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Highlights

Announcing the Recipients of the 2024 Sundance Institute | Amazon MGM Studios Producers Awards

By Kristin Feeley and Shira Rockowitz

This morning, January 21, producers from around the world gathered in Park City, Utah, to celebrate the 2024 Sundance Film Festival producers and their films.

This annual event — sponsored by Amazon MGM Studios — also highlighted the 2023–2024 Sundance Institute Producing Fellows, featured a keynote address by producer Jonathan Wang (Academy Award winner, Best Picture, Everything Everywhere All at Once), and presented the 2024 Sundance Institute | Amazon MGM Studios Producers Awards. These awards honor two producers with films at the 2024 Festival for their body of work and commitment to creative producing in the independent space. 

This year, we are thrilled to recognize Toni Kamau, producer of The Battle of Laikipia (World Cinema Documentary Competition) as the recipient of the 2024 Amazon MGM Studios Nonfiction Producers Award and Brad Becker-Parton, producer of Stress Positions (U.S. Dramatic Competition) as the recipient of the 2024 Amazon MGM Studios Fiction Producers Award.

We asked Toni and Brad to share some reflections on making work in extraordinary times.

Toni Kamau, Amazon MGM Studios Nonfiction Producers Award Recipient

2024 Sundance Film Festival Film: The Battle for Laikipia (World Dramatic Documentary Competition)

Screening my first independently produced feature documentary Softie at Sundance 2020, especially as an African based producer, was a transformative experience. But life threw a curveball to all of us with the pandemic. All the rule books about producing, releasing and building audiences for independent films went out of the window. I was moved to reexamine my values and the kind of producer I wanted to be. What matters? Radical honesty, generosity and open mindedness have served me through tough times. Making The Battle for Laikipia was extremely demanding, as we all had to confront our biases, interrogate each other’s perspectives and most importantly, extend each other grace. But this challenging experience ultimately made us better humans and storytellers.

This period also helped me clearly define the nonfiction projects I want to help shepherd into the world — surprising, intimate, character-driven stories exploring transformative moments in ordinary lives. Although these narratives are a vital contribution to the canon of universal human experiences, they have become increasingly tough to raise financing for. That’s where a robust and inclusive independent global filmmaking community becomes crucial. I have been fortunate to receive mentorship and support from a community of generous, brillant producers, and share this knowledge where I can. And through open conversations with fellow producers in the Global South, it is clear that fair co-productions are vital to ensure equitable pay, and that waterfalls reflect effort as much as they do income raised.

I also urge producers from more established film ecosystems to value the experiences and expertise of their colleagues from all parts of the world — emerging film industries are rife with inventive thinking. My strong belief is that equitable, cross cultural collaborations rooted in a spirit of generosity will strengthen our independent filmmaker ecosystems and nurture future generations. And my hope is that this will ensure the continued production and distribution of bold, inspired nonfiction work that will stand the test of time.

Brad Becker-Parton, Amazon MGM Studios Fiction Producers Award Recipient

2024 Sundance Film Festival film: Stress Positions (U.S. Dramatic Competition)

It is hard to know if times are unprecedented when you are in them. The first time I had a film at Sundance, Beach Rats, we premiered one day after Donald Trump’s inauguration. The second time I had a film at Sundance, Master, the festival was held entirely online because of the pandemic. We did not make these films expecting audiences to receive them in these contexts and we do not know in what context audiences will receive the films playing at this year’s festival.

There is so much we cannot control. We cannot control the decisions made in boardrooms about the platforms on which our movies will live. We cannot control the viewing habits of our generation and generations younger than we are. We cannot control the whims of extremely wealthy people.

What can we do? We can trust our taste, and trust that if we identify singular, vital, provocative artists to tell singular, vital, provocative stories then those stories will find people to connect with. We can make things with integrity, and run sets where everyone in the crew feels empowered, respected, and safe. We can use our power as the people who make the product to never cut corners unnecessarily to save a marginal amount of money for rich people, and to do our very best to make sure everyone, including ourselves, see fair compensation.

In this way, on one film set at a time, the existential problems facing our industry will not be solved by corporations, or tech founders, or private equity, but by directors, producers, actors, crews the people who show up to work every day to make something together, even in unprecedented times.

Toni Kamau is a PGA- and Peabody-nominated producer, filmmaker, and founder of the Kenyan-based production company We Are Not the Machine, which champions stories of African outsiders, rebels, and changemakers. After working for eight years as a TV producer, Toni embraced independent filmmaking in 2013, producing impactful feature documentaries including I Am Samuel and the Sundance award-winning Softie. This year, Toni is at Sundance with The Battle for Laikipia, a documentary delving into the intersection of climate change, indigenous land rights, and conservation in Kenya. Toni is currently producing a diverse slate of contemporary factual and scripted African stories which explore the themes of African Diaspora return to the continent, female African innovation, true crime and the role of undercover investigative reporters in tackling injustice. Toni champions the Kenyan film industry’s representation globally through memberships at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and the Producers Guild of America.

Brad Becker-Parton is a producer at Seaview, a New York-based film and theater production company.

Recent credits include Theda Hammel’s Stress Positions starring John Early, which premiered in U.S. Dramatic Competition at the 2024 Sundance Film Festival and will be released by NEON; Tina Satter’s Reality, starring Sydney Sweeney, which premiered at the Berlinale and was released by HBO in 2023; and Mariama Diallo’s Master, starring Regina Hall, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival and was released by Amazon MGM Studios in 2022.

Previously, Brad produced Eliza Hittman’s Beach Rats, Adam Leon’s Italian Studies, and NEON’s anthology film The Year of the Everlasting Storm, which played in Official Competition at the 2021 Cannes Film Festival. He was a 2022 Independent Spirit Award nominee for the Producers’ Award, a 2023 Gotham Award nominee for Best Feature, and a 2023 Film Independent Fast Track Fellow.

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