine Song, director and writer of Past Lives, and the Vanguard Award for Nonfiction will go to Maite Alberdi, director of The Eternal Memory. 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, which she wrote and directed, premiered at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival and was released by A24, opening to unanimous praise.

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