The Sundance Film Festival, arguably the number two film event in importance after Cannes, has begun to take shape as announcements came fast and furious from the organization late last week about its main competition programs. In all, 110 feature-length films were selected, representing 31 countries and 46 first-time filmmakers, including 26 in competition. These films were selected from an unbelievable 4,042 feature-length film submissions (that many new films being made????). composed of 2,059 U.S. and 1,983 international feature-length films. 88 films at the Festival will be world premieres.
While Sundance is an indispensable brand for American Independent filmmaking, in the past several years it has expanded its reach to include world cinema, in both dramatic and documentary competitions. In this sense, the organization and the Festival have created an unprecedented link between independent filmmakers around the globe, both in terms of solidarity and the challenges of bringing challenging work to the attention of the public, the press and the industry. Since the Festival is such a vast enterprise, I will be writing several pieces in the coming weeks about the various sections of the Festival, which takes place January 19 to 29 in the mountainous Western state of Utah.
Because American Indies were the key components of the birth of the Sundance Institute and the Sundance Film Festival, this first piece will focus on the American Independent films selected for this year’s U.S. Dramatic Competition and U.S. Documentary Competition. All are World Premieres, a testament to the Festival’s stature as a “first see” event and stimulating a burgeoning tide of interest that will keep building in the coming weeks. The following films have been chosen (against incredible odds) to make their way up to the mountains of Park City. Descriptions provided by the Sundance Film Festival (www.sundance.org/festival)
U.S. DRAMATIC COMPETITION
- BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD (Director: Benh Zeitlin, Screenwriters: Benh Zeitlin, Lucy Alibar) — Waters gonna rise up, wild animals gonna rerun from the grave, and everything south of the levee is goin’ under, in this tale of a six year old named Hushpuppy, who lives with her daddy at the edge of the world. Cast: Quvenzhané Wallis, Dwight Henry.
- THE COMEDY (Director: Rick Alverson, Screenwriters: Rick Alverson, Robert Donne, Colm O’Leary) — Indifferent even to the prospects of inheriting his father’s estate, Swanson whiles away his days with a group of aging Brooklyn hipsters, engaging in small acts of recreational cruelty and pacified boredom. Cast: Tim Heidecker, Eric Wareheim, Kate Lyn Sheil, Alexia Rassmusen, Gregg Turkington.
- THE END OF LOVE (Director and screenwriter: Mark Webber) — A young father unravels following the loss of the mother of his child. Cast: Mark Webber, Shannyn Sossamon, Michael Cera, Jason Ritter, Amanda Seyfried, Frankie Shaw.
- FILLY BROWN (Directors: Youssef Delara, Michael D. Olmos, Screenwriter: Youssef Delara) — A Hip Hop-driven drama about a Mexican girl who rises to fame and consciousness as she copes with the incarceration of her mother through music. Cast: Lou Diamond Phillips, Gina Rodriguez, Jenni Rivera, Edward James Olmos.
- THE FIRST TIME (Director and screenwriter: Jonathan Kasdan) — Two high schoolers meet at a party. Over the course of a weekend, things turn magical, romantic, complicated and funny, as they discover what it’s like to fall in love for the first time. Cast: Brittany Robertson, Dylan O’Brien, Craig Roberts, James Frecheville, Victoria Justice.
- FOR ELLEN (Director and screenwriter: So Yong Kim) — A struggling musician takes an overnight long-distance drive in order to fight his estranged wife for custody of their young daughter. Cast: Paul Dano, Jon Heder, Jena Malone, Margarita Levieva, Shay Mandigo.
- HELLO I MUST BE GOING (Director: Todd Louiso, Screenwriter: Sarah Koskoff) — Divorced, childless, demoralized and condemned to move back in with her parents at the age of 35, Amy Minsky’s prospects look bleak – until the unexpected attention of a teenage boy changes everything. Cast: Melanie Lynskey, Blythe Danner, Christopher Abbott, John Rubinstein, Julie White.
- KEEP THE LIGHTS ON (Director: Ira Sachs, Screenwriters: Ira Sachs, Mauricio Zacharias) — An autobiographically inspired story of a passionate long-term relationship between two men driven by addiction and secrets but bound by love and hopefulness. Cast: Thure Lindhardt, Zachary Booth, Julianne Nicholson, Souleymane Sy Savane, Paprika Steen.
- LUV (Director: Sheldon Candis, Screenwriters: Sheldon Candis, Justin Wilson) — An orphaned 11-year-old boy is forced to face the unpleasant truth about his beloved uncle during one harrowing day in the streets of Baltimore. Cast: Common, Michael Rainey Jr., Dennis Haysbert, Danny Glover, Charles S. Dutton.
- MIDDLE OF NOWHERE (Director and screenwriter: Ava DuVernay) — When her husband is incarcerated, an African-American woman struggles to maintain her marriage and her identity. Cast: Emayatzy Corinealdi, David Oyelowo, Omari Hardwick, Lorraine Touissant, Edwina Findley.
- NOBODY WALKS (Director: Ry Russo-Young, Screenwriters: Lena Dunham, Ry Russo-Young) — Martine, a young artist from New York, is invited into the home of a hip, liberal LA family for a week. Her presence unravels the family’s carefully maintained status quo, and a mess of sexual and emotional entanglements ensues. Cast: John Krasinski, Olivia Thirlby, Rosemarie DeWitt, India Ennenga, Justin Kirk.
- SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED (Director: Colin Trevorrow, Screenwriter: Derek Connolly) — A trio of magazine employees investigate a classified ad seeking a partner for time travel. One employee develops feelings for the paranoid but compelling loner and seeks to discover what he’s really up to. Cast: Aubrey Plaza, Mark Duplass, Jake Johnson, Karen Soni.
- SAVE THE DATE (Director: Michael Mohan, Screenwriters: Jeffrey Brown, Egan Reich, Michael Mohan) — As her sister Beth prepares to get married, Sarah finds herself caught up in an intense post-breakup rebound. The two fumble through the redefined emotional landscape of modern day relationships, forced to relearn how to love and be loved. Cast: Lizzy Caplan, Alison Brie, Martin Starr, Geoffrey Arend, Mark Webber.
- SIMON KILLER (Director and screenwriter: Antonio Campos) — A recent college graduate goes to Paris after breaking up with his girlfriend of 5 years. Once there, he falls in love with a young prostitute and their fateful journey begins. Cast: Brady Corbet, Mati Diop, Constance Rousseau, Michael Abiteboul, Solo.
- SMASHED (Director: James Ponsoldt, Screenwriters: Susan Burke, James Ponsoldt) — Kate and Charlie are a young married couple whose bond is built on a mutual love of music, laughter and… drinking. When Kate decides to get sober, her new lifestyle brings troubling issues to the surface and calls into question her relationship with Charlie. Cast: Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Aaron Paul, Octavia Spencer, Nick Offerman, Megan Mullally.
- THE SURROGATE (Director and screenwriter: Ben Lewin) — Mark O’Brien, a 36-year-old poet and journalist with an iron lung, decides he no longer wishes to be a virgin. With the help of his therapist and the guidance of his priest, he contacts a professional sex surrogate to take him on a journey to manhood. Cast: John Hawkes, Helen Hunt, William H. Macy.
U.S. DOCUMENTARY COMPETITION
- AI WEIWEI: NEVER SORRY (Director: Alison Klayman) — Renowned Chinese artist and activist Ai Weiwei has garnered international attention as much for his ambitious artwork as his political provocations and increasingly public clashes with the Chinese government.
- THE ATOMIC STATES OF AMERICA (Directors: Don Argott, Sheena M. Joyce) — In 2010, the United States announced construction of the first new nuclear power plant in more than 32 years. A year later, a 9.0 magnitude earthquake struck the Fukushima Power Plant in Japan sparking a fierce debate in the U.S. over the safety and viability of nuclear power.
- CHASING ICE (Director: Jeff Orlowski) — Science, spectacle and human passion mix in this stunningly cinematic portrait as National Geographic photographer James Balog captures time-lapse photography of glaciers over several years providing tangible visual evidence of climate change.
- DETROPIA (Directors: Heidi Ewing, Rachel Grady) — The woes of Detroit are emblematic of the collapse of the U.S. manufacturing base. This is the dramatic story of a city and its people who refuse to leave the building, even as the flames are rising.
- ESCAPE FIRE: THE FIGHT TO RESCUE AMERICAN HEALTHCARE (Directors: Matthew Heineman, Susan Froemke) — What can be done to save our broken medical system? Powerful forces are trying to maintain the status quo in a profit-driven medical industry, but a movement to bring innovative methods of prevention and healing is finally gaining ground – potentially saving the health of a nation.
- FINDING NORTH (Directors: Lori Silverbush, Kristi Jacobson) — A crisis of hunger looms in America and is not limited to the poverty stricken and uneducated. Can a return to policies of the 1970s save our future?
- THE HOUSE I LIVE IN (Director: Eugene Jarecki) — For over 40 years, the War on Drugs has accounted for 45 million arrests, made America the world’s largest jailer and damaged poor communities at home and abroad. Yet, drugs are cheaper, purer and more available today than ever. Where did we go wrong and what is the path toward healing?
- HOW TO SURVIVE A PLAGUE (Director: David France) — The untold story of the intensive efforts that turned AIDS into a manageable condition – and the improbable group of (mostly HIV-positive) young men and women whose amazing resilience broke through a time of rampant death and political indifference.
- THE INVISIBLE WAR (Director: Kirby Dick) — An investigative and powerfully emotional examination of the epidemic of rape of soldiers within the U.S. military, the institutions that cover up its existence and the profound personal and social consequences that arise from it.
- LOVE FREE OR DIE: HOW THE BISHOP OF NEW HAMPSHIRE IS CHANGING THE WORLD (Director: Macky Alston) — One man whose two defining passions are in conflict: An openly gay bishop refuses to leave the Church or the man he loves.
- MARINA ABRAMOVIC: THE ARTIST IS PRESENT (Director: Matthew Akers) — Marina Abramović prepares for a major retrospective of her work at The Museum of Modern Art in New York hoping to finally silence four decades of skeptics who proclaim: ‘But why is this art?’
- ME AT THE ZOO (Directors: Chris Moukarbel, Valerie Veatch) — With 270 million hits to date, Chris Crocker, an uncanny young video blogger from small town Tennessee, is considered the Internet’s first rebel folk hero and at the same time one of its most controversial personalities.
- THE OTHER DREAM TEAM (Director: Marius Markevicius) — The 1992 Lithuanian National Basketball Team went from the clutches of Communism to the Summer Olympics in Barcelona – a testament to the powerful role of sports as a catalyst for cultural identity.
- The QUEEN OF VERSAILLES (Director: Lauren Greenfield) — Jackie and David were triumphantly constructing the biggest house in America – a sprawling, 90,000-square-foot palace inspired by Versailles – when their timeshare empire collapses and their house is foreclosed. Their rags-to-riches-to-rags story reveals the innate virtues and flaws of the American Dream.
- SLAVERY BY ANOTHER NAME (Director: Sam Pollard) — As slavery came to an end with Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, a new system of involuntary servitude took its place with shocking force, brutalizing, terrorizing and ultimately circumscribing the lives of hundreds of thousands of African Americans well into the 20th century.
- WE’RE NOT BROKE (Directors: Karin Hayes, Victoria Bruce) — As American lawmakers slash budgets and lay off employees, leaving many people scrambling to survive, multibillion-dollar corporations are concealing colossal profits overseas to avoid paying U.S. income tax. Fed-up Americans are taking their frustration to the streets.