I’m not going to offer any sweeping judgments about the just-announced 2018 Sundance Film Festival slate, except to suggest that with a competition slate that is 53% female (i.e., nine of the 17 directors eligible for the festival’s top prize are women) it would appear that 2018 Sundance is going to be just as progressive-minded (i.e., “socialist summer camp in the snow”) as last year’s festival, if not more so.
I’m going to take it two or three sections at a time. Today I’m pasting Premieres (feature and documentary), Midnight & Spotlight. I’ve bold-faced the titles that I have a special interest in seeing, but I’d appreciate thoughts about anything I might be unfairly dismissing. I’l consider the other sections tomorrow.
After The Wedding (Director and screenwriter: Bart Freundlich, Producers: Joel B. Michaels, Harry Finkel) — Seeking funds for her orphanage in India, Isabelle travels to New York to meet Theresa, a wealthy benefactor. An invitation to attend a wedding ignites a series of events in which the past collides with the present while mysteries unravel. Based on the Academy Award-nominated film by Susanne Bier. Cast: Julianne Moore, Michelle Williams, Billy Crudup, Abby Quinn.
Animals (U.K.-Ireland-Australia – Director: Sophie Hyde, Screenwriter: Emma Jane Unsworth, Producers: Sarah Brocklehurst, Rebecca Summerton, Cormac Fox, Sophie Hyde) — After a decade of partying, Laura and Tyler’s friendship is strained by Laura’s new love and her focus on her novel. A snapshot of a modern woman with competing desires, at once a celebration of female friendship and an examination of the choices we make when facing a crossroads. Cast: Holliday Grainger, Alia Shawkat.
Blinded by the Light (U.K. – Director: Gurinder Chadha, Screenwriters: Sarfraz Manzoor, Gurinder Chadha, Paul Mayeda Berges, Producers: Gurinder Chadha, Jane Barclay, Jamal Daniel) — In 1987 during the austere days of Thatcher’s Britain, a teenager learns to live life, understand his family and find his own voice through the music of Bruce Springsteen. Cast: Viveik Kalra, Hayley Atwell, Rob Brydon, Kulvinder Ghir, Nell Williams, Aaron Phagura.
The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind (United Kingdom – Director and screenwriter: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Producers: Andrea Calderwood, Gail Egan) — Against all the odds, a thirteen year old boy in Malawi invents an unconventional way to save his family and village from famine. Based on the true story of William Kamkwamba. Cast: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Maxwell Simba, Lily Banda, Noma Dumezweni, Aissa Maiga, Joseph Marcell.
Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile (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.
I Am Mother (Australia – Director: Grant Sputore, Screenwriter: Michael Lloyd Green, Producers: Timothy White, Kelvin Munro) — In the wake of humanity’s extinction, a teenage girl is raised by a robot designed to repopulate the earth. But their unique bond is threatened when an inexplicable stranger arrives with alarming news. Cast: Clara Rugaard, Rose Byrne, Hilary Swank.
Late Night (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.
The Mustang (Director: Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre, Screenwriters: Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre, Mona Fastvold, Brock Norman Brock, Producer: Alain Goldman) — While participating in a rehabilitation program training wild mustangs, a convict at first struggles to connect with the horses and his fellow inmates, but learns to confront his violent past as he soothes an especially feisty horse. Cast: Matthias Schoenaerts, Connie Britton, Bruce Dern, Jason Mitchell, Gideon Adlon, Josh Stewart.
Official Secrets (U.S.-U.K. – Director: Gavin Hood, Screenwriters: Sara Bernstein, Gregory Bernstein, Gavin Hood, Producers: Ged Doherty, Elizabeth Fowler, Melissa Shiyu Zuo) — The true story of British Intelligence whistleblower Katharine Gun, who prior to the 2003 Iraq invasion leaked a top-secret NSA memo exposing a joint US-UK illegal spying operation against members of the UN Security Council. The memo proposed blackmailing member states into voting for war. Cast: Keira Knightley, Matt Smith, Ralph Feinnes, Matthew Goode, Rhys Ifans.
Photograph (India – Director and screenwriter: Ritesh Batra, Producers: Neil Kopp, Vincent Savino, Anish Savjani) — Two lives intersect in Mumbai and go along together. A struggling street photographer, pressured to marry by his grandmother, convinces a shy stranger to pose as his fiancée. The pair develops a connection that transforms them in ways that they could not expect. Cast: Nawazuddin Siddiqi, Sanya Malhotra.
Relive (Director: Jacob Estes, Screenwriters: Jacob Estes, Drew Daywalt, Producers: Jason Blum, Bobby Cohen) — 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, Bryan Tyree Henry.
The Report (Director and screenwriter: Scott Z. Burns, Producers: Steven Soderbergh, Jennifer Fox, Scott Z. Burns, Danny Gabai, Eddy Moretti ) — The story of Daniel Jones, lead investigator for the US Senate’s sweeping study into the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program, which was found to be brutal, immoral and ineffective. With the truth at stake, Jones battled tirelessly to make public what many in power sought to keep hidden. Cast: Adam Driver, Annette Bening, Jon Hamm, Ted Levine, Maura Tierney, Michael C. Hall.
Sonja — The White Swan (Norway – Director: Anne Sewitsky, Screenwriters: Mette Marit Bølstad, Andreas Markusson, Producers: Cornelia Boysen, Synnøve Hørsdal) — The true story of one of the world’s greatest athletes and the inventor of modern figure skating, who took Hollywood by storm in the 1930s, sacrificing everything to stay in the spotlight. Cast: Ine Marie Wilmann, Valene Kane, Eldar Skar, Anders Mordal, Pål Sverre Hagen, Aiden McArdle. International Premiere
The Sunlit Night (Germany-Norway – Director: David Wnendt, Screenwriter: Rebecca Dinerstein, Producers: Michael Clark, Alex Turtletaub, Gabrielle Nadig, Fabian Gasmia, Ruben Thorkildsen, Jenny Slate) — Between New York City and the far north of Norway, an American painter and a Russian émigré find each other in the Arctic circle. Together under a sun that never sets, they discover a future and family that they didn’t know they had. Cast: Jenny Slate, Zach Galifianakis, Alex Sharp, Gillian Anderson, Fridjov Sáheim, David Paymer.
The Tomorrow Man (Director and screenwriter: Noble Jones, Producers: Luke Rivett, Nicolaas Bertelsen, James Schamus, Tony Lipp) — Ed Hemsler spends his life preparing for a disaster that may never come. Ronnie Meisner spends her life shopping for things she may never use. In a small town somewhere in America, these two people will try to find love while trying not to get lost in each other’s stuff. Cast: John Lithgow, Blythe Danner, Derek Cecil, Katie Aselton, Sophie Thatcher, Eve Harlow.
Top End Wedding (Australia – Director: Wayne Blair, Screenwriters: Joshua Tyler, Miranda Tapsell, Producers: Rosemary Blight, Kylie du Fresne, Kate Croser) — Lauren and Ned are engaged, they are in love, and they have just ten days to find Lauren’s mother who has gone AWOL somewhere in the remote far north of Australia, reunite her parents and pull off their dream wedding. Cast: Miranda Tapsell, Gwilym Lee, Kerry Fox, Huw Higginson, Ursula Yovich, Shari Sebbens.
Troupe Zero (Director: Bert & Bertie, Screenwriter: Lucy Alibar, Producers: Todd Black, Jason Blumenthal, Steve Tisch, Alex Siskin, Viola Davis) — In rural 1977 Georgia, a misfit girl dreams of life in outer space. When a national competition offers her a chance at her dream, to be recorded on NASA’s Golden Record, she recruits a makeshift troupe of Birdie Scouts, forging friendships that last a lifetime and beyond. Cast: Viola Davis, McKenna Grace, Jim Gaffigan, Mike Epps, Charlie Shotwell, Allison Janney.
Velvet Buzzsaw (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.
Documentary Premieres (12):
Ask Dr. Ruth (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.
Halston (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.
Love, Antosha (Director: Garret Price, Producers: Adam Gibbs, Drake Doremus) — A portrait of the extraordinary life and career of actor Anton Yelchin.
Marianne & Leonard: Words of Love (Director: Nick Broomfield, Producers: Marc Hoeferlin, Shani Hinton, Kyle Gibbon) — A story of enduring love between Leonard Cohen and his Norwegian muse Marianne Ihlen. The film follows their relationship from the early days in Greece, a time of ‘free love’ and open marriage, to how their love evolved when Leonard became a successful musician.
Merata: How Mum Decolonised The Screen (New Zealand – Director and screenwriter: Heperi MIta, Producer: Chelsea Winstanley) — An intimate portrayal of pioneering filmmaker Merata Mita, told through the eyes of her children. Using hours of archive footage, some never before seen, her youngest child discovers the filmmaker he never knew and shares with the world the mother he lost. (International Premiere)
Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool (U.S.-U.K. – Director: Stanley Nelson, Producers: Nicole London, Stanley Nelson) — A visionary, innovator, and originator who defied categorization and embodied the word cool: a foray into the life and career of musical and cultural icon Miles Davis.
Raise Hell: The Life & Times of Molly Ivins (Director: Janice Engel, Screenwriters: Janice Engel, Monique Zavistovski , Producers: James Egan, Janice Engel, Carlisle Vandervoort) — Molly Ivins was six feet of flame-haired Texas trouble, a prescient political journalist, best-selling author and Bill of Rights warrior. She took no prisoners, leaving both sides of the aisle laughing and craving more of her razor-sharp wit. It’s time to Raise Hell like Molly!
The Great Hack (Directors: Karim Amer, Jehane Noujaim, Screenwriters: Karim Amer, Erin Barnett, Pedro Kos, Producers: Karim Amer, Geralyn Dreyfous, Judy Korin) — Data, arguably the world’s most valuable asset, is being weaponized to wage cultural and political wars. The dark world of data exploitation is uncovered through the unpredictable personal journeys of players on different sides of the explosive Cambridge Analytica/Facebook data story.
The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley (Director: Alex Gibney, Producers: Jessie Deeter, Erin Edeiken, Alex Gibney) — With a magical new invention that promised to revolutionize blood testing, Elizabeth Holmes became the world’s youngest self-made billionaire, heralded as the next Steve Jobs. Then, overnight, her $10-billion-dollar company dissolved. The rise and fall of Theranos is a window into the psychology of fraud.
Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am (Director: Timothy Greenfield-Sanders, Producers: Timothy Greenfield-Sanders, Johanna Giebelhaus, Chad Thompson, Tommy Walker) — This artful and intimate meditation on the legendary storyteller examines her life, her works and the powerful themes she has confronted throughout her literary career. Toni Morrison leads an assembly of her peers, critics and colleagues on an exploration of race, history, America and the human condition.
Untouchable (Director: Ursula Macfarlane, Producers: Simon Chinn, Jonathan Chinn, Poppy Dixon) — The inside story of the rise and fall of Harvey Weinstein reveals how, over decades, he acquires and protects his power even as scandal threatens to engulf him. Former colleagues and accusers detail the method and consequences of his alleged abuse, hoping for justice and to inspire change .
Words from a Bear (Director: Jeffrey Palmer, Producer: Jeffrey Palmer) — A visual journey into the mind and soul of Pulitzer Prize-winning author Navarro Scott Momaday, relating each written line to his unique Native American experience representing ancestry, place, and oral history.
Greener Grass (Directors and screenwriters: Jocelyn DeBoer, Dawn Luebbe, Producer: Natalie Metzger) — A deliciously twisted comedy set in a demented, timeless suburbia where every adult wears braces on their straight teeth, couples coordinate meticulously pressed outfits, and coveted family members are swapped in more ways than one in this competition for acceptance. Cast: Jocelyn DeBoer, Dawn Luebbe, Beck Bennett, Neil Casey, Mary Holland, D’Arcy Carden.
Little Monsters (Australia – Director and screenwriter: Abe Forsythe, Producers: Jodi Matterson, Bruna Papandrea, Steve Hutensky, Keith Calder, Jessica Calder) — A film dedicated to all the kindergarten teachers who motivate children to learn, instill them with confidence and stop them from being devoured by zombies. Cast: Lupita Nyong’o, Alexander England, Josh Gad.
Memory – The Origins of Alien (Director: Alexandre O. Philippe, Screenwriter: Alexandre O. Philippe, Producer: Kerry Deignan Roy) — The untold origin story behind Ridley Scott’s Alien – rooted in Greek and Egyptian mythologies, underground comics, the art of Francis Bacon, and the dark visions of Dan O’Bannon and H.R. Giger. A contemplation on the symbiotic collaborative process of moviemaking, the power of myth, and our collective unconscious.
Mope (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.
Sweetheart (Director: JD Dillard, Screenwriters: JD Dillard, Alex Theurer, Alex Hyner, Producers: Jason Blum, JD Dillard, Alex Theurer, Alex Hyner, Bill Karesh) — Jenn has washed ashore a small tropical island and it doesn’t take her long to realize she’s completely alone. She must spend her days not only surviving the elements, but must also fend off the malevolent force that comes out each night. Cast: Kiersey Clemons, Emory Cohen, Hanna Mangan Lawrence, Andrew Crawford.
The Hole in the Ground (Ireland – Director: Lee Cronin, Screenwriters: Lee Cronin, Stephen Shields, Producers: John Keville, Conor Barry) — One night, Sarah’s young son disappears into the woods behind their rural home. When he returns, he looks the same, but his behavior grows increasingly disturbing. Soon, Sarah realizes that the boy who returned may not be her son at all… Cast: Seána Kerslake, James Cosmo, Kati Outinen, Simone Kirby, Steve Wall, James Quinn Markey.
The Lodge (U.S.-U.K. – Directors: Veronika Franz, Severin Fiala, Screenwriters: Sergio Casci, Veronika Franz, Severin Fiala, Producers: Simon Oakes, Aliza James, Aaron Ryder) — In this psychologically chilling slow burn, a young woman and her reticent new stepchildren find themselves isolated in the family’s remote winter cabin, locked away to dredge up the mysteries of her dark past and the losses that seem to haunt them all. Cast: Riley Keough, Jaeden Martell, Lia McHugh, Alicia Silverstone, Richard Armitage.
Anthropocene: The Human Epoch (Canada – Directors: Jennifer Baichwal, Nicholas de Pencier, Edward Burtynsky, Screenwriter: Jennifer Baichwal, Producer: Nicholas de Pencier) — From concrete seawalls in China that cover 60% of the mainland coast to the biggest terrestrial machines ever built in Germany, to psychedelic potash mines in Russia’s Ural Mountains, to conservation sanctuaries in Kenya, the filmmakers have traversed the globe to document the evidence and experience of human planetary domination. (International Premiere)
Birds of Passage (Colombia –Directors: Cristina Gallego, Ciro Guerra, Screenwriters: Maria Camila Arias, Jacques Toulemonde, Producers: Katrin Pors, Cristina Gallego) — In 1970s Colombia, Rapayet is a man torn between the desire to be powerful and his duty to uphold his culture’s values. His indigenous tribe, the Wayúu, ignores ancient omens and enters the drug trafficking business — where honor is the highest currency and debts are paid with blood. Cast: Carmina Martinez, Jose Acosta, Natalia Reyes. (Utah Premiere)
Maiden (U.K. – Director and screenwriter: Alex Holmes, Producers: Victoria Gregory, Alex Holmes) — The incredible, against-all-odds story of sailor Tracy Edwards, who skippered the first all-female international crew in the 1989 Whitbread Round the World Yacht Race. (U.S. Premiere)
The Biggest Little Farm (Director: John Chester, Screenwriters: Mark Monroe, John Chester, Producers: Sandra Keats, John Chester) — Two dreamers and a dog embark on an odyssey to bring harmony to their lives and the land. As their plan to create perfect harmony takes a series of wild turns, they will have to reach a far greater understanding of the intricacies and wisdom of nature, and life itself. (Utah Premiere)
The Mountain (Director: Rick Alverson, Screenwriters: Rick Alverson, Colm O’Leary, Dustin Defa, Producers: Ryan Zacarias, Sara Murphy, Eddy Moretti, Alison Carter) — 1950s America. Since his mother‘s confinement to an institution, Andy has lived in the shadow of his stoic father. A family acquaintance, Dr. Wallace Fiennes, employs the introverted young man as a photographer to document an asylum tour advocating for his increasingly controversial lobotomy procedure. Cast: Jeff Goldblum, Tye Sheridan, Udo Kier, Denis Lavant, Hannah Gross. (U.S. Premiere)
The Nightingale (Australia (Director and screenwriter: Jennifer Kent, Producers: Kristina Ceyton, Bruna Papandrea, Steve Hutenski, Jennifer Kent) — 1825. Clare, a young Irish convictwoman, chases a British officer through the Tasmanian wilderness, bent on revenge for a terrible act of violence he committed against her family. On the way she enlists the services of Aboriginal tracker Billy, who is marked by trauma from his own violence-filled past. Cast: Aisling Franciosi, Sam Claflin, Baykali Ganambarr, Damon Herriman, Harry Greenwood, Ewen Leslie. (North American Premiere).