The Sundance Film Festival has presented this year’s round of awards, and on that page you’ll find the descriptions that have tagged along with each title since the day it was announced as part of the lineup. Below, you’ll find mini-roundups on the winners—reviews, interviews, and so on—or links to entries on them, which, by the way, are still being updated.
U.S. Dramatic Competition
Jury: Rachel Morrison, Jada Pinkett Smith, Octavia Spencer, Michael Stuhlbarg, and Joe Swanberg.
U.S. Grand Jury Prize: Dramatic
Desiree Akhavan’s The Miseducation of Cameron Post. “Akhavan follows up her achingly insightful and wickedly funny 2014 Sundance feature Appropriate Behavior with this marvelous adaptation of Emily M. Danforth’s novel, in which a young lesbian (Chloë Grace Moretz, in a warm and wonderfully open performance) is shipped off to the ‘God’s Promise’ gay conversion camp after she’s caught making out with her best girl friend at the school prom,” writes Flavorwire’s Jason Bailey. “The portrait of evangelical therapy is eerily convincing (without veering into lazy caricature), as is the dramatization of the guilt, pain, and self-loathing that is such a key component of these programs.”
It’s “a humble, poignant, and extremely touching coming-of-age drama that unfolds like a seriocomic One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” writes IndieWire’s David Ehrlich. “Complete with Jennifer Ehle as an indomitable riff on Nurse Ratched, the movie shears Emily M. Danforth’s massive YA novel of the same name down to a sensitive film that cuts right to the heart of the matter.”
“The queer Akhavan is not Evangelical, but she felt she could find a way into this world that would portray the school’s teachers and therapists as misguided people, not just caricatures of villains,” writes April Wolfe for Film Comment. “‘I was raised Irani, in a very isolated Persian community where I heard my auntie say they’d rather their kid have cancer than be gay,’ Akhavan says. ‘And I still loved her. That’s the thing. Some of the best people do the ugliest things.’” Wolfe also talks with novelist Danforth, who’s “she’s greatly saddened by how relevant the story’s become, with conversion-therapy proponent Mike Pence ascending to the Vice Presidency.” And Wolfe discusses the film again on a recent Film Comment Podcast (36’35”).
More from Nick Allen (RogerEbert.com), Monica Castillo (Little White Lies), Peter Debruge (Variety), Gregory Ellwood (Playlist, B-), Leslie Felperin (Hollywood Reporter), Tim Grierson (Screen), Jordan Hoffman (Guardian, 5/5), and Jordan Raup (Film Stage, B-). Interviews with cinematographer Ashley Connor: The Credits and Filmmaker.
Updates, 1/30: Cinematographer Ashley Conner’s “gift for taking the temperature of a room through catching glimpses of those living inside of it has no peer,” writes Stephen Saito, “and the collaboration between her, editor Sara Shaw and Akhavan is constantly surprising in its nifty yet subtle scene transitions that create a visual language for how Cameron’s dreams and memories are being rewired and warped.”
Danforth’s novel “spends nearly half of its time before God’s Promise,” notes Scott Renshaw in the Salt Lake City Weekly, arguing that Miseducation “makes the mistake of throwing us immediately into the efforts to ‘cure’ Cameron, before we get any idea what it is they’re trying to ‘cure’ her of.”
Audience Award: U.S. Dramatic
Andrew Heckler’s Burden. “As brainwashed white supremacist Mike Burden in Andrew Heckler’s Burden, Garrett Hedlund moves like a marionette, arms loose, shoulders swaying, head under the control of a vile father figure (Tom Wilkinson) manipulating his strings,” writes Amy Nicholson for Variety. “Heckler’s generous drama is based on the true story of a repo man whose attempt to quit the Klan in 1996 ignited one of the strangest real-estate lawsuits in modern history between Wilkinson’s Fagen-eqsue Tom Griffin, the operator of the Redneck KKK Museum, and a local reverend named Kennedy (Forest Whitaker).”
“This movie is about as subtle as a sledgehammer, with no shortage of cringeworthy moments and an uninteresting lead performance,” finds Jordan Hoffman in the Guardian.
Flavorwire’s Jason Bailey disagrees: “Garret Hedlund’s taciturn physicality is riveting, Andrea Riseborough is fierce (and barely recognizable), and Tom Wilkinson works up a chilling portrait of affable evil.”
“If Stanley Kramer were alive today, he would have wanted to make Burden,” suggests the Hollywood Reporter’s Todd McCarthy. “The sincere historical and thematic concerns pertaining to persistent small-town Southern racism come through loud and clear, but the writer-director’s inexperience behind the camera is all too evident, as the painful but ultimately cathartic tale bumps along for more than two hours without ever finding an aesthetic form.”
More from Nick Allen (RogerEbert.com), Kate Erbland (IndieWire, A-), and Jordan Ruimy (Playlist, C). The Credits’ Bryan Adams talks with cinematographer Jeremy Rouse. And Deadline’s Mike Fleming Jr. reports that Penguin Random House division Convergent is planning “to get the book ready to coincide with the film’s release, the first time I can recall that happening for an acquisition title at a film festival. The book was written by Courtney Hargrave, inspired by the film and Heckler’s screenplay.”
Update, 1/30: “The ambition throughout is admirable, though the execution wavers,” writes Dan Mecca at the Film Stage.
Directing Award: U.S. Dramatic
Sara Colangelo for The Kindergarten Teacher. Click the title for the entry.
Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award: U.S. Dramatic
Christina Choe for Nancy. “Rare is it that one gets to see a performance as strong as Andrea Riseborough’s,” writes Dan Mecca at the Film Stage. She plays “a thirty-something woman living in Oswego, New York who begins to suspect she was abducted when she was a child. Following the death of the woman that raised her (Ann Dowd), the titular Nancy reaches out to a couple (J. Smith-Cameron and Steve Buscemi) whose daughter disappeared thirty years prior, as she learns from the local news. Cautious but hopeful, they take in the young woman while they attempt to confirm she is their long-lost child. What they don’t know about her will soon cloud circumstances and complicate the visit.”
“She’s an enigma played like a vacuum in a mystery we quickly lose interest in solving,” writes Amy Nicholson for Variety. “The film is just too miserable to encourage the audience to offer up our empathy, when it doesn’t have affection for anything in it either.”
“The movie's refusal to ingratiate is admirable, even if you end up wondering whether it was worth all the doom and gloom,” adds Jon Frosch in the Hollywood Reporter.
For Victor Morton, dispatching to the Salt Lake City Weekly, Buscemi and Smith Cameron “steal the minor-key show like the old pros they are, neither playing victim, even when the DNA results come in, but both reacting to the 30-year hole in their hearts. As the initial skeptic, Buscemi is the least Buscemi-ish he has ever been, in a role where Buscemi-isms would’ve wrecked the movie. And Cameron suggests a wiser doppelgänger to Nancy, a woman who might prefer a lie to a lack.”
More from Nick Allen (RogerEbert.com), Kate Erbland (IndieWire, B+), Fionnuala Halligan (Screen), and Stephen Saito. Women and Hollywood has questions for Choe, and Filmmaker talks with her, too, as well as with cinematographer Zoë White. For Deadline, Joe Utichi interviews Riseborough, who’s also appeared in three other films at Sundance, Burden, Panos Cosmatos’s Mandy, and Armando Iannucci’s The Death of Stalin.
Update, 1/30: Riseborough’s “performance consistently makes you rethink your opinion of her as things progress,” writes Rolling Stone’s David Fear, “and she still hits every emotional beat like a champ. Beyond impressive.”
U.S. Dramatic Special Jury Award for Outstanding First Feature
Reinaldo Marcus Green’s Monsters and Men. See the entry.
U.S. Dramatic Special Jury Award for Excellence in Filmmaking
Reed Morano for I Think We’re Alone Now. “It’s one of the oldest writing prompts in the world,” writes IndieWire’s David Ehrlich: “‘The last man on Earth froze as he heard a knock at the door.’ Alas, the tantalizing potential of that premise has seldom been realized by the stories that it’s hatched, and Reed Morano’s admirably bold but aggravatingly banal I Think We’re Alone Now is almost enough to make you wish that people would stop trying altogether.”
This “handsome, heavily-underlined treatise on solitude, opens on a post-apocalyptic town near the Hudson River,” writes Amy Nicholson for Variety. “Tattered flags, that favorite symbol of failed Americana, droop on the empty Main St. of this new ghost town. And here comes its sheriff, an ex-librarian named Del (Peter Dinklage, straight-shouldered and stable) who is the sole survivor of the sudden something-or-other that wiped out the 1,600 people in his hamlet, and presumably, everyone else in the world. Enter teenage-ish Grace (Elle Fanning) with a car full of M-80s and a handgun in the backseat to detonate Del’s civilized society-of-one—though the fireworks she lights on her first night set a high bar for beauty and emotional impact that the film never manages to top.”
“If I Think We’re Alone Now were an episode of Black Mirror, it would be the runt of the season,” writes the Hollywood Reporter’s Todd McCarthy. “Dramatically and philosophically void and unprovocative on the grand scale of apocalyptic speculative fiction, this low-budget indie is somber and dreary on a moment-to-moment basis and leaves its talented cast stranded with few opportunities to alleviate the sense of stasis.”
“I wish I could make the people who dissed The Road watch this as punishment,” writes Victor Morton for the Salt Lake City Weekly. More from Gregory Ellwood (Playlist, B), Tim Grierson (Screen), Vince Mancini (Uproxx), and Brian Tallerico (RogerEbert.com).
Women and Hollywood forwards its questions for Morano, while, for the Los Angeles Times, Mark Olsen talks with Morano, Dinklage, Fanning, and Mike Makowsky, who wrote the screenplay on spec. It “made its way to Dinklage, who came on as a producer as well as an actor. They approached Morano about directing, impressed by her debut feature Meadowland, a moody tale starring Olivia Wilde. . . . ‘The idea that you’d have an apocalypse movie, and the incredibly beautiful twist that this guy is okay with it. It’s really funny,’ said Dinklage,” who adds: “It’s such a small movie. Then we realized it wasn’t after a while.”
U.S. Dramatic Special Jury Award for Achievement in Acting
Benjamin Dickey for his performance in Ethan Hawke’s Blaze. “Dickey has spent his life dedicated to music,” writes Kristopher Tapley for Variety, “so he certainly never set his sights on being an actor. That changed not long after Ethan Hawke crossed his path . . . Hawke was keen on making a biopic about unsung country singer-songwriter Blaze Foley, and he wanted his new friend to play him. It’s a masterful casting stroke, really, not least of all because Dickey is a natural in front of the camera.”
“A contemporary of Willie Nelson and the other ‘Outlaw’ country artists, Foley was troublesome even by their standard—belligerent and (at least according to the film) frequently kicked out of clubs for performing drunk,” writes John DeFore in the Hollywood Reporter. “Hawke goes in search of his tender side and finds it in a big way, thanks in large part to a charismatic lead performance.”
“Some of the usual suspects are involved—including alcoholism connected to growing up with an abusive father (Kris Kristofferson)—which would have made it easy for Blaze to fall victim to cliché,” writes Scott Renshaw for the Salt Lake City Weekly. “But in adapting the memoir by Foley’s wife, Sybil Rosen, Hawke employs an achronological structure that weaves between Foley’s life with Sybil (Alia Shawkat), a late live performance at an Austin, Texas bar, and a radio interview given by his friends Z (Josh Hamilton) and Townes Van Zandt (Charlie Sexton) after his death. The result isn’t simply unconventional, but heartbreaking.”
“It’s an organic slice of life—raw and untidy, deceptively aimless but always exploratory,” writes Variety’s Owen Gleiberman. “That it’s a musical biopic about a figure who spends more or less the entire movie mired in anonymity and failure is really the essence of it. Hawke has made the ultimate hipster movie. That’s a recommendation, though maybe a qualified one. Blaze, artful as it is, walks a thin line between inspiration and indulgence, but the film ends up on the right side of that line.”
More from Nick Allen (RogerEbert.com) and Dan Mecca (Film Stage, B). Blaze is one of the films that Eric Hynes and Nicolas Rapold discuss in a recent episode of the Film Comment Podcast (32’20”). Interviews with Hawke: Filmmaker and Dominic Patten (Deadline).
Updates, 1/30: “Described by its director as a ‘gonzo indie country-western opera,’ Blaze is sleepier and more bittersweet than Hawke might have you believe, less of an opera than an acoustic requiem for a ramblin’ man,” writes IndieWire’s David Ehrlich.
Dickey “lends this outlaw-country wildman and Townes Van Zandt drinking buddy an aura of tarnished-halo saintliness,” writes Rolling Stone’s David Fear.
Hawke has “made a film that rambles, scrambles, fights its way to the finish line, exactly the way its subject would have wanted it to be,” writes Jordan Ruimy at the Playlist.
U.S. Documentary Competition
Jury: Barbara Chai, Simon Chinn, Chaz Ebert, Ezra Edelman, and Matt Holzman.
U.S. Grand Jury Prize: Documentary
Derek Doneen’s Kailash. “A somewhat controversial first Indian Nobel Prize winner at home gets a laudatory documentary portrait,” writes Dennis Harvey for Variety. “Doneen’s feature directorial debut, after working on prior projects for producer Davis Guggenheim, can hardly help but rivet attention with the alarmingly still-widespread issue of child slavery as its subject. Driven activist Kailash Satyarthi has spent decades fighting for an end to the practice in India, with major ripple impacts across the globe. Still, the film’s edge, if not its worthiness, is slightly dulled by an over-slick approach that in the end makes it feel less like reportage than a first-class fundraising video.”
In the Hollywood Reporter, Daniel Fienberg notes that it “begins less like the Sundance social issue documentary it is and more like a Jason Bourne thriller,” opening with a raid on a factory in New Delhi. “It's appropriate for a movie that justifiably celebrates the efforts its subject has made and, at the same time, acknowledges that there are still 152 million child laborers around the world in cities as exotic as London and Los Angeles. Kailash ends on the right notes of hope, without abusing sentiment.”
“We went where the story took us, and because the story was unpredictable, we were always prepared for anything,” Doneen tells Filmmaker.
Audience Award: U.S. Documentary
Rudy Valdez’s The Sentence. “Increasingly manipulative as it goes along—in a literal and indisputable way, not even as a pejorative—The Sentence is so committed to its concentration on emotion and heart that it's difficult not to get carried away,” writes Daniel Fienberg in the Hollywood Reporter, “and it feels almost churlish to quibble with the intellectual responses it barely aspires to. . . . In 2008, Valdez's sister Cindy was sentenced to fifteen years in prison which, in and of itself, isn't complicated. The situation behind the incarceration is very complicated.”
“The overall issue of mass incarceration and sentencing is a large one,” Valdez tells Filmmaker. “I wanted to put a face on it.” Filmmaker also interviews editor Viridiana Lieberman. HBO has acquired U.S. television and streaming rights, reports Bruce Haring for Deadline.
Directing Award: U.S. Documentary
Alexandria Bombach for On Her Shoulders. “Bombach chronicles the efforts of Nadia Murad, now twenty-three, a young Yazidi woman who at the age of nineteen was kept as a sex slave for ISIS after the group took over her village of Kojo in Sinjar, Iraq,” explains Bilge Ebiri in the Village Voice. “Murad travels the world advocating for the cause of the Yazidi people, a relatively small religious minority in the region who number somewhere between 500,000 to a million. Many of them are refugees, stuck in camps; others are still held captive by ISIS. Nadia wants the world not only to act on those fronts, but also to recognize officially that what’s happened to the Yazidis constitutes a genocide.”
“It’s one thing to tell a traumatic story, and another to capture how that trauma impacts a life,” writes Jay Weissberg for Variety. “What makes Alexandria Bombach’s On Her Shoulders so powerful . . . is the way she reveals Murad’s distress at having to take on the role of activist. For every time people tell her how strong she is, we see her discomfort with the straightjacketing mantle of campaigner that she knows she must wear . . . By exposing the ways public institutions and the media demand an explicit performance of suffering by human-rights spokespeople, Bombach shows that Murad’s nightmare will never end. It’s this understanding, so rarely addressed or even noticed in most portraits of refugees, that makes Bombach’s film essential viewing.”
“Bereft of the horrific imagery that often is associated with documentaries such as this, On Her Shoulders is more devastating simply in chronicling this Sisiphyean exercise,” adds Stephen Saito.
“This is not just a snapshot of a brave activist,” writes Flavorwire’s Jason Bailey. “It’s a savvy bit of media analysis, pointedly questioning the manner in which survivors are exploited and packaged – and how we can often dwell on misery rather than take action to reduce it.”
More from Nick Allen (RogerEbert.com), John DeFore (Hollywood Reporter), Ed Gibbs (Little White Lies), and Scott Renshaw (Salt Lake City Weekly, 3.5/4). Interviews with Bombach: Filmmaker and Women and Hollywood.
U.S. Documentary Special Jury Award for Creative Vision
RaMell Ross’s Hale County This Morning, This Evening. See the entry.
U.S. Documentary Special Jury Award for Social Impact
Stephen Maing’s Crime + Punishment. This “unnerving documentary about the New York City Police Department’s harmful, money-grubbing methods spans the years 2014 through late 2017, though the corruption it tackles head-on has long been a staple of an organization that purports to exercise Courtesy, Professionalism and Respect,” writes Keith Uhlich for the Hollywood Reporter. “It’s been nearly half a century since Frank Serpico spotlighted the NYPD’s crooked tendencies, and the intervening years only appear to have dimmed some of the more outwardly savage practices. Unscrupulous cops won’t shoot and leave you for dead if you speak out against the department. They’ll just make your life a living hell. New motto: Kill the spirit, if not the body.”
“The officers’ stories are infuriating, backed up by hidden-microphone and hidden-camera material that proves the wink-and-a-nudge reality of New York City using disadvantaged populations as an easy revenue stream, and showing the real-world consequences of these officers daring to challenge the system,” writes Scott Renshaw for the Salt Lake City Weekly.
“It’s a compelling story, handsomely mounted (it’s a great-looking movie, often a secondary concern in documentary),” writes Flavorwire’s Jason Bailey, “and if all the pieces don’t quite fit, that doesn’t dampen its considerable velocity.” Adds Filmmaker’s Vadim Rizov: “Big shout-out for using drone shots in a non-hacky way, in sustained shots that cast an ominous spell rather than drifting purposelessly to bridge two segments, the current equivalent of sitcom establishing shots.”
U.S. Documentary Special Jury Award for Storytelling
Tim Wardle’s Three Identical Strangers. See the entry.
U.S. Documentary Special Jury Award for Breakthrough Filmmaking
Bing Liu’s Minding the Gap. “Liu’s film follows the lives of three close friends, all skaters in the depressed Rust Belt town of Rockford, Illinois, who’ve known each other since they were little kids,” writes Bilge Ebiri in the Village Voice. “We see their early years in rough glimpses—attempting skate tricks, goofing around, breaking their boards in both playfulness and rage. They’re a surprisingly diverse trio: Zack is the floppy-haired, charming pothead anarchist; Keire is African American, with a bubbly, boyish personality; Bing is a quiet, Chinese-American introvert. None have good relationships with their families; indeed, they say early on that they formed their own family together—‘to look out for each other, because no one else was looking out for us.’ . . . But as the years pass, the film begins to question some of the trio’s own notions of self-knowledge. . . . This sense of questioning becomes part of the aesthetic of the film.”
This is “a fairly wrenching portrait of cycles of abuse,” writes Scott Renshaw for the Salt Lake City Weekly. “It feels almost exploitative, and more about personal therapy, when the director puts his mother on camera to interrogate her about violence in the family; it feels more powerful when we see people fumbling with lives forever scarred by unseen others.”
“Liu has a gift for montage and a confident way with his camera, and the emotional heft of this debut is quietly overwhelming,” writes Flavorwire’s Jason Bailey. More from Daniel Fienberg (Hollywood Reporter), John Fink (Film Stage, A-), Eric Kohn (IndieWire, B+), Stephen Saito, and Brian Tallerico (RogerEbert.com). Filmmaker talks with Liu about directing, shooting, and editing Minding the Gap.
World Cinema Dramatic Competition
Jury: Hanaa Issa, Ruben Östlund, and Michael J. Werner.
World Cinema Grand Jury Prize: Dramatic
Tolga Karaçelik’s Butterflies. “Tolstoy’s assertion that ‘each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way,’ is largely borne out by Tolga Karaçelik’s bittersweet road movie,” writes Screen’s Allan Hunter. “The story of three siblings reunited by a call from their long estranged father is told with an unpredictable blend of rueful regrets, home truths and bursts of absurdist comedy.”
“The second hour especially has the ingredients for a Turkish rural farce in the vein of Green Acres or Funny Farm,” writes Victor Morton for the Salt Lake City Weekly, but “Butterflies spends way too much time getting the siblings together and to the village, and with soporific scenes in which they hash out ‘issues’ with such lumpy dialogue as ‘I’m trying to remember a memory I’ve never lived.’ And then the three start rockin’ out to Cemali’s 1990s Turkish standard ‘Duymak Istiyorum.’ And then they start screaming at each other like Ingmar Bergman characters at the father’s graveside, which the imam has just abandoned. The soggy family-drama weighs down a potentially fine ninety-minute screwball comedy, turning it into a two-hour tonal mess.”
“Karaçelik deftly mixes moments of situational comedy with absurdist touches, such as an exploding chicken and a village imam who openly struggles with a crisis of faith in the most awkward moments,” writes Vladan Petkovic at Cineuropa. “On the other hand, the tragic aspects of the story, such as the very dark description of the suicide of their mother, and the reasons for their mutual estrangement are not fully explored, leaving the viewer with the feeling that the emotional dimension of the film lacks something important.”
Filmmaker gets a few words with Karaçelik.
Update, 1/30: “Not every one of the film’s absurdist comic lunges lands,” writes Guy Lodge for Variety, “and at just shy of two hours, this particular shaggy dog wouldn’t be hurt by a slight trim. But when Karaçelik keeps the focus squarely on the honest, complicated emotions of his superbly played core trio of characters—and less on the quirkier goings-on fizzing around them—Butterflies morphs into something rather lovely.”
Audience Award: World Cinema Dramatic
Gustav Möller’s The Guilty. Click the title for the entry.
Directing Award: World Cinema Dramatic
Ísold Uggadóttir for And Breathe Normally. “A struggling Icelandic single mother forms an unlikely bond with a female asylum seeker from Guinea-Bissau in the impressively acted social-realist drama,” writes Alissa Simon in Variety. “Reminiscent of the work of Ken Loach or the Dardenne brothers, it unfolds amid grim, desolate-looking landscapes that supply the antithesis of Iceland’s tourist brochures.”
“And Breathe Normally feels like an honest documentation of the lesser-known social aspects of life in Iceland and certainly puts particular emphasis on asylum seekers,” writes Vassilis Economou at Cineuropa. “This should come as no surprise, as Uggadóttir, who also wrote and co-produced the film, has always kept a close eye on marginalized minorities. As in her previous work, she focuses on female characters while expanding on the topics she has already explored, such as the aftermath of Iceland’s financial collapse, the consequences of addiction and the issues faced by the LGBT community. Probably for the first time ever, a film from Iceland is dealing with the refugee crisis and how this is handled in a country that seems a million miles away from the hot spot of the events.”
“Understated and confidently judged, it becomes a testimony to the old-fashioned virtues of social-realist storytelling rooted in ordinary lives and timely concerns,” adds Allan Hunter in Screen.
“I became a volunteer at the Icelandic Red Cross,” Uggadóttir explains at Women and Hollywood. “It was there that I met a woman from Ugandawho herself was not only struggling financially, but battling the system in order to be given asylum in our country on grounds of her sexuality. This was in 2012. We became fast friends, giving me insight into what her battle entailed. I found myself enraged and disturbed at what I learned, and eventually felt compelled to commit to film what I was learning.”
Edward Davis has a clip at the Playlist.
World Cinema Dramatic Special Jury Award for Screenwriting
Julio Chavezmontes and Sebastián Hofmann for Time Share (Tiempo Compartido), directed by Hofmann. “A nasty, nettling little puzzle piece that cleverly probes patriarchal insecurity and corporate invasiveness through the course of one botched family vacation,” writes Guy Lodge for Variety, “the film coolly reels in viewers with radioactive visuals and a nightmarish slow-burn setup that calls both Michael Haneke and Ira Levin to mind: Two married men, separately in the grip of a corrupt luxury resort, fight the brightly-packaged company hypnosis that appears to have claimed their loved ones. If Hofmann doesn’t deliver a payoff quite worthy of his premise, Time Share remains an arresting, electric tease.”
“Hofmann’s parable starts off like a hapless descendent of a National Lampoon Vacation comedy,” writes Nicholas Bell at Ioncinema. “Increasingly, mounting awkwardness takes a plunge into full-blown capitalist conspiracy thriller wherein corporate entities have begun to evoke emotionally vampiric tendencies to sell fantastical ideas of bourgeois inspired idylls to heteronormative families struggling to maintain a semblance of normalcy.”
“This comedy of manners is not the typical Mexican export to America these days,” notes April Wolfe, writing for Film Comment. “Hofmann concedes that the ‘drug lord thing is in vogue in film, and also very much a reflection of reality’ in certain areas of Mexico. But the director set out to make Time Share a universal story. ‘The middle class is exactly the same everywhere. You strive for the same things. You want the secure job, the house with the picket fence,’ he says.”
More from Nick Allen (RogerEbert.com), Allan Hunter (Screen), Kyle Kohner (Playlist, B), Christopher Llewellyn Reed (Hammer to Nail), Scott Renshaw (Salt Lake City Weekly, 3/4), Stephen Saito, and Frank Scheck (Hollywood Reporter).
Update, 1/30: At Cineuropa, Kaleem Aftab finds that “the final pay-off doesn’t quite match up to the high-quality psychological drama preceding it.”
World Cinema Dramatic Special Jury Award for Acting
Valeria Bertuccelli for The Queen of Fear, directed by Bertuccelli and Fabiana Tiscornia. Bertuccelli’s directorial debut—Tiscornia has been an assistant director for Lucrecia Martel and Pablo Trapero—“takes the idea of stage fright,” writes Boyd van Hoeij in the Hollywood Reporter, “and extrapolates it as the pic explores the crippling ‘life fright’ of a famous actress in early middle age while she’s preparing for a one-woman theater show that remains frustratingly vague in its outline and contents—even for the actress herself.” Bertuccelli’s “created a very meaty role for herself her that duly showcases her performance prowess. As a director and storyteller, however, she is on less steady ground.”
“Tonally, the picture runs from absurdist comedy,” writes Nikki Baughan for Screen, “to emotional drama, and often delves into darker, psycho-noir territory as her anxieties threaten to entirely overwhelm her. . . . Cinematographer Matías Mesa and editor Rosario Suarez work in particularly harmonious tandem; tight focus, angled shots and fast cuts capture both to the highly-orchestrated, fast-paced world in which [Bertuccelli’s Robertina] operates, and the disorienting, decidedly unglamorous way in which she unravels.”
“It’s a relatable idea to be certain, but in this case it doesn’t add up to a particularly interesting film,” finds Nick Allen at RogerEbert.com. Bertuccelli talks with Women and Hollywood and Filmmaker, which also has an interview with cinematographer Matías Mesa.
World Cinema Dramatic Special Jury Award for Ensemble Acting
Vivian Wu, Haoyu Yang, Mason Lee, Meng Li, and David Rysdahl for their work in Cathy Yan’s Dead Pigs. “In the Chinese zodiac, the happy-go-lucky pig stands for good fortune and wealth,” writes Jessica Kiang for Variety. “So an inexplicable epidemic that decimates the porcine population in a developing part of China still heavily reliant on pig farming, could be symbolically as well as literally disastrous, and it provides Cathy Yan’s sprawling, bouncing, jaunty debut with its darkest images. Along the wide river that flows sluggishly to the nearby city, thousands of discarded pig corpses keep bobbing to the surface like troublesome metaphors. But despite tracking with forensic rigor the domino effects of this sudden aporkalypse, the surprise is the light sureness of Yan’s touch. Dead Pigs is delightfully uneven, eagerly see-sawing between screwy and serious, occasionally even daring to be ditzy—not a quality usually associated with Sixth Generation maestro and executive producer Jia Zhangke.”
In the Hollywood Reporter, Justin Lowe finds Dead Pigs to be “a dark, quirky comedy that peels back the layers of contemporary Mainland mores and reveals a group of people almost completely deracinated by their quest to get ahead in a society buffeted by rapidly shifting cultural expectations.”
“Demonstrating a light touch—underscored by a whimsy-leaning score and overtly comic moments, but never delving into flimsiness or farce—Yan handles her chosen topic, and the tapestry of tales it’s woven through, with care,” writes Screen’s Sarah Ward. “Coupled with the naturalistic tones prominent in cinematographer Federico Cesca’s (Patti Cake$) lensing, it’s an approach that mostly resonates.”
Stephen Saito talks with Yan “about figuring out a story that could capture Shanghai in all its diversity.” Women and Hollywood gets a few words with her as well, while Filmmaker interviews cinematographer Federico Cesca and editor Alex Kopit.
World Cinema Documentary Competition
Jury: Joslyn Barnes, Billy Luther, and Paulina Suárez.
World Cinema Grand Jury Prize: Documentary
Talal Derki’s Of Fathers and Sons. “This is an extremely accomplished and upsetting documentary,” writes Filmmaker’s Vadim Rizov, though “on the scale of Syria nonfiction films, it’s slightly less depressing than Silvered Water, Syria Self-Portrait, if only because the sheer volume of people killed onscreen is lower. Syrian-born/Berlin-based Derki returned to his homeland, passed himself off as a jihad-sympathetic war photographer, and embedded himself with a family headed by patriarch Abu Osama. The title should be taken literally, as women are almost invisible and silent when onscreen; this is a story of male pathology transmitted down the generations.”
“Early on, Derki offers an example of how a universal parenting situation takes on a different character here,” notes John DeFore in the Hollywood Reporter. “One of the boys has found a small bird and captured it as a plaything, holding it gently and petting it. After a while, an adult says it must be killed, because it likely won’t survive on its own after such handling. He suggests cutting its neck as the most humane option, to which a child enthuses ‘like how you did, Dad, to that man!’”
For Victor Morton in the Salt Lake City Weekly, “as remarkable as the observational scenes are, they come at the expense of shape and trajectory.” More from Vladan Petkovic (Cineuropa), Stephen Saito, and Daniel Schindel (Film Stage, B).
Audience Award: World Cinema Documentary
Alexandra Shiva’s This Is Home. “When Syrian residents were forced to flee the civil war that began in 2011, the U.S. began accommodating refugee immigrants, along with some fifty other nations, accepting almost 21,000 by 2016,” writes Justin Lowe in the Hollywood Reporter. “Nearly 400 moved to Baltimore, where the local branch of the International Rescue Committee (IRC), a nonprofit humanitarian organization based in New York City, provides resettlement assistance. Following four refugee families who arrived in 2016, Alexandra Shiva’s This Is Home charts their initial integration into American society over eight months and the various challenges and opportunities they encounter. Overwhelmingly conventional in style and intentionally limited in scope, this is a TV-ready doc slated for broadcast on Epix.”
“There has been such a massive influx of Syria-themed documentaries in recent years that it could be easy for festival audiences and critics alike to feel, if not jaded, at least a little weary,” grants Guy Lodge in Variety. “The war and its ensuing refugee crisis may be the most urgent international humanitarian cause of our age, but hasn’t the message been delivered? The answer, as long as the President of the United States raises barriers or speaks out against incoming citizens of any number of so-called ’s—thole countries,’ is: not even close. And so one can only welcome a film like Alexandra Shiva’s This Is Home, which moves no needles cinematically or politically, but makes a heartening call for open-armed empathy in an America still guarded on that front.”
These are “people who are here simply because it’s their only option for keeping their families alive, not because they want to suckle at the American government’s teat,” writes Scott Renshaw for the Salt Lake City Weekly. “When Trump’s initial ‘Muslim ban’ is introduced into the narrative with all of its accompanying uncertainty, it’s a reminder of how precarious the idea of the American Dream can become.”
Update, 1/30: “Alexandra formed a strong bond with the subjects as she filmed with them,” editor Toby Shimin tells Filmmaker, “and I fell in love with them in the footage, as I screened the almost 300 hours of dailies, but we only had ninety minutes to make an audience feel the same way. Knowing that while we wanted the vérité scenes to be as immersive as possible, but also knowing that all the dialogue needed to be translated and read by the viewer, we put the emphasis in editing on highlighting the most human, universal and emotional moments.”
Directing Award: World Cinema Documentary
Sandi Tan for Shirkers. “Shot in 1992, when Tan was in college, from a proudly illogical script of her own devising, Shirkers was meant to be a rare, hopefully transformative Singaporean independent film in a country without much history of those,” writes Filmmaker’s Vadim Rizov; he also interviews Tan. “Directed by Tan’s ambivalently-motivated mentor Georges Cardona—who subsequently absconded with seventy reels of unedited material—Shirkers is partially reconstructed alongside a personal memoir and decades-later investigation. No spoiler here: seeing vibrant footage with celluloid-specific colors from the get-go, it’s clear that Shirkers was relocated and exists in one form or another. The question is how and why it got away in the first place; not all answers will be provided.”
“Tan’s original film project was a cross between Heathers and Godard and it looks stunning, but we see it only in snatches and hear no original audio,” writes Charlie Phillips for the Guardian. “Tan beautifully weaves together details of the strange dynamic between her and Georges in a way that would delight her cinematic heroes. There are classic cinema elements everywhere—a road movie element based upon Breathless, impossible challenges based on Fitzcarraldo, and street scenes modeled on Paris, Texas. Georges was a liar, even to himself, and his manipulative lies were infused with an intense cinephilia.”
“It isn’t just Tan who speaks with refreshing candor about the experience of making Shirkers,” notes Stephen Saito, “but fellow film students Jasmine Ng and Sophie Harvey, who worked on the film’s crew alongside her. ‘Our passion and earnestness come through,’ says Harvey, who readily admits of the film, ‘The plot was immaterial. It was a mood piece.’”
“The 16 mm color footage pops like nothing made today does,” adds Victor Morton in the Salt Lake City Weekly. More from Fionnuala Halligan (Screen), Eric Kohn (IndieWire, B+), and Daniel Schindel (Film Stage, B). Eric Hynes and Nicolas Rapold discuss the film in a recent Film Comment Podcast (32’20”). Women and Hollywood has questions for Tan, as does Filmmaker, which also interviews editor Lucas Celler.
World Cinema Documentary Special Jury Award
Stephen Loveridge and M.I.A. for MATANGI / MAYA / M.I.A. It’s “a long-in-the-works look at the Tamil immigrant turned global rap-pop juggernaut that feels like a home movie dotted with the occasional musical interlude,” writes Rolling Stone’s David Fear. “Mathangi ‘Maya’ Arulpragasam and director Steven Loveridge go way back to their art-school days, long before world tours and boom-boom-boom-take-your-mon-eyyy choruses; both of them wanted to be filmmakers. Maya had used music as a refuge for her feelings of alienation at being a Sri Lankan refugee living in London since she’d been a kid, going from Madonna to Public Enemy. But she had been documenting her life for a while, from return trips to her politically fraught country to accompanying Elastica’s Justine Frischmann for a commissioned tour diary. There was plenty of origin-story material and behind-the-scenes, dancing-for and crying-into-the-camera snippets to go around.”
It’s “a bit of a mess, switching perspectives and zig-zagging haphazardly across the years as it attempts to grasp the manifold, often conflicting facets of her personality and celebrity,” writes Guy Lodge for Variety. “It’s a film as compellingly all over the shop as its subject, even if it doesn’t quite have her beat on stylistic verve and risk. Fans will thrill to this readily distributable Sundance premiere, even if it gives just as much fuel to the divisive star’s detractors.”
Filmmaker’s Vadim Rizov notes that the “last stretch is basically dedicated to rehashing a series of instances in which M.I.A. feels she’s been publicly misrepresented (including that infamous Lynn Hirschberg profile). I’m not even saying she’s wrong, but this is the kind of obsessive worrying about image shaping—first a recap of the event, then the refutation—that makes for a truly fans-only affair.”
World Cinema Documentary Special Jury Award for Editing
Maxim Pozdorovkin and Matvey Kulakov for Our New President. See the entry.
World Cinema Documentary Special Jury Award for Cinematography
Maxim Arbugaev and Peter Indergand for their work on Christian Frei and Maxim Arbugaev’s Genesis 2.0. “Every year, in the inhospitable New Siberian Islands, a hardy band of latter day prospectors arrive to grub through the melting permafrost in search of mammoth tusks,” writes Screen’s Wendy Ide. “Meanwhile, pioneer scientists on humanity’s new frontier, ‘synthetic biology,’ dream of resurrecting the long-extinct mammoth, cloning it from flash-frozen genetic material chiselled out of the Siberian ice. The latest film from Oscar-nominated documentarian Christian Frei (War Photographer) explores this hinterland between the scientific and the mythic; a fascinating, sometimes frightening film which, like its subjects, is perhaps a little too ambitious for its own good.”
“There’s a Herzog-ian vibe to some of the early scenes,” finds Scott Renshaw in the Salt Lake City Weekly, “especially as Frei narrates emails to his co-director Maxim Arbugaev in a Teutonic purr. Yet while the narrative certain touches on the ethics of attempting to manipulate the building blocks of life itself, there are even more complicated ethical questions at work: how we manage to live in a world where some people pay $100,000 to clone a deceased pet dog, and others spend months in a harsh wilderness to retrieve raw materials that might not even pay for the trip.”
More from Christopher Llewellyn Reed at Hammer to Nail.
Update, 1/31: Sloan Science & Film’s Sonia Shechet Epstein interviews Arbugaev and Frei.
Juror: RuPaul Charles.
NEXT Innovator Prize
It’s a tie.
Jordana Spiro’s Night Comes On. “Dominique Fishback follows her breakout work on The Deuce with an emotionally engaging turn as a bruised Pennsylvania teen on a mission of retribution,” writes David Rooney in the Hollywood Reporter. “Restrained, affecting and tenderly observed with a distinctly female gaze, the film takes some time to locate its center as an intimate drama of resilient sisterhood. But the delicacy of the bond etched between Fishback's Angel and her ten-year-old sibling, played by captivating discovery Tatum Marilyn Hall, keeps you hooked into this melancholy but hopeful story of fractured family dynamics.”
“Authenticity here is totally on point,” writes Kim Voynar at Movie City News. “Spiro’s co-writer Angelica Nwandu was herself a child of the foster care system, and Spiro herself incepted this tale while volunteering at Peace4Kids, which helps kids living in foster care ‘grow and discover their significance.’” More from Victor Morton (Salt Lake City Weekly, 3.5/4). Interviews with Spiro: Filmmaker, Ioncinema, and Women and Hollywood. Ioncinema also interviews Fishback and Hall, while Filmmaker has questions for cinematographer Hatuey Viveros Lavielle and editor Taylor Levy.
Update, 1/31: “One of the very best directorial debuts I saw at Sundance,” declares Nick Allen at RogerEbert.com.
Update, 1/30: Ioncinema’s Eric Lavallée talks with producer Alvaro R. Valente.
Jeremiah Zagar’s We the Animals. “Justin Torres’s expressively pithy 2011 debut novel, We the Animals, conjured a tough childhood similar to that of the author, about a boy inseparable from his two brothers while their parents fought and reconciled and fought some more as they grappled with a seemingly inescapable reality of blue-collar hopelessness,” begins David Rooney in the Hollywood Reporter. “In his first narrative feature, documentary maker Jeremiah Zagar (In a Dream, Captivated: The Trials of Pamela Smart) captures the feel of the novel with uncanny precision, notably in the visceral charge and physical heat of tightly wound bodies almost constantly moving in close proximity. His strong casting also is key, including the three natural young nonprofessional actors as the siblings, along with Sheila Vand (A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night) and Raul Castillo (Looking) as their parents, identified only as Ma and Paps. We the Animals is a tiny film but mesmerizing in its own loose, dreamy way; it’s also a distinctive take on the discovery of queer identity.”
“We the Animals drifts through an intangible period of time that also feels—thanks to the crisp observations of its protagonist—utterly timeless,” writes IndieWire’s Eric Kohn. “Its greatest visual motif finds all three boys holding hands over their ears in unison, content to exist in their insular world as long as possible. In every scene, We the Animals evokes not only the specificity of that world but the deep-seated challenges of escaping it.”
“Zagar takes his intuition as a documentarian and finds further inspiration in the likes of poetic realist staples Ken Loach, Charles Burnett, and Lynne Ramsay,” suggests Ben Umstead at ScreenAnarchy. More from Jordan Ruimy (Playlist, B+) and Stephen Saito. Filmmaker talks with Zagar and cinematographer Zak Mulligan, and Ioncinema interviews Zagar and Sheila Vand.
Update, 1/30: “It muffles and evades scenes like shoplifting and the aftermath or throwing rocks at passing cars, played like a lyrical blowing off steam,” writes Victor Morton for the Salt Lake City Weekly. “I was also irritated by the handling of underage sexuality, particularly two sudden scene-ending cuts upon a kiss on the mouth, which is poultry-excrement. Show the real-world impacts or effects of, for example, a boy suddenly kissing another boy on the mouth, or make the movie about something else.”
Update, 1/31: “Jonah’s drawings and animations were a huge part of the film,” editor Keiko Deguchi tells Filmmaker. “We worked with a brilliant artist, Mark Samsonovich. The animation was also a means of storytelling so it was extremely helpful—it became a solution to some of the story problems we were having. And it definitely created Jonah’s unique world.”
Audience Award: NEXT
Aneesh Chaganty’s Search, which has also won the 2018 Alfred P. Sloan Feature Film Prize. “The massively clever Search draws significant suspense from two modern anxieties,” writes Screen’s Tim Grierson: “we’re spending too much time on our devices, and parents don’t really know what their kids are up to. Taking place entirely on computer screens, this mystery thriller gains emotional heft thanks to an agonized performance from John Cho as a widowed father trying to track down his missing daughter. The movie’s arresting visual conceit has enough flexibility to sustain interest, even if the story’s twists and turns sometimes feel excessively fiendish.”
Search “gradually ratchets up the tension as all good thrillers must, one that’s well constructed and acted as well as novel in its storytelling techniques,” writes the Hollywood Reporter’s Todd McCarthy. It’s “like spending a little over an hour-and-a-half on the internet, except that a mind perhaps more wily than yours is organizing your online voyage. Early on you’re made to feel that you’re in good hands, such is the technical and dramatic expertise Chaganty, co-writer Sev Ohanian, editors Will Merrick and Nick Johnson (what a job they must have had!) and the rest of the team pour into this novel enterprise.”
More from Kate Erbland (IndieWire, B+) and Jordan Ruimy (Playlist, B+). Filmmaker has questions for cinematographer Juan Sebastian Baron, as does Ioncinema, also interviewing Chaganty and producer Sev Ohanian.
Updates, 1/30: Dispatching to the Salt Lake City Weekly, Scott Renshaw finds it “impressive” that “Chaganty manages to sustain his gimmick for 100 minutes, in a way that actually makes it feel like something other than a gimmick—only for his plot to sabotage the finale.”
“Cutting to the emotional core of what social media says about us, the result is as much a time capsule of our relationship to (and reliance upon) modern technology as it is a cutting-edge digital thriller,” writes Variety’s Peter Debruge.
“John Cho should be our next leading man,” argues Dan Mecca at the Film Stage.
Short Film Awards
Jurors: Cherien Dabis, Shirley Manson, and Chris Ware.
Grand Jury Prize: Álvaro Gago’s Matria.
Short Film Jury Award: U.S. Fiction: Mariama Diallo’s Hair Wolf.
Short Film Jury Award: International Fiction: Goran Stolevski’s Would You Look at Her.
Short Film Jury Award: Nonfiction: Tamta Gabrichidze’s The Trader (Sovdagari).
Short Film Jury Award: Animation: Jeron Braxton’s Glucose.
Update, 2/4: Cristina Costantini and Darren Foster’s Science Fair has won the inaugural festival favorite award, “selected by audience votes from the 123 feature films screened,” as Dave McNary reports for Variety.
“An affectionate and supremely entertaining celebration of the all-American nerd, Science Fair may look like a straightforward super-kid contest doc, à la Spellbound and Mad Hot Ballroom, but there’s a lot more going on behind the scenes,” writes Variety’s Peter Debruge. “At a time when politicians pooh-pooh climate change and peddle the fantasy of ‘beautiful, clean coal,’ the best way to make America great again is not by backtracking to old ideals, but by embracing science and progress—and the heroes most likely to carry us forward aren’t necessarily old guys in lab coats (though we’ll need them, too!), but a new generation of science geeks eager to make a difference.”
More from Justin Lowe (Hollywood Reporter) and Scott Renshaw (Salt Lake City Weekly, 2.5/4). Interviews with the directors: Filmmaker, Stephen Saito, Kenneth Turan (Los Angeles Times), and Women and Hollywood.