Justifiably flaunting the role it plays in shaping any given year in movies, Sundance has posted an impressively long list of titles, filmmakers, and performers featured in its 2023 edition that have just been nominated for Independent Spirit Awards. On Wednesday, Sundance gave us a first draft of 2024.
Nearly half of the eighty-two features lined up for the fortieth edition running from January 18 through 28 come from first-time directors, but of course, the draw to Park City for many will be the presence of such stars as Kristen Stewart, Pedro Pascal, Aubrey Plaza, André Holland, Saoirse Ronan, and Steven Yeun. A few titles from each of the festival’s programs immediately catch the eye.
U.S. Dramatic Competition
Recent winners of the Grand Jury Prize in this competition include Lee Isaac Chung’s Minari and Nikyatu Jusu’s Nanny. This year, Nathan Silver (Uncertain Terms, Thirst Street) will bring Between the Temples, a comedy about a crisis of faith starring Jason Schwartzman, Carol Kane, and Dolly de Leon, shot by Sean Price Williams, and cowritten with MUBI’s C. Mason Wells.
Renowned painter Titus Kaphar makes his directorial debut with Exhibiting Forgiveness, starring André Holland as an artist whose career is just taking off when he’s forced to confront his estranged father, a former addict. Jesse Eisenberg directs himself, Kieran Culkin, Will Sharpe, and Jennifer Grey in A Real Pain, a road movie tracking a journey through Poland undertaken by two cousins who do not get along. Laura Chinn’s screenplay for Suncoast, the story of a teen who befriends an eccentric activist, made the Black List in 2020, and now her directorial debut stars Woody Harrelson and Laura Linney.
U.S. Documentary Competition
In 2007, lawyer, writer, and trans-rights advocate Martine Rothblatt, the CEO of GeoStar and the creator of SiriusXM Satellite Radio, commissioned the creation of a robot modeled on her wife. BINA48 utilizes AI and voice and facial recognition capabilities in order to communicate as well as to potentially serve as a new home for Bina Rothblatt’s consciousness. Peter Sillen tells the couple’s story in Love Machina.
Other subjects of films in this year’s competition include Argentine cowboys and cowgirls (Michael Dweck and Gregory Kershaw’s Gaucho Gaucho), Ukrainian artists on the front lines (Brendan Bellomo’s Porcelain War), Amazon workers (Stephen Maing and Brett Story’s Union), rap lyrics in the courtroom (J. M. Harper’s As We Speak), and Frida Kahlo (Carla Gutiérrez’s Frida).
World Cinema Dramatic Competition
Renate Reinsve and Anders Danielsen Lie, the stars of Joachim Trier’s The Worst Person in the World, are reunited in Thea Hvistendahl’s Handling the Undead. John Ajvide Lindqvist (Let the Right One In) has written the adaptation of his own 2005 novel about three families dealing with the resurrection of recently lost loved ones.
Klaudia Reynicke, whose first and second features, The Nest (2016) and Love Me Tender (2019), premiered in Locarno, sets Reinas in the midst of the political upheaval in Lima in the early 1990s. A mother and her two daughters aim to leave the Peruvian capital for the U.S., but this will entail reconnecting with the girls’ estranged father.
World Cinema Documentary Competition
London-based distributor Dogwoof has just boarded world sales for Nocturnes, the latest film from Anirban Dutta and Anupama Srinivasan, whose Flickering Lights won the IDFA Award for Best Cinematography last month. “Set in the Eastern Himalayas,” writes Deadline’s Andreas Wiseman,Nocturnes “sees two curious observers shine a light on a secret universe, transporting audiences to a rarely seen place where moths help knit together an important ecosystem.”
Dogwoof will also be representing Black Box Diaries, journalist Shiori Ito’s investigation into her own sexual assault, and Eternal You, Hans Block and Moritz Riesewieck’s deep dive into the world of start-ups using AI to create avatars of the deceased. Soundtrack to a Coup d’État, the new film from Johan Grimonprez (Dial H-I-S-T-O-R-Y, Double Take), tracks the rise of Patrice Lumumba, who became the first prime minister of the newly independent Congo in 1960, only to be deposed a few months later and executed the following year.
The program that has given us Sean Baker’s Tangerine, Sierra Pettengill’s Riotsville, U.S.A., and D. Smith’s Kokomo City will offer half a dozen films ripe for discovery. Rich Peppiatt’s Kneecap is a portrait of a trio of Belfast rappers with a cast that includes Michael Fassbender. David Schwimmer, Gaby Hoffmann, Talia Ryder, and Jena Malone star in music video director Jack Begert’s Little Death, which interweaves the stories of a middle-aged filmmaker, two kids, and a lost dog.
Critic Robert Daniels’s reaction to spotting Tendaberry in the lineup on Wednesday was, “OMG!! Haley Elizabeth Anderson coming through with her first feature. If you haven’t seen her immaculate shorts Pillars (playing on the Criterion Channel) or The Sentence of Michael Thompson, I highly recommend them. Her new film is at the top of my Sundance schedule.”
These are the headliners, and one of them is Kobi Libii’s satirical comedy about Black folks aiming to please, The American Society of Magical Negroes. Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, the filmmaking team that launched their careers at Sundance with Half Nelson (2006) and went on to direct Captain Marvel (2019), tell four interconnected stories in Freaky Tales, whose cast includes Pedro Pascal and Ben Mendelsohn.
Bleecker Street has just picked up David and Nathan Zellner’s Sasquatch Sunset, starring Riley Keough and Jesse Eisenberg and depicting “a year in the life of a singular family.” Tripping on shrooms, young Elliott Labrant (Maisy Stella) meets her older self (Aubrey Plaza), who warns her to never, ever fall in love in Megan Park’s My Old Ass. Irish actor Saoirse Ronan plays a Scottish woman who leaves London for the Orkney Islands in Nora Fingscheidt’s The Outrun.
Lucy Liu stars in Steven Soderbergh’s Presence, a story written by David Koepp about a family that moves into a suburban home and becomes convinced that they are not alone. “Soderbergh and Sundance have been intertwined since his sex, lies, and videotape debuted there in 1989,” notes Nicole Sperling in the New York Times. Newly appointed festival director Eugene Hernandez tells Sperling that Presence is “as fresh and inventive as anything he’s made in his career,” and director of programming Kim Yutani, talking to IndieWire’s Anne Thompson, calls it “a genre film like you’ve never seen before.”
Jane Schoenbrun, who broke through at Sundance two years ago with We’re All Going to the World’s Fair, returns with I Saw the TV Glow, the story of a teen whose grip on reality begins to slip when he becomes entranced by a mysterious late-night show. Kristen Stewart plays a gym manager who falls hard for a bodybuilder in Love Lies Bleeding, Rose Glass’s follow-up to her critically acclaimed debut, Saint Maud (2019).
A few years ago, New Yorker editor David Remnick asked Lawrence Wright, the Pulitzer Prize–winning author of The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11, to write a piece that would explain Texas to him. The ultimate result was God Save Texas: A Journey into the Soul of the Lone Star State, a highly entertaining and just plain outstanding primer. Richard Linklater, the pride of Austin, directs the first of the three episodes that make up the new anthology series based on the book. The other two are directed by Emmy winner Alex Stapleton and Iliana Sosa, who won the Louis Black “Lone Star” Award at SXSW last year for What We Leave Behind.
New Frontier and More
The Spotlight program of Sundance favorites that have premiered elsewhere will include Linklater’s Hit Man and Molly Manning Walker’s How to Have Sex, and there will be a special world premiere screening of Jesse Moss’s documentary War Game, in which a bipartisan group of seasoned policymakers will take part in what the festival describes as “an unscripted role-play exercise in which they confront a political coup backed by rogue members of the U.S. military, in the wake of a contested presidential election.”
New Frontier will present two projects, Rashaad Newsome’s Being (the Digital Griot), an interactive experience focusing on Black communities, and Eno, a generative documentary, which is to say, it’ll be a different film each time it’s shown. The portrait of musician, producer, and artist Brian Eno sees documentarian Gary Hustwit (Helvetica) trying out something entirely new.
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