Forest Whitaker may play the “Godfather of Harlem,” but to Ryan Coogler, the Oscar winner was the godfather of Sundance.
Exactly 10 years ago, writer-director Coogler debuted “Fruitvale Station” at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival. Whitaker produced the film that starred Michael B. Jordan and was based on the true story of police brutality in the Bay Area.
“I was very shielded, and I think I was protected from seeing things or being treated unfairly in any way,” Coogler told Deadline of being a first-time filmmaker at the festival. “I was protected by [Forest Whitaker]. People didn’t want to upset him, so I might have had a positive view of it because I didn’t really get pushed around much. I didn’t get pushed around at all really. I had him as like a godfather in the process.”
Coogler continued, “I was just kind of slamming myself into it blind. I was really a wide-eyed kid, man. I knew a little bit about what Sundance was because I had gone there the year before, after the [2012 Sundance] Lab, so I kind of knew a little bit about the festival but not a lot. It was my second Sundance when we were there with the movie, but it was my first time having the process of people wanting to buy the movie and meeting with people to figure that out and my first time reading reviews.”
“Fruitvale Station” went on to win both the Audience Award and the Grand Jury Award. Coogler had pitched Whitaker and his producing partner, Nina Yang Bongiovi, on the concept of “Fruitvale Station” while still a student at the University of Southern California.
Coogler is now returning to Sundance for the 2023 festival, where he serves as a producer on documentary “Stephen Curry: Underrated.” Coogler is also being honored at the inaugural Opening Night: A Taste of Sundance ceremony with the Visionary Award.
Check out what Coogler had to say about feeling like part of a “team” at Sundance here.