Hey Filmmakers – Stop Selling Your Audience Favorite Films to Netflix | FirstShowing.net

Hey Filmmakers – Stop Selling Your Audience Favorite Films to Netflix

by Alex Billington
February 20, 2024

Every month there’s another headline: Netflix buys that great film that everyone loved watching together for an excessive amount of money. Everyone loves to grumble about the headline, and talk about the film when this news hits, but will they actually watch it whenever it’s released on Netflix? Will Netflix even (properly) promote it? Will they even tell their ~260 million subscribers worldwide about the film when they debut it streaming on their platform? Why does Netflix love buying these great theatrical films and dumping them streaming without any fanfare or celebration or anything at all that connects with the audience experience? Why do care so little for the actual audience? I’m so tired of this routine. I’m not so foolish as to tell Netflix to change their ways – apparently they have no interest in this anyway. Instead, I think it’s up to filmmakers to realize that it isn’t a good idea to sell your movie to Netflix anymore – no matter how much money they want to throw at you. Choose a reputable theatrical distributor first, then let Netflix get the streaming rights later after it becomes an even bigger success. That is the best path to take when your film is a hit at festivals.

The debate about Netflix has been raging for years and years. Old Hollywood doesn’t really like them much, but they’re here to stay whether we like it or not. Netflix’s success means they can continue to do whatever they want and make money and be disruptive – no matter the complaints. However, are they actually being “disruptive” anymore? I don’t think so. They are just being annoying. And everyone knows it – to be frank. What has driven me to write this editorial now is watching Netflix buy three of the best films in the last six months that are three of the best theatrical experiences I’ve had at any film festival. It began with Netflix buying Richard Linklater’s Hit Man out of the 2023 Venice Film Festival – I have never seen an audience of curmudgeonly European critics in Venice go THIS wild during a screening. Pardon my French, but they lost their shit for the film, which was exhilarating. It continued a few months later with Netflix buying Greg Jardin’s It’s What’s Inside and Josh Greenbaum’s Will & Harper at the 2024 Sundance Film Festival in January. Once again, two of the most rapturous and exciting audiences I’ve watched films with during any of the 18 years I’ve been going to this fest. That tangibly warm reception, the crowd going nuts, the applause, all of that really, truly matters with cinema. We need to stop ignoring this truth and pretending otherwise…

Netflix doesn’t seem to care anyway. There’s a quote every few months wherein some executive talks about how the theatrical experience is irrelevant or uninteresting to them as a brand. Most recently, Netflix’s Chief Content Officer Bela Bajaria stated that Netflix will never do theatrical as “our members love films and they want to see films on Netflix.” Do they? Does she even know what she is saying here? I doubt it. In a big THR article from April 2023, Netflix co-CEO Ted Sarandos offered another frustrating comment: “Driving folks to a theater is just not our business. Having big new desirable content drives value for our members and drives value for our business. There are no major changes in play.” What he seems to not understand is that the way you make your “content” (btw – fuck this word) into “big new desirable content” that drives value is by letting it play in theaters first. There is research on this that confirms it’s beneficial – the most successful streaming titles all opened first in theaters. Huh. Go figure… At what point will Netflix wake up and realize that it will actually benefit their business, and their pathetic “hours viewed” metric (because they’re afraid to release all the other statistics they collect – like how many folks actually watched a film from start to finish).

My rant, this article, or anyone’s rant, won’t change Netflix either. The company recently parted ways with Scott Stuber, who was running their film division for years. Apparently even Stuber was frustrated with their lack of interest in theatrical runs and despite arguing with Sarandos and other execs, they would not budge. In another recent THR article from January 2024, they included this nugget which is pretty telling:

“Even as the pipeline has slowed, Stuber has not been shy about his greatest frustration: Sarandos’ continuing refusal to offer any film a full theatrical release. Hope flickered when the streamer agreed to give Glass Onion, the 2022 Knives Out sequel, a broader run in cinemas than any previous Netflix film, putting it in about 600 theaters for a week. The movie grossed $16 million in that brief window and Stuber dreamed that Sarandos might develop a taste for cash.”

This falls in line with most of the way the extraordinarily stubborn corporate world works right now (see: David Zaslav at Warner Bros). If there’s someone smart on the team who might challenge archaic concepts and wants to make things better: get them out! Kick them out, lay them off, fire them, by whatever means necessary, don’t let anyone with think-outside-the-box “maybe we should try this” thinking in your company anymore! Instead, fill the roles with mindless drones & corporate robots who say exactly what the stubborn CEO wants to hear and never anything else (e.g. Bajaria). If Scott Stuber couldn’t change Sarandos’ mind, why do I (or anyone else) think they could instead? It’s a lost cause, unfortunately. And despite experiments like Glass Onion, or even the facade of Netflix buying classic one-screen cinemas (the Paris Theatre in NYC and the Egyptian in LA), they’re so obsessed with being anti-theatrical they have turned into an anti-cinema company. They’re so obsessed with their “content” and “hours viewed” data that they forgot to actually build awareness and excitement around their “content” to begin with. If they were any smarter, they might realize all of this is connected – and that showing films theatrically does not in any way hurt their numbers, it only boosts them. The proof is in the pudding! It will build them into a better brand. When will they realize this?

This brings me to the point I want to make here and now: filmmakers and sales agents and producers and creators need to stop selling their films to Netflix. Yes, it’s a scary prospect, rebellious (and perhaps a bit disruptive) to even say out loud, especially when they’re the highest bidder. But it’s a better move – for them, for the film, for the industry, for cinema itself. Greg Jardin and Richard Linklater shouldn’t have agreed to the deal that was made for their films It’s What’s Inside and Hit Man, respectively. They should’ve said “no” and waited it out, gone with someone else that would actually give their films a proper theatrical release. I’m sure it’s an irresistible pitch: we’ll give you tons of money and your film will also be available in over 190 countries around the world! We’re a big platform! Everyone will have the chance to watch it! Yes, sure, but there’s more to cinema than just that. And here is the kicker – if you play your cards right, and go with a proper theatrical release first, Netflix will eventually want the rights to play the film anyway. Of course they will! Especially once it becomes a huge theatrical hit and everyone is talking about it and telling their friends – maybe there is an even more lucrative deal in the cards if you wait it out. This is how things used to work. But that means resisting a tempting initial offer, and resisting the highest bidder to go with the right bidder.

I honestly don’t have a problem with Netflix in general, I just wish they’d do the right thing and partner with a theatrical distributor before putting it on Netflix because that will actually boost them and their brand and their films – but they just don’t get it. Let me reiterate that I really like Netflix as a platform – it is amazing that they can release a film and it will be viewable in over 190 countries around the world (without worrying about local distribution rights, which is a whole other industry problem to discuss another day). However, they’re not the right place to go if you really care about cinema, or if you want your film to have an impact in the world. Maybe one or two of Netflix’s big films every year go on to have a cultural impact because they have good PR teams handling their marketing & publicity. Most of their films don’t have this enthusiastic support. If a filmmaker sells their film to Netflix right out of a festival because they offer the most money – will that film ever be available on physical media, will it ever get a theatrical release down the line? Is that even possible with Netflix? What if you want to show it in theaters one day in the future – will Netflix allow that to happen? What if Netflix ever shuts down (unlikely, but let’s just go with the hypothetical) – how will you get your film back and how will you show it to your family & friends? Aside from harddrive copies, it’s not available on DVD or Blu-ray (or VHS) anywhere. Does it exist in the real world or only on their servers?

What I find particularly strange is that even when a filmmaker has a bad experience with Netflix, and even if they know they are bad at promoting films, they still end up selling to them anyway. This is exactly the case with Linklater. Netflix released his latest rotoscoped film Apollo 10½: A Space Age Childhood in April 2022 and told pretty much no one it was out. Most people didn’t even know it was released. Linklater later expressed frustration in an interview: “Then one day it showed up on a platform with no fanfare. It’s always kind of sad when you realize even your friends don’t know your film is out. To me, if anything good happens from this stage on, it’s just lucky.” Yeah that is the same for most films dumped onto Netflix. I don’t buy the claim that Linklater had nothing to do with Hit Man selling in Venice and instead it apparently was entirely handled entirely by sales agents & producers. Even if it that is the case, why could he not express a very strong opinion and do everything to resist selling to Netflix if he isn’t happy with how they handled his last film. Again, it’s more important that a good film finds an audience eventually, and that’s best achieved by a distributor believing in their stellar “content” and supporting it fully (with proper marketing and publicity).

For those who believe there is still importance in what Netflix does for cinema and how they support indie films and filmmakers who usually don’t get this kind of exposure, that has recently been mostly debunked by a study with Netflix connecting with Africa. A report was recently published from Nigeria and the Nollywood movement, which Netflix stepped into and tried to participate in by sponsoring and investing in filmmakers and the local industry. Good thing to do, right? While it did achieve some success, it didn’t have much of an impact overall, mostly because Netflix doesn’t really know how to actually support cinema and the culture. “On the critical streaming side, the report suggests that Netflix in Nigeria might not be fully tapping into its potential market, given low subscriber numbers relative to population.” Why, exactly? Their findings: “[It] critiques the reliance on streaming rankings as mere marketing tools rather than actionable insights that could drive the industry forward. It proposes using rankings as a prompt for better conversations on audience preferences and using these metrics alongside other data points to develop and market Nollywood projects more effectively.” Almost as if Netflix doesn’t really care about anything except their own internal “hours viewed” numbers and not the industry it’s supposed to be involved with & the artists that inhabit it…

The film industry is in a bad place right now, yet the film industry doesn’t like to admit this or talk about it. They want business to proceed as usual… They want to focus on making money. For much of the industry, that means if Netflix is going to pay the most for a movie, it’s a “good” thing. It’s time that we challenge this belief and confront the frustrating reality that Netflix releasing these audience favorite films is actually quite bad for cinema and for the industry overall (and audiences, even if they don’t quite understand it). Simply selling a film for tons of money is not an objectively healthy thing for the film industry, despite what many profit-driven minds think. Sundance is infamous for many films selling for high prices and failing after the festival (yes, from a few theatrical distributors, but this is a much different conversation). I’m a huge fan of Hit Man and Will & Harper and It’s What’s Inside and I guarantee at least one of (if not all of) these films will be released without much pomp & circumstance. They’ll drop it on Netflix, send a few emails out, buy a few billboards in Los Angeles, and call it a day. Netflix needs to evolve and innovate and disrupt again. That means disrupting the theatrical world by participating in theatrical distribution. Apple knows how to do this correctly with Apple TV films. I hope Netflix ends up realizing their mistake… Until then, filmmakers shouldn’t sell their hit films to this streaming company until they can actually prove they care about cinema.

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Sundance 2024: Best of the Fest – 10 Favorites from the Mountains | FirstShowing.net

Sundance 2024: Best of the Fest – 10 Favorites from the Mountains

by Alex Billington
February 5, 2024

The 2024 Sundance Film Festival has wrapped up after another invigorating 10-day in-person event held up in the Utah mountains, along with an online counterpart during only the second half. Now it’s time to present our annual Best of the Fest list from the 2024 selection. I was able to catch a total of 51 films this year (my full list on Letterboxd), half of them at screenings in Park City & SLC, the other half virtual screenings. This is my 18th year 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 it’s possible. Watching all of these with an audience really makes a difference. I also recorded a podcast talking about many of the Sundance films (good and bad). Below are my favorites, the films that connected with me the most and have remained on my mind all the way up to the end of the fest.

It’s always my priority while at Sundance to go see as many films as I can. Even if I don’t love every film I watch, I’m just curious to see what makes each of them so unique. Some other films that I missed and still need to catch up with: Love Lies Bleeding, Ponyboi, Girls Will Be Girls, Reinas, Frida, In a Violent Nature, Handling the Undead, and Winner. This fest always programs some of the most innovative and interesting films ready to watch each year. I appreciate how much they try to focus on the most creative work by new filmmakers. 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 a few I’ve added to my picks below, but I also recommend: Gaucho Gaucho, Devo, Luther: Never Too Much, As We Speak, Daughters, Never Look Away, and Union. I’m always grateful to Sundance for letting me attend the festival with a press badge and grab tickets to the public screenings, it’s an exciting time that makes me happy every year. Glad to be back…

While I saw many films that I enjoyed (my full list of 51 here), there are always some 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 2024~ Films:

The Outrun
The Outrun
Directed by Nora Fingscheidt

Saoirse Ronan – still making my heart flutter. Still delivering phenomenal performances. The Outrun was my last film of the festival and it ended up being my favorite of the festival. All I want to do is talk about how this film is the epitome of what cinema can and should be. The way it utilizes precise sound design as part of the plot, the way the editing represents her scattered, fragile mind; the way the cinematography is a part of the healing process; the way Ronan’s performance must be everything all at once, yet still feel like there’s an arc to it. She must grow by the end, yet we can only understand that growth by understanding more about her, and we can come to understand her through this editing that can seem a bit overwhelming at times. But there’s a point to it. What German filmmaker Nora Fingscheidt pulls off is breathtaking – all aspects of filmmaking playing in harmony to tell a riveting, exhilarating, touching story of a woman growing up and trying to let go of the addictions that have given her comfort but kept her restrained most of her life.

It’s What’s Inside
It's What's Inside
Directed by Greg Jardin

THIS FILM!! Blew me away. It’s one of the best sci-fi / horror / genre creations in a long time. Featuring an ingenious concept, near perfectly executed, along with a fun cast of newcomers all doing their best playing multiple roles. I can’t say what happens or what the trick is, I won’t even say “what’s inside” the suitcase, there’s nothing more I want to discuss regarding the plot. You just HAVE to wait and see for yourself. Don’t ruin the experience! Don’t read anything more about it! The only thing I can talk about here is how amazing the world premiere screening experience was. The audience went wild! Everyone was losing it! This is what great cinema is all about. These are the kind of moments I live for at festivals. I’m still thinking back to that night at Sundance, all of us sitting down about to see a film shot in secret that no one knew anything about. What would it be? THIS kick ass sneaky, tricky mystery thriller that instantly earned its place in Midnight film history. Whenever you see this, bring as many friends as you can over for an unforgettably good time.

Dìdi (弟弟)
Dìdi
Directed by Sean Wang

Another Sundance coming-of-age classic. Another film I can say I thoroughly loved from start to finish. And it’s also the big moment when filmmaker Sean Wang confirms he is a totally kick ass new filmmaker who is about to go on to have an extraordinary career. Before that happens, though, it is absolutely worth taking the time to watch and enjoy Didi. It may be “yet another coming-of-age” film but it’s filtered through Sean Wang’s lens and thus becomes something unique in the pantheon of great cinema. I loved watching Izaac Wang’s performance as Chris Wang, though everyone in the cast is memorable. I admit I’m a sucker for good coming-of-age stories (especially from Sundance) and this one really hit the spot. Though beyond my personal bias, it’s nonetheless still an exceptionally well-made film that not only nails the performances, the humor, and the honest emotions, it’s also is an amusing time capsule back to the days of AIM and MySpace.

Will & Harper
Will & Harper
Directed by Josh Greenbaum

A wonderful documentary film that has the potential to change the world. This received the biggest standing ovation out of any film that I saw at Sundance this year, and I’m always moved being in the audience during these genuine moments at the film’s premiere. Will & Harper is the story of Will Ferrell and his good friend Harper as the embark upon a road trip driving across America. The film is a watershed moment for the trans community, as Will tells the story of how his friend of 27 years – a comedy writer from “SNL” – revealed that she was a trans woman just a few years ago. Filled with questions and a bit of uncertainty, Will decided to ask her if she would join him on a drive around America, so that they could catch up, he could ask his dumb questions, and learn about what life is like for her now. They also got a filmmaker, director Josh Greenbaum, to join them. And away they went – topped off with a great soundtrack of road trip songs, this is one of the best documentaries I’ve ever encountered about buddies and life and everything else inbetween.

Super/Man: The Christopher Reeve Story
Super/Man: The Christopher Reeve Story
Directed by Ian Bonhôte & Peter Ettedgui

Another documentary that left me a mess after watching it – I was wiping away tears almost the entire time. This one is so moving because it’s not just a story about a great actor, it’s a story about a family man, about someone who was extraordinarily brave – about a real hero. Everyone knows about Christopher Reeve, what happened to him, and how he spent half of his life in a motorized wheelchair after ending up paralyzed from an accident while riding a horse. This beautiful documentary doesn’t try to build this up, it opens with this moment – the rest of the film is spent exploring his life before & after, his two great loves, his incredibly lovely family, and everything else he accomplished in his life. It’s a wholesome, uplifting, encouraging story about tenacity and strength, about perseverance and generosity. I’ve been thinking about it almost every day since watching, because it had such a strong emotional impact on me and everyone else who saw it during Sundance. Don’t miss this one whenever it gets released, a must watch doc about a hero on and off screen.

Kneecap
Kneecap
Directed by Rich Peppiatt

An Irish rap musical comedy! F*&k yes! This knocked me out and then lifted me right back up for another round. What a blast! While it may not be as good as what Sundance regular John Carney creates, it’s pretty close, with as much style and substance and great music. Writer / director Rich Peppiatt proves he’s got a knack for energetic, stylized, localized filmmaking that seriously kicks ass. I laughed so much watching the music teacher guy fall in with these youngsters and become a part of their hip hop group as “DJ Próvaí“, rolling right into their reckless ways and realizing the best way to express himself as an Irishman is loud and proud. The most unique and impressive part about this film is how it acts as a love letter to Ireland and the Irish / Gaelic language, shamelessly defending it and fiercely proclaiming it is something to be proud of and feature. Maybe even some people who don’t care for musicals will still enjoy watching this one. It’s possible.

A Real Pain
A Real Pain
Directed by Jesse Eisenberg

One of the most endearing & thoughtful discoveries of Sundance 2024 is the film A Real Pain, the second feature written and directed by Jesse Eisenberg (following his directorial debut When You Finish Saving the World from Sundance 2022). Perhaps one key reason why this film is particularly good is that it’s a very personal film for Eisenberg – he has Polish roots and the film is about two cousins who reconnect on a tour in Poland starting from Warsaw. They eventually try to find their grandmother’s old house in a small town in Poland, and Eisenberg revealed during a Q&A during the festival that this is actually the very real house this his own grandmother used to live in, too. The two lead performances in the film, featuring Kieran Culkin as Benji Kaplan and Eisenberg as David Kaplan, are two of the most memorable and impressive of any at Sundance this year. As much as I enjoyed watching this film, its power is in how it remains on your mind well after viewing – I kept thinking about it over & over, always wanting to talk about it with others.

Sasquatch Sunset
Sasquatch Sunset
Directed by David Zellner & Nathan Zellner

This absurdly bizarre, utterly hilarious, one-of-a-kind nature documentary is unquestionably a highlight of the festival. Sitting in the big Eccles Theater venue with 1000+ people watching this play out goes right up there with some of my all-time favorite Sundance experiences. The latest creation of the Zellner Brothers, Sasquatch Sunset is a dialogue free story of a Sasquatch (aka “Big Foot”) family, following them as the roam around, forage, sleep, eat, crap, fight, and get into trouble with other animals in the forest. It’s as crazy and as wild and as funny as it sounds, though of course it won’t be for everyone… I already got into arguments about it during the festival, which actually only made me love the film even more. The Zellners’ commitment to making this as realistic and as believable as possible, including shooting in real forests with full-on, hand-made, hairy Sasquatch suits, is part of its brilliance. Hiring actual actors including Jesse Eisenberg, Riley Keough, and Christophe Zajac-Denek to play the main roles is also what makes it amazing. This film is another example of how hysterically bonkers cinema can be when you let filmmakers do whatever they want.

Thelma
Thelma
Directed by Josh Margolin

June Squibb is the best!! Thelma ended up being one of the most popular and beloved Sundance 2024 hits – deservingly so because it’s wonderfully wholesome and amusing. Step aside Tom Cruise, 93-year-old actor June Squibb is the new Ethan Hunt in this heartfelt story of an old-timer getting back at scammers. When she gets caught up in one of these tricky phone scams and loses all her money, she teams up with her friend Ben (played by the late Richard Roundtree in a fantastic supporting role) to find them and take them down. Even though it takes some time because she’s rather old and slow and doesn’t know how to work a computer or much else anymore. Not only is the screenplay perfectly enjoyable and so delightful, there are filmmaking flourishes that give this adventure comedy a serious edge. Even if it’s not as innovative as some of the other films at Sundance, all that matters is it’s still a good film that will leave you smiling by the end.

Presence
Presence
Directed by Steven Soderbergh

Soderbergh! He’s still got it! The more I think back over the festival and which films really stood out, this one continues to stay on my mind. Presence is Steven Soderbergh’s version of the Sundance 2017 favorite A Ghost Story. It’s told entirely from the POV of a mysterious ghost haunting a house who is trying to tell the new residents something, though that’s hard when you can’t say anything or even be seen by anyone. It’s eerie and chilling, with a few incredible tense moments, though it’s not that scary and that’s not a bad thing. It’s still as compelling to watch even if the ghost isn’t some evil monster that wants to kill everyone. Lucy Liu leads the cast, though the best performances are from the actors playing her two kids in this: Callina Liang and Eddy Maday. Yet another Sundance film from this year that is best experienced if you know nothing about it going in, saving the reveals and everything else for that moment when you begin watching. The most chilling part of this film is not knowing where it’s going next or what will happen to the characters.

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.

For other Sundance 2024 best of the fest lists mentioning more films we didn’t see or didn’t include here, check out these other websites: The Verge’s AI afterlife, robot romance, and slow-burn slashers: the best of Sundance 2024, Harpers Bazaar’s 16 Must-See Movies Out of Sundance Film Festival 2024, THR’s 15 Best Films of Sundance 2024, NPR’s 14 New Films to Look Forward To, Rolling Stone’s 10 Best Movies From the 2024 Sundance Film Festival, and Vulture’s 15 Best Movies We Saw This Year at Sundance. 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 any/all of the films. 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 2024 coverage and reviews in this category. This wraps up our coverage of the 2024 Sundance Film Festival, our 18th 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 year of many fantastic films.

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Top 10 Most Anticipated Films at Sundance 2024 – Cinema in the Snow | FirstShowing.net

Top 10 Most Anticipated Films at Sundance 2024 – Cinema in the Snow

by Alex Billington
January 16, 2024
Source: Sundance.org

It’s January again, which means it’s time for yet another Sundance Film Festival. The 2024 festival is about to kick off in a few days, and FS is back in Utah, ready to start watching. Ready to dive into the enthralling line-up of new films this year. This is the 18th time we have covered Sundance, ever since 2007, bringing attention to good films and the festival experience. I am always looking forward to wading through all the good films the fest. Packing in as many as I can catch. Out of the 90+ films showing at the 2024 Sundance Film Festival, I’ve picked 10 films that I’m looking forward to the most. To keep things well balanced, I’ve chosen 5 feature films and 5 documentaries from the line-up. For 2024, the fest has once again programmed a compelling selection of unknown directors, first-time filmmakers, and potential hits that could breakout. As usual with Sundance, you never can really tell what’ll good or bad before watching anything, but here’s my early picks anyway. I recommend adding these 10 films to your festival schedule / or to your watchlist.

For the full line-up of films showing at Sundance 2024 – click here. Follow my reviews on Letterboxd. This will be my 18th 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 2024 films.

Alex’s Most Anticipated ~Sundance 2024~ Feature Films:

Exhibiting Forgiveness
Exhibiting Forgiveness
Directed by Titus Kaphar

This is perhaps my most anticipated film at Sundance 2024 because it really feels like it’s going to be one of this year’s cinema gems that will go on to have a beautiful life beyond the festival. It’s the feature directorial debut of an artist named Titus Kaphar, starring André Holland, John Earl Jelks, Andra Day, and Aunjanue Ellis-Taylor. What it’s about: “Utilizing his paintings to find freedom from his past, a Black artist on the path to success is derailed by an unexpected visit from his estranged father, a recovering addict desperate to reconcile. Together, they learn that forgetting might be a greater challenge than forgiving.” Yep that sounds like it’s going to be a winner. Sundance adds: “this soulful, sophisticated, and beautifully crafted debut feature blossoms a hard-to-tell story about destructive parenting, the seasons of angst weathered by an abused child becoming a successful human being, and the deep meaning and salve of creative practice.” I’ve heard enough! I’ve got my ticket, ready to watch this with the Sundance audience at the world premiere.

Love Me
Love Me
Directed by Sam Zuchero & Andy Zuchero

This is my favorite “wait, what?!” film of the festival line-up this year (since there’s quite a few). Here’s the synopsis: “Long after humanity’s extinction, a buoy and a satellite meet online and fall in love.” Okayyy I’m sold. I’ll be at the world premiere. I have to find out what this is, I have to see where story goes, I have to see how they visualize this in a film. The strange thing is it’s not just beeping machines, there are actors playing the two main roles: Kristen Stewart and Steven Yeun. I’m not sure which is playing which, the satellite or the buoy, but I’m intrigued to find out and watch their performances. Sundance drops this nice tease: “[the film’s] whimsically philosophical, shape-shifting structure ingeniously weaves together the real, the virtual, and the surreal.” Adding that after collecting data for all these years: “Awash in these mediated experiences and fabricated expressions of love and identity, they yearn to understand who they are, whether their feelings are real, and for that matter, whether they are real.” My kind of intelligent cinema – can’t wait.

My Old Ass
My Old Ass
Directed by Megan Park

Another favorite Sundance trope is: a stuck-in-life character reexamines themselves after going through a major (and usually hilarious) mind-opening experience. This one sounds like a fun one: “The summer before college, bright-yet-irreverent Elliott comes face-to-face with her older self during a mushroom trip. The encounter spurs a funny and heartfelt journey of self-discovery and first love as Elliott prepares to leave her childhood home.” So it’s about a woman encountering her older self and ending up on a coming-of-age love story journey. It could perhaps be another a lo-fi sci-fi concept, similar to the Sundance 2021 film How It Ends, but it actually just seems like another drug trip film with all the usual rediscover-yourself bells and whistles. Sundance adds this tidbit about the cast that should convince anyone to watch: “Maisy Stella and Aubrey Plaza have a terrific unlikely chemistry, as the sass and self-assuredness of the young Elliott, as played by Stella, blends and overlaps with Plaza’s sardonic humor as a more mature Elliott.” Yep I’m there.

Thelma
Thelma
Directed by Josh Margolin

A 93-year-old gets revenge! Ha! I’m all for this, it sounds like such a fun time, just the kind of film we all need right now. June Squibb taking on her first lead role in her very long career as an actor is incredible! I’m still amazed that this is even true. “When 93-year-old Thelma Post gets duped by a phone scammer pretending to be her grandson, she sets out on a treacherous quest across the city to reclaim what was taken from her.” Best part about this is it’s inspired by the filmmaker’s own grandmother, named Thelma, though I’m not quite sure if that actually means she went out for revenge and found the guys who scammed her, too. This is beginning a pretty common plot (Jason Statham’s The Beekeeper is also about him getting revenge on old person scammers) but I have a very good feeling this film is going to handle it just right, letting the actual elderly person (who got scammed) be the star of the show as she goes out on her own to make her mark. I definitely won’t be missing this – I think audiences at the festival are going to flip for this film, too.

Sasquatch Sunset
Sasquatch Sunset
Directed by David Zellner & Nathan Zellner

Wait, what?! A whole film about a Sasquatch family? With people in suits playing the Sasquatches the entire time? Get out of here! This is the kind of weird, wacky, have-to-see-it Sundance film that I love discovering and experiencing with an audience during the festival. The description is purposefully vague: “A year in the life of a singular family.” But early word is that it is as bonkers as we’re all hoping, and sticks close to the premise. More from one early review: “Sasquatch Sunset may be entirely conveyed through errant grunts, failed sexual overtures, and prolific amounts of pissing and shitting, but it somehow manages to cohere into a heartbreaking — and all too human — story about a species oblivious to its own demise.” If you need any more convicning this is worth seeing, the family of Sasquatches is played by actors Jesse Eisenberg, Riley Keough, Nathan Zellner, and Christophe Zacaj-Denek – all completely unrecognizable under their make-up and costumes. Yes, for the whole film. Yep, I’ve got my ticket for the premiere already ready to go.

Other Feature Films I’m Looking Forward To: The Outrun with Saoirse Ronan, Steven Soderbergh’s Presence, Thea Hvistendahl’s Handling the Undead, Jane Schoenbrun’s I Saw the TV Glow, the midnight horror In a Violent Nature, Krazy House with Nick Frost & Alicia Silverstone, Realm of Satan, Chiwetel Ejiofor’s Rob Peace, Mikko Makela’s Sebastian, Stress Positions, Suncoast, Tendaberry, The Moogai, The American Society of Magical Negroes (view a trailer), Freaky Tales, A Different Man with Sebastian Stan.

Alex’s Most Anticipated ~Sundance 2024~ Documentaries:

A New Kind of Wilderness
A New Kind of Wilderness
Directed by Silje Evensmo Jacobsen

I am a HUGE fan of the Sundance 2016 film Captain Fantastic, it’s one of my all-time favorites for many reasons (my original review). It seems a bit of an obvious pick for Sundance to now program A New Kind of Wilderness, which sounds exactly like the real-world documentary version of Captain Fantastic, and that’s why it’s one of my most anticipated docs. A family with a bunch of kids living off-the-grid (in Norway) on a sustainable, grow-everything-yourselves lifestyle must deal with life-changing upheaval when one of the parents passes away. Yeah this is exactly what Captain Fantastic is like, but I’m especially interested to see how an actual, real family deals with this and what insight the film will offer as it follows them through this moment in their lives. The Sundance description makes it sound like it’ll be an emotional experience. “[Director Silje Evensmo Jacobsen] crafts a sensitive, affectionate, and completely heartfelt experience that is as much about navigating grief as it is about graciously accepting change.” It’s one of my must watch docs.

Every Little Thing
Every Little Thing
Directed by Sally Aitken

I have no idea what this film is going to be like or what it’s going to show us, but a documentary about how hummingbirds have changed one woman’s life? Yeah I’m intrigued. I want to find out more. The initial Sundance intro: “Amid the glamour of Hollywood, Los Angeles, a woman finds herself on a transformative journey as she nurtures wounded hummingbirds, unraveling a visually captivating and magical tale of love, fragility, healing, and the delicate beauty in tiny acts of greatness.” They have only released this one hazy, glitzy image (seen above) of the hummingbird, so it’s really hard to tell where this film where go or what else it’s going to explore in its 93 minute runtime. But I want to be there at the premiere to find out, it might be another sensational, life-affirming doc just like last year’s Smoke Sauna Sisterhood (which I also highly recommend discovering). The birds even have names: “The viewer becomes emotionally invested in Cactus, Jimmy, Wasabi, Alexa, and Mikhail, celebrating their small victories and lamenting their tiny tragedies.”

Never Look Away
Never Look Away
Directed by Lucy Lawless

This film wins the award for 2024 for having the greatest got-your-attention promo images. The couple of shots they’ve released for Never Look Away are all I need to be convinced that this is a must see doc at Sundance 2024 (which is why the teaser image at the top of this article is one of these images). Kiwi actress Lucy Lawless (who was the original “Xena: Warrior Princess”) is making her directorial debut profiling an intrepid journalist. “New Zealand–born groundbreaking CNN camerawoman Margaret Moth risks it all to show the reality of war from inside the conflict, staring down danger and confronting those who perpetuate it.” I’m always fascinated by stories like this, about incredibly brave people doing incredibly brave things, especially journalists who risk it all to cover important stories. The Sundance intro makes it sound like a profound film about more than journalism: “Lawless creates a distinctively female, Kiwi lens to cover this titanic career, showing both the horrors & life-affirming dimensions of war from a woman’s point of view.”

Black Box Diaries
Black Box Diaries
Directed by Shiori Ito

I’m interested in this one solely from the description and also that it sounds like it’s going to an important, powerful film retelling a major #MeToo story. Here’s the initial intro: “Journalist Shiori Ito embarks on a courageous investigation of her own sexual assault in an improbable attempt to prosecute her high-profile offender. Her quest becomes a landmark case in Japan, exposing the country’s outdated judicial and societal systems.” It’s the story of the woman at the center of Japan’s #MeToo movement. Not only is it telling her entirey story in complete, unfiltered detail, it’s also directed by Shiori Ito herself, which hopefully means she will dig deep into showing us just how hard it is to confront patriarchy. This line from Sundance is what should make anyone want to watch this: “it is an impressively crafted, concise piece of filmmaking — guided by a strong sense of purpose and broken up by occasional moments of joy. Ito came forward to challenge her high-profile abuser despite knowing the risks.” this film’s premiere is going to be an emotional experience.

Super/Man: The Christopher Reeve Story
Super/Man: The Christopher Reeve Story
Directed by Ian Bonhôte & Peter Ettedgui

Early word is that this is going to be one of the best documentaries at Sundance 2024, right up there with last year’s Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie. It’s not as if we haven’t heard Christopher Reeve’s story, everyone knows what happened to him, and he made many, many appearances over the years before passing away in 2004. However, my hope is that this film expands upon his story, adding to it by giving us a more intimate, and more honest examination of his unique life than ever before. This seems to be the case, as the Sundance description hints at exactly that idea: “Never-before-seen home movies and extraordinary personal archives reveal how Christopher Reeve went from unknown actor to iconic movie star as the ultimate screen superhero. He learned the true meaning of heroism as an activist after suffering a tragic accident that left him quadriplegic and dependent on a ventilator to breathe.” This doc film is also not available to view online at all during the online portion of the festival, so it’s an important must-see-while-at-Sundance experience.

More Docs I’ll Be Watching: Amanda McBaine & Jesse Moss’ Girls State, Benjamin Ree’s Ibelin, Yance Ford’s Power, Skywalkers: A Love Story, moth doc Nocturnes, Bhutan’s Agent of Happiness, J.M. Harper’s As We Speak, Chris Smith’s music biopic Devo, Emily Kassie & Julian Brave NoiseCat’s Sugarcane, Luther: Never Too Much, Union about unionizing at Amazon, Johan Grimonprez’s Soundtrack to a Coup d’Etat.

For ALL of Alex’s Sundance 2024 updates: follow @firstshowing or follow @alexb.bsky.social

For more Sundance 2024 previews around the web, highlighting early picks and potential breakouts, also see: The Film Stage’s 20 Most-Anticipated Premieres, Indiewire’s 26 Must-See Films at This Year’s Festival, Rolling Stone’s 20 Most-Anticipated Movies from Sundance 2024, and also Nylon’s The 13 Most Anticipated Films of Sundance 2024. 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 2024 coverage and reviews right here and on Alex’s Letterboxd. The festival begins on January 18th and runs until January 28th, with films premiering online + locally. Glad to be back.

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Sundance 2024: Official Selection of All 91 Feature Films Announced | FirstShowing.net

Sundance 2024: Official Selection of All 91 Feature Films Announced

by Alex Billington
December 6, 2023
Source: Sundance.org

Time for a peek at how the next year in cinema is shaping up. Every new year brings another Sundance Film Festival and with less than two months until Sundance 2024 kicks off on January 18th, it’s time to find out what is premiering at this prestigious fest in Utah. Sundance has revealed their 2024 selection of official feature films premiering this January, featuring 91 films playing across these 11 main categories (including their usual four Competition categories), ranging from new documentaries to quirky comedies, compelling dramas, and everything else good. The 2024 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 18th year in a row to cover it. Keep an eye out for more fest updates. “Curation is Sundance’s secret sauce and we’re energized by the range of films, stories, & artists we’ve watched and selected from around the world.”

Eugene Hernandez, the brand new director of the Sundance Film Festival & Public Programming, states: “This Festival has had a vital history of first impressions: introductions to new talent, new friends, new worlds — our commitment to our artists and our audiences is fundamental to our work. Our programming team, lead by Kim Yutani, has curated 11 days of exciting new voices and stories for the many audiences we serve whether they’re joining us in Utah or experiencing the Festival offerings from afar. Sundance 2024 will be a special year for discovery and community.” There’s a sasquatch film, a Will Ferrell documentary, a new horror film with Kristen Stewart from the director Saint Maud, a “buoy and a satellite” love story, and some other strange films in the 2024 selection. What are you looking forward to so far out of all these films?

Browse through all the feature film selections for Sundance 2024 films – and visit Sundance.org for more.

U.S. Dramatic Competition:
Exhibiting Forgiveness

The U.S. Dramatic Competition offers Festivalgoers a first look at the world premieres of groundbreaking new voices in American independent film.

Between the Temples (Director & Screenwriter: Nathan Silver, Screenwriter: C. Mason Wells, Producers: Tim Headington, Theresa Steele Page, Nate Kamiya, Adam Kersh, Taylor Hess) — A cantor in a crisis of faith finds his world turned upside down when his grade school music teacher reenters his life as his new adult bat mitzvah student. Cast: Jason Schwartzman, Carol Kane, Dolly de Leon, Caroline Aaron, Robert Smigel, Madeline Weinstein.

Dìdi (弟弟) (Director, Screenwriter, & Producer: Sean Wang, Producers: Carlos López Estrada, Josh Peters, Valerie Bush) — In 2008, during the last month of summer before high school begins, an impressionable 13-year-old Taiwanese American boy learns what his family can’t teach him: how to skate, how to flirt, and how to love your mom. Cast: Izaac Wang, Joan Chen, Shirley Chen, Chang Li Hua.

Exhibiting Forgiveness (Director, Screenwriter, & Producer: Titus Kaphar, Producers: Stephanie Allain, Derek Cianfrance, Jamie Patricof, Sean Cotton) — Utilizing his paintings to find freedom from his past, a Black artist on the path to success is derailed by an unexpected visit from his estranged father, a recovering addict desperate to reconcile. Together, they learn that forgetting might be a greater challenge than forgiving. Cast: André Holland, John Earl Jelks, Andra Day, Aunjanue Ellis-Taylor.

Good One (Director, Screenwriter, & Producer: India Donaldson, Producers: Diana Irvine, Graham Mason, Wilson Cameron) — On a weekend backpacking trip in the Catskills, 17-year-old Sam contends with the competing egos of her father and his oldest friend. Cast: Lily Collias, James Le Gros, Danny McCarthy.

In The Summers (Director & Screenwriter: Alessandra Lacorazza, Producers: Alexander Dinelaris, Rob Quadrino, Fernando Rodriguez-Vila, Lynette Coll, Sergio Lira, Cristóbal Güell) — On a journey that spans across the formative years of their lives, two sisters navigate their loving but volatile father during their yearly summer visits to his home in Las Cruces, New Mexico. Cast: René Pérez Joglar, Sasha Calle, Lío Mehiel, Leslie Grace, Emma Ramos, Sharlene Cruz.

Love Me (Directors & Screenwriters: Sam Zuchero, Andy Zuchero, Producers: Kevin Rowe, Luca Borghese, Ben Howe, Shivani Rawat, Julie Goldstein) — Long after humanity’s extinction, a buoy and a satellite meet online and fall in love. Cast: Kristen Stewart, Steven Yeun.

Ponyboi (Director: Esteban Arango, Screenwriter: River Gallo, Producers: Mark Ankner, River Gallo, Adel “Future” Nur, Trevor Wall) — Unfolding over the course of Valentine’s Day in New Jersey, a young intersex sex worker must run from the mob after a drug deal goes sideways, forcing him to confront his past. Cast: River Gallo, Dylan O’Brien, Victoria Pedretti, Murray Bartlett, Indya Moore.

A Real Pain (Director, Screenwriter, & Producer: Jesse Eisenberg, Producers: Dave McCary, Ali Herting, Emma Stone, Jennifer Semler, Ewa Puszczyńska) — Mismatched cousins David and Benji reunite for a tour through Poland to honor their beloved grandmother. The adventure takes a turn when the pair’s old tensions resurface against the backdrop of their family history. Cast: Jesse Eisenberg, Kieran Culkin, Will Sharpe, Jennifer Grey, Kurt Egyiawan.

Stress Positions (Director & Screenwriter: Theda Hammel, Producers: Brad Becker-Parton, John Early, Stephanie Roush, Allie Jane Compton, Greg Nobile) — Terry Goon is keeping strict quarantine in his ex-husband’s Brooklyn brownstone while caring for his nephew — a 19-year-old model from Morocco named Bahlul — bedridden in a full leg cast after an electric scooter accident. Unfortunately for Terry, everyone in his life wants to meet the model. Cast: John Early, Qaher Harhash, Theda Hammel, Amy Zimmer, Faheem Ali, John Roberts.

Suncoast (Director & Screenwriter: Laura Chinn, Producers: Jeremy Plager, Francesca Silvestri, Kevin Chinoy, Oly Obst) — A teenager who, while caring for her brother along with her audacious mother, strikes up an unlikely friendship with an eccentric activist who is protesting one of the most landmark medical cases of all time. Inspired by a semi-autobiographical story. Cast: Laura Linney, Woody Harrelson, Nico Parker.

U.S. Documentary Competition:
Every Little Thing

The U.S. Documentary Competition offers Festivalgoers a first look at world premieres of nonfiction American films illuminating the ideas, people, and events that shape the present day.

As We Speak (Director & Producer: J.M. Harper, Producers: Sam Widdoes, Peter Cambor, Sam Bisbee) — Bronx rap artist Kemba explores the growing weaponization of rap lyrics in the United States criminal justice system and abroad — revealing how law enforcement has quietly used artistic creation as evidence in criminal cases for decades.

Daughters (Directors: Angela Patton, Natalie Rae, Producers: Lisa Mazzotta, Justin Benoliel, Mindy Goldberg, Sam Bisbee, Kathryn Everett, Laura Choi Raycroft) — Four young girls prepare for a special Daddy Daughter Dance with their incarcerated fathers, as part of a unique fatherhood program in a Washington, D.C., jail.

Every Little Thing (Director: Sally Aitken, Producers: Bettina Dalton, Oli Harbottle, Anna Godas) — Amid the glamour of Hollywood, Los Angeles, a woman finds herself on a transformative journey as she nurtures wounded hummingbirds, unraveling a visually captivating and magical tale of love, fragility, healing, and the delicate beauty in tiny acts of greatness.

Frida (Director: Carla Gutiérrez, Producers: Katia Maguire, Sara Bernstein, Justin Wilkes, Loren Hammonds, Alexandra Johnes) — An intimately raw and magical journey through the life, mind, and heart of iconic artist Frida Kahlo. Told through her own words for the very first time — drawn from her diary, revealing letters, essays, and print interviews — and brought vividly to life by lyrical animation inspired by her unforgettable artwork.

Gaucho Gaucho (Directors & Producers: Michael Dweck, Gregory Kershaw, Producers: Cameron O’Reilly, Christos V. Konstantakopoulos, Matthew Perniciaro) — A celebration of a community of Argentine cowboys and cowgirls, known as Gauchos, living beyond the boundaries of the modern world.

Love Machina (Director & Producer: Peter Sillen, Producer: Brendan Doyle) — Futurists Martine and Bina Rothblatt commission an advanced humanoid AI named Bina48 to transfer Bina’s consciousness from a human to a robot in an attempt to continue their once-in-a-galaxy love affair for the rest of time.

Porcelain War (Director & Screenwriter: Brendan Bellomo, Director: Slava Leontyev, Producers and Screenwriters: Aniela Sidorska, Paula DuPré Pesmen, Producers: Camilla Mazzaferro, Olivia Ahnemann) — Under roaring fighter jets and missile strikes, Ukrainian artists Slava, Anya, and Andrey choose to stay behind and fight, contending with the soldiers they have become. Defiantly finding beauty amid destruction, they show that although it’s easy to make people afraid, it’s hard to destroy their passion for living.

Skywalkers: A Love Story (Director, Screenwriter, & Producer: Jeff Zimbalist, Producers: Maria Bukhonina, Tamir Ardon, Chris Smith, Nick Spicer) — To save their career and relationship, a daredevil couple journey across the globe to climb the world’s last super skyscraper and perform a bold acrobatic stunt on the spire.

Sugarcane (Director: Julian Brave NoiseCat, Director and Producer: Emily Kassie, Producer: Kellen Quinn) — An investigation into abuse and missing children at an Indian residential school ignites a reckoning on the nearby Sugarcane Reserve.

Union (Directors: Stephen Maing, Brett Story, Producers: Samantha Curley, Mars Verrone) — The Amazon Labor Union (ALU) — a group of current and former Amazon workers in New York City’s Staten Island — takes on one of the world’s largest and most powerful companies in the fight to unionize.

World Cinema Dramatic Competition:
Brief History of a Family

These narrative feature films from emerging talent around the world offer fresh perspectives and inventive styles.

Brief History of a Family / China, France, Denmark, Qatar (Director & Screenwriter: Jianjie Lin, Producers: Ying Lou, Yue Zheng, Yiwen Wang) — A middle-class family’s fate becomes intertwined with their only son’s enigmatic new friend in post one-child policy China, putting unspoken secrets, unmet expectations, and untended emotions under the microscope. Cast: Feng Zu, Keyu Guo, Xilun Sun, Muran Lin.

Girls Will Be Girls / India, France, Norway (Director, Screenwriter, & Producer: Shuchi Talati, Producers: Richa Chadha, Claire Chassagne) — In a strict boarding school nestled in the Himalayas, 16-year-old Mira discovers desire and romance. But her sexual, rebellious awakening is disrupted by her mother who never got to come of age herself. Cast: Preeti Panigrahi, Kani Kusruti, Kesav Binoy Kiron.

Handling the Undead / Norway (Director & Screenwriter: Thea Hvistendahl, Screenwriter: John Ajvide Lindqvist, Producers: Kristin Emblem, Guri Neby) — On a hot summer day in Oslo, the newly dead awaken. Three families faced with loss try to figure out what this resurrection means and if their loved ones really are back. Based on the book by John Ajvide Lindqvist. Cast: Renate Reinsve, Bjørn Sundquist, Bente Børsum, Anders Danielsen Lie, Bahar Pars.

In the Land of Brothers / Iran, France, Netherlands (Directors, Screenwriters, & Producers: Raha Amirfazli, Alireza Ghasemi, Producers: Adrien Barrouillet, Frank Hoeve, Charles Meresse, Emma Binet, Arya Ghamavian) — Three members of an extended Afghan family start their lives over in Iran as refugees, unaware they face a decades-long struggle ahead to be “at home.” Cast: Hamideh Jafari, Bashir Nikzad, Mohammad Hosseini.

Layla / U.K. (Director & Screenwriter: Amrou Al-Kadhi, Producer: Savannah James-Bayly) — When Layla, a struggling Arab drag queen, falls in love for the first time, they lose and find themself in a transformative relationship that tests who they really are. Cast: Bilal Hasna, Louis Greatorex, Safiyya Ingar, Darkwah, Terique Jarrett, Sarah Agha.

Malu / Brazil (Director & Screenwriter: Pedro Freire, Producers: Tatiana Leite, Sabrina Garcia, Leo Ribeiro, Roberto Berliner) — Malu — a mercurial, unemployed actress living with her conservative mother in a precarious house in a Rio de Janeiro slum — tries to deal with her strained relationship with her own adult daughter while surviving on memories of her glorious artistic past. Cast: Yara de Novaes, Carol Duarte, Juliana Carneiro da Cunha, Átila Bee.

Reinas / Switzerland, Peru, Spain (Director & Screenwriter: Klaudia Reynicke, Screenwriter & Producer: Diego Vega, Producers: Britta Rindelaub, Thomas Reichlin, Daniel Vega, Valérie Delpierre) — Surrounded by social and political chaos in Lima during the summer of 1992, Lucia, Aurora, and their mother, Elena, plan to leave and seek opportunities in the United States. Their farewell involves reconnecting with their estranged father, Carlos, adding turbulence to the regrets, hopes, and fears of their emotional departure. Cast: Abril Gjurinovic, Luana Vega, Jimena Lindo, Gonzalo Molina, Susi Sánchez.

Sebastian / U.K., Finland, Belgium (Director & Screenwriter: Mikko Mäkelä, Producer: James Watson) — Max, a 25-year-old aspiring writer living in London, begins a double life as a sex worker in order to research his debut novel. Cast: Ruaridh Mollica, Hiftu Quasem, Ingvar Sigurdsson, Jonathan Hyde, Leanne Best, Lara Rossi.

Sujo / Mexico, U.S.A., France (Directors, Screenwriters, & Producers: Astrid Rondero, Fernanda Valadez, Producers: Diana Arcega, Jewerl Keats Ross, Virginie Devesa, Jean-Baptiste Bailly-Maitre) — When a cartel gunman is killed, he leaves behind Sujo, his beloved 4-year-old son. The shadow of violence surrounds Sujo during each stage of his life in the isolated Mexican countryside. As he grows into a man, Sujo finds that fulfilling his father’s destiny may be inescapable. Cast: Juan Jesús Varela, Yadira Pérez, Alexis Varela, Sandra Lorenzano, Jairo Hernández, Kevin Aguilar.

Veni Vidi Vici / Austria (Director & Screenwriter: Daniel Hoesl, Producer: Ulrich Seidl) — The Maynards and their children lead an almost perfect billionaire family life. Amon is a passionate hunter, but doesn’t shoot animals, as the family’s wealth allows them to live totally free from consequences. Cast: Laurence Rupp, Ursina Lardi, Olivia Goschler.

World Cinema Documentary Competition:
Never Look Away

These nonfiction feature films from emerging talent around the world showcase some of the most courageous and extraordinary filmmaking today.

Agent of Happiness / Bhutan, Hungary (Director & Producer: Arun Bhattarai, Director: Dorottya Zurbó, Producers: Noémi Veronika Szakonyi, Máté Artur Vincze) — Amber is one of the many agents working for the Bhutanese government to measure people’s happiness levels among the remote Himalayan mountains. But will he find his own along the way?

The Battle for Laikipia / Kenya, U.S.A. (Director and Producer: Daphne Matziaraki, Director: Peter Murimi, Producer: Toni Kamau) — Unresolved historical injustices and climate change raise the stakes in a generations-old conflict between Indigenous pastoralists and white landowners in Laikipia, Kenya, a wildlife conservation haven.

Black Box Diaries / Japan, U.S.A., U.K. (Director and Producer: Shiori Ito, Producers: Eric Nyari, Hanna Aqvilin) — Journalist Shiori Ito embarks on a courageous investigation of her own sexual assault in an improbable attempt to prosecute her high-profile offender. Her quest becomes a landmark case in Japan, exposing the country’s outdated judicial and societal systems.

Eternal You / Germany, U.S.A. (Directors: Hans Block, Moritz Riesewieck, Producers: Christian Beetz, Georg Tschurtschenthaler) — Startups are using AI to create avatars that allow relatives to talk with their loved ones after they have died. An exploration of a profound human desire and the consequences of turning the dream of immortality into a product.

Ibelin / Norway (Director: Benjamin Ree, Producer: Ingvil Giske) — Mats Steen, a Norwegian gamer, died of a degenerative muscular disease at the age of 25. His parents mourned what they thought had been a lonely and isolated life, when they started receiving messages from online friends around the world.

Igualada / Colombia, U.S.A., Mexico (Director: Juan Mejía Botero, Producers: Juan E. Yepes, Daniela Alatorre, Sonia Serna) — In one of Latin America’s most unequal countries, Francia Márquez, a Black Colombian rural activist, challenges the status quo with a presidential campaign that reappropriates the derogatory term “Igualada” — someone who acts as if they deserve rights that supposedly don’t correspond to them — and inspires a nation to dream.

Never Look Away / New Zealand (Director, Screenwriter, & Producer: Lucy Lawless, Screenwriters and Producers: Matthew Metcalfe, Tom Blackwell) — New Zealand–born groundbreaking CNN camerawoman Margaret Moth risks it all to show the reality of war from inside the conflict, staring down danger and confronting those who perpetuate it.

A New Kind of Wilderness / Norway (Director: Silje Evensmo Jacobsen, Producer: Mari Bakke Riise) — In a forest in Norway, a family lives an isolated lifestyle in an attempt to be wild and free, but a tragic event changes everything, and they are forced to adjust to modern society.

Nocturnes / India, U.S.A. (Director & Producer: Anirban Dutta, Director: Anupama Srinivasan) — In the dense forests of the Eastern Himalayas, moths are whispering something to us. In the dark of night, two curious observers shine a light on this secret universe.

Soundtrack to a Coup d’Etat / Belgium, France, Netherlands (Director & Screenwriter: Johan Grimonprez, Producers: Daan Milius, Rémi Grellety) — In 1960, United Nations: the Global South ignites a political earthquake, musicians Abbey Lincoln and Max Roach crash the Security Council, Nikita Khrushchev bangs his shoe denouncing America’s color bar, while the U.S. dispatches jazz ambassador Louis Armstrong to the Congo to deflect attention from its first African post-colonial coup.

NEXT:
Kneecap

Pure, bold works distinguished by an innovative, forward-thinking approach to storytelling populate this program. Unfettered creativity promises that the films in this section will shape the greater next wave in American cinema.

Desire Lines / U.S.A. (Director, Screenwriter, & Producer: Jules Rosskam, Screenwriter: Nate Gualtieri, Producers: André Pérez, Amy E. Powell, Brittani Ward) — Past and present collide when an Iranian American trans man time-travels through an LGBTQ+ archive on a dizzying and erotic quest to unravel his own sexual desires. Cast: Theo Germaine, Aden Hakimi.

Kneecap / Ireland, U.K. (Director & Screenwriter: Rich Peppiatt, Producers: Jack Tarling, Trevor Birney) — There are 80,000 native Irish speakers in Ireland. 6,000 live in the North of Ireland. Three of them became a rap group called Kneecap. This anarchic Belfast trio becomes the unlikely figurehead of a civil rights movement to save the mother tongue. Cast: Liam Óg Ó hAnnaidh, Naoise Ó Cairealláin, JJ Ó Dochartaigh, Michael Fassbender, Josie Walker, Simone Kirby).

Little Death / U.S.A. (Director & Screenwriter: Jack Begert, Screenwriter: Dani Goffstein, Producers: Darren Aronofsky, Andy S. Cohen, Dylan Golden, Brendan Naylor, Sam Canter, Noor Alfallah) — A middle-aged filmmaker on the verge of a breakthrough. Two kids in search of a lost backpack. A small dog a long way from home. Cast: David Schwimmer, Gaby Hoffmann, Dominic Fike, Talia Ryder, Jena Malone, Sante Bentivoglio.

Realm of Satan / U.S.A. (Director & Screenwriter: Scott Cummings, Producers: Caitlin Mae Burke, Pacho Velez, Molly Gandour) — An experiential portrait depicting Satanists in both the everyday and in the extraordinary as they fight to preserve their lifestyle: magic, mystery, and misanthropy. Cast: Peter Gilmore, Peggy Nadramia, Blanche Barton.

Seeking Mavis Beacon / U.S.A. (Director & Writer: Jazmin Renée Jones, Producer: Guetty Felin) — Launched in the late ’80s, educational software Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing taught millions globally, but the program’s Haitian-born cover model vanished decades ago. Two DIY investigators search for the unsung cultural icon, while questioning notions of digital security, AI, and Black representation in the digital realm.

Tendaberry / U.S.A. (Director, Screenwriter, & Producer: Haley Elizabeth Anderson, Producers: Carlos Zozaya, Matthew Petock, Zachary Shedd, Hannah Dweck, Theodore Schaefer, Daniel Patrick Carbone) — When her boyfriend goes back to Ukraine to be with his ailing father, 23-year-old Dakota anxiously navigates her precarious new reality, surviving on her own in New York City. Cast: Kota Johan, Yuri Pleskun.

Premieres:
Will & Harper

This showcase of world premieres presents highly anticipated films on a variety of subjects, in both fiction & nonfiction.

The American Society of Magical Negroes / U.S.A. (Director, Screenwriter, & Producer: Kobi Libii, Producers: Julia Lebedev, Eddie Vaisman, Angel Lopez) — A young man, Aren, is recruited into a secret society of magical Black people who dedicate their lives to a cause of utmost importance: making white people’s lives easier. Cast: Justice Smith, David Alan Grier, An-Li Bogan, Drew Tarver, Rupert Friend, Nicole Byer.

And So It Begins / U.S.A., Philippines (Director, Screenwriter, & Producer: Ramona S. Diaz) — Amidst the traditional pomp and circumstance of Filipino elections, a quirky people’s movement rises to defend the nation against deepening threats to truth and democracy. In a collective act of joy as a form of resistance, hope flickers against the backdrop of increasing autocracy. Documentary.

Devo / U.K., U.S.A. (Director: Chris Smith, Producers: Chris Holmes, Anita Greenspan, Danny Gabai) — Born in response to the Kent State massacre, new wave band Devo took their concept of “de-evolution” from cult following to near–rock star status with groundbreaking 1980 hit “Whip It” while preaching an urgent social commentary. Documentary.

A Different Man / U.S.A. (Director & Screenwriter: Aaron Schimberg, Producers: Christine Vachon, Vanessa McDonnell, Gabriel Mayers) — Aspiring actor Edward undergoes a radical medical procedure to drastically transform his appearance. But his new dream face quickly turns into a nightmare, as he loses out on the role he was born to play and becomes obsessed with reclaiming what was lost. Cast: Sebastian Stan, Renate Reinsve, Adam Pearson.

Freaky Tales / U.S.A. (Directors, Screenwriters, & Producers: Ryan Fleck, Anna Boden, Producers: Poppy Hanks, Jelani Johnson) — In 1987 Oakland, a mysterious force guides The Town’s underdogs in four interconnected tales: Teen punks defend their turf against Nazi skinheads, a rap duo battles for hip-hop immortality, a weary henchman gets a shot at redemption, and an NBA All-Star settles the score. Basically another day in the Bay. Cast: Pedro Pascal, Jay Ellis, Normani Kordei Hamilton, Dominique Thorne, Ben Mendelsohn, Ji-Young Yoo.

Ghostlight / U.S.A. (Director & Screenwriter: Kelly O’Sullivan, Director and Producer: Alex Thompson, Producers: Pierce Cravens, Chelsea Krant, Ian Keiser, Eddie Linker, Alex Wilson) — When a construction worker unexpectedly joins a local theater’s production of Romeo and Juliet, the drama onstage starts to mirror his own life. Cast: Keith Kupferer, Dolly de Leon, Katherine Mallen Kupferer, Tara Mallen.

Girls State / U.S.A. (Directors & Producers: Amanda McBaine, Jesse Moss) — Teenage girls from wildly different backgrounds across Missouri navigate a week-long immersive experiment in American democracy, build a government from the ground up, and reimagine what it means to govern. Documentary.

Look Into My Eyes / U.S.A. (Director & Producer: Lana Wilson, Producer: Kyle Martin) — A group of New York City psychics conduct deeply intimate readings for their clients, revealing a kaleidoscope of loneliness, connection, and healing. Documentary.

Luther: Never Too Much / U.S.A. (Director: Dawn Porter, Producers: Trish D Chetty, Ged Doherty, Jamie Foxx, Datari Turner, Leah Smith) — Luther Vandross started his career supporting David Bowie, Roberta Flack, Bette Midler, and more. His undeniable talent earned platinum records and accolades, but he struggled to break out beyond the R&B charts. Intensely driven, he overcame personal and professional challenges to secure his place amongst the greatest vocalists in history. Documentary.

My Old Ass / U.S.A. (Director & Screenwriter: Megan Park, Producers: Tom Ackerley, Margot Robbie, Josey McNamara, Steven Rales) — The summer before college, bright-yet-irreverent Elliott comes face-to-face with her older self during a mushroom trip. The encounter spurs a funny and heartfelt journey of self-discovery and first love as Elliott prepares to leave her childhood home. Cast: Maisy Stella, Percy Hynes White, Maddie Ziegler, Kerrice Brooks, Aubrey Plaza.

The Outrun / U.K., Germany (Director & Screenwriter: Nora Fingscheidt, Screenwriter: Amy Liptrot, Producers: Sarah Brocklehurst, Dominic Norris, Jack Lowden, Saoirse Ronan) — After living life on the edge in London, Rona attempts to come to terms with her troubled past. She returns to the wild beauty of Scotland’s Orkney Islands — where she grew up — hoping to heal. Adapted from the bestselling memoir by Amy Liptrot. Cast: Saoirse Ronan, Paapa Essiedu, Stephen Dillane, Saskia Reeves.

Power (Director & Producer: Yance Ford, Producers: Sweta Vohra, Jess Devaney, Netsanet Negussie) — Driven to maintain social order, policing in the United States has exploded in scope and scale over hundreds of years. Now, American policing embodies one word: power. Documentary.

Presence / U.S.A. (Director: Steven Soderbergh, Screenwriter: David Koepp, Producers: Julie M. Anderson, Ken Meyer) — A family moves into a suburban house and becomes convinced they’re not alone. Cast: Lucy Liu, Chris Sullivan, Callina Liang, Julia Fox, Eddy Maday, West Mulholland.

Rob Peace / U.S.A. (Director & Screenwriter: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Producers: Andrea Calderwood, Antoine Fuqua, Kat Samick, Rebecca Hobbs, Jeffrey Soros, Alex Kurtzman) — Robert Peace grew up in an impoverished section of Newark and later graduated from Yale with degrees in molecular biophysics and biochemistry while on scholarship. Peace led a dual life in academia and research while also earning six figures selling marijuana. Based on Jeff Hobbs’ bestselling biography. Cast: Jay Will, Mary J. Blige, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Camila Cabello, Michael Kelly, Mare Winningham.

Sasquatch Sunset / U.S.A. (Director, Screenwriter, & Producer: David Zellner, Director & Producer: Nathan Zellner, Producers: Lars Knudsen, Tyler Campellone, George Rush, Jesse Eisenberg) — A year in the life of a singular family. Cast: Riley Keough, Jesse Eisenberg, Christophe Zajac-Denek, Nathan Zellner.

Sue Bird: In The Clutch / U.S.A. (Director & Producer: Sarah Dowland, Producers: Emily Singer Chapman, Svetlana Zill) — In her 21-year professional career, WNBA basketball legend Sue Bird has won five Olympic gold medals and become the most successful point guard to ever play the game. Alongside her fiancée, U.S. soccer star Megan Rapinoe, Sue confronts her next challenge: retiring from the only life she’s ever known. Documentary.

Super/Man: The Christopher Reeve Story / U.K., U.S.A. (Director & Producer: Ian Bonhôte, Director and Screenwriter: Peter Ettedgui, Producers: Lizzie Gillett, Robert Ford) — Never-before-seen home movies and extraordinary personal archives reveal how Christopher Reeve went from unknown actor to iconic movie star as the ultimate screen superhero. He learned the true meaning of heroism as an activist after suffering a tragic accident that left him quadriplegic and dependent on a ventilator to breathe. Documentary.

Thelma / U.S.A. (Director & Screenwriter: Josh Margolin, Producers: Zoë Worth, Chris Kaye, Nicholas Weinstock, Benjamin Simpson, Karl Spoerri, Viviana Vezzani) — When 93-year-old Thelma Post gets duped by a phone scammer pretending to be her grandson, she sets out on a treacherous quest across the city to reclaim what was taken from her. Cast: June Squibb, Fred Hechinger, Richard Roundtree, Parker Posey, Clark Gregg, Malcolm McDowell.

Will & Harper / U.S.A. (Director & Producer: Josh Greenbaum, Producers: Rafael Marmor, Will Ferrell, Jessica Elbaum, Christopher Leggett) — When Will Ferrell finds out his close friend of 30 years is coming out as a trans woman, the two decide to embark on a cross-country road trip to process this new stage of their relationship in an intimate portrait of friendship, transition, and America. Documentary.

Winner / U.S.A., Canada (Director, Screenwriter, & Producer: Susanna Fogel, Screenwriter: Kerry Howley, Producers: Amanda Phillips, Shivani Rawat, Julie Goldstein, Scott Budnick, Ameet Shukla) — Reality Winner is a brilliant young misfit from a Texas border town who finds her morals challenged while serving as an NSA contractor. A sarcastic, gun-lovin, vegan, yogi, and CrossFit fanatic, Reality is an unconventional whistleblower who ends up being prosecuted for exposing Russia’s hacking of the 2016 election. Cast: Emilia Jones, Connie Britton, Zach Galifianakis, Kathryn Newton, Danny Ramirez.

Midnight:
Krazy House

From horror flicks and wild comedies to chilling thrillers and works that defy any genre, these films will keep you wide awake and on the edge of your seat.

I Saw the TV Glow / U.S.A. (Director & Screenwriter: Jane Schoenbrun, Producers: Emma Stone, Dave McCary, Ali Herting, Sam Intili, Sarah Winshall) — Teenager Owen is just trying to make it through life in the suburbs when his classmate introduces him to a mysterious late-night TV show — a vision of a supernatural world beneath their own. In the pale glow of the television, Owen’s view of reality begins to crack. Cast: Justice Smith, Brigette Lundy-Paine, Ian Foreman, Helena Howard, Fred Durst, Danielle Deadwyler.

In A Violent Nature / Canada (Director & Screenwriter: Chris Nash, Producers: Peter Kuplowsky, Shannon Hanmer) — The enigmatic resurrection, rampage, and retribution of an undead monster in a remote wilderness. Cast: Ry Barrett, Andrea Pavlovic, Lauren Taylor.

It’s What’s Inside / U.S.A. (Director ^ Screenwriter: Greg Jardin, Producers: William Rosenfeld, Kate Andrews, Jason Baum, Raúl Domingo) — A pre-wedding party descends into an existential nightmare when an estranged friend shows up with a mysterious suitcase. Cast: Brittany O’Grady, James Morosini, Alycia Debnam-Carey, Gavin Leatherwood, Reina Hardesty, Nina Bloomgarden.

Kidnapping Inc. / Haiti, France, Canada (Director, Screenwriter, & Producer: Bruno Mourral, Screenwriter and Producer: Gilbert Jr. Mirambeau, Screenwriter: Jasmuel Andri, Producers: Samuel Chauvin, Yanick Letourneau, Gaëthan Chancy) — Tasked with what appears to be a simple abduction for hire, two hapless kidnappers find out that it’s anything but and end up in the middle of a political conspiracy. Cast: Jasmuel Andri, Rolaphton Mercure, Anabel Lopez, Ashley Laraque, Gessica Geneus, Patrick Joseph.

Krazy House / Netherlands (Directors & Screenwriters: Steffen Haars, Flip van der Kuil, Producer: Maarten Swart) — When Russian workers in Bernie’s house turn out to be wanted criminals, Bernie has to man up and save his ’90s sitcom family. Cast: Nick Frost, Alicia Silverstone, Jan Bijvoet, Gaite Jansen, Walt Klink, Kevin Connolly.

Love Lies Bleeding / U.S.A., U.K. (Director & Screenwriter: Rose Glass, Producers: Andrea Cornwell, Oliver Kassman — Reclusive gym manager Lou falls hard for Jackie, an ambitious bodybuilder headed through town to Las Vegas in pursuit of her dream. But their love ignites violence, pulling them deep into the web of Lou’s criminal family. Cast: Kristen Stewart, Katy O’Brian, Ed Harris, Dave Franco, Jena Malone, Anna Baryshnikov.

The Moogai / Australia (Director & Screenwriter: Jon Bell, Producers: Kristina Ceyton, Samantha Jennings, Mitchell Stanley) — A young Aboriginal couple bring home their second baby. What should be a joyous time takes a sinister turn as the mother starts seeing a malevolent spirit she is convinced is trying to take her baby. Cast: Shari Sebbens, Meyne Wyatt, Tessa Rose, Jahdeana Mary, Clarence Ryan, Bella Heathcote.

Your Monster / U.S.A. (Director, Screenwriter, & Producer: Caroline Lindy, Producers: Kayla Foster, Shannon Reilly, Melanie Donkers, Kira Carstensen) — After her life falls apart, soft-spoken actress Laura Franco finds her voice again when she meets a terrifying, yet weirdly charming, monster living in her closet. Cast: Melissa Barrera, Tommy Dewey, Meghann Fahy, Edmund Donovan, Kayla Foster.

Spotlight:

The Spotlight program is a tribute to the cinema we love, presenting films that have played throughout the world.

àma Gloria / France (Director and Screenwriter: Marie Amachoukeli, Producer: Bénédicte Couvreur) — Six-year-old Cléo loves her nanny, Gloria, more than anything. When Gloria must return to Cape Verde to care for her own children, the two must make the most of their last summer together. Cast: Louise Mauroy-Panzani, Ilça Moreno Zego, Abnara Gomes Varela, Fredy Gomes Tavares, Arnaud Rebotini, Domingos Borges Almeida.

Hit Man / U.S.A. (Director, Screenwriter, and Producer: Richard Linklater, Producer and Screenwriter: Glen Powell, Producers: Mike Blizzard, Jason Bateman, Michael Costigan) — A strait-laced professor discovers his hidden talent as a fake hit man. He meets his match in a client who steals his heart and ignites a powder keg of deception, delight, and mixed-up identities. Inspired by an unbelievable true story. Cast: Glen Powell, Adria Arjona, Austin Amelio, Retta, Sanjay Rao.

How to Have Sex / U.K. (Director and Screenwriter: Molly Manning Walker, Producers: Ivana MacKinnon, Emily Leo, Konstantinos Kontovrakis) — Three British teenage girls go on a rite-of-passage holiday, drinking, clubbing, and hooking up in what should be the best summer of their lives. As they dance their way across the sun-drenched streets of Malia, they find themselves navigating the complexities of sex, consent, and self-discovery. Cast: Mia McKenna-Bruce, Samuel Bottomley, Shaun Thomas, Lara Peake, Enva Lewis, Laura Ambler.

The Mother of All Lies / Morocco, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Qatar (Director and Producer: Asmae El Moudir) — On a handmade set re-creating her Casablanca neighborhood, a young Moroccan filmmaker enlists family and friends to help unearth the troubling lies built into her childhood.

Family Matinee:

Geared towards our youngest independent-film fans, this section of the Festival is programmed for children & adolescents.

Out of My Mind / U.S.A. (Director: Amber Sealey, Screenwriter: Daniel Stiepleman, Producers: Peter Saraf, Robert Kessel, Dan Angel, Michael B. Clark) — Melody Brooks is navigating sixth grade as a nonverbal wheelchair user who has cerebral palsy. With the help of some assistive technology and her devoted, exuberant allies, Melody shows that what she has to say is more important than how she says it. Cast: Phoebe-Rae Taylor, Rosemarie DeWitt, Luke Kirby, Michael Chernus, Courtney Taylor, Judith Light.

10 Lives / U.K. (Director and Screenwriter: Christopher Jenkins, Screenwriters: Karen Wengrod, Ken Cinnamon,Producers: Guy Collins, Sean Feeney, Yann Zenou, Adrian Politowski, Martin Metz) — A pampered cat takes for granted the lucky hand he has been dealt after he is rescued and loved by Rose, a kind-hearted and passionate student. When he loses his ninth life, fate steps in to set him on a transformative journey. Cast: Mo Gilligan, Simone Ashley, Sophie Okonedo, Dylan Llewellyn, Zayn Malik, Bill Nighy.

New Frontier Films:

New Frontier champions artists practicing at the crossroads of film, art, performance, and new media tech. This year, the section focuses on the powerful rise of AI, the role of artists on the rapidly changing landscape of technologies, and empowering narrative agency and sustainable creative practice through design.

Being (the Digital Griot) (Lead Artist: Rashaad Newsome) — In this innovative participatory experience, Being, an artificial intelligence digital griot, asks the audience to engage in unifying and challenging discussions. It features a soundscape and movement informed by a dataset from Black communities, theorists, poets, and activists, including bell hooks, Paulo Freire, Dazié Grego-Sykes, and Cornel West.

Eno (Director: Gary Hustwit) — Visionary musician and artist Brian Eno — known for producing David Bowie, U2, Talking Heads, among many others; pioneering the genre of ambient music; and releasing over 40 solo and collaboration albums — reveals his creative processes in this groundbreaking generative documentary: a film that’s different every time it’s shown.

Special Screenings:

War Game / U.S.A. (Director and Producer: Jesse Moss, Director: Tony Gerber, Producers: Todd Lubin, Jack Turner, Mark DiCristofaro, Jessica Grimshaw, Nick Shumaker) — A bipartisan group of U.S. defense, intelligence, and elected policymakers spanning five presidential administrations participate in an unscripted role-play exercise in which they confront a political coup backed by rogue members of the U.S. military, in the wake of a contested presidential election.

Robert Redford, President and Founder of Sundance Institute, comments on this year of Sundance films: “From the first edition in 1985, Sundance Film Festival has aimed to provide a space to gather, celebrate, and engage with risk-taking artists that are committed to bringing their independent visions to audiences — the Festival remains true to that goal to this day. It continues to evolve, but its legacy of showcasing bold work that starts necessary conversations continues with the 2024 program.” Joana Vicente, Sundance Institute’s CEO, on the selection: “The Institute takes great pride in the role the Festival plays in advancing our mission to support artists creating audacious work,. This year is especially significant as we look back on our history of showcasing stories that surprise and delight, spark empathy and reflection, and honor our shared humanity. We’re all thrilled for this opportunity to celebrate the power of storytelling as we gather in January to introduce captivating works from acclaimed filmmakers and discover more new voices.” 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 2024 runs from January 18th to January 28th, 2024. Visit Sundance.org for more.

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Review: Australia’s ‘Talk to Me’ is the Best Horror Film of 2023 So Far | FirstShowing.net

Review: Australia’s ‘Talk to Me’ is the Best Horror Film of 2023 So Far

by Manuel São Bento
August 7, 2023

As usual every year, 2023 began with the Sundance Film Festival. It’s always a unique experience, especially when compared to other festivals, as most movies don’t even have distribution deals arranged yet, let alone any kind of marketing campaign or online hype. It’s an invigorating opportunity to discover new directors, screenwriters, actors, and virtually anyone / everyone involved in making low-budget, original films. I felt that the line-up at this most recent edition of the festival wasn’t exactly as outstanding as in 2021 or 2022… perhaps because I missed the best horror movie of the year to date, Talk to Me, which played at Sundance in the Midnight category (after originally world premiering at the Adelaide Film Festival in late 2022).

Australian brothers Danny and Michael Philippou’s debut feature film was on my initial watchlist for the film festival, but I don’t remember why it was eventually removed. The premise of the brothers’ Talk to Me isn’t highly appealing or creative, as the story revolves around a well-known formulaic concept – human possession by supernatural spirits. The only positive takeaway from missing it during the festival (which I was covering digitally viewing from Europe) is that this way I was fortunate enough to watch one of the scariest movies in recent memory on the big screen upon its release in theaters this summer.

From now on, Talk to Me will be my go-to piece of evidence to support the idea that the horror genre is, by far, the one that benefits most from practical effects and real elements on set. It isn’t at all unreasonable to consider the makeup work in this horror feature as awards-worthy. Countless moments of supernatural-influenced violence – heads hitting walls & furniture, bones breaking, people biting themselves or others – induce that feeling of grotesque disgust precisely due to the realism of all the technical components. Apart from the eyes transforming into a terrifying black color, special effects are rare or non-existent in this film.

Audiences have already witnessed dozens or even hundreds of characters becoming possessed, so Talk to Me can hardly in this specific field. Even so, the execution of these possession moments keep viewers glued to the screen in such a vivid, intimate manner that many will try to look away unsuccessfully. The Philippou Brothers (also known as the YouTube creators “RackaRacka“) focus on the superb performances of the cast rather than cheap, repetitive jumpscares, a lesson that the biggest movies in the horror genre insist on never learning. Sophie Wilde stands out with an unforgettable display – the physical component becomes very important with her – but all the actors offer their bodies and souls completely to their characters.

Talk to Me Review

That said, no one will leave the cinema looking at life differently due to Danny Philippou & Bill Hinzman’s script. Talk to Me is one of these films that requires a theatrical experience due to the restless atmosphere generated by the filmmakers along with the mesmerizing performances. It’s an incredibly captivating flick from the first to the last second, that inevitably will appeal more to cinephiles who take particular pleasure in watching a horror movie in which all aspects of the filmmaking contribute tremendously to its success.

I must emphasize that Talk to Me is far from an easy watch for viewers that are more sensitive to violence. The brutality is extremely explicit and unpredictable, a crucial factor for situations of pure visual shock. Most of these sequences are long with several impactful moments rather than a single climax. From the first possession scene onwards, the film maintains a frenetic pace without many pauses to breathe, which brings me to the only real issue with the movie, besides the somewhat rushed final minutes.

Themes such as suicide, grief, depression, and loneliness are introduced by the narrative, but never really explored, which will lead to opinions about how Talk to Me exploits human suffering as a shock device for the sake of entertainment. Personally, I don’t believe this was the filmmakers’ intention, but the truth is that the characters don’t undergo any significant growth, ending the film practically the same way they started concerning these subjects. There’s very little dialogue surrounding any of these topics.

Nevertheless, Talk to Me’s conclusion won’t leave anyone indifferent, and the ending for the protagonist is nothing short of brilliant. It really gives a vibe of being one of those endings that is thought out and written before the rest of the movie due to how perfectly it fits its premise. The film is, without a doubt, a depressing story that will leave a profound impact on a good chunk of the audience that watches it, and I genuinely hope that it manages to provide these Australian brothers more opportunities to create whatever they want – because, for my part, they just turned me into a fan.

Note: A prequel is already complete, and a sequel is also planned. Bring them to me!

Final Thoughts

The Philippous’ Talk to Me lives up to the tremendous hype from festivals and initial reactions around the world. Without a doubt one of the scariest horror films in recent years! Impressive practical effects, superb makeup, hypnotizing performances – Sophie Wilde clearly stands out the most – and impeccable execution of truly shocking, gory, unpredictable moments of violence. It doesn’t have the most imaginative screenplay within the “spirit-possessed characters” subgenre and leaves some meaningful themes unexplored, but it’s definitely one of this year’s must-see horror flicks. Danny and Michael Philippou: remember their names.

Manuel’s Rating: A-
Follow Manuel on Twitter – @msbreviews / Or Letterboxd – @msbreviews

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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

Find more posts: Review, Sundance 23



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