Sundance Film Festival turns 40


The 40th edition of the Sundance Film Festival, one of the premier launching pads for independent filmmakers and documentarians from around the world, opens today in Utah. The festival, which runs through January 28, holds in-person screenings in Park City and Salt Lake City, and will also stream select films and events across the U.S. via Sundance’s digital platform from January 25-28.

The festival includes 82 feature-length films (out of 4,410 submissions) and 8 episodic titles from 24 countries, nearly all of which are world premieres. Nearly half of the directors are first-time feature filmmakers, making it an occasion ripe for discovery of new talents. [In the past Sundance has boosted such directors as the Coen Brothers (“Blood Simple”), Quentin Tarantino (“Reservoir Dogs”), Steven Soderbergh (“Sex, Lies and Videotape”), Richard Linklater (“Before Sunrise”), and Christopher Nolan (“Memento”).]

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Saoirse Ronan plays a recovering alcoholic in “The Outrun,” directed by Nora Finscheidt. 

The Outrun Film Ltd – Roy Imer/Courtesy of Sundance Institute


Fiction

Narrative features debuting this year include films starring Kristen Stewart (“Love Me,” a post-apocalyptic romance costarring Steve Yeun, and the romantic thriller “Love Lies Bleeding,” with Katy O’Brian and Ed Harris); Saoirse Ronan as a recovering alcoholic in “The Outrun”; and Michael Fassbender in “Kneecap,” about an Irish hip hop group. Jessie Eisenberg, who directs and stars in “A Real Pain” alongside Kieran Culkin, also stars with Riley Keough in “Sasquatch Sunset.” David Alan Grier and Justice Smith head the cast of “The American Society of Magical Negroes.”

Pedro Pascal stars in “Freaky Tales,” an anthology of stories set in 1987 Oakland, while Aubrey Plaza is featured in “My Old Ass,” about a young woman on a mushroom trip who “meets” her older self. “Between the Temples,” about a cantor’s crisis of faith, features Jason Schwartzman and Carol Kane. Renata Reinsve, whose breakout role was playing “The Worst Person in the World” in the 2021 hit from Norway, stars in two films at Sundance: “Handling the Undead,” a mystery about resurrection, and the thriller “A Different Man.”

Veteran character actor June Squibb (an Oscar-nominee for “Nebraska”) stars as a victim of a scam seeking justice in “Thelma,” which also marks the last screen role of Richard Roundtree. The Disney+ film “Out of My Mind,” based on Sharon M. Draper’s novel, stars Phoebe Rae-Taylor as a sixth-grade student with cerebral palsy.

Other stars at Sundance include Laura Linney and Woody Harrelson (“Suncoast”), David Schwimmer (“Little Death”), Lucy Liu (“Presence”), Chiwetel Ejiofor, Camila Cabello and Mary J. Blige (“Rob Peace”), and Emilia Jones and Zach Galifianakis (“Winner”).

Sundance also provides the U.S. premiere of Molly Manning Walker’s “How to Have Sex,” a coming-of-age tale of British teenagers on a trip to Crete that was a prize-winner at Cannes. 

The festival’s Midnight section offers supernatural and genre films, including the horror title “I Saw the TV Glow,” produced by Emma Stone; from Australia, “The Moogai,” about an Aboriginal woman who believes a spirit is trying to abduct her baby; “Your Monster,” in which the monster in a young woman’s closet in not quite what you’d expect closet monsters to be like; and from the Netherlands, “Krazy House,” starring Alicia Silverstone and Nick Frost, about a family threatened by wanted criminals from Russia.

Christopher Reeve
A still from the documentary “Super/Man: The Christopher Reeve Story,” which will premiere at the Sundance Film Festival.

© Herb Ritts/AUGUST/Courtesy of Sundance Institute


Documentaries

Christopher Reeve is profiled in “Super/Man,” with never-before-seen home movies of the actor and activist, while WNBA superstar and Olympic champion Sue Bird’s story is told in “Sue Bird: In the Clutch.” 

Among the noted musical figures profiled are Luther Vandross (“Luther: Never Too Much”), the new wave band “Devo,” and musician Brian Eno. “Eno” is being billed as a “generative documentary,” meaning it changes each time it’s shown.

Comedian Will Ferrell goes on a road trip with a longtime friend who comes out at a trans woman in “Will & Harper.” CNN camerawoman Margaret Moth, and her coverage of conflict zones, are the subject of “Never Look Away.” “Black Box Diaries” traces the efforts by Japanese journalist Shiori Ito to seek justice after being sexually assaulted in a hotel. “A New Kind of Wilderness” documents a Norwegian family whose choice to live off the grid is interrupted by tragedy.  

Politics is at the core of several films at the festival. “And So It Begins” captures the 2022 presidential campaign in the Philippines to succeed the autocratic Rodrigo Dutarte, pitting a progressive woman running against the son of deposed dictator Ferdinand Marcos. “Girls State” tracks high school girls in Missouri as they spend a week creating a mock government, learning the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat when they campaign for political roles or argue cases before a Supreme Court.

Seeking to study lessons learned from the insurrection of January 6, 2021, “War Game” simulates an attack on the Capitol during the certification of Electoral College votes in January 2025; this time, white nationalist elements within the U.S. military seek to join those attempting to overthrow the outcome of an election.

Music is the backdrop of the tinderbox of Cold War tensions over the newly-independent nations of Africa, as touring U.S. musicians spread the message of jazz, in “Soundtrack to a Coup d’Etat.”

There are documentaries about the impact of artificial intelligence as a tool to aid (or is it to commercially manipulate?) those grieving for the dead (“Eternal You”), and about efforts to contain and preserve one’s consciousness beyond death (“Love Machina”). “Being (The Digital Griot)” is a “participatory experience” led by an AI storyteller who engages the audience.

Episodic and Limited Series

Sundance will host the premieres of several episodic works, including “Lolla: The Story of Lollapalooza,” about the origin of the music festival; “God Save Texas,” a three-part series examining the history of three Texas cities; and “ConBody vs. Everybody,” a documentary about the formerly incarcerated who are hired as gym trainers, from director Debra Granik (“Winter’s Bone”).

Events

To celebrate Sundance’s 40th year, there will be panels and events featuring alumni filmmakers, and a 40th edition trivia night. Some past hits from Sundance, including “Mississippi Masala” and “Napoleon Dynamite,” will also be screened. 

Other events include discussions on filmmaking, editing, indigenous storytelling, sound design, mental health in film, antisemitism, advocating gun safety in films and TV, and the backlash against “woke” stories.

The ACLU podcast “At Liberty” explores the impact of censorship and anti-LGBTQ bans on storytelling.

NRDC presents Quinta Bunson (“Abbott Elementary”) and Mike Schur (“The Good Place”) hosting “The Last Laugh,” an online discussion about finding humor in an age of climate change.

Jury awards in the feature categories will be announced January 26. 

Not all films have been previewed at press time. Highlights will be published as Sundance continues.


To purchase packages and individual tickets go to the Sundance website.

How to watch this year’s festival online, via your Smart TV with Apple TV, Google TV, Amazon FireTV or Roku, or with the Sundance app.



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