Three things to know about award-winning filmmaker Chinonye Chukwu

The acclaimed Sundance Film Festival has made history by honouring a black woman filmmaker with the Grand Jury Prize for her US Dramatic entry for her film, Clemency.

Chukwu wrote and directed the movie about prison warden Bernadine Williams who, after years of working on death row, is forced to confront her job-related mental and emotional challenges.

We’ve rounded up three things about Chukwu.


She was born in Port Harcourt, Nigeria. “I grew up in a very traditional Nigerian household, very connected to my culture,” she told the news website, Democracy Now.

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Her parents moved to the USA because they are both petroleum engineers. They had a short stay in Oklahoma after she was born but moved to Fairbanks, Alaska when she was about seven years old. Chukwu lived there till she was 18. After she got her MFA in film from Temple University, her parents moved back to home to Nigeria.


Chukwu did a lot of research for Clemency. “I did a deep, deep four year dive into the research and advocacy required to tell this story. I started in 2013, where I just did secondary research, where I interviewed a lot of those retired wardens and directors of corrections and death row lawyers and men who were exonerated from death row. I visited prisons and read a lot of books and articles. And that was just scratching the surface.”

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Keep rising

“Supporting artists and their stories has been at the core of Sundance Institute’s mission from the very beginning,” said Sundance Institute president and founder Robert Redford. “At this critical moment, it’s more necessary than ever to support independent voices, to watch and listen to the stories they tell.”

“This year’s expansive festival celebrated and championed risk-taking artists,” said Keri Putnam, the Institute’s executive director. “We look forward to watching the stories and conversations that started here as they shape and define our culture in the year to come.”

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