An intimate crowd of famous independent film lovers sat down for dinner to fete Nate Parker Thursday night, after the “The Birth of a Nation” writer-director and star was presented with the Vanguard Award from the Sundance Institute at its annual Night Before Next benefit. In the spirit of giving, the honoree furthered the night’s donations by announcing the endowment of a new The Birth of a Nation Fellowship program at the nonprofit org. The fellowship will be underwritten by the cast and crew of the film.
“Our fellowship will allow one new 18 to 24-year old filmmaker of color to participate in the Sundance Ignite program each year, attend the festival, meet some of the best talent in the industry and receive some the same kind of invaluable mentorship that I did,” Parker revealed.
Upon accepting his award, which was presented by actor and Sundance alum Michael B. Jordan, Parker spoke directly to the budding filmmakers in the audience and noted that his first film — while a standing success at the 2016 festival — had his wife holding him “in a moment of breakdown because I didn’t know what my next moment would be like.” He added, “You cannot quit.”
Following the institute’s annual Next Fest at The Theatre at Ace Hotel in Downtown Los Angeles, was a family-style meal with flank steak, black cod, portobello mushroom, and Acura-minted chocolates (gifted by the evening’s sponsors). The celebration drew the likes of Lake Bell, Norman and Lyn Lear, J.K. Simmons, Jay and Mark Duplass, Bryce Dallas Howard, Clea Duvall and Kevin Smith, along with local industry notables Fox Searchlight’s Nancy Utley, WME’s Adriana Alberghetti, The Gersh Agency’s Jay Cohen, CAA’s Joel Lubin, and a number UTA agents, including Mikey Schwartz. Exec Sundance director Keri Putnam, host committee members Sean Bailey and Pat Mitchell, and film fest director John Cooper were also in attendance.
Putnam ended the night with a toast to the “The Birth of a Nation” team: “They know our programs intimately, and know exactly how this gift will enable our work in honing and amplifying the next generation of artistic talent.”
Check out Variety’s Snapchat @varietyofficial to see more of Michael and Nate’s speeches.