Sundance: Kneecap film wins audience award at US festival

Fictionalised autobiography of eponymous Belfast rap outfit, directed by Rich Peppiatt, is first Irish fiction feature win at festival since Once in 2007

Rich Peppiatt’s Kneecap, a fictionalised autobiography of the eponymous Belfast rap outfit, has won the audience award in the NEXT section at the Sundance Film Festival in Utah.

It is the first Irish fiction feature to take a prize at the world’s most prestigious gathering for independent cinema since John Carney’s Once won the world cinema audience award in 2007.

“There’s a saying in Irish, ‘ní mhaireann solas na maidine don lá', which means no morning sun lasts all day,” Peppiatt said on hearing the news.

“Well, the amazing week we’ve had here at Sundance since premiering our movie as certainly tested that wisdom – and we’re basking in every moment.”


Following the irreverent threesome – Mo Chara, Móglaí Bap and DJ Próvaí – as they negotiate post-Troubles Belfast, the film, co-starring Michael Fassbender as a veteran Republican volunteer, premiered to uniformly positive reviews on the opening night of the festival.

Variety, the trade bible, raved: “A riotous, drug-laced triumph in the name of freedom that bridges political substance and crowd-pleasing entertainment.”

The Hollywood Reporter added: “The film’s infectious energy, use of in-camera effects, animation and all manner of jiggery pokery is as mesmerising and giddy as it was when Danny Boyle used many of the same tricks for Trainspotting.”

The day after that screening, Kneecap, which is largely in the Irish language, sold to Sony Picture Classics in the first big deal of the 2024 event. The studio picked the film up for distribution in North America, Latin America, eastern Europe, Turkey and the Middle East. Irish company Wildcard Distribution, also co-producers of Kneecap, will release the film here later in the year. The band, which brought a PSNI van to the event, attracted much media attention over the week.

“We are delighted to have such an award bestowed upon the first Irish language film at Sundance,” they said in a statement. “Hopefully it will give people in Ireland the confidence to pursue the arts through their native tongue.” Always cheekily provocative, Kneecap added: “Special thanks to our PR team at the DUP.”

The festival also saw the premiere of Nora Fingscheidt’s The Outrun, starring Saoirse Ronan as a young woman who returns to the Orkney Islands after a period in rehabilitation for alcohol addiction. Reviews were strong with Ronan receiving particular praise. Such is the taste for awards gossip that, even before this year’s Oscar ceremony has taken place, pundits were already pencilling in the Irish actor for a nomination next year.

“The year’s first possible Oscar contender – well, for 2025 – is Saoirse Ronan as a tortured alcoholic who seeks refuge in nature,” the New York Post noted. The Daily Best went even further claiming “Saoirse Ronan Is already next year’s Oscar front-runner.” A brave prediction when virtually none of the competition has yet been seen. Ronan is among the producers of this adaptation of Amy Liptrot’s eponymous memoir.

First launched in 1978 under a different name, The Sundance Film festival evolved, during the 1980s and 1990s, into the foremost launching pad for independent cinema. Long associated with Robert Redford – ultimately named for his character in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid – the gathering in Park City, an exclusive ski resort, saw the first screenings of such hits as Reservoir Dogs; Little Miss Sunshine; Whiplash; Sex, Lies and Videotape, and The Blair Witch Project.

Three years ago, Sian Heder’s CODA began its journey to the best picture Oscar at Sundance. Celine Song’s Past Lives, a current best picture nominee, also made its first appearance at the event.

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Donald Clarke

Donald Clarke

Donald Clarke, a contributor to The Irish Times, is Chief Film Correspondent and a regular columnist