Written by: Adriana Gomez-Weston, CC2K Staff Writer
The Sundance Film Festival has always been a pioneer in showcasing the best in independent film and nontraditional storytelling from around the world. Since its inception, it has been a launching pad for some of the most acclaimed filmmakers today, and is the stomping grounds for the industry’s big deal makers. Sundance also happens to be at the forefront of the political and social atmosphere of the time. In a time where diverse voices are becoming more of the norm, the Sundance Institute has taken more strides to showcase the voices that represent the world we live in.
Some of last year’s most buzz-worthy releases were Sorry to Bother You, Blindspotting, Eighth Grade, Wildlife, Three Identical Strangers, Hearts Beat Loud, and more. Although it’s a bit early, we can’t wait to see what awards-worthy fare will come out of this year’s festival. Even though Hollywood is still in the thick of awards season, Sundance sets the tone for the coming year.
This year looks promising with a more diverse slate than in past festivals. With a record 14,259 submissions, the current slate has films represented from 33 different countries. 53% of the directors U.S. Dramatic Competition are women, 41% are people of color, and 18% identify as LGBTQIA. The other showcases are equally impressive.
The 2019 festival has an extremely strong lineup, and it was hard to choose what films we want to see the most. However, here’s the most exciting offerings from across the features lineups:
U.S. Dramatic Competition
Clemency / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Chinonye Chukwu, Producers: Bronwyn Cornelius, Julian Cautherley, Peter Wong, Timur Bekbosunov) — Years of carrying out death row executions have taken a toll on prison warden Bernadine Williams. As she prepares to execute another inmate, Bernadine must confront the psychological and emotional demons her job creates, ultimately connecting her to the man she is sanctioned to kill. Cast: Alfre Woodard, Aldis Hodge, Richard Schiff, Wendell Pierce, Richard Gunn, Danielle Brooks. World Premiere
Honey Boy / U.S.A. (Director: Alma Har’el, Screenwriter: Shia LaBeouf, Producers: Brian Kavanaugh-Jones, Daniela Taplin Lundberg, Anita Gou, Christopher Leggett, Alma Har’el) — A child TV star and his ex-rodeo clown father face their stormy past through time and cinema.Cast: Shia LaBeouf, Lucas Hedges, Noah Jupe. World Premiere
Imaginary Order / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Debra Eisenstadt, Producers: Debra Eisenstadt, Cosmos Kiindarius) — The sexual, psychological and moral unraveling of an obsessive-compulsive suburban mom. Cast: Wendi McLendon-Covey, Christine Woods, Max Burkholder, Steve Little, Catherine Curtin, Kate Alberts. World Premiere
The Last Black Man in San Francisco / U.S.A. (Director: Joe Talbot, Screenwriters: Joe Talbot, Rob Richert, Producers: Dede Gardner, Jeremy Kleiner, Christina Oh, Khaliah Neal, Joe Talbot) — Jimmie Fails dreams of reclaiming the Victorian home his grandfather built in the heart of San Francisco. Joined on his quest by his best friend Mont, Jimmie searches for belonging in a rapidly changing city that seems to have left them behind. Cast: Jimmie Fails, Jonathan Majors, Rob Morgan, Tichina Arnold, Danny Glover. World Premiere
Ms. Purple / U.S.A. (Director: Justin Chon, Screenwriters: Justin Chon, Chris Dinh, Producer: Alex Chi, Justin Chon) — Kasie, stuck in LA’s Koreatown, works as a karaoke hostess getting paid for her companionship by drunken men. When her dad’s hospice nurse quits she reconnects with her estranged brother, Carey, forcing them to enter a period of intense self-reflection as their single father who raised them nears death. Cast: Tiffany Chu, Teddy Lee, Octavio Pizano, James Kang. World Premiere
Native Son / U.S.A. (Director: Rashid Johnson, Screenwriter: Suzan-Lori Parks, Producers: Matthew Perniciaro, Michael Sherman) — In this modern reimagining of Richard Wright’s seminal novel, a young African-American man named Bigger Thomas takes a job working for a highly influential Chicago family, a decision that will change the course of his life forever. Cast: Ashton Sanders, Margaret Qualley, Nick Robinson, KiKi Layne, Bill Camp, Sanaa Lathan. World Premiere.
Them That Follow / U.S.A. (Directors and screenwriters: Britt Poulton, Dan Madison Savage, Producers: Bradley Gallo, Michael Helfant, Gerard Butler, Alan Siegel, Danielle Robinson) — Inside a snake-handling church deep in Appalachia, a forbidden relationship forces a pastor’s daughter to confront her community’s deadly tradition. Cast: Olivia Colman, Kaitlyn Dever, Alice Englert, Jim Gaffigan, Walton Goggins, Thomas Mann. World Premiere
U.S. Documentary Competition
Hail Satan? / U.S.A. (Director: Penny Lane, Producer: Gabriel Sedgwick) — A look at the intersection of religion and activism, tracing the rise of The Satanic Temple: only six years old and already one of the most controversial religious movements in American history. The Temple is calling for a Satanic revolution to save the nation’s soul. But are they for real? World Premiere
One Child Nation / China, U.S.A. (Directors: Nanfu Wang, Jialing Zhang, Producers: Nanfu Wang, Jialing Zhang, Julie Goldman, Christoph Jörg, Christopher Clements, Carolyn Hepburn) — After becoming a mother, a filmmaker uncovers the untold history of China’s one-child policy and the generations of parents and children forever shaped by this social experiment. World Premiere
World Cinema Dramatic Competition
Dirty God / Netherlands, United Kingdom, Belgium, Ireland (Director: Sacha Polak, Screenwriters: Sacha Polak, Susanne Farrell, Producers: Marleen Slot, Michael Elliott) — Jade is a young mother in the prime of her life when an acid attack leaves her severely burned. While her face has been reconstructed, her beauty is lost beneath the scars. Descending a self-destructive path with relationships crumbling, Jade must take drastic action to reclaim her life. Cast: Vicky Knight, Katherine Kelly, Eliza Brady-Girard, Rebecca Stone, Bluey Robinson, Dana Marienci. International Premiere
Queen of Hearts / Denmark (Director: May el-Toukhy, Screenwriters: Maren Louise Käehne, May el-Toukhy, Producers: Caroline Blanco, René Ezra) — A woman jeopardizes both her career and her family when she seduces her teenage stepson and is forced to make an irreversible decision with fatal consequences. Cast: Trine Dyrholm, Gustav Lindh, Magnus Krepper. World Premiere
This is not Berlin / Mexico (Director: Hari Sama, Screenwriters: Rodrigo Ordóñez, Hari Sama, Max Zunino, Producers: Ale García, Antonio Urdapilleta, Hari Sama, Verónica Valadez P.) — 1986, Mexico City. Seventeen-year-old Carlos doesn’t fit in anywhere, not in his family nor with the friends he has chosen in school. But everything changes when he is invited to a mythical nightclub where he discovers the underground nightlife scene: punk, sexual liberty and drugs. Cast: Xabiani Ponce de León, José Antonio Toledano, Ximena Romo, Mauro Sánchez Navarro, Klaudia García, Marina de Tavira. World Premiere
World Cinema Documentary Competition
The Disappearance of My Mother / Italy (Director and screenwriter: Beniamino Barrese, Producer: Filippo Macelloni) — An aging fashion model strives to escape the world of images and disappear for good, but her son’s determination to make a final film about her sparks an unexpected collaboration and confrontation with the camera’s gaze.World Premiere
The Magic Life of V / Finland, Denmark, Bulgaria (Director: Tonislav Hristov, Screenwriters: Tonislav Hristov, Kaarle Aho, Producers: Kaarle Aho, Kai Nordberg) — Haunted by childhood traumas, Veera is trying to become more independent through live roleplaying. As she guides herself and her mentally-challenged brother through worlds of multiple roles and identities, witches and wizards, she finds the courage to face the demons of her own past and her abusive father’s legacy. World Premiere
Adam / U.S.A. (Director: Rhys Ernst, Screenwriter: Ariel Schrag, Producers: Howard Gertler, James Schamus) — Awkward teenager Adam arrives to spend his final high school summer with his older sister, who has thrown herself into New York City’s lesbian and trans activist scene. Over the summer, Adam and those around him experience love, friendship, and attendant hard truths in this coming-of-age comedy. Cast: Nicholas Alexander, India Menuez, Leo Sheng, Chloe Levine, Margaret Qualley. World Premiere
Light From Light / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Paul Harrill, Producers: James M. Johnston, Kelly Williams, Toby Halbrooks, Elisabeth Moss, Tim Headington, Theresa Steele — Shelia, a single mom and sometime paranormal investigator, is enlisted to investigate a possible “haunting” at a widower’s farmhouse in East Tennessee. Cast: Marin Ireland, Jim Gaffigan, Josh Wiggins, Atheena Frizzell, David Cale. World Premiere
Paradise Hills / Spain, U.S.A. (Director: Alice Waddington, Screenwriters: Nacho Vigalondo, Brian DeLeeuw, Producers: Adrian Guerra, Núria Valls) — A young woman is sent to Paradise Hills to be reformed, only to learn that the high-class facility’s beautiful facade hides a sinister secret. Cast: Emma Roberts, Danielle Macdonald, Awkwafina, Eiza González, Milla Jovovich, Jeremy Irvine. World Premiere
Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile / U.S.A. (Director: Joe Berlinger, Screenwriter: Michael Werwie, Producers: Michael Costigan, Nicolas Chartier, Ara Keshishian, Michael Simkin) — A chronicle of the crimes of Ted Bundy from the perspective of Liz, his longtime girlfriend, who refused to believe the truth about him for years. Cast: Zac Efron, Lily Collins, Haley Joel Osment, Kaya Scodelario, John Malkovich, Jim Parsons. World Premiere
Late Night / U.S.A. (Director: Nisha Ganatra, Screenwriter: Mindy Kaling, Producers: Ben Browning, Howard Klein, Jillian Apfelbaum, Mindy Kaling) — Legendary late-night talk show host’s world is turned upside down when she hires her only female staff writer. Originally intended to smooth over diversity concerns, her decision has unexpectedly hilarious consequences as the two women separated by culture and generation are united by their love of a biting punchline.Cast: Emma Thompson, Mindy Kaling, John Lithgow, Paul Walter Hauser, Reid Scott, Amy Ryan. World Premiere
Relive / U.S.A. (Director: Jacob Estes, Screenwriters: Jacob Estes, Drew Daywalt, Producers: Jason Blum, Bobby Cohen, David Oyelowo) — After a man’s family dies in what appears to be a murder, he gets a phone call from one of the dead, his niece. He’s not sure if she’s a ghost or if he’s going mad — but as it turns out, he’s not. Instead, her calls help him rewrite history. Cast: David Oyelowo, Storm Reid, Mykelti Williamson, Alfred Molina, Brian Tyree Henry. World Premiere
Velvet Buzzsaw / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Dan Gilroy, Producer: Jennifer Fox) — A thriller set in the contemporary art world scene of Los Angeles, where big money artists and mega-collectors pay a high price when art collides with commerce. Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo, Toni Collette, Zawe Ashton, Tom Sturridge, Natalia Dyer. World Premiere
Ask Dr. Ruth / U.S.A. (Director: Ryan White, Producers: Rafael Marmor, Ryan White, Jessica Hargrave, Christopher Leggett ) — A documentary portrait chronicling the incredible life of Dr. Ruth Westheimer, a Holocaust survivor who became America’s most famous sex therapist. As her 90th birthday approaches, Dr. Ruth revisits her painful past and her career at the forefront of the sexual revolution. World Premiere
Halston / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Frédéric Tcheng, Producers: Roland Ballester, Frédéric Tcheng, Stephanie Levy, Paul Dallas) — From Iowa to Studio 54, this investigation into the rags-to-riches story of America’s first superstar designer uncovers the cautionary tale of an artist who sold his name to Wall Street. World Premiere
Love, Antosha / U.S.A. (Director: Garret Price, Producers: Adam Gibbs, Drake Doremus) — A portrait of the extraordinary life and career of actor Anton Yelchin. World Premiere
Mope / U.S.A. (Director: Lucas Heyne, Screenwriters: Lucas Heyne, Zack Newkirk, Producers: Kelly Hayes, Brian Cooper, Kern Saxton, Danny Roth) — Two ‘mopes’ – the lowest-level male performers in the porn industry – set their sights on an impossible dream: stardom. Cast: Nathan Stewart-Jarrett, Kelly Sry, Brian Huskey, Max Adler, David Arquette, Tonya Cornelisse. World Premiere.
Georgia-born, (North) Carolina raised, Adriana is now based in Southern California (Migrating between San Diego and LA). As well as being a writer, she works as a film festival Marketing Coordinator. She has always been passionate about film, writing, and creating and celebrating work that champions diversity and feminism. She is also a potato enthusiast and fashion school defector.