The Sundance Film Festival just kicked off in Park City, Utah, where it’s cold, windy, snowy and there are long lines for every single buzzy screening…
To be honest, I’ve had to remind myself a few times this week that the festival is not, in reality, all that much fun. I’m just feeling a bit jealous that 1,300 other journalists and the "Who’s Who" of Hollywood are currently getting a first glimpse at some of the year’s most highly-anticipated entertainment — while the rest of us plebes wait for wide-release.
This year’s Sundance lineup is a mix of the ultra-commercial (Netflix’s Taylor Swift documentary, which opened the festival, for example) and the indie gems Sundance is known for. That said, the documentary I’m most desperate to see is actually playing at the other film festival in Park City this weekend: Slamdance, the grassroots festival that sprang up back in the mid-90s, held annually down the street and at the same time as Sundance. The movie’s called Big Fur; it’s about Bigfoot, taxidermy and love… it frankly sounds like a gem of a film.
Anyhow, since the 118 films (and numerous TV series and shorts) screening at Sundance are the only thing film people will be talking about for the next week or so, here’s a roundup of the buzziest premieres I’m personally sad to be missing at Sundance this week:
Gosh, there are few films I’m more desperate to see in 2020 than Zola, the feature Janicza Bravo (Lemon) directed and co-wrote with playwright Jeremy O. Harris (Broadway’s Slave Play). Zola is based on the outrageous, epic, mostly-true story told across 144 tweets by A’ziah King (@_zolarmoon). It begins: “You wanna hear a story about why me & this bitch here fell out? It’s kind of long but full of suspense.” You may remember reading it sometime after October 27, 2015. I hope this film is lauded with awards in a year’s time… I’ll write an article singing its praises and title it: “Hustlers’ revenge.”
This one, written by Miranda July, sounds like a cross between Matilda and Oliver Twist. It’s about a pair of con artists who’ve spent 26 years training their only daughter, Old Dolio (played by Evan Rachel Wood), to “swindle, scam, and steal at every opportunity.” Oh, and one of the film’s executive producers is Brad Pitt.
Based on the documentary 12 O’Clock Boys, with a story co-authored by Barry Jenkins, Charm City Kings is about 14-year-old Mouse (Jahi Di’Allo Winston) who desperately wants to join an infamous group of Baltimore dirt-bike riders — which his older brother, Stro, led before his tragic death. Director Angel Manuel Soto is an acclaimed filmmaker from Santurce, Puerto Rico.
Director Julie Taymor has a MacArthur “Genius” fellowship to her name, but her film oeuvre is a bit uneven (see: Across the Universe). That said, this unconventional Gloria Steinem biopic is undeniably intriguing: several different actresses, including Alicia Vikander and Julianne Moore, play the groundbreaking activist at various points in her life, which calls to mind the 2007 Bob Dylan biopic I’m Not There.
Calling all astrology devotees: “Equal parts Oprah, Liberace, and Mr. Rogers,” celebrity astrologer Walter Mercado was an international sensation, who charmed the world for over 30 years with his televised horoscope readings. But in 2007, he mysteriously disappeared. Director and investigative journalist Cristina Costantini tracked the icon down over a decade later and documented the quest to restore his legacy.
Emmy-winning producer, director and writer Nicole Newnham tells the paradigm-shifting story of Camp Jened, a summer camp for disabled teens in the woods near Woodstock, New York, that would spark a revolution. This one’s earning major buzz at Sundance, including praise from the likes of the Obamas.
This tender Spanish-language love story is veteran documentarian Heidi Ewing’s (Jesus Camp) narrative debut. It’s described as a gay love story, spanning 20 years and two countries.
The brutal murder of Swedish journalist Kim Wall by Danish inventor Peter Madsen on his homemade submarine in the waters outside Copenhagen captivated and horrified the world in 2017. A year earlier, Australian filmmaker Emma Sullivan had begun documenting Madsen’s projects, including his quest to become an amateur astronaut. Into the Deep is being described as an “astonishing” piece of filmmaking; Sullivan leveraged her footage and access to the murderer to tell the horrible truth of his crimes in incredible detail.
Oh man, er, boy. The premise of this documentary alone is enough to make me nervous. It’s described as a “political coming-of-age story, examining the health of American democracy through an unusual experiment.” In short, the state of Texas asked a thousand 17-year-old boys to gather together and build a representative government from scratch. Sounds like an update on Lord of the Flies for the Trump era.