Slamdance has awarded its grand prize for screenwriting to writer Joyce Sherrí for her first feature screenplay for coming-of-age drama “Sweet Sixteen.”

The festival announced 13 prizes Thursday during a live-stream ceremony co-presented by Writers Guild of America West and hosted by Slamdance alum Todd Berger across feature film, horror/thriller, TV pilot and short film categories. Slamdance awarded more than $16,000 to winners across all categories.

“Sweet Sixteen” centers on Sweet, a 15-year-old girl who tries to convince her parents to throw her a big sweet 16 birthday party, but money and family problems lead her down a destructive path.

“If Black people are not a monolith then neither are our experiences,” said Sherrí. “There is more to us than racial trauma. Sometimes we just want something as simple as a first kiss or a sweet sixteenth birthday party. I wrote ‘Sweet Sixteen’ because I want to share a story that explores a universal rite-of-passage from an unfamiliar point of view.”

Slamdance’s festival manager Alina Solodnikova said, “With over 6100 submissions this year, our readers were overwhelmed by a wealth of exciting new talent. It’s inspiring to see so many writers persevere and work on their stories even harder despite the tough challenges of this new world. We congratulate all the finalists and especially Grand Prize winner Joyce Sherrí with her first feature script ‘Sweet Sixteen.'”

In addition to competition categories, the festival also honored McKinley Belcher III as recipient of the inaugural Slamdance Screenplay Mentorship Award for his feature script “Kinda Blue Burning Bright.” The screenplay focuses on a Black homeless Renaissance man who tries to make sense of the world around him and finds his artistic voice in the wake of his friend’s death. Belcher III will receive mentorship and feature film development support from Slamdance alumnus Damon Russell and Slamdance president Peter Baxter.

Slamdance was launched in 1995 as an alternative to Sundance, and has included showings of such notable titles as Oren Peli’s “Paranormal Activity.” The fest takes place at the Treasure Mountain Inn in Park City, Utah, in January with entries limited to films with budgets of less than $1 million.

Slamdance alumni include Joe and Anthony Russo, Christopher Nolan, Marc Forster, Jared Hess, Lena Dunham, Benh Zeitlin, Seth Gordon and Lynn Shelton. Significant titles that debuted at Slamdance include “Mad Hot Ballroom” and Gordon’s “The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters.” Screenplay competition winners that have gone to production include “Maria Full of Grace” from writer Joshua Marston and “The Woodsman,” co-written by Nicole Kassell and Steven Fechter.

The top three 2020 Slamdance screenplays in each prize category are as follows:


1st place: Sweet Sixteen by Joyce Sherrí

2nd place: Funeral Season by Jake Hirsch

3rd place: As You Wish by Suhashini Krishnan


1st place: Our Gods Within by Alex Luprete

2nd place: Dying on the Pass by Jackson Birnbaum

3rd place: Goodbye Lyrics by Daniel Russell

TV Pilot

1st place: Lifeline by Meredith Casey

2nd place: Below The Fold by Kevin Wolfe

3rd place: Mourning After by Rikki Bleiweiss


1st place:The Peregrine by Justin Giddings

2nd place: Youth Rejuv by Katherine Voigt

3rd place: How To Meal Prep During A Famine by Lindsey Rugglesa