Best of the Fest – 10 Favorites from the 2023 Sundance Film Festival

Best of the Fest – 10 Favorites from the 2023 Sundance Film Festival

by Alex Billington
February 3, 2023

The 2023 Sundance Film Festival wrapped up last week after returning to a 10-day in-person event in Utah running alongside an online counterpart. Now it’s time to present our annual Best of the Fest list. I was able to catch a total of 50 films this year (my full list on Letterboxd), half of them at screenings in Park City, the other half virtual screenings. This is my 17th year in a row covering Sundance, and this fest still has a special place in my heart. It was so nice to be back again. I am presenting one big list of my 10 favorite films – a mix of a few documentaries and narrative features. All 10 of these below are worth watching, and I highly recommend seeing them on the big screen whenever they show up at your local theater. I also wrote another editorial about how much Sundance 2023 focused on discoveries & first-time filmmakers, returning to their roots as a launching ground for so many wonderfully talented storytellers. Below are my favorites, the films that connected with me and have remained on my mind all the way through the 10 days of the fest.

It’s always my priority during Sundance to watch as many films as I can, mainly just to see them. Even if I don’t love every film I watch, I’m just happy to see what they’re all about and learn about what makes them so unique. This festival always programs some of the most innovative and authentic films you’ll watch all year. Some of the others that I missed and still need to catch up with: The Starling Girl, Fancy Dance, Fremont, The Persian Version, Rotting in the Sun, Run Rabbit Run, Onyx the Fortuitous and the Talisman of Souls, and Sorcery. I also encourage all movie lovers to make time for documentaries – don’t ignore them, they’re all too often lost in the mix. They deserve to be seen, too! There’s at least three important ones from this year that I recommend: The Disappearance of Shere Hite (read my review), Going to Mars: The Nikki Giovanni Project, and Deep Rising (read my review) – in addition to the two others I talk about below. I’m always grateful to the Sundance Film Festival for letting me attend the festival with a press badge and grab tickets to the public screenings, it’s an invigorating experience that brings me joy year after year after year.

While I saw many films that I enjoyed (my full list of 50 here), there were a few more I missed even though I heard good things about them. But these are my favorite films from this year’s fest from those that I did see.

Alex’s Top 10 Favorite ~Sundance 2023~ Films:

The Deepest Breath
The Deepest Breath
Directed by Laura McGann

An unforgettable screening experience at Sundance; I was wiping away tears at the end, along with everyone else. The Deepest Breath is a doc film about the extremely dangerous, extraordinary sport of free diving – holding your breath for extended periods of time while diving underwater. Everyone at this was collectively holding their breath while watching everyone in the film holding their breath in these intense free diving competitions. I love this film and I think it’s one of the most exhilarating and emotional extreme sports docs all year, instantly joining the ranks of Free Solo and 14 Peaks and all the others. The story follows two iconic free divers – Alessia Zecchini and Stephen Keenan. I wish many others could have the same big screen experience watching this with a mesmerized audience as I did at Sundance, but it will be out on Netflix so most will probably just watch at home on their own TVs. The score by composer Nainita Desai makes this film the emotionally gratifying experience that it is, and the storytelling kept my focus from start to finish.

Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie
Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie
Directed by Davis Guggenheim

Oh wow. Easily one of the best actor biopic docs since the Val Kilmer doc Val a few years back. It’s not about every moment in his life (though it’s exciting to see all the key moments play out), but that’s not the point, it’s concise and gives us just the right emotional shot in just around 90 minutes. Michael J. Fox bears all and let’s us into his life and struggles being an actor / husband / father living with Parkinson’s disease. It’s impressively cinematic in an endearing way, combining clips from all of his film & TV work to tell his story and make us feel closer to him. In the intro, director Davis Guggenheim said he couldn’t really put into words how he feels about Michael because this film is how he feels about him. And you can certainly sense that in it, absolutely. Not easy to capture the heart and soul and optimism of someone, yet he does it with grace and love. And I feel like that’s what the beauty of this film really is – giving us a sense of who he is and his optimism and uplifting spirit – inspiring all of us to overcome, be better, and to live the best lives we can.

Rye Lane
Rye Lane
Directed by Raine Allen Miller

The romantic comedy of the year! So fresh and exciting and new and inventive. Everyone will instantly fall in love with Yas and Dom! I want to chill with them more! I want to know how they’re doing after this story ends! Rye Lane is the feature directorial debut of filmmaker Raine Allen Miller, who utilizes funky wide angle cinematography, all the gorgeous vibrant colors of South London, and a radical one-of-a-kind score by the artist Kwes to make this film one of the most instantly lovable and empowering romcoms if the 2020s. Then there’s the two delightful lead performances by David Jonsson and Vivian Oparah as Dom and Yas, respectively, and their magical chemistry as they make their way around London, taking down bad exes and eating tasty food all along. One critic friend said this is one of his favorite romantic comedies ever, which should be more than enough praise to make sure this ends up being a big hit when it opens this year.

Fair Play
Fair Play
Directed by Chloe Domont

Might be my #1 of Sundance 2023 – also a phenomenal screening experience. This is why I go to festivals, to sit in a crowd and be amazed by cinema. The completely packed house at the Eccles Theater erupted into a standing ovation as soon as it was over, with cheers of “bravo! bravo!” and non-stop applause. Fair Play is an exceptional Wall Street thriller about a stock broker couple falling apart thanks to the misogynistic hate that bubbles up when an ambitious woman gets promoted to the coveted job that all the men want. It’s as gripping as Uncut Gems, with even better performances. A film that will get people talking, just because it’s so brash and bold and challenges the status quo. I wrote in my review: “Alden Ehrenreich and Phoebe Dynevor are exceptional. Especially in the second half, these two unleash the kind of performances that will be remembered forever. I’m convinced, I’ve seen enough, it’s time to step back and hand over the keys to Hollywood to Chloe Domont. It’s her world now, I’m just another analyst who wants to help her succeed.”

Past Lives
Past Lives
Directed by Celine Song

A beautiful, warm embrace of a film. Past Lives is going to be one of the most adored films of 2023, for good reason. I’m in awe that this is the first featured made by Celine Song, she carefully tells this story with humility and empathy. This film deserves all the same love and attention as The Worst Person in the World, similar in many ways about a woman trying to figure out how she feels between two men. Greta Lee is exceptional in the lead role as Nora, with two lovely supporting performances from Teo Yoo and John Magaro. It’s obviously an autobiographical, explore-her-feelings-through-cinema creation but in this case it works wonders. The emotional ending and perfect final shots in the last few scenes hit me hard. I’m really looking forward to watching this again at the upcoming Berlin Film Festival, where it’s playing in the Main Competition and has a good chance of winning the Golden Bear there. Most of all, I’m glad that so many other viewers really connected with this one, too, I’m not the only one putting it on my Best of the Fest list.

Flora and Son
Flora and Son
Directed by John Carney

John Carney can do no wrong!! Always making the best musicals. His latest original creation, titled Flora and Son, is wonderful, just wonderful. A story about a poor young Irish mother, played by Eve Hewson, who discovers the joy of creating music and reconnects with her loved ones through this newfound passion. I did not want it to end, I could easily keep watching all these brash Irish people learning to love making music and grow up and express their true selves. It really got to me, made me feel happy and optimistic. I want to watch again now! Give it to me! The mix of dance music and acoustic guitar worked well, somehow? I don’t even know how Carney keeps making amazing original musicals over & over. Yeah the ending wraps up too quickly, and it feels like it’s just getting going right when it’s over, but I still loved sitting through this. It made me extra mushy. It’s such a nice feel-good movie and we always need more of these right now.

Cassandro
Cassandro
Directed by Roger Ross Williams

Another favorite gem of Sundance! Gorgeous filmmaking about the “Liberace of Lucha Libre”. This excellent film features one the of the best Gael García Bernal performances in a long while, his Lucha persona is a delight and the best part of the film. His emotions feel so real and come through the screen so powerfully. I’ve been a fan already since his 2016 Sundance doc Life, Animated, but director Roger Ross Williams is back with his first narrative feature and it’s even more perfect than I was hoping. I was moved to tears and all I want to do now is make sure this film gets the attention it deserves, because it really needs to find a loving audience worldwide. It doesn’t overstay its welcome, allows us to appreciate and spend time with all these character, including great supporting performances from Raúl Castillo, Bad Bunny, and Roberta Colindrez. I’m glad I watched this film late in the fest, it really is one of the highlights of Sundance 2023.

Radical
Radical
Directed by Christopher Zalla

One of the best films about a teacher, an inspiring story of breaking rules and going against the grain to encourage kids to grow up as free thinkers. I was not expecting to be so moved by this film, overwhelmed by the emotional impact of watching a teacher who cares fight for his students to learn. It’s such a generous, warm-hearted, beautiful story about a teacher and his students working together to overcome adversity and carelessness. Education matters, but teachers matter the most – this film proves that once again. Mexican actor Eugenio Derbez stars as Sergio, the “radical” teacher of the title, and he continues to impress with roles that are thoroughly entertaining yet still nuanced and genuine. All of the kids are fantastic, too. The whole film will leave anyone who watches it feeling encouraged by the power that great teachers can have to change the world. It may even make a few people want to be teachers and try out some innovative teaching?

A Thousand and One
A Thousand and One
Directed by A.V. Rockwell

One of the most impressive directorial debuts of Sundance 2023 – I have been telling everyone to watch this since the premiere. Mark my words, we will hearing a lot about director A.V. Rockwell from now on. I was at the world premiere screening of this film during the first weekend of the festival and it’s an outstanding slice of cinema. I was in complete awe with how she handles this Harlem story and brings it to the screen, spanning years of time while working in potent themes of gentrification and American racism. A Thousand and One tells the story of a tenacious mother named Inez, played with tremendous empathy and heart by newcomer Teyana Taylor, and her quiet son, a boy she calls Terry. They live together in an apartment in Harlem and struggle to make ends meet and live a simple life without getting caught up in all that’s going on down on the streets of NYC below. It is the quality of the filmmaking that really stands out, as well as the honest storytelling about how incredibly hard it is to stay clean and stay out of trouble. A superb discovery.

Theater Camp
Theater Camp
Directed by Molly Gordon & Nick Lieberman

Theater Camp rules!! I couldn’t be happier with how this nerdy film turned out!! Molly Gordon & Nick Lieberman’s Theater Camp is an instant classic. Truly. It goes right on the list of Top 10 mockumentaries, absolutely irrefutably joining the ranks along with Waiting for Guffman, Best in Show, This Is Spinal Tap, Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping, and A Mighty Wind. It’s hilarious and heartfelt and pitch perfect in every way. Not a moment I wasn’t smiling all the way through, loved every scene of it and every filmmaking choice delivers exactly what is right to make this near perfect. The build-up to the final musical number(s), the twists and turns throughout, and the performances from all of the kids and the theater camp staff, are all as brilliant as they should be. A must watch with an audience film, preferably in the theater if you can, but even with friends at home – this helps makes it an entirely enjoyable laugh-your-ass-off comedy experience.

I also recorded a podcast chat about Sundance films with Aaron Neuwirth on his Out Now Podcast – listen to that episode here. And check out my other favorite films list on my Letterboxd page. Thanks for following.

To find all of Alex’s Sundance 2023 reviews and updates:

For other Sundance 2023 best of the fest lists mentioning more films we didn’t see or didn’t include here, check out these websites: NPR’s Get these Sundance 2023 movies on your radar now, NY Times’ Sundance Standout Movies recap from Manohla Dargis, InsideHook’s The 15 Best Films at Sundance 2023, Variety’s 17 Must-See Movies From the 2023 Festival, Indiewire’s Here Are the Sundance 2023 Films You’re Going to Want to See, The Hollywood Reporter’s 15 Best Films of Sundance 2023, Collider’s The 10 Buzziest Films To Keep On Your Radar, and CheatSheet’s 10 Best Sundance 2023 Movies to Keep an Eye Out For. Our list isn’t the only list of favorites from Sundance! There are many other great films from this year that deserve your time & attention whenever they show up in your neighborhood. Keep an eye out for all of these. I always recommend watching any film from the Sundance line-up if it sounds interesting to you, and many of these will likely show up at other festivals before playing in art house theaters. Make time for as many as you can.

You can find all our Sundance 2023 coverage and reviews in this category. This wraps up our coverage of the 2023 Sundance Film Festival, our 17th year in a row at this festival. We’ll be back again next year. You can also find more thoughts on many films posted on my Letterboxd. Another vibrant year of amazing films.

Find more posts: Feat, Indies, Lists, Review, Sundance 23



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Sundance 2023 Awards: ‘A Thousand and One’ & ‘Going to Mars’ Win

Sundance 2023 Awards: ‘A Thousand and One’ & ‘Going to Mars’ Win

by Alex Billington
January 27, 2023
Source: Sundance.org

The official awards for the 2023 Sundance Film Festival, held in Park City, Utah every January, were announced this evening with a small ceremony held in person in Utah. The festival continued this week with an at-home online series of viewings in addition to all the in-person projections. It was an especially festive year, so many people were excited to be back in Park City in the snow to enjoy films, and a rather impressive selection – 111 features in total screened at Sundance 2023. I enjoyed so many of them, the quality was at its best. The main winners for 2023 including A Thousand and One (made by A.V. Rockwell) and the doc Going to Mars: The Nikki Giovanni Project winning the premium top Grand Jury Prizes. In addition, the festival favorite is Radical (read my glowing review) along with The Persian Version and Beyond Utopia as the Main Competition Audience Award winners. As always, if any of these films interest you, we hope you note them down and take the time to watch as soon as you can. All 2023 winners are listed below.

Here’s the full announcement of winners with synopsis next to each. The 2023 festival is wrapping up now.

2023 SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL JURY AWARDS:

The U.S. Grand Jury Prize: Dramatic was presented to A.V. Rockwell for A Thousand and One / U.S.A. (Director & Screenwriter: A.V. Rockwell, Producers: Eddie Vaisman, Julia Lebedev, Lena Waithe, Rishi Rajani, Brad Weston) — Convinced it’s one last, necessary crime on the path to redemption, unapologetic and free-spirited Inez kidnaps 6-year-old Terry from the foster care system. Holding on to their secret and each other, mother and son set out to reclaim their sense of home, identity, and stability in New York City. Cast: Teyana Taylor, Will Catlett, Josiah Cross, Aven Courtney, Aaron Kingsley Adetola.

The U.S. Grand Jury Prize: Documentary was presented to Joe Brewster & Michèle Stephenson for Going to Mars: The Nikki Giovanni Project / U.S.A. (Directors & Producers: Joe Brewster, Michèle Stephenson, Producer: Tommy Oliver) — Intimate vérité, archival footage, and visually innovative treatments of poetry take us on a journey through the dreamscape of legendary poet Nikki Giovanni as she reflects on her life and legacy.

The World Cinema Grand Jury Prize: Dramatic was presented to Charlotte Regan for Scrapper / U.K. (Director & Screenwriter: Charlotte Regan, Producer: Theo Barrowclough) — Georgie is a dreamy 12-year-old girl who lives happily alone in her London flat, filling it with magic. Out of nowhere, her estranged father turns up and forces her to confront reality. Cast: Harris Dickinson, Lola Campbell, Alin Uzun, Ambreen Razia, Olivia Brady, Aylin Tezel.

The World Cinema Grand Jury Prize: Documentary was presented to Maite Alberdi for The Eternal Memory / Chile (Director & Producer: Maite Alberdi, Producers: Juan de Dios Larraín, Pablo Larraín, Rocío Jadue) — Augusto and Paulina have been together for 25 years. Eight years ago, he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. Both fear the day he no longer recognizes her.

The Directing Award: U.S. Documentary was presented to Luke Lorentzen for A Still Small Voice / U.S.A. (Director & Producer: Luke Lorentzen, Producer: Kellen Quinn) — An aspiring hospital chaplain begins a yearlong residency in spiritual care, only to discover that to successfully tend to her patients, she must look deep within herself.

The Directing Award: U.S. Dramatic was presented to Sing J. Lee for The Accidental Getaway Driver / U.S.A. (Director & Screenwriter: Sing Lee, Screenwriter: Christopher Chen, Producers: Kimberly Steward, Basil Iwanyk, Andy Sorgie, Brendon Boyea, Joseph Hiếu) — During a routine pickup, an elderly Vietnamese cab driver is taken hostage at gunpoint by three recently escaped Orange County convicts. Based on a true story. Cast: Hiệp Trần Nghĩa, Dustin Nguyen, Dali Benssalah, Phi Vũ, Gabrielle Chan.

The Directing Award: World Cinema Documentary was presented to Anna Hints for Smoke Sauna Sisterhood / Estonia, France, Iceland (Director: Anna Hints, Producer: Marianne Ostrat) — In the darkness of a smoke sauna, women share their innermost secrets and intimate experiences, washing off the shame trapped in their bodies and regaining their strength through a sense of communion.

The Directing Award: World Cinema Dramatic was presented to Marija Kavtaradze for Slow / Lithuania, Spain, Sweden (Director & Screenwriter: Marija Kavtaradze, Producer: Marija Razgute) — Dancer Elena and sign language interpreter Dovydas meet and form a beautiful bond. As they dive into a new relationship, they must navigate how to build their own kind of intimacy.

The Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award: U.S. Dramatic was presented to Maryam Keshavarz for The Persian Version / U.S.A. (Director, Screenwriter, & Producer: Maryam Keshavarz, Producers: Anne Carey, Ben Howe, Luca Borghese, Peter Block, Corey Nelson) — When a large Iranian-American family gathers for the patriarch’s heart transplant, a family secret is uncovered that catapults the estranged mother and daughter into an exploration of the past. Toggling between the United States and Iran over decades, mother and daughter discover they are more alike than they know. Cast: Layla Mohammadi, Niousha Noor, Kamand Shafieisabet, Bella Warda, Bijan Daneshmand, Shervin Alenabi.

The Jonathan Oppenheim Editing Award: U.S. Documentary was presented to Daniela I. Quiroz for Going Varsity in Mariachi / U.S.A. (Directors: Alejandra Vasquez, Sam Osborn, Producers: James Lawler, Luis A. Miranda, Jr., Julia Pontecorvo) — In the competitive world of high school mariachi, the musicians from the South Texas borderlands reign supreme. Under the guidance of coach Abel Acuña, the teenage captains of Edinburg North High School’s acclaimed team must turn a shoestring budget and diverse crew of inexperienced musicians into state champions.

A U.S. Dramatic Special Jury Award: Ensemble was presented to the cast of Theater Camp / U.S.A. (Directors & Screenwriters: Molly Gordon, Nick Lieberman, Screenwriters: Noah Galvin, Ben Platt, Producers: Erik Feig, Samie Kim Falvey, Julia Hammer, Ryan Heller, Will Ferrell, Jessica Elbaum) — When the beloved founder of a run-down theater camp in upstate New York falls into a coma, the eccentric staff must band together with the founder’s crypto-bro son to keep the camp afloat. Cast: Molly Gordon, Ben Platt, Noah Galvin, Jimmy Tatro, Patti Harrison, Ayo Edebiri.

A U.S. Dramatic Special Jury Award: Creative Vision was presented to the creative team of Magazine Dreams / U.S.A. (Director & Screenwriter: Elijah Bynum, Producers: Jennifer Fox, Dan Gilroy, Jeffrey Soros, Simon Horsman) — An amateur bodybuilder struggles to find human connection as his relentless drive for recognition pushes him to the brink. Cast: Jonathan Majors, Haley Bennett, Taylour Paige, Mike O’Hearn, Harrison Page, Harriet Sansom Harris.

A U.S. Dramatic Special Jury Award: Acting was presented to Lio Mehiel for Mutt / U.S.A. (Director, Screenwriter, & Producer: Vuk Lungulov-Klotz, Producers: Alexander Stegmaier, Stephen Scott Scarpulla, Jennifer Kuczaj, Joel Michaely) Jury citation:— Over the course of a single hectic day in New York City, three people from Feña’s past are thrust back into his life. Having lost touch since transitioning from female to male, he navigates the new dynamics of old relationships while tackling the day-to-day challenges of living life in between. Cast: Lío Mehiel, Cole Doman, MiMi Ryder, Alejandro Goic.

A U.S. Documentary Special Jury Award: Clarity of Vision was presented to The Stroll / U.S.A. (Directors: Kristen Lovell, Zackary Drucker, Producer: Matt Wolf) — The history of New York’s Meatpacking District, told from the perspective of transgender sex workers who lived and worked there. Filmmaker Kristen Lovell, who walked “The Stroll” for a decade, reunites her community to recount the violence, policing, homelessness, and gentrification they overcame to build a movement for transgender rights.

The NEXT Innovator Award presented by Adobe was presented to Kokomo City / U.S.A. (Director and Producer: D. Smith, Producers: Harris Doran, Bill Butler) — Four Black transgender sex workers explore the dichotomy between the Black community and themselves, while confronting issues long avoided.

2023 SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL AUDIENCE AWARDS:

The Audience Award: U.S. Documentary, Presented by Acura was awarded to Beyond Utopia / U.S.A. (Director: Madeleine Gavin, Producers: Jana Edelbaum, Rachel Cohen, Sue Mi Terry) — Hidden camera footage augments this perilous high-stakes journey as we embed with families attempting to escape oppression from North Korea, ultimately revealing a world most of us have never seen.

The Audience Award: U.S. Dramatic, Presented by Acura was awarded to The Persian Version / U.S.A. (Director, Screenwriter, & Producer: Maryam Keshavarz, Producers: Anne Carey, Ben Howe, Luca Borghese, Peter Block, Corey Nelson) — When a large Iranian-American family gathers for the patriarch’s heart transplant, a family secret is uncovered that catapults the estranged mother and daughter into an exploration of the past. Toggling between the United States and Iran over decades, mother and daughter discover they are more alike than they know. Cast: Layla Mohammadi, Niousha Noor, Kamand Shafieisabet, Bella Warda, Bijan Daneshmand, Shervin Alenabi.

The Audience Award: World Cinema Dramatic, Presented by United Airlines was awarded to Shayda / Australia (Director, Screenwriter, & Producer: Noora Niasari, Producer: Vincent Sheehan) — Shayda, a brave Iranian mother, finds refuge in an Australian women’s shelter with her 6-year-old daughter. Over Persian New Year, they take solace in Nowruz rituals and new beginnings, but when her estranged husband re-enters their lives, Shayda’s path to freedom is jeopardized. Cast: Zar Amir Ebrahimi, Osamah Sami, Leah Purcell, Jillian Nguyen, Mojean Aria, Selina Zahednia.

The Audience Award: World Cinema Documentary, Presented by United Airlines was awarded to 20 Days in Mariupol / Ukraine (Director & Producer: Mstyslav Chernov, Producers: Michelle Mizner, Raney Aronson-Rath, Derl McCrudden) — As the Russian invasion begins, a team of Ukrainian journalists trapped in the besieged city of Mariupol struggle to continue their work documenting the war’s atrocities.

The Audience Award: NEXT, Presented by Adobe was awarded to Kokomo City / U.S.A. (Director & Producer: D. Smith, Producers: Harris Doran, Bill Butler) — Four Black transgender sex workers explore the dichotomy between the Black community and themselves, while confronting issues long avoided.

Selected by audience votes from the feature films that screened at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival, the Festival Favorite Award was presented to Radical / U.S.A (Director & Screenwriter: Christopher Zalla, Producers: Ben Odell, Eugenio Derbez, Joshua Davis) — In a Mexican border town plagued by neglect, corruption, and violence, a frustrated teacher tries a radical new method to break through his students’ apathy and unlock their curiosity, their potential… and maybe even their genius. Based on a true story. Cast: Eugenio Derbez, Daniel Haddad, Jenifer Trejo, Mia Fernanda Solis, Danilo Guardiola.

Congrats to all of 2023’s winners! Keep an eye on all these films, catch them when they show in your area. I’m also a big fan of many of these films already – A Thousand and One and Radical and Beyond Utopia and Scrapper are some of my favorite of the fest. I’m already recommending these and plan to talk about them throughout the rest of this year. I was fully expecting Theater Camp, or perhaps Past Lives (based on all the reviews), to win the Festival Favorite / Audience Award instead – I heard people raving about both of these over and over for the entire festival. I was not the biggest fan of The Accidental Getaway Driver, a bit dull for me, but that’s just my own take on it. I recently watched the Finnish doc Smoke Sauna Sisterhood and it’s fantastic, I’m glad it took home a price as well. A number of these winners I didn’t even have the chance to see anyway. As expected, everyone’s opinions on all of these 2023 films are different! That said, every last one of them is still worth your time & attention anyway – Sundance brings many of the best films every year.

For more info, visit Sundance.org. Also see last year’s winners here. Follow all our Sundance 2023 coverage.

Find more posts: Awards, Movie News, Sundance 23

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Sundance 2023: The Atrocious, Annoying Awkwardness of ‘Cat Person’

Sundance 2023: The Atrocious, Annoying Awkwardness of ‘Cat Person’

by Alex Billington
January 24, 2023

Is this what dating is really like these days?! I can’t believe it. I don’t want to believe it. This cannot be real. Can it…?? I’m not one to be extra negative about a film, but I must get this off my chest. Cat Person is bad, really bad. It’s one of the worst films I’ve seen at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival, not necessarily because the filmmaking is bad, but because the entire film is misguided. I didn’t think they could extend the cringe and awkwardness of the original story (from New Yorker) this much and make it even more awkward to sit through. But somehow they did… It’s such an uncomfortable watch. The film only features annoying idiotic cringe for two hours with absolutely nothing interesting or worthwhile to add or explore or consider or think about. I am shocked by how much of a mess this film is. It’s not really about toxic masculinity, it’s actually about a young woman who keeps making unbelievably stupid choices and never learning a thing from them. Her best friend is constantly trying to keep her from making mistakes, but she never listens to her… Ever.

Cat Person is directed by Susanna Fogel, bringing to life the infamous story about a young woman trying to date a slightly older man. It’s her second feature as a director, after lots of TV work, and mostly writing scripts before this. Emilia Jones stars as Margot, a college student who works at a tiny art house cinema in town while not in classes. It’s there she meets this frumpy, extra tall guy named Robert, played in the most awkward way by Nicholas Braun. He asks for her number and for no good reason she gives it to him. The rest of the film plays out from her fraught perspective, as she begins a text relationship with him eventually leading to a number of seriously strange and terrible dates, and one night of hooking up which is painful to watch – it’s exactly when everyone will scream during this film. Everything about her experience is a mess. Yes, obviously, it’s supposed to be a story from the POV of a young woman making these mistakes, unable to understand or make sense of the hundreds of red flags or anything else. This might be fine for the first half, but at some point I thought she would come to her senses and learn something from going through all this.

There are some jarring inconsistencies with the film: Is it a horror? Is it a comedy? What even is it anyway? Why do we have to sit through two hours of watching her try to date this painfully dumb guy? And by try, I really mean try, because they’re both awful at everything. Wait – that’s ALL there is to this film?! Seriously?! When do we see anything else? While there are some characters actually saying sane things (her best friend, even the cop) they’re consistently ignored throughout. The film doesn’t even have a clear idea what the hell it’s trying to say adapting the otherwise amusing New Yorker article. The horror touches are added because of course, she is super scared and everything with men is horrifying. They’re almost played for laughs, which is strange because the rest of it is so cringey and terrifying it’s not even funny. Is this how people really act these days when it comes to dating? In my own experience, I’ve had a few fun texting flings, but anyone with a brain quickly learns this is all nonsense and you have to get to know someone in person. This should’ve been explored more, but the film draws it out way, way too long without any worthwhile lessons to offer up.

If someone watches and says “this is exactly like my experiences dating in real life” I’d wonder if they maybe need a serious reality check. None of what happens in the film is realistic – it’s over-exaggerated melodrama for cinematic sake. No one should be this naive & careless, especially young women. The film fails miserably in trying to remind women not fall into this trap and go down this path like she did, because it frustratingly tries to turn the awkwardness of it all into cheesy made-for-TV horror schlock. It’s unsuccessful in making us sympathize with any of the characters. Her best friend Taylor, played with spunk by the rather talented Geraldine Viswanathan, is the only one who provides intelligent, reasonable advice. But she is treated so poorly by Margot throughout the entire movie, without so much as one single moment of reconciliation or understanding by the end, I don’t know how anyone is supposed to see that she’s the only one being smart. It’s as if the film is purposefully condescending towards intelligence, with a hope that the discomfort of the main relationship works as “entertainment” – alas it’s nowhere near entertaining or enjoyable or amusing.

Discussing this film with others who also saw it at Sundance, I understand the point is to show us what it’s like for a young woman to be caught up in this kind of horrifying dating experience. I get that. But I still feel the film does a terrible job in pointing this out, making the audience sit through the excruciating cringe for 120 minutes while pretending it’s funny to watch. That’s the problem – the filmmaker doesn’t seem to know what to do with this story, and by framing every last scene through her lens of “well this is what someone young and inexperienced might do” (even if it is based on a true story?) we’re forced to grapple with this tiresome awkwardness. However, instead of introducing this idea and then using the language of cinema to extend the story and give her an opportunity to grow up just a bit, it instead rides this awkward rollercoaster right into dating hell. Once again, are there people who refuse to see how bad and wrong and inappropriate everything in this is and still continue trying to make it work? How can someone ignore all these red flags? How can they make it all worse themselves and not get that? Why does the film think that’s good to show?

Here is the most controversial point I will make: I also don’t really think most people are going to properly understand Cat Person: The Movie. It’s not really about toxic masculinity. Sure, it touches on it in just a few scenes; we all know men can quickly become assholes when provoked. However, it’s mostly about how dumb and awkard and careless men are when it comes to dating and romance and girls. Yeah the guy is a weirdo but most of it is a mess of her own making. Oddly, the film seems to be about how men aren’t actually all that bad, no really, and most of it from her side is over-exaggerated fears. Which is a fair point to make in a film, but not in a film based on the Cat Person article? Ummm? Why flip the story around that way? I can’t even really tell if the filmmaker gets this and is just trying to make us think more. Or if she just didn’t know how to adapt the story and give it a cinematic spin. Margot is the one egging things on, continuing to take an interest in him for no good reason (just WHY?!). Even when her friend tries to stop her and make her wake up, she always ignores these very valid warnings over & over. Come on folks, if you watch this film closely, it’s offering up unpleasant mixed messages about how dumb everyone is – both men and women. Whatever.

Alex’s Sundance 2023 Rating: 3 out of 10
Follow Alex on Twitter – @firstshowing / Or Letterboxd – @firstshowing

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Our 10 Most Anticipated Films at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival

Our 10 Most Anticipated Films at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival

by Alex Billington
January 17, 2023

It’s January again, which means it’s time for yet another Sundance Film Festival. After two years of only a virtual film festival, Sundance returns in 2023 to an in-person event in the snowy town of Park City, Utah. And we’re back again! Ready to start watching, diving into the impressive line-up of films this year. This is my 17th year in a row covering this film festival; I’m always looking forward to returning and watching all the new films premiering at Sundance. Packing in as many as I can catch. Out of the 100+ films showing at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival, I’ve picked 10 films that I’m looking forward to seeing the most. To keep things well balanced, I’ve chosen 5 feature films and 5 documentaries from the line-up. For 2023, the fest is leaning heavily on unknown directors, first-time filmmakers, and gems with breakout potential. As usual with Sundance, you never can really tell what’ll good or bad before, but here’s my early picks anyway.

For the full line-up of films showing at Sundance 2023 – click here. Follow my reviews on Letterboxd. This will be my 17th year in a row covering Sundance, starting back in 2007 then ever since. I’m still excited to be watching the latest indie films, even from afar, and I’m hoping there’s some good discoveries despite the chaotic times we’re living in. The fest is just about to begin, here’s my Top 10 most anticipated 2023 films.

Alex’s Most Anticipated ~Sundance 2023~ Feature Films:

Drift
Drift
Directed by Anthony Chen

This is one of my most anticipated just because it sounds so mysterious, as the festival doesn’t want to give away too much about what happens and where the film goes. The original Sundance description says: “Jacqueline escapes her war-torn country to a Greek island. She meets an unmoored tour guide and the two become close as they each find hope in the other.” It’s the first English language feature from an acclaimed Singaporean filmmaker named Anthony Chen, best known for his films Ilo Ilo and Wet Season previously. This one stars Cynthia Erivo as the woman who ends up on the island, along with a cast including Alia Shawkat and Honor Swinton Byrne. Sundance adds more buzz saying: “The film sensitively examines both Jacqueline’s fraught attempt to resume life in the aftermath of unimaginable tragedy and her growing bond with a fellow expat. Cynthia Erivo, who was nominated for an Oscar in 2019’s Harriet, vividly portrays Jacqueline’s bone-deep grief and all-too-fresh fears, as well as her guarded attempts at human connection.”

Rye Lane
Rye Lane
Directed by Raine Allen Miller

I can’t wait to watch this one!! Rye Lane looks like it might be the modern Before Sunrise/Sunset breakout from the 2023 festival. It’s another film about two young people who randomly bump into each other, and it follows them over the course of the day as they talk about romance and relationships and life and everything else. Searchlight Pictures has already picked this one up, with plans to release it in a few months (only on Hulu in the US – only in theaters in the UK). I’m set to attend one of the first screenings at the festival. “For her visually inventive feature debut, director Raine Allen-Miller launches us into a playful and vibrant world, shaping a romantic comedy that celebrates meeting the right person at the wrong time. Nathan Bryon and Tom Melia’s fresh characters leap off the page at breakneck speed in the hands of Oparah and Jonsson, channeling all the frustrations of swiping fatigue while holding onto the hope of finding the real deal.” It stars David Jonsson and Vivian Oparah as the two leads Dom and Yas. Watch the first full trailer here.

Polite Society
Polite Society
Directed by Nida Manzoor

Martial arts awesomeness!! Bring on the unveiling of Polite Society. I’ve got a feeling this might be one of the big breakouts from the Midnight section at Sundance this year. Polite Society is about a young woman from London who decides to disrupt her sister’s wedding because she doesn’t want her to become a trophy wife and give up on all of her dreams. Which is a great setup for an action comedy. “Aspiring martial artist Ria Khan believes she must save her older sister, Lena, from her impending marriage. With the help of her friends, Ria attempts to pull off the most ambitious of all wedding heists in the name of independence and sisterhood.” Starring Priya Kansara as Ria, and marking the feature directorial debut of filmmaker Nida Manzoor (also known for creating “We Are Lady Parts”), this has cult hit potential all over it. Maybe it will even end up being a mainstream hit, too! Only time will tell. I’ve got my ticket for the midnight premiere on the first weekend, I know the buzz from that first audience will make it the perfect experience at the festival.

All Dirt Roads Taste of Salt
All Dirt Roads Taste of Salt
Directed by Raven Jackson

Sundance is a festival where experimentation and innovation in filmmaking are encouraged, and this sounds like one of the films that will stand out for its originality and authenticity. This is another film produced by the very talented filmmaker Barry Jenkins (who also produced last year’s Aftersun). The short description is: “A decades-spanning exploration of a woman’s life in Mississippi and an ode to the generations of people, places, and ineffable moments that shape us.” But the longer intro from the festival adds a few more details: “Raven Jackson’s striking debut is an assured vision, unafraid to immerse us in moments of grief and longing, or within the thickness of things left unsaid. Her camera is patient and loving, capturing the beauty of Black bodies and life. Rural quietness is filled with the transportive sounds of crickets, frogs, and water in its many forms. Jackson’s nontraditional narrative borrows from the language of memory.” I’m definitely in.

Landscape with Invisible Hand
Landscape with Invisible Hand
Directed by Cory Finley

After raving about the Hugh Jackman film Bad Education a few years ago, I’m now a big fan of filmmaker Cory Finley. He should already be a mainstream name, but I think this film will finally put him on the map in a big way. He also premiered Thoroughbreds (with Olivia Cooke & Anya Taylor-Joy & Anton Yelchin RIP) at Sundance in 2017, returning with this sci-fi story in 2023. It’s adapted from the book of the same name by M.T. Anderson, about aliens on Earth. “The Vuvv, a species of hyper-intelligent extraterrestrials, brought wondrous technology to Earth, but only the wealthiest can afford it. The rest of humanity, their livelihoods now obsolete, have to scrape together money in the tourism industry. In the case of Adam and his budding love interest Chloe, that means livestreaming their courtship for the amusement of the coffee-table sized Vuvv, who find human love exotic and interesting. When Adam and Chloe’s scheme goes sideways, Adam and his mother have to find their way out of an increasingly nightmarish alien bureaucracy.” I must see this.

Other Features I’m Looking Forward To: Sometimes I Think About Dying with Daisy Ridley, Sophie Barthes’ sci-fi The Pod Generation, Susanna Fogel’s Cat Person (based on that one article), Ira Sachs’ new film Passages, Roger Ross Williams’ Cassandro, Elijah Bynum’s Magazine Dreams with Jonathan Majors.

Alex’s Most Anticipated ~Sundance 2023~ Documentaries:

Deep Rising
Deep Rising
Directed by Matthieu Rytz

Not to be confused with the cruise ship monster horror movie from 1998 also titled Deep Rising, this is a whole other film – though it’s also about the ocean. I’m a sucker for any films about our planet and how we should be taking better care of it, so I’m already sold on this one. Very curious to learn about what’s in the deep. It sounds like it might be profoundly important in discussing even more exploitation and destruction. The festival introduces this as: “Narrated by Jason Momoa, Deep Rising illuminates the vital relationship between the deep ocean & sustaining life on Earth. The documentary also follows mining startup The Metals Company, as it pursues funding, public favor, and permission from the International Seabed Authority to mine wide swaths of the Pacific Ocean floor.” I definitely won’t be missing this documentary at the festival.

Fantastic Machine
Fantastic Machine
Directed by Axel Danielson & Maximilien Van Aertryck

Yet another film about how social media is ruining society. One of the best docs from Sundance 2022 that no one watched after the fest was All Light Everywhere, examining of the origins of the camera and how it connects to police body cams. This one sounds like it follows up on that doc with another fascinating visual study. “A meticulous dissection of image-making and a mapping of its movement through society, directors Axel Danielson and Maximilien Van Aertryck use a mind-boggling array of archival footage to collage this sociological study by tracking the transmogrification of photographic philosophy and technology over human history.” The festival won’t say it outright, but it sounds like it’s extra critical of our society today. Their shorter description says “the visual sociologist filmmakers widen their lens to expose both humanity’s unique obsession with the camera’s image and the social consequences that lay ahead.” I’m definitely in.

Kim’s Video
Kim's Video
Directed by David Redmon & Ashley Sabin

Any of you remember Kim’s Video? The famous video store in New York City? This documentary is about Kim’s Video, but it seems to be another one of these “stranger than fiction” stories about what happened to Kim’s and all of the 50,000+ movies they used to have. So where did they go? Did this disappear? Are they locked up somewhere? Find out in this documentary film. “In a bid to revitalize tourism, the small Italian village of Salemi, Sicily became home to the archive. But after the initial publicity faded, so too did any sign of the collection. Enter filmmaker David Redmon, who credits Kim’s Video for his film education. With the ghosts of cinema past leading his way, Redmon embarks on a seemingly quixotic quest to track down what happened to the legendary collection and to free it from purgatory.” I’m so curious what he finds over there and Italy and if he can somehow get his hands on all these lost movies. Very curious to see what this shows.

The Eternal Memory
The Eternal Memory
Directed by Maite Alberdi

I am big fan of Chilean director Maite Alberdi’s previous film, The Mole Agent, which ended up with an Oscar nomination in 2021. Alberdi is back at Sundance again with another lovely documentary about elderly people, though this one sounds a bit more heartbreaking and sad. “Augusto and Paulina have been together for 25 years. Eight years ago, he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. Both fear the day he no longer recognizes her.” It’s yet another film about Alzheimer’s disease and how harsh it is, especially with this story about a couple. “Day by day, the couple face this challenge head-on, adapting to the disruptions brought on by the taxing disease while relying on the tender affection and sense of humor shared between them that remains intact.” I’m nervous this doc will be really emotional to watch, but I can’t miss it at the fest anyway.

Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie
Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie
Directed by Davis Guggenheim

Everyone knows & loves Michael J. Fox! Of course they finally made a documentary about him, and about his struggles with Parkinson’s disease. It’s made by the acclaimed director of the doc films An Inconvenient Truth and Waiting for Superman before. “Fox’s improbable story sounds like the stuff of Hollywood, so what better way to tell it than through scenes from his own work, supplemented with stylish recreations? Owning his own narrative, the actor playfully recounts his journey with intimacy, candor, and humor. In the hands of Davis Guggenheim, Still reveals what happens when an eternal optimist confronts an incurable disease.” This will also be sad and tough to watch at times, but I also have a feeling it’s going to lean more into being triumphant and uplifting, as Fox seems like the kind of guy who wants us to be empowered by his story not brought down by it. Looking forward to being at the world premiere of this doc on the weekend.

More Docs I’ll Be Watching: Tracy Droz Tragos’ Plan C, Laura McGann’s The Deepest Breath, Rebecca Landsberry-Baker & Joe Peeler’s journalism film Bad Press, Milisuthando Bongela’s poetic Milisuthando.

For all of Alex’s Sundance 2023 reviews and updates:

For more Sundance 2023 previews around the web, highlighting early picks and potential breakouts, also see: The Film Stage’s 20 Most-Anticipated Premieres, Indiewire’s 27 Must-See Films at This Year’s Festival, Rolling Stone’s 20 Movies We Can’t Wait to See at Sundance 2023, and Hidden Remote’s 2023 Sundance most anticipated movies. You never know what might be a big hit, and it’s vital to have a pulse on the early buzz – even before the fest starts. There’s plenty of intriguing films found in the selection this year, tons of discoveries from first time filmmakers and up-and-coming talent, so let’s jump right in and start watching.

You can follow our Sundance 2023 coverage and reviews right here and on Alex’s Letterboxd. The festival begins on January 19th and runs until January 29th, with films premiering online + locally. Glad to be back.

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Sundance 2023: Official Selection of All 99 Feature Films Announced

Sundance 2023: Official Selection of All 99 Feature Films Announced

by Alex Billington
December 7, 2022

Let’s find out what the next year in cinema looks like. Every new year brings us another Sundance Film Festival and with less than two months until Sundance 2023 kicks off on January 19th, it’s time to find out what’s premiering at this prestigious fest in Utah. Sundance has revealed their 2023 selection of ALL of their official feature films in the selection this year, including 99 films playing across these 10 categories (including their usual four Competition categories – now bumped up to 12 films in each), ranging from new documentaries to quirky comedies, compelling dramas, and everything else good. The 2023 festival is taking place both as an in-person festival returning to snowy Park City, UT, as well as a virtual festival with online premieres only available for the second half. Sundance is still one of my favorite festivals in the world, and we’ll be returning for our 17th year in a row to cover it. View the entire selection of new films below to get a sense of what the 2023 line-up contains. Some of the most exciting offerings are in the Premieres category.

Browse through all the feature film selections for Sundance 2023 films – and visit Sundance.org for more.

U.S. Dramatic Competition:
Shortcomings

Presenting 12 world premieres of fiction feature films, the Dramatic Competition offers audiences a first look at groundbreaking new voices in American independent film.

The Accidental Getaway Driver (Director & Screenwriter: Sing J. Lee, Screenwriter: Christopher Chen, Producers: Kimberly Steward, Basil Iwanyk, Andy Sorgie, Brendon Boyea, Joseph Hiếu) — During a routine pickup, an elderly Vietnamese cab driver is taken hostage at gunpoint by three recently escaped Orange County convicts. Based on a true story. Cast: Hiệp Trần Nghĩa, Dustin Nguyen, Dali Benssalah, Phi Vũ, Gabrielle Chan. Available online.

All Dirt Roads Taste of Salt (Director & Screenwriter: Raven Jackson, Producers: Maria Altamirano, Barry Jenkins, Adele Romanski, Mark Ceryak) – A decades-spanning exploration of a woman’s life in Mississippi and an ode to the generations of people, places, and ineffable moments that shape us. Cast: Charleen McClure, Moses Ingram, Kaylee Nicole Johnson, Reginald Helms Jr., Sheila Atim, Chris Chalk. Available online.

Fair Play (Director & Screenwriter: Chloe Domont, Producers: Leopold Hughes, Ben LeClair, Tim White, Trevor White, Allan Mandelbaum) — An unexpected promotion at a cutthroat hedge fund pushes a young couple’s relationship to the brink, threatening to unravel far more than their recent engagement. Cast: Phoebe Dynevor, Alden Ehrenreich, Eddie Marsan. Available online.

Fancy Dance (Director, Screenwriter, and Producer: Erica Tremblay, Screenwriter: Miciana Alise, Producers: Deidre Backs, Heather Rae, Nina Yang Bongiovi, Tommy Oliver) — Following her sister’s disappearance, a Native American hustler kidnaps her niece from the child’s white grandparents and sets out for the state powwow in hopes of keeping what is left of their family intact. Cast: Lily Gladstone, Isabel Deroy-Olson, Ryan Begay, Shea Whigham, Audrey Wasilewski. Available online.

Magazine Dreams (Director & Screenwriter: Elijah Bynum, Producers: Jennifer Fox, Dan Gilroy, Jeffrey Soros, Simon Horsman) — An amateur bodybuilder struggles to find human connection as his relentless drive for recognition pushes him to the brink. Cast: Jonathan Majors, Haley Bennett, Taylour Paige, Mike O’Hearn, Harrison Page, Harriet Sansom Harris. Available online.

Mutt (Director, Screenwriter, & Producer: Vuk Lungulov-Klotz, Producers: Alexander Stegmaier, Stephen Scott Scarpulla, Jennifer Kuczaj, Joel Michaely) — Over the course of a single hectic day in New York City, three people from Feña’s past are thrust back into his life. Having lost touch since transitioning from female to male, he navigates the new dynamics of old relationships while tackling the day-to-day challenges of living life in between. Cast: Lío Mehiel, Cole Doman, MiMi Ryder, Alejandro Goic. Available online.

The Persian Version (Director, Screenwriter, & Producer: Maryam Keshavarz, Producers: Anne Carey, Ben Howe, Luca Borghese, Peter Block, Corey Nelson) — When a large Iranian-American family gathers for the patriarch’s heart transplant, a family secret is uncovered that catapults the estranged mother and daughter into an exploration of the past. Toggling between the United States and Iran over decades, mother and daughter discover they are more alike than they know. Cast: Layla Mohammadi, Niousha Noor, Kamand Shafieisabet, Bella Warda, Bijan Daneshmand, Shervin Alenabi. Available online.

Shortcomings (Director: Randall Park, Screenwriter: Adrian Tomine, Producers: Margot Hand, Randall Park, Hieu Ho, Jennifer Berman, Howard Cohen, Eric d’Arbeloff) — Following Ben, Miko, and Alice as they navigate a range of interpersonal relationships and traverse the country in search of the ideal connection. Cast: Justin H. Min, Sherry Cola, Ally Maki, Debby Ryan, Tavi Gevinson, Sonoya Mizuno. Available online.

Sometimes I Think About Dying (Director: Rachel Lambert, Screenwriters: Kevin Armento, Stefanie Abel Horowitz, Katy Wright-Mead, Producers: Alex Saks, Daisy Ridley, Dori Rath, Lauren Beveridge, Brett Beveridge) — Fran likes to think about dying. It brings sensation to her quiet life. When she makes the new guy at work laugh, it leads to more: a date, a slice of pie, a conversation, a spark. The only thing standing in their way is Fran herself. Cast: Daisy Ridley, Dave Merheje, Parvesh Cheena, Marcia DeBonis, Meg Stalter, Brittany O’Grady. Available online. 

The Starling Girl (Director & Screenwriter: Laurel Akira Parmet, Producers: Kevin Rowe, Kara Durrett) — Seventeen-year-old Jem Starling struggles with her place within her Christian fundamentalist community, but everything changes when her magnetic youth pastor Owen returns to their church. Cast: Eliza Scanlen, Lewis Pullman, Jimmi Simpson, Wrenn Schmidt, Austin Abrams, Jessamine Burgum. Available online.

Theater Camp (Directors & Screenwriters: Molly Gordon, Nick Lieberman, Screenwriters: Noah Galvin, Ben Platt, Producers: Erik Feig, Samie Kim Falvey, Julia Hammer, Ryan Heller, Will Ferrell, Jessica Elbaum) — When the beloved founder of a run-down theater camp in upstate New York falls into a coma, the eccentric staff must band together with the founder’s crypto-bro son to keep the camp afloat. Cast: Molly Gordon, Ben Platt, Noah Galvin, Jimmy Tatro, Patti Harrison, Ayo Edebiri. Available online.

A Thousand and One (Director & Screenwriter: A.V. Rockwell, Producers: Eddie Vaisman, Julia Lebedev, Lena Waithe, Rishi Rajani, Brad Weston) — Convinced it’s one last, necessary crime on the path to redemption, unapologetic and free-spirited Inez kidnaps 6-year-old Terry from the foster care system. Holding on to their secret and each other, mother and son set out to reclaim their sense of home, identity, and stability in New York City. Cast: Teyana Taylor, Will Catlett, Josiah Cross, Aven Courtney, Aaron Kingsley Adetola. Available online.

U.S. Documentary Competition:
Bad Press

World-premiere American documentaries that illuminate the ideas, people, and events that shape the present day.

AUM: The Cult at the End of the World (Directors & Producers: Ben Braun, Chiaki Yanagimoto, Producers: Dan Braun, Josh Braun, Rick Brookwell) — On the morning of March 20, 1995, a deadly nerve gas attack in the Tokyo subway sent the nation and its people into chaos. This exploration of Aum Shinrikyo, the cult responsible for the attack, involves the participation of those who lived through the horror as it unfolded. Available online.

Bad Press (Directors: Rebecca Landsberry-Baker, Joe Peeler, Producers: Conrad Beilharz, Garrett F. Baker, Tyler Graim) — When the Muscogee Nation suddenly begins censoring its free press, a rogue reporter fights to expose her government’s corruption in a historic battle that will have ramifications for all of Indian country. Available online.

The Disappearance of Shere Hite (Director and Producer: Nicole Newnham, Producers: Molly O’Brien, R.J. Cutler, Elise Pearlstein, Kimberley Ferdinando, Trevor Smith) — Shere Hite’s 1976 bestselling book, The Hite Report, liberated the female orgasm by revealing the most private experiences of thousands of anonymous survey respondents. Her findings rocked the American establishment and presaged current conversations about gender, sexuality, and bodily autonomy. So how did Shere Hite disappear? Available online.

Going to Mars: The Nikki Giovanni Project (Directors and Producers: Joe Brewster, Michèle Stephenson, Producer: Tommy Oliver) — Intimate vérité, archival footage, and visually innovative treatments of poetry take us on a journey through the dreamscape of legendary poet Nikki Giovanni as she reflects on her life and legacy. Available online.

Going Varsity in Mariachi (Directors: Alejandra Vasquez, Sam Osborn, Producers: James Lawler, Luis A. Miranda, Jr., Julia Pontecorvo) — In the competitive world of high school mariachi, the musicians from the South Texas borderlands reign supreme. Under the guidance of coach Abel Acuña, the teenage captains of Edinburg North High School’s acclaimed team must turn a shoestring budget and diverse crew of inexperienced musicians into state champions. Available online.

Joonam (Director: Sierra Urich, Producer: Keith Wilson) — Spurred by a provocative family memory and a lifetime of separation from the country her mother left behind, a young filmmaker delves into her mother and grandmother’s complicated pasts and her own fractured Iranian identity. Available online.

Little Richard: I Am Everything (Director & Producer: Lisa Cortés, Producers: Robert Friedman, Liz Yale Marsh, Caryn Capotosto) — This celebration of Little Richard reveals the Black queer origins of rock ’n’ roll, finally exploding the whitewashed canon of American pop music. Through archival and performance footage, the revolutionary icon’s life unspools with all of its switchbacks and contradictions. Available online.

Nam June Paik: Moon is the Oldest TV (Director & Producer: Amanda Kim, Producers: Amy Hobby, David Koh, Mariko Munro, Jennifer Stockman, Jesse Wann) — The quixotic journey of Nam June Paik, one of the most famous Asian artists of the 20th century, who revolutionized the use of technology as an artistic canvas and prophesied both the fascist tendencies and intercultural understanding that would arise from the interconnected metaverse of today’s world. Available online.

A Still Small Voice (Director and Producer: Luke Lorentzen, Producer: Kellen Quinn) — An aspiring hospital chaplain begins a yearlong residency in spiritual care, only to discover that to successfully tend to her patients, she must look deep within herself. Available online.

The Stroll (Directors: Kristen Lovell, Zackary Drucker, Producer: Matt Wolf) — The history of New York’s Meatpacking District, told from the perspective of transgender sex workers who lived and worked there. Filmmaker Kristen Lovell, who walked “The Stroll” for a decade, reunites her community to recount the violence, policing, homelessness, and gentrification they overcame to build a movement for transgender rights. Available online.

Victim/Suspect (Director & Producer: Nancy Schwartzman, Producers: Julie Goldman, Christopher Clements, Alice Henty, Rachel de Leon, Amanda Pike) — Investigative journalist Rae de Leon travels nationwide to uncover and examine a shocking pattern: Young women tell the police they’ve been sexually assaulted, but instead of finding justice, they’re charged with the crime of making a false report, arrested, and even imprisoned by the system they believed would protect them. Available online.

World Cinema Dramatic Competition:
Sorcery

Fiction projects from emerging artists around the world offer fresh perspectives and inventive styles.

Animalia / France, Morocco, Qatar (Director & Screenwriter: Sofia Alaoui, Producers: Margaux Lorier, Toufik Ayadi, Christophe Barral) — A young, pregnant woman finds emancipation as aliens land in Morocco. Cast: Oumaïma Barid, Mehdi Dehbi, Fouad Oughaou. Available online.

Bad Behaviour / New Zealand (Director & Screenwriter: Alice Englert, Producers: Molly Hallam, Desray Armstrong) — Lucy, a former child actor, seeks enlightenment at a retreat led by spiritual leader Elon while she navigates her close yet turbulent relationship with her stunt-performer daughter, Dylan. Cast: Jennifer Connelly, Ben Whishaw, Alice Englert, Ana Scotney, Dasha Nekrasova, Marlon Williams. Available online.

Girl / U.K. (Director & Screenwriter: Adura Onashile, Producers: Rosie Crerar, Ciara Barry) — Eleven-year-old Ama and her mother, Grace, take solace in the gentle but isolated world they obsessively create. Ama’s growing up threatens the boundaries of their tenderness and forces Grace to reckon with a past she struggles to forget. Cast: Déborah Lukumuena, Danny Sapani, Le’Shantey Bonsu, Liana Turner. Available online.

Heroic / Mexico, Sweden (Director, Screenwriter, & Producer: David Zonana, Producers: Michel Franco, Eréndira Núñez Larios) — Luis, an 18-year-old boy with Indigenous roots, enters the Heroic Military College in hopes of ensuring a better future. There, he encounters a rigid and institutionally violent system designed to turn him into a perfect soldier. Cast: Santiago Sandoval Carbajal, Fernando Cuautle, Mónica del Carmen, Esteban Caicedo, Carlos Gerardo García, Isabel Yudice. Available online.

Mamacruz / Spain (Director & Screenwriter: Patricia Ortega, Screenwriter: José Ortuño, Producer: Olmo Figueredo) — With the help of her newly emigrated daughter, a religious grandmother learns how to use the internet. However, an accidental encounter with pornography poses a dilemma for her. Cast: Kiti Mánver. Available online.

Mami Wata / Nigeria (Director & Screenwriter: C.J. “Fiery” Obasi, Producer: Oge Obasi) — When the harmony in a village is threatened by outside elements, two sisters must fight to save their people and restore the glory of a mermaid goddess to the land. Cast: Evelyne Ily, Uzoamaka Aniunoh, Kelechi Udegbe, Emeka Amakeze, Rita Edochie, Tough Bone. Available online.

La Pecera / Puerto Rico, Spain (Director, Screenwriter, & Producer: Glorimar Marrero Sánchez, Producers: Amaya Izquierdo, José Esteban Alenda) — As her cancer spreads, Noelia’s ultimate decision is to return to her native Vieques, Puerto Rico, and claim her freedom to decide her own fate. She reunites with her friends and family, who are still dealing with the contamination of the U.S. Navy after sixty years of military practices. Cast: Isel Rodríguez, Modesto Lacén, Magali Carrasquillo, Maximiliano Rivas, Anamín Santiago, Idenisse Salamán. Available online.

Scrapper / U.K. (Director & Screenwriter: Charlotte Regan, Producer: Theo Barrowclough) — Georgie is a dreamy 12-year-old girl who lives happily alone in her London flat, filling it with magic. Out of nowhere, her estranged father turns up and forces her to confront reality. Cast: Harris Dickinson, Lola Campbell, Alin Uzun, Ambreen Razia, Olivia Brady, Aylin Tezel. Available online.

Shayda / Australia (Director, Screenwriter, and Producer: Noora Niasari, Producer: Vincent Sheehan) — Shayda, a brave Iranian mother, finds refuge in an Australian women’s shelter with her 6-year-old daughter. Over Persian New Year, they take solace in Nowruz rituals and new beginnings, but when her estranged husband re-enters their lives, Shayda’s path to freedom is jeopardized. Cast: Zar Amir Ebrahimi, Osamah Sami, Leah Purcell, Jillian Nguyen, Mojean Aria, Selina Zahednia. Available online.

Slow / Lithuania, Spain, Sweden (Director & Screenwriter: Marija Kavtaradze, Producer: Marija Razgute) — Dancer Elena and sign language interpreter Dovydas meet and form a beautiful bond. As they dive into a new relationship, they must navigate how to build their own kind of intimacy. Cast: Greta Grinevičiūtė, Kęstutis Cicėnas. Available online.

Sorcery / Chile, Mexico, Germany (Director & Screenwriter: Christopher Murray, Screenwriter: Pablo Paredes, Producers: Juan de Dios Larraín, Pablo Larraín, Rocío Jadue, Nicolás Celis) — On the remote island of Chiloé in the late 19th century, an Indigenous girl named Rosa lives and works with her father on a farm. When the foreman brutally turns on Rosa’s father, she sets out for justice, seeking help from the king of a powerful organization of sorcerers. Cast: Valentina Véliz, Daniel Antivilo, Sebastian Hulk, Daniel Muñoz. Available online.

When It Melts / Belgium (Director & Screenwriter: Veerle Baetens, Screenwriter: Maarten Loix, Producers: Bart Van Langendonck, Ellen Havenith, Jacques-Henri Bronckart) — Many years after a sweltering summer that spun out of control, Eva returns to the village she grew up in with an ice block in the back of her car. In the dead of winter, she confronts her past and faces up to her tormentors. Cast: Charlotte De Bruyne, Rosa Marchant. Available online.

World Cinema Documentary Competition:
Fantastic Machine

Documentaries by some of the boldest global filmmakers capturing the world today.

5 Seasons of Revolution / Germany, Syria, Netherlands, Norway (Director: Lina, Producer: Diana El Jeiroudi) — An aspiring video journalist in her 20s finds herself already facing self-reckoning. Born in Damascus, Syria, Lina starts to report on the events around her until she is compelled to become a war reporter and, later, the unexpected narrator of her own destiny. Available online.

20 Days in Mariupol / Ukraine (Director & Producer: Mstyslav Chernov, Producers: Michelle Mizner, Raney Aronson-Rath, Derl McCrudden) — As the Russian invasion begins, a team of Ukrainian journalists trapped in the besieged city of Mariupol struggle to continue their work documenting the war’s atrocities. Available online.

Against the Tide / India (Director & Producer: Sarvnik Kaur, Producer: Koval Bhatia) — Two friends, both Indigenous fishermen, are driven to desperation by a dying sea. Their friendship begins to fracture as they take very different paths to provide for their struggling families. Available online.

The Eternal Memory / Chile (Director & Producer: Maite Alberdi, Producers: Juan de Dios Larraín, Pablo Larraín, Rocío Jadue) — Augusto and Paulina have been together for 25 years. Eight years ago, he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. Both fear the day he no longer recognizes her. Available online.

Fantastic Machine / Sweden, Denmark (Directors & Producers: Axel Danielson, Maximilien Van Aertryck) — From the first camera to 45 billion cameras worldwide today, the visual sociologist filmmakers widen their lens to expose both humanity’s unique obsession with the camera’s image and the social consequences that lay ahead. Available online.

Iron Butterflies / Ukraine, Germany (Director: Roman Liubyi, Producers: Andrii Kotliar, Volodymyr Tykhyy, David Armati Lechner, Isabelle Bertolone, Trini Götze) — In summer 2014, sunflower fields and coal mines in eastern Ukraine turned into a 12 square kilometer crime scene. A multi-layered investigation into the downing of flight MH17, in which a butterfly-shaped shrapnel was found in the pilot’s body, implicated the state responsible for a war crime that remains unpunished. Available online.

Is There Anybody Out There? / U.K. (Director: Ella Glendining, Producer: Janine Marmot) — While navigating daily discrimination, a filmmaker who inhabits and loves her unusual body searches the world for another person like her, and explores what it takes to love oneself fiercely despite the pervasiveness of ableism. Available online.

The Longest Goodbye / Israel, Canada (Director & Producer: Ido Mizrahy, Producers: Nir Sa’ar, Paul Cadieux) — Social isolation affects millions of people, even Mars-bound astronauts. A savvy NASA psychologist is tasked with protecting these daring explorers. Available online.

Milisuthando / South Africa (Director & Screenwriter: Milisuthando Bongela, Producer: Marion Isaacs) — Set in past, present, and future South Africa — an invitation into a poetic, memory-driven exploration of love, intimacy, race, and belonging by the filmmaker, who grew up during apartheid but didn’t know it was happening until it was over. Available online.

Pianoforte / Poland (Director: Jakub Piątek, Producer: Maciej Kubicki) — Young pianists take part in the legendary International Chopin Piano Competition. A unique chance of a lifetime, portrayed from backstage and set to Chopin’s music. Available online.

Smoke Sauna Sisterhood / Estonia, France, Iceland (Director: Anna Hints, Producer: Marianne Ostrat) — In the darkness of a smoke sauna, women share their innermost secrets and intimate experiences, washing off the shame trapped in their bodies and regaining their strength through a sense of communion. Available online.

Twice Colonized / Greenland, Denmark, Canada (Director: Lin Alluna, Producers: Emile Hertling Péronard, Alethea Arnaquq-Baril, Stacey Aglok MacDonald, Bob Moore) — Renowned Inuit lawyer Aaju Peter has long fought for the rights of her people. When her son suddenly dies, Aaju embarks on a journey to reclaim her language and culture after a lifetime of whitewashing and forced assimilation. But can she both change the world and mend her own wounds? Available online.

NEXT:
To Live and Die and Live

Visionary works distinguished by an innovative, forward-thinking approach to storytelling populate this program.

Bravo, Burkina! / U.S.A. (Director, Screenwriter, & Producer: Walé Oyéjidé, Producers: Giulia Alagna, Heather Barnes) — A Burkinabé boy flees his village and migrates to Italy. When disillusioned by heartbreak and haunted by memories of home, he travels through time in hope of regaining all he has lost. Cast: Alain Tiendrebeogo, Mousty Mbaye, Noel Minougou, Aissata Deme, Afissatou Coulibaly. Fiction. Available online. 

Divinity / U.S.A. (Director, Screenwriter, & Producer: Eddie Alcazar, Producer: Steven Soderbergh) — Two mysterious brothers abduct a mogul during his quest for immortality. Meanwhile, a seductive woman helps them launch a journey of self-discovery. Cast: Stephen Dorff, Moises Arias, Jason Genao, Karrueche Tran, Bella Thorne, Scott Bakula. Fiction. Available online.

Fremont / U.S.A. (Director & Screenwriter: Babak Jalali, Screenwriter: Carolina Cavalli, Producers: Marjaneh Moghimi, Sudnya Shroff, Rachael Fung, George Rush, Chris Martin, Laura Wagner) — Donya works for a Chinese fortune cookie factory in San Francisco. Formerly a translator for the U.S. military in Afghanistan, she struggles to put her life back in order. In a moment of sudden revelation, she decides to send out a special message in a cookie. Cast: Anaita Wali Zada, Jeremy Allen White, Gregg Turkington. Fiction. Available online.

Kim’s Video / U.S.A. (Directors, Screenwriters, & Producers: David Redmon, Ashley Sabin, Producers: Deborah Smith, Dale Smith, Francesco Galavotti, Rebecca Tabasky) — Playing with the forms and tropes of various cinema genres, the filmmaker sets off on a quest to find a legendary lost video collection of 55,000 movies in Sicily. Documentary. Available online.

King Coal / U.S.A. (Director & Producer: Elaine McMillion Sheldon, Producers: Shane Boris, Diane Becker, Peggy Drexler) — The cultural roots of coal continue to permeate the rituals of daily life in Appalachia even as its economic power wanes. The journey of a coal miner’s daughter exploring the region’s dreams and myths, untangling the pain and beauty, as her community sits on the brink of massive change. Documentary. Available online.

Kokomo City / U.S.A. (Director & Producer: D. Smith, Producers: Harris Doran, Bill Butler) — Four Black transgender sex workers explore the dichotomy between the Black community and themselves, while confronting issues long avoided. Documentary. Available online.

To Live and Die and Live / U.S.A. (Director, Screenwriter, & Producer: Qasim Basir, Producers: Nina Yang Bongiovi, Forest Whitaker, Amin Joseph, Dana Offenbach, Samantha Basir) — Muhammad returns home to Detroit to bury his stepfather and is thrust into settling his accounts, but Muhammad’s struggles with depression and addiction may finish him before he finishes the task. Cast: Amin Joseph, Skye P. Marshall, Omari Hardwick, Cory Hardrict, Dana Gourrier, Maryam Basir. Fiction. Available online.

The Tuba Thieves / U.S.A. (Director, Screenwriter, and Producer: Alison O’Daniel, Producer: Rachel Nederveld, Wendy Ettinger, Maida Lynn, Su Kim, Maya E. Rudolph) — From 2011 to 2013, tubas were stolen from Los Angeles high schools. This is not a story about thieves or missing tubas. Instead, it asks what it means to listen. Documentary. Available online.

Young. Wild. Free. / U.S.A (Director: Thembi L. Banks, Screenwriters: Juel Taylor, Tony Rettenmaier, Producers: Charles D. King, James Lopez, Poppy Hanks, Tommy Oliver, Baron Davis, Tracy “Twinkie” Byrd) — High school senior Brandon is drowning in responsibilities when his world is turned upside down after being robbed at gunpoint by the girl of his dreams. Cast: Algee Smith, Sanaa Lathan, Sierra Capri, Mike Epps. Fiction. Available online.

Premieres:
Drift

A showcase of world premieres of some of the most highly anticipated fiction and nonfiction films of the coming year.

Cassandro / U.S.A (Director & Screenwriter: Roger Ross Williams, Screenwriters: David Teague, Julián Herbert, Producers: Gerardo Gatica, Todd Black, David Bloomfield, Ted Hope, Julie Goldman) — Saúl Armendáriz, a gay amateur wrestler from El Paso, rises to international stardom after he creates the character Cassandro, the “Liberace of Lucha Libre.” In the process, he upends not just the macho wrestling world, but also his own life. Cast: Gael García Bernal, Roberta Colindrez, Perla De La Rosa, Joaquín Cosío, Raúl Castillo. Fiction.

Cat Person / France, U.S.A (Director: Susanna Fogel, Screenwriter: Michelle Ashford, Producers: Helen Estabrook, Jeremy Steckler) — College student Margot meets 33-year-old Robert at the movie theater where she works. After a casual flirtation at the concession stand, they carry on conversations through texts. As their perceptions of each other collide, events spiral out of control. Based on The New Yorker short story by Kristen Roupenian. Cast: Emilia Jones, Nicholas Braun, Geraldine Viswanathan, Hope Davis, Fred Melamed, Isabella Rossellini. Fiction. Available online.

Deep Rising / U.S.A (Director & Producer: Matthieu Rytz) — The fate of the planet’s last untouched wilderness, the deep ocean, is under threat as a secretive organization is about to allow massive extraction of seabed metals to address the world’s energy crisis. Narrated by Jason Momoa. Documentary.

The Deepest Breath / U.K, Ireland (Director & Screenwriter: Laura McGann, Producers: John Battsek, Sarah Thomson, Jamie D’Alton, Anne McLoughlin) — A champion freediver and expert safety diver seemed destined for one another despite the different paths they took to meet at the pinnacle of the freediving world. A look at the thrilling rewards — and inescapable risks — of chasing dreams through the depths of the ocean. Documentary.

Drift / France, U.K, Greece (Director & Producer: Anthony Chen, Screenwriters: Susanne Farrell, Alexander Maksik, Producers: Peter Spears, Emilie Georges, Naima Abed, Cynthia Erivo, Solome Williams) — Jacqueline, a young refugee, lands alone and penniless on a Greek island where she tries to survive, then to cope with her past. While gathering her strength, she begins a friendship with a rootless tour guide and together they find the resilience to forge ahead. Cast: Cynthia Erivo, Alia Shawkat, Ibrahima Ba, Honor Swinton Byrne, Zainab Jah, Suzy Bemba. Fiction.

Eileen / U.S.A (Director & Producer: William Oldroyd, Screenwriters and Producers: Luke Goebel, Ottessa Moshfegh, Producers: Anthony Bregman, Stefanie Azpiazu, Peter Cron) — Set during a bitter 1964 Massachusetts winter, young secretary Eileen becomes enchanted by the glamorous new counselor at the prison where she works. Their budding friendship takes a twisted turn when Rebecca reveals a dark secret — throwing Eileen onto a sinister path. Based on Ottessa Moshfegh’s award-winning novel. Cast: Thomasin McKenzie, Anne Hathaway, Shea Whigham, Marin Ireland, Owen Teague. Fiction.

Fairyland / U.S.A (Director, Screenwriter, and Producer: Andrew Durham, Producers: Sofia Coppola, Megan Carlson, Siena Oberman, Greg Lauritano, Laure Sudreau) — Set against the backdrop of San Francisco’s vibrant cultural scene in the 1970s and ’80s, chronicling a father-daughter relationship as it evolves from an era of bohemian decadence to the heartbreaking AIDS crisis. Based on the best-selling memoir Fairyland: A Memoir of My Father by Alysia Abbott. Cast: Scoot McNairy, Emilia Jones, Geena Davis, Cody Fern, Adam Lambert, Maria Bakalova. Fiction.

Food and Country / U.S.A (Director & Producer: Laura Gabbert, Producers: Ruth Reichl, Paula P. Manzanedo, Caroline Libresco) — America’s policy of producing cheap food at all costs has long hobbled small independent farmers, ranchers, and chefs. Worried for their survival, trailblazing food writer Ruth Reichl reaches out across political and social divides to uncover the country’s broken food system and the innovators risking it all to transform it. Documentary. Available online.

Invisible Beauty / U.S.A (Directors: Bethann Hardison, Frédéric Tcheng, Producer: Lisa Cortés) — Fashion revolutionary Bethann Hardison looks back on her journey as a pioneering Black model, modeling agent, and activist, shining a light on an untold chapter in the fight for racial diversity. Documentary.

It’s Only Life After All / U.S.A (Director & Producer: Alexandria Bombach, Producers: Kathlyn Horan, Jess Devaney, Anya Rous) — Blending 40 years of home movies, film archives, and intimate present-day vérité, a poignant reflection from Amy Ray and Emily Saliers of iconic folk rock duo Indigo Girls. A timely look into the obstacles, activism, and life lessons of two queer friends who never expected to make it big. Documentary.

Jamojaya / U.S.A (Director, Screenwriter, & Producer: Justin Chon, Screenwriter: Maegan Houang, Producers: Alan Pao, David Matheny, Joseph Dang, Alex Chi, Yama Cibulka, Shaun Sanghani) — A father-son relationship is put to the test when an up-and-coming rapper at the crossroads of his career decides to let go of his manager, who is also his father. This decision forces them to confront the past and figure out what they want of each other. Cast: Brian Imanuel, Yayu A.W. Unru, Kate Lyn Sheil, Henry Ian Cusick, Anthony Kiedis. Fiction. Available online.

Judy Blume Forever / U.S.A (Directors & Producers: Davina Pardo, Leah Wolchok, Producers: Sara Bernstein, Justin Wilkes, Marcella Steingart) — The radical honesty of the books by young adult fiction pioneer Judy Blume changed the way millions of readers understood themselves, their sexuality, and what it meant to grow up, but also led to critical battles against book banning and censorship. Documentary.

Landscape With Invisible Hand / U.S.A (Director & Screenwriter: Cory Finley, Producers: Dede Gardner, Jeremy Kleiner) — When Earth is taken over by aliens who control the economy, a pair of teenagers come up with a plan to save their family. Cast: Tiffany Haddish, Asante Blackk, Kylie Rogers, Josh Hamilton, Michael Gandolfini, William Jackson Harper. Fiction.

A Little Prayer / U.S.A (Director, Screenwriter, & Producer: Angus MacLachlan, Producers: Lauren Vilchik, Max A. Butler) — In the South, a man tests the limits of patriarchal interference to protect his daughter-in-law when he discovers that his son is having an affair. Cast: David Strathairn, Jane Levy, Celia Weston, Will Pullen, Anna Camp, Dascha Polanco. Fiction. Available online.

Murder in Big Horn / U.S.A (Director & Producer: Razelle Benally, Director: Matthew Galkin, Producers: Ivan Macdonald, Ivy Macdonald) — The deaths of a group of Native American women in rural Montana are the focus as Native families, journalists, and local law enforcement reveal a violent crisis set in motion almost 200 years ago. Documentary. Available online.

Passages / France (Director & Screenwriter: Ira Sachs, Screenwriter: Mauricio Zacharias, Producers: Saïd Ben Saïd, Michel Merkt) — An intimate examination of attraction and emotional abuse between men and women. Cast: Franz Rogowski, Ben Whishaw, Adèle Exarchopoulos. Fiction.

Plan C / U.S.A (Director & Producer: Tracy Droz Tragos) — A hidden grassroots organization doggedly fights to expand access to abortion pills across the United States keeping hope alive during a global pandemic and the fall of Roe v. Wade. Documentary.

The Pod Generation / Belgium, France, U.K (Director & Screenwriter: Sophie Barthes, Producers: Geneviève Lemal, Yann Zenou, Nadia Kamlichi, Martin Metz) — In a not-so-distant future, amid a society madly in love with technology, tech giant Pegazus offers couples the opportunity to share their pregnancies via detachable artificial wombs or pods. And so begins Rachel and Alvy’s wild ride to parenthood in this brave new world. Cast: Emilia Clarke, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Rosalie Craig, Vinette Robinson, Jean-Marc Barr. Fiction.

Pretty Baby: Brooke Shields / U.S.A (Director: Lana Wilson, Producers: Christine O’Malley, Jack Turner) — A galvanizing look at actor, model, and icon Brooke Shields as she transforms from sexualized young girl to a woman discovering her power. Holding a mirror up to a society that objectifies women and girls, her story shows the perils and triumphs of gaining agency in a hostile world. Documentary.

Radical / U.S.A (Director & Screenwriter: Christopher Zalla, Producers: Ben Odell, Eugenio Derbez, Joshua Davis) — In a Mexican border town plagued by neglect, corruption, and violence, a frustrated teacher tries a radical new method to break through his students’ apathy and unlock their curiosity, their potential… and maybe even their genius. Based on a true story. Cast: Eugenio Derbez, Daniel Haddad, Jenifer Trejo, Mia Fernanda Solis, Danilo Guardiola. Fiction.

Rotting in the Sun / U.S.A (Director & Screenwriter: Sebastian Silva, Screenwriter: Pedro Peirano, Producer: Jacob Wasserman) — After filmmaker Sebastian Silva goes missing in Mexico City, social media celebrity Jordan Firstman begins searching for him, suspecting that the cleaning lady in Sebastian’s building may have something to do with his disappearance. Cast: Jordan Firstman, Catalina Saavedra, Sebastian Silva. Fiction.

Rye Lane / U.K (Director: Raine Allen-Miller, Screenwriters: Nathan Bryon, Tom Melia, Producers: Yvonne Isimeme Ibazebo, Damian Jones) — Two twenty-somethings reeling from bad breakups deal with their nightmare exes and connect over the course of an eventful day in South London. Cast: David Jonsson, Vivian Oparah. Fiction.

Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie / U.S.A (Director and Producer: Davis Guggenheim, Producers: Jonathan King, Annetta Marion, Will Cohen) — The improbable tale of a short kid from a Canadian army base who became the darling of 1980s Hollywood — only to find the course of his life altered by a stunning diagnosis. What happens when an incurable optimist confronts an incurable disease? Documentary.

You Hurt My Feelings / U.S.A (Director & Screenwriter: Nicole Holofcener, Producers: Stefanie Azpiazu, Anthony Bregman) — A novelist’s longstanding marriage is suddenly upended when she overhears her husband giving his honest reaction to her latest book. Cast: Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Tobias Menzies, Michaela Watkins, Owen Teague, Arian Moayed. Fiction.

Midnight:
In My Mother's Skin

From horror and comedy to works that defy genre classification, these films will keep you wide awake, even at the most arduous hour.

birth/rebirth / U.S.A. (Director & Screenwriter: Laura Moss, Screenwriter: Brendan J. O’Brien, Producers: Mali Elfman, David Grove Churchill Viste) — A single mother and a childless morgue technician are bound together by their relationship to a little girl they have reanimated from the dead. Cast: Marin Ireland, Judy Reyes, A.J. Lister, Breeda Wool. Fiction.

In My Mother’s Skin / Philippines (Director & Screenwriter: Kenneth Dagatan, Producers: Bradley Liew, Bianca Balbuena, Huang Junxiang, Stefano Centini) — Stranded in the Philippines during World War II, a young girl finds that her duty to protect her dying mother is complicated by her misplaced trust in a beguiling, flesh-eating fairy. Cast: Beauty Gonzalez, Felicity Kyle Napuli, Jasmine Curtis-Smith, James Mavie Estrella, Angeli Bayani. Fiction. Available online.

Infinity Pool / Canada (Director and Screenwriter: Brandon Cronenberg, Producers: Karen Harnisch, Andrew Cividino, Christian Piovesan, Noah Segal, Rob Cotterill, Anita Juka) — James and Em are enjoying an all-inclusive beach vacation when a fatal accident exposes the resort’s perverse subculture of hedonistic tourism, reckless violence, and surreal horrors. Cast: Alexander Skarsgård, Mia Goth, Cleopatra Coleman. Fiction.

My Animal / Canada (Director: Jacqueline Castel, Screenwriter: Jae Matthews, Producers: Andrew Bronfman, Michael Solomon) — Heather, an outcast teenage goalie in a small northern town, falls for newcomer Jonny, an alluring but tormented figure skater. As their relationship deepens, Heather’s growing desires clash with her darkest secret, forcing her to control the animal within. Cast: Bobbi Salvör Menuez, Amandla Stenberg, Stephen McHattie, Heidi von Palleske, Cory Lipman, Joe Apollonio. Fiction.

Onyx the Fortuitous and the Talisman of Souls / U.S.A. (Director, Screenwriter, and Producer: Andrew Bowser, Producers: Clark Baker, Michael Mobley, Olivia Taylor Dudley) — Onyx joins a group of fellow occultists to attend a dark ritual at the mansion of their idol, Bartok. Suspecting Bartok’s nefarious intentions, Onyx is suddenly immersed in a world of monsters, mystery, and mayhem. Cast: Andrew Bowser, Olivia Taylor Dudley, Jeffrey Combs, Ralph Ineson, Rivkah Reyes, T.C. Carson. Fiction. Available online.

Polite Society / U.K. (Director & Screenwriter: Nida Manzoor, Producers: Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Olivier Kaempfer, John Pocock) — Aspiring martial artist Ria Khan believes she must save her older sister, Lena, from her impending marriage. With the help of her friends, Ria attempts to pull off the most ambitious of all wedding heists in the name of independence and sisterhood. Cast: Priya Kansara, Ritu Arya, Nimra Bucha, Akshay Khanna, Seraphina Beh, Ella Bruccoleri. Fiction.

Run Rabbit Run / Australia (Director: Daina Reid, Screenwriter: Hannah Kent, Producers: Sarah Shaw, Anna McLeish) — As a fertility doctor, Sarah has a firm understanding of the cycle of life. However, when she is forced to make sense of the increasingly strange behavior of her young daughter, Sarah must challenge her own beliefs and confront a ghost from her past. Cast: Sarah Snook, Lily LaTorre, Damon Herriman, Greta Scacchi. Fiction. Available online.

Talk to Me / Australia (Director & Screenwriter: Danny Philippou, Director: Michael Philippou, Screenwriter: Bill Hinzman, Producers: Samantha Jennings, Kristina Ceyton) — When a group of friends discover how to conjure spirits using an ancient embalmed hand, they become hooked on the new thrill. Until one of them goes too far and opens the door to the spirit world. Cast: Sophie Wilde, Miranda Otto, Alexandra Jensen, Joe Bird, Zoe Terakes, Otis Dhanji. Fiction.

Spotlight:

The Spotlight section is a tribute to the cinema we love from throughout the past year.

The Eight Mountains / Italy and Belgium (Directors and Screenwriters: Felix van Groeningen, Charlotte Vandermeersch, Producers: Mario Gianani, Lorenzo Gangarossa) — Pietro spends his childhood summers in the same secluded Italian mountain village where Bruno was raised, in which they form a decades-long friendship. Over the years, their paths diverge as Bruno remains faithful to the mountain while Pietro comes and goes from the city. Cast: Luca Marinelli, Alessandro Borghi, Filippo Timi, Elena Lietti. Fiction. Available online.

L’Immensità / Italy (Director and Screenwriter: Emanuele Crialese, Screenwriter: Francesca Manieri, Vittorio Moroni, Producer: Lorenzo Gangarossa, Mario Gianani — Clara has relocated to Rome with Felice and their three children. From their new apartment, Clara sees a city in transition: an old society washed away by an emerging middle class. The paint is fresh, the appliances are new, but expectations around family, desire, and gender remain traditional as ever. Cast: Penélope Cruz, Vincenzo Amato, Luana Giuliani, Patrizio Francioni, Maria Chiara Gorett, Penelope Nieto Conti. Fiction. Available online.

Joyland / Pakistan (Director and Screenwriter: Saim Sadiq, Producers: Apoorva Guru Charan, Sarmad Sultan Khoosat, Sabiha Sumar, Lauren Mann) — As the Ranas, a happily patriarchal joint family, yearn for the birth of a baby boy to continue the family line, their youngest son secretly joins an erotic dance theater and falls for an ambitious trans starlet. Their impossible love story illuminates the entire family’s desire for a sexual rebellion. Cast: Ali Junejo, Rasti Farooq, Alina Khan, Sarwat Gilani, Sania Saeed, Salmaan Peerzada. Fiction. Available online.

Other People’s Children / France (Director and Screenwriter: Rebecca Zlotowski, Producers: Frederic Jouve, Marie Lecoq — Rachel is 40 years old with no children. She loves her life: her high school students, her friends, her guitar lessons. When she falls in love with Ali, she becomes attached to Leila, his 4-year-old daughter. She loves her like her own, but to love other people’s children is risky. Cast: Virginie Efira, Roschdy Zem, Chiara Mastroianni, Callie Ferreira-Goncalves, Yamée Couture, Michel Zlotowski. Fiction. Available online.

Squaring the Circle (The Story of Hipgnosis) / U.K. (Director: Anton Corbijn, Screenwriter, and Producer: Trish D Chetty, Producers: Ged Doherty, Colin Firth) — An inside look at the studio responsible for some of the most iconic and recognizable album covers of all time. From Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon to Led Zeppelin’s Houses of the Holy, the studio ruled the ’70s. Documentary. Available online.

Kids:

This section of the Festival is especially for our youngest independent film fans.

Aliens Abducted My Parents and Now I Feel Kinda Left Out / U.S.A. (Director & Producer: Jake Van Wagoner, Screenwriter and Producer: Austin Everett, Producers: Micah Merrill, Maclain Nelson, Jeremy Prusso) — Itsy is new in town and her life seems over until she meets her space-obsessed neighbor Calvin, who believes his parents were abducted by aliens. An aspiring journalist, Itsy decides to write an exposé on Calvin but ends up discovering much more. Cast: Emma Tremblay, Jacob Buster, Will Forte, Elizabeth Mitchell, Kenneth Cummins, Matt Biedel. Fiction. Available online.

The Amazing Maurice / Germany, U.K. (Director: Toby Genkel, Screenwriter: Terry Rossio, Producers: Emely Christians, Andrew Baker, Robert Chandler) — A streetwise cat and his gang of rats who come up with a perfect money-making scheme. Based on the novel The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents by Sir Terry Pratchett. Cast: Hugh Laurie, Emilia Clarke, Himesh Patel, Gemma Arterton. Fiction. Available online.

Blueback / Australia (Director, Screenwriter, & Producer: Robert Connolly, Producers: Liz Kearney, James Grandison) — An intimate mother-daughter relationship is forged by the women’s keen desire to protect the inhabitants of the pristine blue oceans on the Australian coast where they live. Adapted from Tim Winton’s bestselling and critically acclaimed novella. Cast: Mia Wasikowska, Eric Bana, Radha Mitchell, Ilsa Fogg, Liz Alexander, Ariel Donoghue. Fiction.

New Frontier Films:

New Frontier champions artists who engage in experimental storytelling at the crossroads of film, art, performance, and media technology, showcasing cutting-edge work that explores and evolves cinema culture in today’s rapidly changing landscape. New Frontier is presently in a process of reimagination. This year, we return to our roots to offer a lineup of resonant experimental films.

A Common Sequence / U.S.A (Directors and Producers: Mary Helena Clark and Mike Gibisser, Producer: Graciela Guerrero-Reyes) — An interconnected look at tradition, colonialism, property, faith, and science, as seen through labor practices that link an endangered salamander, mass-produced apples, and the evolving fields of genomics and machine learning. Documentary. Available online.

Gush / U.S.A (Director, Screenwriter, and Producer: Fox Maxy) — An embodied rumination of both male and female power, healing and haunting, all within an apocalyptic world. A transformation that courses through unknown terror to untamed collective joy. Cast: Michel Sayegh, Ruth Fish, Sergio Mejia, Littlebear Sanchez, No’aash Iswut Peltier, Suavitel Paper. Fiction. Available online.

Last Things / U.S.A, Portugal, France (Director, Screenwriter, and Producer: Deborah Stratman, Producers: Anže Peržin, Gaëlle Boucand) — Evolution and extinction from the point of view of rocks. A humid take on minerals, where sci-fi meets sci-fact. The geo-biosphere is a place of evolutionary possibility, where humans disappear but life endures. Documentary. Available online.

Robert Redford, President and Founder of Sundance Institute, comments on this year of Sundance films: “Maintaining an essential place for artists to express themselves, take risks, and for visionary stories to endure and entertain is distinctly Sundance. The Festival continues to foster these values and connections through independent storytelling. We are honored to share the compelling selection of work at this year’s Festival from distinct perspectives and unique voices.” Joana Vicente, Sundance Institute’s CEO, on this year’s selection: “These filmmakers reflect the world around us through bold and thrilling storytelling. It is critical for the arts to foster dialogue, especially during unprecedented times — these stories are needed to provoke discussion, share diverse viewpoints, and challenge us. We are delighted to welcome this group of passionate artists to the Festival and look forward to celebrating the films together with audiences.” Let’s go.

Sundance is one of my top festivals, and I’m excited to get a glimpse at all the films playing. This year looks as intriguing as always, with plenty of fresh discoveries and some unique premieres. Bring on another year of Sundance. Sundance 2023 runs from January 19th to January 29th, 2023. Visit Sundance.org for more.

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