"The Birth of a Nation" (U.S. Dramatic) • Actor Nate Parker ("Beyond the Lights") goes all in on this passion project, not just starring in but writing and directing this historical drama about Nat Turner, who led a slave rebellion in Virginia in 1831. And if that weren't incendiary enough, Parker has chosen the most inflammatory possible title — the title of D.W. Griffith's landmark, and appallingly racist, 1915 epic about the Ku Klux Klan. That's gutsy.
"Christine" (U.S. Dramatic) and "Kate Plays Christine" (U.S. Documentary) • Too bad Sundance doesn't do double features, because this pairing is a natural. Both films talk about the same strange case: Sarasota, Fla., TV reporter Christine Chubbuck, who in 1974 orchestrated her own suicide on live television. In "Christine," directed by Antonio Campos ("Simon Killer," SFF'12), Rebecca Hall ("Iron Man 3," "The Gift") plays Chubbuck in a dramatic narrative. In "Kate Plays Christine," director Robert Greene follows actor Kate Lyn Sheil as she prepares to play Chubbuck in another project.
"Film Hawk" (U.S. Documentary) • This is a movie longtime Sundancers will enjoy: a fond profile of indie-film guru Bob Hawk, who has consulted on some of the biggest movies in the independent film world.
"Love & Friendship" (Premieres) • Director Whit Stillman knows his way around the back-and-forth of social classes, as his 1990 debut "Metropolitan" showed. So it's only natural that he would, sooner or later, meet up with Jane Austen, whose novella he adapts here. What's more, he uses it to reunite the stars of his 1998 comedy "The Last Days of Disco," Kate Beckinsale and Chloë Sevigny.
"The Lure" (World Cinema Dramatic) • You have to give this one points for weirdness: a musical from Poland about flesh-eating mermaid strippers. And, trust me, it's even more bizarre than that.
"Newtown" (U.S. Documentary) and "Under the Gun" (Documentary Premieres) • Two documentaries take different trajectories from the same starting point: the 2012 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut. "Newtown" is the more intimate, as director Kim A. Snyder looks at how the mass shooting changed the community where it happened. In "Under the Gun," director Stephanie Soechtig and producer/anchor Katie Couric (who took on obesity in "Fed Up") take a broader perspective at the gun-control issue.
"Southside With You" (U.S. Dramatic) • Writer-director Richard Tanne's romantic drama is already one of the most anticipated titles at Sundance: a movie that re-enacts the first date, through Chicago's South Side, of young lawyers Michelle Robinson (Tika Sumpter) and Barack Obama (Parker Sawyers).
"Swiss Army Man" (U.S. Dramatic) • Comedies are either hit or miss at Sundance, because either you laugh or you don't. So it will be interesting to see how audiences react to this one by filmmakers Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert — known collectively as The Daniels — about a lonely guy (Paul Dano) who makes a new friend (Daniel Radcliffe) in the wilderness. The funny part is the fact that this new friend is a dead body.
"Weiner" (U.S. Documentary) • It's a sure thing that the New York press, if nobody else, will be paying attention to this documentary that looks behind the scenes at former Rep. Anthony Weiner's campaign for mayor of the Big Apple, when his notorious sexting habits resurfaced. It will be worth it just to see clips of John Oliver, during his "Daily Show" stint, uttering the words "Carlos Danger."
"Wiener-Dog" (Premieres) • The big mystery in director Todd Solondz's movie, a collection of vignettes that each feature a particular dachshund, is this: how much of it refers to Solondz's 1996 Sundance Grand Jury Prize winner "Welcome to the Dollhouse." One clue: Greta Gerwig's character has the same name, Dawn Wiener, as the girl Heather Matarazzo played in the original.