Cary Joji Fukunaga, a New York University thesis student in the Kanbar Institute of Film and Television’s Graduate Film Division in the Tisch School of the Arts, is the winner of the 2009 Sundance Film Festival’s Directing Award in the U.S. Dramatic competition for Sin Nombre. His film also received the Excellence in Cinematography Award. The Sundance Festival announced the winners on Saturday (Jan. 24) at its closing awards ceremony hosted by actor Jane Lynch in Park City, Utah.
Sin Nombre, written and directed by Fukunaga, is described as a social-political thriller in the tradition of American film noir. It tells the stories of Sayra, a teenager living in Honduras and hungering for a brighter future, and teen gang members Smiley and Casper, who come from southern Mexico and for whom the Mara Salvatrucha, a gang that originated in Los Angeles and spread to Central America, is nearly their entire universe. The two narratives intersect on a train to the Mexican border.
“It’s almost impossible to believe that Sin Nombre is Fukunaga’s feature debut; its storytelling is so accomplished, its visual style so crisp, and its heightened naturalism and performances so textured,” exclaims the Sundance catalogue entry for the film. “Sin Nombre is a portrait of hope and desperation and announces the launching of a shining new filmmaking career.”
Fukunaga, who will graduate from NYU with an MFA in film production, wrote and directed Sin Nombre as his graduate thesis project. “We are thrilled for Cary’s win at Sundance this year,” said John Tintori, chair of Graduate Film Division. “He participated in a pre-thesis review with the film a couple of years ago, and he will have his review in April and will graduate in May.”
Film reviewer Todd McCarthy of Variety, an entertainment industry trade publication, wrote in his review of the film, “A big new talent arrives on the scene with Sin Nombre.” He went on to write, “In the most positive sense, this is the quintessential Sundance movie, the sort of film that institute organizers might have dreamed about when they launched Sundance’s Latin American outreach years ago and began inviting a wide range of aspiring filmmakers to its labs.”
This is the 16th year for the Tisch School of the Arts and its Kanbar Institute of Film and Television at the Sundance Film Festival. This year, more than 225 NYU alumni and students were associated with some 60 of the 200 films screened this year. The alumni and students involved represent directors, producers, screenwriters, actors, cinematographers, and editors, among others.
The Kanbar Institute of Film and Television at the Tisch School of the Arts provides an intensive and professional education in filmmaking. The program shared first place in recent U.S. News and World Report rankings of the nation’s film programs; since 1992, sixteen Student Academy Award gold medals have been presented to NYU student filmmakers by the Motion Picture Academy of Arts and Sciences. At the 1998 Sundance Film Festival, Kanbar Institute students and alumni walked away with an unprecedented seven awards in virtually every top-prize category. At the 2005 and 2006 Sundance Film Festivals, Kanbar filmmakers walked away with 10 prizes. Approximately 150 graduate and 1,050 undergraduate film students pursue degrees in film and television production, photography, cinema studies, dramatic writing, and interactive telecommunications. Distinguished alumni of the Kanbar Institute include Joel Coen, Chris Columbus, Billy Crystal, Martha Coolidge, Ernest Dickerson, Amy Heckerling, Jim Jarmusch, Ang Lee, Spike Lee, Brett Ratner, Nancy Savoca, Martin Scorsese, Susan Seidelman, and Oliver Stone, among many others.