The film industry hasn’t met in three years to attend the Sundance Film Festival in person, but that didn’t stop many foreign filmmakers from traveling to Utah anyhow last year rather than canceling their tickets.
After the last two editions were forced to go virtual due to the COVID epidemic, the top team has released 99 features from the roster for a hybrid edition — taking place in Park City from Jan. 19-29, with an expanded presence in Salt Lake City.
The online component will go live on January 24. (All competition films will be available online, and titles from other categories may choose to participate in the streaming platform.)
The festival’s discovery-focused lineup includes Nicole Holofcener (“You Hurt My Feelings”), Sophie Barthes (“The Pod Generation”), Ira Sachs (“Passages”), and Sebastian Silva (“Rotting in the Sun”), and Justin Chon (“Jamojaya“), but is mostly focused on giving new talents a platform. Some of them may be familiar to audiences for other reasons, such as Jane Campion’s daughter Alice Englert (“Bad Behavior“) and “Blockbuster” star Randall Park (“Shortcomings“). Molly Gordon plays the lead in “Theater Camp,” which she also co-wrote and directed.
“I think the films we present are truly responding to the moment,” says Sundance director of programming Kim Yutani. “There are the overtly political stories about Ukraine, like ’20 Days in Mariupol’ and ‘Iron Butterfly,’ but another important element that developed this year is the Iranian voices.”
Yutani’s crew chose three films made by women of Iranian descent: “Persian Version,” “Joonam,” and “Shayda.”
While the directors may not be well-known, many projects feature talents that spectators will recognize, which should increase interest in the live event.
Cynthia Erivo stars in Anthony Chen’s “Drift,” Thomasin McKenzie and Anne Hathaway co-star in “Eileen,” Tiffany Haddish stars in Cory Finley’s “Landscape With Invisible Hand,” Gael Garca Bernal plays a gay luchador in Roger Ross Williams’ “Cassandro,” and Emilia Clarke and Chiwetel Ejiofor pioneer the future pregnancy in “The Pod Generation.”
Portraits of America’s favorite young adult novelist (“Judy Blume Forever”) and a sex icon for young adults (“Pretty Baby: Brooke Shields”).
And the beloved “Back to the Future” star who was diagnose with Parkinson’s disease at a young age. One of the “Starry” documentaries is “Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie.”
“In the aftermath of the pandemic, we see a lot of films looking at how we are reassessing our role today, and how we connect again,” Yutani adds, noting a creative bounce now that filmmakers have figured out how to manage lockdowns and COVID rules.
“Our entries are now live.” They’ve reached an all-time high of nearly 16,000. That was not what we expected over the last two years.” In addition, the feature categories received a record 4,061 submissions.
Thirty-two of the 115 directors are making their feature film debuts, with 20 of them being women.
Sundance is one of the few major film festivals to meet — and even exceed — the “50502020” gender parity goal established at Cannes in 2016, despite having been far ahead of the curve for years: Sundance has featured a U.S. Dramatic Competition lineup with half of the films directed by women a decade earlier, in 2013.
This year’s statistics are as follows: Eight of the thirteen directors in that category are female; one, “Mutt” director Vuk Lungulov-Klotz, is trans.
While founder Robert Redford may be the organization’s face, the Sundance Institute is headed by women, including incoming CEO Joana Vicente, a Toronto International Film Festival veteran. “Because this was my first time doing this, I had the amazing luxury of witnessing the curatorial team at work,” Vicente explains. “It was amazing to observe how they didn’t approach it with a preconceived notion.” It’s entirely natural. How the best films attain the level of being debate is part of the ethos.”
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