The 2019 Sundance Film Festival was a banner year for women filmmakers with five women directors and one man winning in four main categories. Chinonye Chukwu became the first black woman to win the festival’s biggest prize, the Grand Jury Prize for U.S. Dramatic entry for Clemency starring Alfre Woodard. Woodard plays a psychologically spent prison warden who emotionally connects with death-row inmate Anthony Woods played by Aldis Hodges. The film also stars Daniel Brooks (Orange is the New Black), Wendell Pierce (Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan), Richard Schiff (The Good Doctor) and LaMonica Garrett (Designated Survivor).
Clemency is the second feature film for writer/director Chukwu, who worked on the clemency campaign for Tyra Patterson. Patterson was wrongly accused of murder and eventually released after serving 23 years in prison. The prison reform advocate also created the Pens to Pictures program in Ohio, which teaches incarcerated women to make their stories into short films. Chukwu is also an Assistant Professor of Motion Pictures at Wright State University.
The Nigerian-born, Alaska-raised writer/director’s first feature film Alaskaland, the story of an estranged Nigerian-American brother and sister who reunite in their Alaskan hometown.