Sundance will honor filmmaker Christopher Nolan

Opening night gala will also recognize Celine Song and Maite Alberdi

Submitted by the Sundance Institute

For information about tables and tickets for the 2024 Sundance Film Festival’s Opening Night Gala, visit or email

The Sundance Institute will honor filmmaker Christopher Nolan with the first-ever Trailblazer Award during the 2024 Sundance Film Festival’s opening night gala. The award recognizes an artist’s “unwavering dedication and notable contributions to the field of independent film.”
Photo by Magnus Nolan

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 Jan. 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 commitment to elevating independent storytelling. 

During the event, 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.

The annual opening night gala enables the nonprofit to raise critical funds to support independent artists year-round through labs, grants and public programming that nurture artists globally. 

The 2024 event is made possible with the generous support of Chase Sapphire. The upcoming Sundance Film Festival will take place Jan. 18–28, in Park City and Salt Lake City, Utah, as well as online from Jan. 25–28.

“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, (and) we are looking forward to spotlighting the unique voices of both Celine and Maite, storytellers we have been supporting and deeply believe in,” said Joana Vicente, Sundance Institute chief executive officer. “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.”

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 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.

Nolan was celebrated by Sundance two decades ago when his breakthrough film, “Memento,” screened to great acclaim at the Festival. 

The film’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, 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,” Nolan said.

The annual Vanguard Awards, presented by Acura, honor artists whose work highlights the art of storytelling and creative independence in both nonfiction and fiction. 

Celine Song, the director and writer of the 2023 Sundance Film Festival film “Past Lives,” will receive the Vanguard Award for Fiction during the 2024 Sundance Film Festival opening night gala.
Photo by Matthew Dunivan

The Vanguard Award for Fiction will be presented to Song, director and writer of “Past Lives,” and the Vanguard Award for Nonfiction will go to 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.

Song is a playwright best known for “Endlings” and is one of the most exciting new voices in film.

“Past Lives,” her debut feature, which she wrote and directed, premiered at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival and was 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,” Song said. “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 (Theatre), 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” (2021), which premiered at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival.

Filmmaker Maite Alberdi, first Chilean woman to be nominated for an Academy Award, will be honored with the Vanguard Award for Nonfiction by the Sundance Institute during the 2024 Sundance Film Festival’s opening night gala.
Courtesy Maite Alberdi

Her unique style, deft approach and intimate portrayal of small worlds has made her one of the most celebrated and important voices in documentary film today. 

Alberdi has a long history with Sundance: she received a Sundance Documentary Film Grant in 2013 and 2016, and served on the jury for the 2019 Festival in the World Documentary Competition category. 

Most recently, her film “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,” Alberdi said. “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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