Sundance 2022 Goes Local and Global

Elizabeth Banks in Phyllis Nagy’s Call Jane (2022)

The future of film festivals may very well look like the 2022 edition of Sundance. From January 20 through 30, the festival will present eighty-two features, first to audiences gathered in Park City, then online with a live Q&A and premiere party. On the closing weekend, eight features will screen at seven independent art-house cinemas located across the country, while the fifteen multimedia, VR, and emerging tech New Frontier projects will be globally accessible from January 20 through 28 via the immersive platform Sundance is calling The Spaceship. This is one multipronged event.

Eleven months ago, Tabitha Jackson took much of her first edition as festival director online, and the experience seems to have made an impression. “We need to attract diverse audiences, and for us this idea of sustainability and community and care is all addressed by having an online dimension to the festival,” she tells Variety’s Brent Lang. “People don’t have to fly here in order to participate. They don’t have to be of a certain socio-economic status to be able to afford to stay for ten days in Park City. They don’t have to be able to physically navigate icy mountain streets. We can expand the range of people who can participate in the festival, in the work and in the conversation.”

The emphasis on diversity is reflected in the 2022 lineup. Just over half of the features are directed or codirected by filmmakers who identify as women; thirty-five percent identify as people of color; ten percent as LGBTQ+; one as nonbinary. “We don’t program along thematic lines, but we did notice some trends coming out as we were going through our submissions, which were quite robust,” director of programming Kim Yutani tells the Hollywood Reporter’s Mia Galuppo and Tatiana Siegel.

Talking to Nicole Sperling in the New York Times, Yutani elaborates. “We’ve been through a lot these past two years and I think that has had a huge influence on what artists are concentrating on,” she says. “Some of that is fighting the system, really calling into question institutions, corporations. We saw a lot of films that are looking at the fight for democracy.” In The Exiles, for example, directors Ben Klein and Violet Columbus focus on documentarian Christine Choy as she tracks down three exiled Chinese dissidents who took part in the 1989 protests on Tiananmen Square.

As the U.S. Supreme Court looks set to overturn Roe v. Wade, Sundance will present three films that depict women seeking safe abortions when the procedure was illegal. Audrey Diwan’s Happening, set in France in 1963, won the Golden Lion in Venice. The other two films are among Sundance 2022’s seventy-five world premieres, and both focus on the Jane Collective, an underground service that operated in Chicago in the late 1960s and early ’70s. Tia Lessin and Emma Pildes’s documentary The Janes zooms in on a police raid of an apartment in 1972 that resulted in the arrests of seven women. Call Jane, starring Elizabeth Banks and Sigourney Weaver, is the directorial debut from Phyllis Nagy, who wrote Todd Haynes’s Carol (2015).

Among the six shows selected for the Indie Episodic program is Carlos Cardona’s Chiqui, in which a young couple from Colombia struggle to make it in the U.S. of 1987. Sundance is pitching the 2022 New Frontier program, in the meantime, as “a fully biodigital showcase.” Sam Green, whose 2002 documentary The Weather Underground was nominated for an Oscar, worked with Yo La Tango in 2012 and with the Kronos Quartet in 2018 on “live documentary” projects. Green’s 32 Sounds, a live and immersive exploration of the power of sound, will open Sundance 2022 just before the festival screens eleven Day One features and a shorts program.

Slamdance and SXSW

Having gone mostly virtual back in February, Slamdance will return to Park City. The twenty-eighth edition will open on January 20, and while in-person screenings will wrap on January 23, films will carry on streaming through January 30. Founded as an alternative to Sundance in 1995, Slamdance has a history of launching the careers of unknown filmmakers who have on to make a name for themselves. Christopher Nolan (Following) and Anthony and Joseph Russo (Pieces) are among the most prominent examples. The lineup for 2022 features thirteen world premieres. “We are anti-algorithm,” says Slamdance president and cofounder Peter Baxter. “That’s always been true, but it’s more urgent than ever as we continue to celebrate truly unique voices that defy simple classification and transcend analytics.”

Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, collectively known as Daniels, won grand jury awards for their music videos at SXSW in 2012 and 2015. In 2016, they won a directing award at Sundance for their first feature, Swiss Army Man, starring Paul Dano as the proverbial man stranded alone on a desert island—but with a twist. He finds and befriends a dead body (Daniel Radcliffe). On March 11, Daniels will return to Austin to open the twenty-ninth SXSW Film Festival with the world premiere of Everything Everywhere All at Once. Playing a woman who just can’t seem to finish filing her tax returns, Michelle Yeoh leads an ensemble cast that includes Stephanie Hsu, Ke Huy Quan, James Hong, Jenny Slate, Harry Shum Jr., and Jamie Lee Curtis. SXSW calls Everything “a hilarious and big-hearted sci-fi action adventure.”

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