Dakota Johnson walked onto a large stage at Park City’s Basin Recreation Fieldhouse Thursday night, immediately surveyed the huge scene with hundreds of seated guests (including Sundance insiders, authors and a few movie stars) and pretended to be shocked.
“I thought this was an intimate dinner,” said Johnson, the lead host for the night before the festival’s kick-off event, Opening Night: A Taste of Sundance Presented by IMDbPro. “I didn’t realize there would be so many people at Sundance, but thank God. It feels so good to be in a room together again to celebrate independent cinema.”
Sundans is back. The party opened tonight and delivered the first in-person event in three years due to the pandemic, so there was certainly cause for celebration. Johnson’s job was to present one of four awards handed out from the main stage, hers to close friend and collaborator Luca Guadagnino, honored with an international icon award. The others went to Ryan Coogler (Variety Visionary Award), Babysit filmmaker Nikyatu Jusu (Vanguard Award presented by Acura for fiction) and W. Kamau Bell (Vanguard Award presented by Acura for non-fiction).
Johnson called Guadagnino “the epitome of an international icon,” so much so that she’s going to petition for him to receive the trophy every year. She even praised his fashion sense, pointing out that he “wears Prada all the time.” She described their professional relationship, which began when he cast her in the 2015 film A bigger splash and continued with that of 2018 Suspiria.
“I deeply cherished him,” said the actress and producer, adding that she found and found herself as an actress “day after day” on his sets.
Johnson then turned her attention to Guadagnino’s critically acclaimed love story, the Sundance roster Call me by your name, with Timothée Chalamet and Armie Hammer. “Unfortunately I wasn’t in it,” Johnson confessed, who would later admit to being jealous of other actors who work with the Italian author. “It was unfortunate.”
Johnson then joked that she almost got smashed Call me by your name, who plays the role of the peach, the same piece of fruit Elio, Chalamet’s character, masturbates with, only to leave the pit and remains on his desk. Hammer’s character Oliver discovers the peach, but does not eat it as his character does in the novel the film is based on.
That didn’t stop Johnson from making headlines about Hammer. “Luca had asked me to play the part of the peach, but our agendas clashed. But thank God, because then I would have been another woman trying to eat Armie Hammer.”
A moment later she nodded to Guadagnino’s more recent cannibal love story Bones and all. It’s been five years [Call Me By Your Name] premiered here and Luca hasn’t stopped taking us to exciting places. Who knew cannibalism was so popular?”
While Johnson seemed to lighten up the cannibal headlines, she previously defended Hammer, a co-star in the 2010 film The social network, along with other co-stars such as Johnny Depp and Shia LaBeouf who had faced serious misconduct allegations. “I’ve never seen that firsthand from any of those people,” she said THR in 2021. “I’ve had an incredible time working with them; I feel sorry for the loss of great artists. I feel sorry for people who need help and may not get it in time. I feel sorry for anyone hurt or hurt. It’s just really sad. I really believe that people can change.”
(Hammer, for his part, has previously denied any wrongdoing through a lawyer and has maintained that all relationships were consensual. The allegations of cannibalism surfaced through direct messages from him that went viral in January 2021.)
Guadagnino then took the stage and did not mention the alleged peach casting or the cannibal joke, but did call Johnson “my dear friend” and one of the best actors. The filmmaker has deep roots at Sundance that date back to 2010 when his film made its festival debut I am love. Because of the shared history, he said he always feels like he’s coming home when he’s here.
“Coming back here and being here means so much to all of us,” he said of the festival, calling it a “landmark place” where all that matters is the “empowerment of cinema.”
Those themes permeated the night’s other speeches from Coogler, Bell, and Jusu, as well as the night’s lead actors, the Indigo Girls. The iconic rock duo rushed to the gala fundraiser of the world premiere of their Sundance documentary After all, it’s only life by filmmaker Alexandria Bombach.
Despite some technical hiccups with the mic and some feedback, they flew through a three-song set and expressed their gratitude for participating in the festival and for the chance to share the stage with such talented performers.
Lena Waithe turned up, fresh from London, to present Coogler with his trophy by calling him a savant, “the calm amid storms,” a leader and quiet royalty. At the acceptance, Coogler reflected on his career and expressed heartfelt gratitude for the role Sundance has played in launching his now successful career. He shared a story about the night the festival debuted its award winner Fruitvale Station starring a rising star named Michael B. Jordan, his agent Craig Kestel told Coogler’s mother that “your son’s life is about to change.”
“It scared my mom,” Coogler admitted. “She didn’t understand what was going on.” The truth is that Coogler said that his life had already begun to change in the years leading up to that night thanks to the support of producers Forest Whitaker and Nina Yang Bongiovi who took him on in film school, which led to his acceptance into the feature film. laboratory at the Sundance Institute. There he met colleagues such as Marielle Heller, David Lowery, Chloe Zhao and others.
“It was an honor to come up with them,” he said. “Whenever those filmmakers win, I feel like I’m winning – especially as an ex-football player.”
On accepting his award, Bell joked that he wanted to apologize to the “elderly white gentleman” who congratulated him on Summer of the soul, an Oscar-winning movie that was created by Questlove, not W. Kamau Bell. The honoree went on to describe his path from “weirdo” to stand-up comedian fan to stand-up comedian to executive producer and director of the award-winning We need to talk about Cosby.
There were times during the production of the series when Bell had to ask himself, “Who was this idea?” he recalled, making sure to call out his mentors and associates who helped along the way. “It was a way of reminding myself that this was indeed my idea. I could only blame myself. It was reassuring.” He also considered his credibility as an only child and outsider status to be key to his career. “Our weirdness is our superpower,” he said.
Speaking of comfort, Jusu said that making movies continues to save her life and that without Sundance, she wouldn’t be where she is today on her artistic journey. “My gratitude still has no depth, no breadth, no measurable end,” she said in accepting after a presentation by Sundance favorite Boots Riley. Jusu took home the dramatic jury award for her critically acclaimed film Babysit. “Sundance is the reason the industry could no longer ignore me.”
Finally, Jusu urged those in the room – “we are survivors,” she said – to continue “slashing a better world.” She then quoted one of her favorite ghosts, the legendary Toni Morrison. “It is not possible to constantly sharpen the crisis. You have to have the love and you have to have the magic.”