With everything that will be different about the 2021 Sundance Film Festival — a shorter event, with fewer films, most of it happening online — the quality of movies on the slate has stayed constant, said the festival’s new director, Tabitha Jackson.
“The quality of work we’ve seen, the variety of it, the ingenuity of it, gives me, personally, great hope for the future of independent filmmaking,” Jackson told The Salt Lake Tribune this week.
The Sundance Institute announced Tuesday the titles of the 72 feature films that will screen at the festival Jan. 28-Feb. 3. That’s fewer than the 120 or so feature films that debut in Park City every January — as concerns over the COVID-19 pandemic prompted Jackson and her team to repurpose the usual 11-day in-person festival into seven days of screenings, mostly online.
“It didn’t feel like we were cutting back and cutting back,” Jackson said. “It felt like we were building from scratch.”
The 72 titles were chosen from more than 3,509 feature-length films submitted. That’s off a bit from the past two years — 4,018 submitted for the 2019 festival, and 3,853 for last year’s festival — but the difference is “pretty negligible,” said Kim Yutani, the festival’s programming director.
“Probably the most difficult part of this year was just facing a smaller program and having to make these really difficult decisions,” Yutani said. “We had to leave behind some great stuff.”
Among the stars who will appear in this year’s Sundance films: Casey Affleck, Nicolas Cage, Jesse Eisenberg, Michael C. Hall, Ed Helms, Jason Isaacs, Juliette Lewis, Marlee Matlin, Tessa Thompson and Constance Wu. Actors Robin Wright, Rebecca Hall and Jerrod Carmichael will bring their first directing efforts, as will musician Ahmir Thompson, aka Questlove of The Roots.
Among the documentary subjects profiled in Sundance films are choreographer Alvin Ailey, screen legend Rita Moreno, author Amy Tan, the L.A. pop band Sparks, and the creators of “Sesame Street.”
The U.S. and World Cinema competitions, in both dramatic and documentary films — considered the centerpieces of the festival — will feature 10 titles each. In past years, the U.S. categories had 16 entries; the World Cinema categories had 12 each.
“It wasn’t that we were, ‘Oh, we had 16 films and now we’ve only got 10,’” Jackson said. “It was like, ‘What are the 10 films that are going to meet the moment?’”
It was also important to the British-born Jackson that the U.S. and World Cinema sections “were of equal size and equal weight,” she said. “For me, it’s kind of a point of pride that all the competitions are going to have 10 films.”
Jackson said she’s also proud that the Premieres section, where some of the most prestigious works play every year, will combine with the Documentary Premieres section.
“Those forms can be in dialogue with each other, instead of being labeled and put apart,” Jackson said.
One documentary in the Premieres section, “Amy Tan: Unintended Memoir,” is notable because it’s the final movie from filmmaker James Redford, son of actor and Sundance Institute founder Robert Redford. James Redford, 58, submitted the film to the festival just before he died in October from liver cancer.
“For us to be able to play this is very meaningful to us, and it’s also very sad that this is his last film,” Jackson said, adding that the film “stands on its own.”
Another documentary — and one of the six films picked for “Day One,” the festival’s opening night — is Nanfu Wang’s “In the Same Breath,” which examines how the Chinese government handled the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. Wang won Sundance’s Grand Jury Prize for U.S. documentaries for “One Child Nation,” which examined the devastating effects of China’s now-defunct policy of requiring families to have only one child each.
Wang’s documentary isn’t the only film that deals with COVID-19 in one way or another. Director Ben Wheatley’s thriller “In the Earth” uses the virus as a plot device, Jackson said. The Brazilian drama “The Pink Cloud” uses a mysterious cloud as a metaphor for quarantine. And director Carlson Young’s “The Blazing World” was filmed in the midst of the pandemic, with the cast and crew isolating together during filming.
Jackson and Yutani have scheduled films to stream online in intervals, to simulate the festival atmosphere of playing several movies at once. In a normal year, a moviegoer might squeeze two movies from the “Day One” offerings on the festival’s opening night. Jackson said that a hearty film lover could see three films on “Day One” in the online format.
Presenting the festival online has been particularly tricky for the festival’s New Frontier program, which presents virtual reality, augmented reality and site-specific installation works. This year, Jackson said, the program is featuring 14 streaming works of art, “and the platform itself is a work of art,” with virtual meeting places and other cool additions. “They have innovated the heck out of this festival,” Jackson said.
Tickets for individual screenings and multiple-film passes go on sale Jan. 7, and Jackson warned buyers not to procrastinate. Each screening will have a limited number of streaming slots available, Jackson said, so filmmakers still have a chance to sell their works to distributors.
Here is the slate for the 2021 Sundance Film Festival:
U.S. Dramatic competition
“CODA” • The title is an acronym, for “child of deaf adults.” The movie, a remake of a 2014 French film, follows 17-year-old Ruby (Emilia Jones), who fears pursuing her love of music means abandoning her parents as their only interpreter to the outside world. Siân Heder (“Tallulah,” SFF ’16) wrote and directed; the cast includes Eugenio Derbez, Troy Kotsur, Ferdia Walsh-Peelo, Daniel Durant and Marlee Matlin. (This is one of the festival’s “Day One” offerings.)
“I Was a Simple Man” • An elderly Hawai’i man (Steve Iwamoto) looks back on his life, from before World War II to the present, aided by ghosts of his past. Christopher Makato Yogi wrote and directed; the cast includes Costance Wu, Kanoa Goo, Chanel Akiko Hirai, Tim Chiou and Boonyanudh Jiyarom.
“Jockey” • An aging jockey (Clifton Collins Jr.) aims for a final championship, when a rookie rider (Moises Arias) arrives claiming to be his son. Also starring Molly Parker. Director Clint Bentley co-wrote with Greg Kwedar.
“John and the Hole” • John (Charlie Shotwell) is a boy who is holding his family captive in a hole in the ground, in this offbeat coming-of-age story. Also starring Michael C. Hall, Jennifer Ehle and Taissa Farmiga. Directed by Pascual Sisto; written by Nicolás Giacobone, adapted from his novel, “El Pozo.”
“Mayday” • A young woman (Grace Van Patten) lands in a dreamlike, dangerous land where an army of girls and women engage in a never-ending war — but is she the killer they want her to be? Written and directed by Karen Cinorre; the cast includes Mia Goth, Havana Rose Liu, Soko, Théodore Pellerin and Juliette Lewis.
“On the Count of Three” • Actor-comedian Jerrod Carmichael makes his directing debut, and stars, in this darkly comic thriller, about two friends (Carmichael and Christopher Abbott) who have two guns and a vow to end their lives when the day is over. Written by Ari Katcher and Ryan Welch; also starring Tiffany Haddish, J.B. Smoove, Lavell Crawford and Henry Winkler.
“Passing” • Actor Rebecca Hall makes her directing debut, and writes the adaptation of Nella Larsen’s 1929 novel about two Black friends who can pass for white — one (Ruth Negga) who lives as a white woman, the other (Tessa Thompson) as Black. Also starring André Holland, Alexander Skarsgård and Bill Camp.
“Superior” • Twin sisters Alessandra and Ana Mesa star as estranged sisters who reunite when one is on the run and returns to her hometown. Director Erin Vassilopoulos, co-writing with Alessandra Mesa (who plays the long-absent sister), expands on her short film of the same title that played Sundance in 2015. Also starring Pico Alexander, Jake Hoffman and Stanley Simons.
“Together Together” • Writer-director Nikole Beckwith (“Stockholm, Pennsylvania,” SFF ’15) returns with this story of a 40-year-old man (Ed Helms) who hires a young woman (Patti Harrison), and their relationship challenges their perceptions of love. Also starring Tig Notaro, Julia Torres and Anna Konkle.
“Wild Indian” • Two Anishinaabe men (Michael Greyeyes and Chaske Spencer) become bound together after covering up a schoolmate’s murder — a secret that shapes their lives for years after. Written and directed by Lyle Mitchell Corbine Jr.; the cast includes Jesse Eisenberg, Kate Bosworth, Phoenix Wilson and Julian Gopal.
U.S. Documentary competition
“Ailey” • Jamila Wignot directs this immersive portrait of dance pioneer Alvin Ailey, told through his own words and a new dance inspired by his life.
“All Light, Everywhere” • Director Theo Anthony takes a far-ranging look at the biases in how we see, focusing on the use of police body cameras.
“At the Ready” • Director Maisie Crow follows a group of seniors training to be police officers and Border Patrol agents at El Paso’s Horizon High School, 10 miles from the U.S./Mexico border.
“Cusp” • Three teen girls in a Texas military town deal with adolescence in a fever-dream summer. Directed by Parker Hill and Isabel Bethencourt.
“Homeroom” • Inside the class of 2020 at an Oakland high school, as students deal with a pandemic and a racial-justice movement. Directed by Peter Nicks (“The Force,” SFF ’17).
“Rebel Hearts” • Director Pedro Kos chronicles an order of Catholic nuns in Los Angeles who challenged the church’s patriarchy 50 years ago and continue to stand up for social justice, from Selma in 1965 to the Women’s March in 2018.
“Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided to Go For It” • Moreno’s 70-year career — in which she received the rare EGOT (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony) and defied the stereotypes of a Latina performer — is chronicled in director Mariem Pérez Silva’s documentary.
“Summer of Soul (… Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised)” • The Harlem Cultural Festival of 1969 didn’t get the attention Woodstock got upstate the same year — but 300,000 people attended to hear the likes of Nina Simone, B.B. King, Gladys Knight and the Pips, Sly and the Family Stone, Stevie Wonder, The 5th Dimension, Mahalia Jackson and Moms Mabley. Footage of the concerts sat in a basement for 50 years, and has been assembled by director Ahmir Thompson — aka Questlove, drummer for The Roots and “The Tonight Show” bandleader. (This is one of the festival’s “Day One” offerings.)
“Try Harder!” • Director Debbie Lum takes cameras inside San Francisco’s Lowell High School, a haven for high achievers, where the student body (70% of which is Asian American) strives for the ultimate prize: Acceptance into a top college.
“Users” • Is technology how humanity expresses itself, or is it harmful to humanity? That’s one of the questions director Natalia Almada (“The General,” SFF ’09) explores in this visual essay about the intended and unintended consequences of our tech-dominated world.
World Cinema Dramatic competition
“The Dog Who Wouldn’t Be Quiet” • (Argentina) Sebastian (Daniel Katz), in his 30s, works a series of temporary jobs, transforming himself through various encounters as the world edges toward apocalypse. Directed by Ana Katz (“My Friend From the Park,” SFF ’16), who co-wrote with Gonzalo Delgado. Also starring Julieta Zylberberg, Valeria Lola, Mirella Pascual and Carlos Portaluppi.
“El Planeta” • (United States/Spain) Artist Amalia Ulman wrote, directed and stars in this comedy as Leonor, who returns home to Spain when her father dies — and must deal with her eccentric mother (played by Ulman’s mother, Ale) as they try to fend off eviction.
“Fire in the Mountains” • (India) A husband (Chandan Bisht) and wife (Vinamrata Rai) in a Himalayan village clash over how to care for their special-needs son: She saves money to build a ramp so she can take him to physical therapy in his wheelchair, while he wants to use the money for a Shamanic healing ritual. Written and directed by Ajitpal Singh; also starring Mavenk Singh Jaira, Harshita Tewari and Sonal Jha.
“Hive” • (Kosovo/Switzerland/Macedonia/Albania) Years after her husband goes missing in the war in Kosovo, Fahrije (Yllka Gashi) has set up a small business to provide for their children — but in the face of the patriarchy, she has a choice: Wait for his return, or keep persevering. Written and directed by Blerta Basholli; also starring Fun Lajci, Aurita Agushi, Kumrije Hoxha, Adriana Matoshi and Kaona Syleimani.
“Human Factors” • (Germany/Italy/Denmark) A couple (Sabine Timoteo, Mark Waschke) and their kids go to their holiday home on the coast, but a break-in exposes the cracks in the marriage. Written and directed by Ronny Trocker; also starring Jule Hermann, Wanja Valentine Kube, Hannes Perkmann and Daniel Séjourné.
“Luzzu” • (Malta) This neo-realist drama centers on Jesmark (Jesmark Scicluna), who risks everything to provide for his girlfriend (Michela Farrugia) by entering Malta’s black-market fishing industry. Written and directed by Alex Camilleri; also starring David Scicluna.
“One for the Road” • (China/Hong Kong/Thailand) Two old friends — Boss (Tor Thanapob), a ladies’ man, and Aood (Ice Natara), who is dying of cancer — reunite for a road trip, with each one hiding something from the other. Director Baz Poonpiriya co-wrote with Nottapon Boonprakob and Puangsoi Aksornsawang; also starring Violette Wautier, Aokbab Chutimon, Ploi Horwang and Noon Siraphun; legendary Hong Kong filmmaker Wong Kar Wai is the film’s producer. (This is one of the festival’s “Day One” offerings.)
“The Pink Cloud” • (Brazil) A deadly cloud appears mysteriously around the world and forces everyone into lockdown — which leaves strangers Giovana (Renata de Lélis) and Yogi (Eduardo Mendonça) trying to reinvent themselves after a few years in shared isolation. Juli Gerbase wrote and directed the drama.
“Pleasure” • (Sweden/Netherlands/France) Bella (Sofia Kappel) is a 20-year-old woman who leaves her small town in Sweden for Los Angeles, with the goal of becoming the next big porn star. Director-writer Ninja Thyberg’s feature debut includes porn stars in the cast, and was chosen for the 2020 Cannes Film Festival (which was canceled because of the pandemic).
“Prime Time” • (Poland) Sebastian (Bartosz Bielenia), 20, locks himself in a TV studio on Dec. 31, 1999, with a gun, a TV presenter and security guard as hostages, and a message to the world. Director Jakub Piatek co-wrote with Łukasz Czapski. Also starring Magdalena Popławska, Andrzej Kłak, Małgorzata Hajewska-Krzysztofik, Dobromir Dymecki and Monika Frajczyk.
World Cinema Documentary competition
“Faya Dayi” • (Ethiopia/United States) Director Jessica Beshir takes viewers into the highlands of Harar, where Sufi Muslims chew the khat leaf for religious meditations, to tell overlapping stories of youth living under a repressive regime.
“Flee” • (Denmark/France/Sweden/Norway) Amin is 36, a successful academic, about to marry his longtime boyfriend. Twenty years ago, he was an unaccompanied minor who arrived in Denmark from Afghanistan — with a secret that could ruin the life he has built for himself. Jonas Poher Rasmussen directs this animated documentary, which was an official selection at Cannes. (This is one of the festival’s “Day One” offerings.)
“Inconvenient Indian” • (Canada) Indigenous Canadian director Michelle Latimer examines the culture of North America’s indigenous people, past and present, in this evocative documentary that uses as its text the 2012 book “Inconvenient Indian” by author and activist Thomas King. Update: This movie was pulled from the slate by the National Film Board of Canada.
“Misha and the Wolves” (United Kingdom/Belgium) A woman’s memoir, describing how she survived the Holocaust, is revealed to be a fake — as her former publisher discovers the story hid a darker secret. Sam Hobkinson directed.
“The Most Beautiful Boy in the World” • (Sweden) The title is what the Italian director Luchino Visconti called Swedish actor/musician Björn Andresen when the filmmaker cast him, at age 15, as Dirk Bogarde’s object of desire in his 1971 film “Death in Venice” — a move that forever changed Björn’s life, as directors Kristina Lindström and Kristian Petri show in their documentary.
“Playing With Sharks” • (Australia) Director Sally Aitken tells the story of diving icon Valerie Taylor, who went from hunting sharks in the 1950s to filming them (she captured footage of real sharks for “Jaws”) and becoming their champion as a marine conservationist.
“President” • (Denmark/United States) Zimbabwe’s opposition MDC party leader, Nelson Chamisa, challenges the old guard: ZANU-PF leader Emmerson Mnangagwa, aka “The Crocodile.” Director Camilla Nielsson captures the action, as both sides are tested in putting the ideals of democracy into practice, in a follow-up to her 2014 film “Democrats.”
“Sabaya” • (Sweden) Director Hogir Hirori follows a group into Syria’s Al-Hol, the most dangerous camp in the Middle East, as they risk their lives to save Yazidi women being held by ISIS as abducted sex slaves, or “sabaya.”
“Taming the Garden” • (Switzerland/Germany/Georgia) Trees are the main character in director Salomé Jashi’s poetic documentary — ones that are transported, at great expense and inconvenience, from the coast of the Republic of Georgia to the private garden of that country’s former prime minister.
“Writing With Fire” • (India) Women of India’s Dalit people form their own newspaper, breaking traditions both in print and in their own homes. Directors Rintu Thomas and Sushmit Ghosh follow the women journalists making a space in a male-dominated industry.
“The Blazing World” • A self-destructive woman (Carlson Young, the film’s writer-director) returns to her family home and finds herself drawn to an alternate dimension where her twin sister — who died in an accidental drowning — may still be alive. Also starring Udo Kier, Dermot Mulroney, Vinessa Shaw, John Karna and Soko. The film was shot in August, with cast and crew quarantining together at a private resort.
“Cryptozoo” • Cryptozookeepers try to capture a Baku — a dream-eating hybrid creature of legend — and start wondering if they should display these beasts or keep them hidden and unknown. The animated tale is written and directed by Dash Shaw (“My Entire High School Sinking Into the Sea”). The voice cast includes Lake Bell, Michael Cera, Angeliki Papoulia, Zoe Kazan, Peter Stormare and Grace Zabriskie.
“First Date” • Mike (Tyson Brown) finds his first date with Kelsey (Shelby Duclos) going all wrong, thanks to criminals, cops and a crazy cat lady — all because of the 1965 Chrysler he was conned into buying. Manuel Crosby and Darren Knapp wrote and directed this comedy mystery, which also stars Jesse Janzen, Nicole Berry, Ryan Quinn Adams and Brandon Kraus.
“Ma Belle, My Beauty” • (United States/France) Two women (Idella Johnson, Hannah Pepper-Cunningham) who once were polyamorous lovers have a surprise reunion in the south of France, where passions and jealousies reignite in writer-director Marion Hill’s romantic drama. Also starring Lucien Guignard and Sivan Noam Shimon.
“R#J” • Director Carey Williams, with co-writers Rickie Castaneda and Alex Sobolev, reimagine “Romeo and Juliet” for the social-media era, with the star-crossed lovers (Camaron Engels, Francesca Noel) communicating through their cellphones. Also starring RJ Cyler, David Zayas, Diego Tinoco, Siddiq Saunderson and Russell Hornsby.
“Searchers” • Pacho Velez directs this funny and touching look at love, following New Yorkers as they use their preferred dating apps to make a connection.
“Son of Monarchs” • (Mexico/United States) A biologist (Tenoch Huerta Meija) returns to Mexico after his grandmother’s death, to his hometown in the monarch butterfly forests of Michoacán. There, he must confront his past, and think about his hybrid identity, in writer-director Alexis Gambis’ drama. Alexia Rasmussen, Lázaro Gabino Rodríguez, Noé Hernández, Paulina Gaitán, William Mapother. (The film is the recipient of the Alfred P. Sloan Prize, given to a film about science or scientists.)
“Strawberry Mansion” • In a future where the government records dreams and taxes them, a dream auditor (Kentucker Audley) gets caught up in the dreams of an aging eccentric, Bella (Penny Fuller). Audley and Albert Birney wrote and directed this surreal film, which also stars Grace Glowicki, Reed Birney, Linas Phillips and Constance Shulman.
“We’re All Going to the World’s Fair” • A teen girl (Anna Cobb) becomes immersed in an online role-playing game. Writer-director Jane Schoenbrun’s drama also stars Michael J. Rogers.
“Amy Tan: Unintended Memoir” • When filmmaker and activist James Redford, son of Sundance Institute founder Robert Redford, died in October, he left behind this last work: A documentary (for PBS’ “American Masters” series) tracing the immigrant journey of Amy Tan, author of “The Joy Luck Club.”
“Bring Your Own Brigade” • Director Lucy Walker (“Waste Land,” SFF ’10; “The Crash Reel,” SFF ’13) embeds her crew with firefighters to look at wildfires and and the causes — from climate change to commercial logging — that have made them worse in recent years.
“Eight For Silver” • (United States/France) Boyd Holbrook stars in this thriller, as a man sent to a French country village in the late 1800s to investigate a wild animal attack — until he finds something much more sinister. Kelly Reilly and Alistair Petrie also star in this new take on a horror classic, written and directed by Sean Ellis (“Metro Manila,” SFF ’13).
“How It Ends” • Married filmmakers Daryl Wein (“White Rabbit,” SFF ’18) and Zoe Lister-Jones (“Band Aid,” SFF ’17) wrote and directed this comedy-drama about a woman (played by Lister-Jones) traveling through L.A. to get to one last party before the world ends. Also starring Cailee Spaeny, Olivia Wilde, Fred Armisen, Helen Hunt and Lamorne Morris.
“In the Earth” • (United Kingdom) In this horror film with COVID-19 overtones, a scientist (Joel Fry) and a park scout (Ellora Torchia) go out on a supply run, only to find the forest around them coming to life. Written and directed by Ben Wheatley (“Free Fire”), who shot in 15 days in August under COVID-19 lockdown. Also starring Hayley Squires and Reece Shearsmith.
“In the Same Breath” • Nanfu Wang, who won Sundance’s Grand Jury Prize with her 2019 documentary “One Child Nation,” returns with this look inside the beginnings of the coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan, China — and how propaganda and patriotism shaped the course of the disease. (This is one of the festival’s “Day One” offerings.)
“Land” • Actor Robin Wright (“House of Cards,” “The Princess Bride”) makes her directing debut, starring as a city lawyer who goes off the grid into the wilderness after a personal tragedy. Co-starring Demián Bichir and Kim Dickens, the drama is written by Jesse Chatham and Erin Dignam.
“Marvelous and the Black Hole” • A delinquent teen (Miya Cech) teams with a surly party magician (Rhea Perlman) on an adventure to navigate the girl’s dysfunctional family. This family comedy, written and directed by Kate Tsang, was originally picked to premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival last April.
“Mass” • Years after a shooting, the parents of the victim and the perpetrator meet. The cast includes Jason Isaacs, Martha Plimpton, Reed Birney and Ann Dowd. The film is the writing and directing debut of actor Fran Kranz (“Dollhouse,” “The Cabin in the Woods”).
“My Name Is Pauli Murray” • The directors of “RBG” (SFF ’18), Julie Cohen and Betsy West, return with a prequel of sorts, chronicling the life and ideas of Pauli Murray, a non-binary Black lawyer, activist and poet who influenced both Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Thurgood Marshall.
“Philly D.A.” • This documentary follows the election campaign and first term of Larry Krasner, as he tries to reform the judicial system from the inside out. Created by Ted Passon, Yoni Brook and Nicole Salazar.
“Prisoners of the Ghostland” • Nicolas Cage stars in this horror-comedy, as a criminal who must rescue a young woman from a supernatural universe — and break the curse that binds them. Japanese horror master Sion Sono directs; Aaron Hendry and Reza Sixo Safai wrote the screenplay. The cast includes Sofia Boutella, Nick Cassavetes, Bill Moseley, Tak Sakaguchi and Yuzuka Nakaya.
“The Sparks Brothers” • Edgar Wright (“Shaun of the Dead,” “Scott Pilgrim vs. The World”) directs this documentary that profiles brothers Russell and Ron Mael, who made up the influential but never chart-topping L.A. pop-rock band Sparks, “your favorite band’s favorite band.”
“Street Gang: How We Got to Sesame Street” • How did a group of visionary artists and educators create the most famous street in the world? Director Marilyn Agrelo (“Mad Hot Ballroom,” Slamdance ’05) takes us “where the air is sweet” to explore the five-decade history of “Sesame Street.”
“Censor” • (United Kingdom) In England, 1985, Enid Baines (Niamh Algar) is a government censor who investigates a “video nasty,” a horror film that may be connected to her sister’s disappearance. Director Prado Bailey-Bond co-wrote this horror thriller with Anthony Fletcher. Also starring Nicholas Burns, Vincent Franklin, Sophia La Porta, Adrian Schiller and Michael Smiley. (This is one of the festival’s “Day One” offerings.)
“Coming Home in the Dark” • (New Zealand) A teacher (Erik Thomson), his wife (Miriama McDowell) and his stepsons visit an isolated coastline, where they run into a psychopath (David Gillies, from “The Vampire Diaries” and “The Originals”) and his accomplice (Matthias Luafutu), in this dark thriller. Director James Ashcroft co-wrote with Eli Kent.
“A Glitch in the Matrix” • What if we are living in a simulation? It’s a question that goes back to Plato, and one that director Rodney Ascher (“Room 237,” SFF ’12) explores in this multimedia documentary.
“Knocking” • (Sweden) A woman (Cecilia Milocco) moves into a new apartment and starts hearing a disturbing knocking sound — one her neighbors can’t hear, even as it gets more intense. Directed by Frida Kempff, written by Emma Broström.
“Mother Schmuckers” • (Belgium) Twenty-something brothers Issachar and Zabulon, who aren’t too bright and live in chaos, lose their mother’s dog and have to find it in 24 hours or she will kick them out. Lenny Guit and Harpo Guit wrote and directed this wild comedy. Harpo Guit also stars, along with Maxi Delmelle, Claire Bodson, Mathieu Amalric and Habib Ben Tanfous.
“Violation” • (Canada) Miriam (Madeleine Sims-Fewer), a woman on the edge of divorce, goes home to see her estranged sister, Greta (Anna Maguire), but when Greta and her husband betray Miriam’s trust, a nasty campaign of revenge begins. Sims-Fewer and Dusty Mancinelli wrote and directed; the cast includes Jesse LaVercombe, Obi Abili, Jasmin Gello and Cynthia Ashperger.
“Night of the Kings” • (France/Ivory Coast/Canada/Senegal) A pickpocket is sent to a brutal prison in the Ivory Coast, where the prisoners run the show. The Boss tells the kid he’s the new “Roman,” meaning he must tell a story to entertain the inmates, or else. Philippe Lacôte wrote and directed; the cast includes Koné Bakary, Steve Tientcheu, Digbeu Jean Cyrille, Rasmané Ouédraogo, Issaka Sawadogo and Denis Lavant.
“The World to Come” • Set on the frontier of the American East Coast in the mid-1800s, two couples battle the hardships and isolation of their beautiful but harsh landscape. The cast features Katherine Waterston, Vanessa Kirby (“The Crown”), Casey Affleck and Christopher Abbott. Directed by Mona Fastvold (“The Sleepwalker,” SFF ’14); written by Ron Hansen and Jim Shepard.
“Life in a Day 2020” • (United Kingdom/United States) Ten years ago, hundreds of people around the world shot footage of what happened in one day, and sent the results to YouTube. Director Kevin Macdonald pieced them together into a portrait of the people of Earth. This year, YouTube and Macdonald are doing it again, with moments captured on July 25, 2020, at the height of a global pandemic.
(Formerly Indie Episodic, showcasing short-form episodic storytelling.)
“4 Feet High” • (Argentina/France) Based on a short VR film that played at Sundance in 2018, this series follows Juana (Marisol Agostina Irigoyen), a 17-year-old girl in a wheelchair who’s eager to explore her sexuality. The cast includes Florencia Licera, Marcio Ramses, Natalia Di Cienzo and Francisca Spinotti. Directed by Maria Belén Poncio and Rosario Perazolo Masjoan.
“Seeds of Deceit” • (Netherlands) The true story of a Dutch fertility doctor who inseminated dozens of women with his own sperm, and the aftermath for more than 65 patients and their families. Directed by Miriam Guttmann.
“These Days” • Writer-director Adam Brooks looks at online dating in the early days of the pandemic, through a lonely, self-isolating woman, Mae (Marianne Rendón). Also starring William Jackson Harper, Amy Brenneman and Parker Young.
“Would You Rather” • (France/Germany) Four 16-year-olds from a working-class Paris neighborhood play their favorite game, “Would You Rather?” — and the results force them to make choices about their lives and the game. Created by Lisa Akoka and Romane Guéret. The cast features Fanta Kebe, Shirel Nataf, Zakaria Lazab and Mouctar Diawara.
(Synopses of New Frontier titles provided by Sundance Institute.)
“4 Feet High VR” • (Argentina/France) “Juana, a 17-year-old wheelchair user, aims to explore her sexuality but is ashamed of her body. Trying to find her place in a new high school, she will go through failure, friendship, fear and politics until she builds her own pride.” Lead artists: María Belén Poncio, Rosario Perazolo Masjoan, Damian Turkieh, Ezequiel Lenardón. Key collaborators: Marie Blondiaux, Marcos Rostagno, Eugenia Foguel, Matias Benedetti, Manuel Yeri, Martin Lopez Funes, Guillermo Mena. Cast: Marisol Agostina Irigoyen, Florencia Licera, Marcio Ramses, Natalia Di Cienzo, Francisca Spinotti.
“7 Sounds” • “An immersive live-streamed audio-video work exploring the universal influence of sound, weaving seven specific audio recordings into a meditation on the power of sound to bend time, cross borders, and profoundly shape our perception.” Lead artist: Sam Green. Key collaborator: JD Samson.
“Beyond the Breakdown” • “Imagining alternate narratives for our near-future reality, inside a browser designed to hack our normal online behaviors and cultivate collaborative spaces for self-reflection and renewal.” Lead artists: Tony Patrick, Lauren Lee McCarthy, Grace Lee. Key collaborators: Jesse Cahn Thompson, Aldo Velasco.
“The Changing Same: Episode 1” • “An immersive, episodic virtual reality experience where the participant travels through time and space to witness the connected historical experiences of racial injustice in America. A respectful, haunting story infused with magical realism and Afrofuturism about the uninterrupted cycle of the 400-year history of racial terror — past and present.” Lead artists: Michèle Stephenson, Joe Brewster, Yasmin Elayat. Key collaborators: James George, Alexander Porter, Rad Mora, Elliott Mitchell.
“Fortune!” • (France/Canada) “Money, from bills to coins, has no intrinsic value beyond what we’ve collectively agreed to grant it. However, there’s no denying that money governs our lives. This series of animated documentary shorts in AR for smartphones, tablets and social media platforms, explores that relationship.” Lead artists: Brett Gaylor, Nicolas Bourniquel, Arnaud Colinart. Key collaborators: Marianne Lévy-Leblond, Rob McLaughlin, Dash Spielgeman, Rolito, Clement Chériot. Cast: Frank Bourassa.
“Namoo” • “A narrative poem brought to life as an animated VR film, and an ode to a grandfather’s passing, this story follows the journey of a budding artist — and his tree of life — from beginning to end.” Lead artist: Erick Oh. Key collaborators: Maureen Fan, Larry Cutler, Eric Darnell, Kane Lee, David Kahn.
“Nightsss” • (Poland) “A virtual erotic poem created in artistic animation with ASMR and interactive elements, immersing the viewer in the sensual experience of poetry and dance.” Lead artists: Weronika Lewandowska, Sandra Frydrysiak. Key collaborators: Marcin Macuk, Piotr Apostel, Kaya Kołodziejczyk, Marek Straszak, Arek Zub, Przemek Danowski.
“Prison X - Chapter 1: The Devil and The Sun” • (Australia/Bolivia/India) “Heavy doors open and you are swept into an infamous Bolivian jail, where you live among devils, saints, wicked characters, corrupt prison guards and even a Western filmmaker. In Prison X, inhabit the dreams and nightmares of the Neo-Andean underworld.” Lead artists: Violeta Ayala, Alap Parikh, Maria Corvera Vargas, Roly Elias. Key collaborators: Daniel Fallshaw, Rilda Paco Alvarado, Alberto Santiago. Cast: Violeta Ayala, Genesis Owusu, Celina Debassey, Anamaria Gómez Jaramillo, Jesse Odom, Nicole Ukelele.
“Rich Kids: A History of Shopping Malls in Tehran” • (United Kingdom/Iran) “A darkly comedic, urgent new play about entitlement, consumption and digital technology, exploring the ubiquitous feeling that our societies are falling apart through the story of two young members of the Iranian elite, asking what their deaths tell us about climate change, social collapse and Instagram.” Lead artists: Javaad Alipoor, Kirsty Housley. Key collaborator: Nick Sweeting. Cast: Javaad Alipoor, Peyvand Sadeghian.
“Secret Garden” • “An immersive web experience and installation, illuminating the power and resilience in Black women’s stories. Interactive audio vignettes generate a multi-generational narrative that collapses past, present, and future.” Lead artist: Stephanie Dinkins. Key collaborators: Ethan Edwards, John Fitzgerald, Matthew Niederhauser, Danielle McPhatter, Sidney San Martín, Kate Stevenson, Adaora Udoji, Chris White. Cast: Dayne Board, Erlene Curry, Tianna Mendez, Melissa Moore, Brandi Porter, Lisa Sainville.
“Tinker” • “What happens when the memories we spend a lifetime creating begin to disappear? Step inside the Grandfather’s workshop to discover this answer for yourself. In this live, bespoke unscripted performance, reimagine what it means to play, to connect and to hold fast to the memories we create.” Lead artist: Lou Ward. Key collaborators: Shimon Alkon, Lara Bucarey, Avril Martinez, Aileen Paron, Anthony Alan Garcia, Roberto Tan, Cristopher David, Neil Realubit, Anton Arcega, David Conklin, Evan Chavez. Cast: Randy Dixon.
“To Miss The Ending” • (United Kingdom) “A VR cubicle of cardboard boxes begins to glitch, revealing an empty darkspace in front of you — until something glimmers in the distance, a wave of blue flooding towards you. A chorus of real memories and imagined futures expands, until only the largest memories are left.” Lead artists: Anna West, David Callanan. Key collaborators: Jamie Finlay, Steph Clarke, Dan Tucker. Cast: Charlotte Berry, Michael Dodds, Houmi Miura, Ben Kulvichit, Anna West.
“Traveling the Interstitium with Octavia Butler” • “Inspired by the ideas of Octavia Butler, voyaging into the interstitium: a liminal space, a cultural memory, containing the remnants of our ancestors, a place of refuge, a place of recentering, a portal into an alternate dimension.” Lead artists: Sophia Nahli Allison, idris brewster, Stephanie Dinkins, Ari Melenciano, Terence Nance. Key collaborators: Yance Ford, Sharon Chang, Kamal Sinclair.
“Weirdo Night” • “A filmed edition, hosted by Dynasty Handbag, of the wildly popular, underground, eponymous live performance and comedy event that, until COVID-19, was held monthly in Los Angeles.” Lead artists: Jibz Cameron, Mariah Garnett. Cast: Patti Harrison, Smiling Beth, Morgan Bassichis, Sarah Squirm, Hedia Maron, Blasia Discoteca.
(Synopses of short film titles provided by Sundance Institute.)
“Ava From My Class” • (United States/South Korea) “Anna thinks Ava is the best actress in her class.” Director: Youmin Kang, Screenwriters: Youmin Kang, Soomin Kang.
“Bambirak” • (United States/Germany) “When Kati stows away in her father’s truck, Faruk must juggle his responsibilities as a single dad while holding down his first job in a new country. As their relationship deepens, a brush with covert racism tests their bond.” Director/screenwriter: Zamarin Wahdat.
“BJ’s Mobile Gift Shop” • “A young Korean-American hustler runs throughout the city of Chicago making sales out of his ‘mobile gift shop.’” Director/screenwriter: Jason Park.
“Bruiser” • “After his father gets into a fight at a bowling alley, Darious begins to investigate the limitations of his own manhood.” Director: Miles Warren. Screenwriters: Miles Warren, Ben Medina.
“Don’t Go Tellin’ Your Momma” • (United States/Germany/France/Italy) “In 1970, Black educators in Chicago developed an alphabet flashcard set to provide Black-centered teaching materials to the vastly white educational landscape and the Black ABCs were born. Fifty years later, twenty-six scenes provide an update to their meanings.” Directors/screenwriters: Topaz Jones, rubberband.
“Doublespeak” • “A young woman grapples with the aftermath of reporting sexual harassment in the workplace.” Director/screenwriter: Hazel McKibbin.
“i ran from it and was still in it” • “A poetic meditation on familial loss and separation, and the love that endures against dispersion.” Director/screenwriter: Darol Olu Kae.
“In the Air Tonight” • “An insider’s take on the meaning behind Phil Collins’ 1980 single ‘In the Air Tonight.’” Director/screenwriter: Andrew Norman Wilson.
“Lata” • (United States/India) • “Lata, a 23-year-old domestic worker, navigates her way through an upper class home in South Mumbai. Doors consistently open and close, giving Lata selective access to the various contending realities that occupy this space.” Director: Alisha Mehta. Screenwriters: Alisha Mehta, Mireya Martinez.
“Raspberry” • “A son struggles to say goodbye to his dead father.” Director/screenwriter: Julian Doan.
“The Touch of the Master’s Hand” • “Troubled by an unnatural temptation, a young Mormon missionary must confess the humiliating depths of his pornography addiction.” Director/screenwriter: Gregory Barnes.
“White Wedding” • “Amidst a racially tense Southern wedding, a biracial bride has the chance to confront her estranged Black father after accidentally hiring his wedding band to perform.” Director/screenwriter: Melody C Roscher.
“Wiggle Room” • “Determined to save her wheelchair ramp from repossession, Daisy confronts the shady insurance agent who owes her money.” Directors/screenwriters: Sam Guest, Julia Baylis.
“Yoruga” • (United States/Colombia) “A lonely old man pays a visit to Yoruga, one of the last animals on Earth.” Director/screenwriter: Federico Torrado Tobón.
“You Wouldn’t Understand” • “An idyllic picnic of one is upended after the arrival of a stranger.” Director: Trish Harnetiaux. Screenwriters: Trish Harnetiaux, Jacob A. Ware.
“The Affected” • (Norway) “Minutes before takeoff, a situation occurs, preventing an airplane from departing: In an attempt to prevent the deportation of one passenger, another refuses to sit down — forcing the pilot to take a political stand.” Director: Rikke Gregersen. Screenwriters: Rikke Gregersen, Trond Arntzen.
“Black Bodies” • (Canada) “A Black man laments as he comes face to face with the realities of being Black in the 21st century.” Director/screenwriter: Kelly Fyffe-Marshall.
“The Criminals” • (France/Romania/Turkey) “In a town in Anatolia, a young couple is looking for some privacy. They are rejected from the hotels because they do not have a marriage certificate. When they think they found a way, the situation gets out of hand.” Director/screenwriter: Serhat Karaaslan.
“Excuse Me, Miss, Miss, Miss” • (Philippines) “Vangie, a miserable contractual sales lady, is about to lose her job. But in her desperate attempt to convince her boss not to sack her, Vangie uncovers the ultimate jaw-dropping secret to regularization.” Director: Sonny Calvento. Screenwriter: Arden Rod Condez.
“Five Tiger” • (South Africa) “A god-fearing woman in present-day South Africa finds herself in a transactional relationship as she tries to support her sick husband and daughter.” Director/screenwriter: Nomawonga Khumalo.
“Flex” • (Sweden) • “He may be god enough, but is he good enough? A slightly surreal comedic exploration of the fine line between a bodybuilder’s self-loathing and self-loving.” Directors/screenwriters: Josefin Malmen, David Strindberg.
“Like the Ones I Used to Know” • (Canada) “December 24, 1983, 10:50 p.m.: Julie and her cousins ate too much sugar, Santa Claus is late. Denis, alone in his car, is anxious at the idea of setting foot in his ex-in-law’s house to pick up his children.” Director/screenwriter: Annie St-Pierre.
“Lizard” • (United Kingdom) “Juwon, an 8-year-old girl with an ability to sense danger, gets ejected from Sunday school service. She unwittingly witnesses the underbelly in and around a megachurch in Lagos.” Director: Akinola Davies Jr. Screenwriter: The Davies Brothers.
“The Longest Dream I Remember” • (Mexico) “As Tania leaves her hometown, she must confront what her absence will mean in the search for her disappeared father.” Director: Carlos Lenin. Screenwriters: Carlos Lenin, Isa Mora Vera.
“Mountain Cat” • (Mongolia/United Kingdom) “A troubled girl is coerced into seeing a shaman. Trapped by the ancient beliefs that pacify her mother, she finds peace in the physical realm, unleashing her repressed, youthful spirit on the shaman when she realizes his true identity.” Director/screenwriter: Lkhagvadulam Purev-Ochir.
“Unliveable” • (Brazil) “In Brazil, where a trans person is murdered every three days, Marilene searches for her daughter Roberta, a trans woman who is missing. While running out of time, she discovers one hope for the future.” Directors/screenwriters: Matheus Farias, Enock Carvalho.
“The Unseen River” • (Vietnam/Laos) “Stories told along the river: a woman reunites with her ex-lover at a hydroelectric plant; meanwhile, a young man travels downstream to a temple in search of a cure for his insomnia.” Director/screenwriter: Phạm Ngọc Lân.
“We’re Not Animals” • (France) “His ex Marie became an Instagram star (thanks to an activist group focused on the female orgasm). Depressed, Igor believes this is a deliberate campaign to prevent him from finding someone else.” Director/screenwriter: Noé Debré.
“A Concerto is a Conversation” • “A virtuoso jazz pianist and film composer tracks his family’s lineage through his 91-year-old grandfather from Jim Crow Florida to the Walt Disney Concert Hall.” Directors: Ben Proudfoot, Kris Bowers.
“Dear Philadelphia” • (United States/United Kingdom) • “With the help of their family, friends, and faith, three fathers unravel the incomparable partnership of forgiveness and community in North Philadelphia.” Director: Renee Osubu.
“The Field Trip” • “A group of fifth graders learn what it takes to get ahead in the modern American workplace.” Directors: Meghan O’Hara, Mike Attie, Rodrigo Ojeda-Beck.
“My Own Landscapes” • (France) “Before going to war, a former military game designer made video game scenarios that prepared soldiers for cultural shocks and healed trauma. Once back from the war, his relationship with his identity, with life and with the video game changed.” Director: Antoine Chapon.
“The Rifleman” • “Told entirely through archival material, tracing Harlon Carter, considered the ‘father of the modern NRA,’ across the decades, revealing the links between the National Rifle Association, the U.S. Border Patrol, and gun culture.” Director: Sierra Pettengill. Screenwriters: Daniel Garber, Sierra Pettengill.
“Snowy” • “Snowy, a 4-inch-long pet turtle, has lived an isolated life in the family basement. With help from a team of experts and his caretaker, Uncle Larry, we ask: Can Snowy be happy and what would it take?” Directors: Kaitlyn Schwalje, Alex Wolf Lewis.
“Spirits and Rocks: an Azorean Myth” • (Switzerland/Portugal) “On a volcanic island, inhabitants are caught in an unending cycle: the threat of impending eruptions, and the burden of past traumas, loom over them. Some draw upon myth and religious beliefs to interpret their precarious situation; others demonstrate resilience.” Director: Aylin Gökmen.
“Tears Teacher” • (Japan) “Yoshida is a self-proclaimed ‘tears teacher.’ A firm believer that regular crying promotes healthier living, he’s made it his mission to make more people weep.” Director: Noemie Nakai.
“This is the Way We Rise” • “An exploration into the creative process, following Native Hawaiian slam poet Jamaica Heolimeleikalani Osorio, as her art is reinvigorated by her calling to protect sacred sites atop Maunakea, Hawai`i.” Director: Ciara Lacy.
“To Know Her” • (United States/Hong Kong) “A poetic exploration of the camera’s gaze and a family’s relationship with the filmmaker’s mother.” Director: Natalie Chao.
“When We Were Bullies” • (United States/Germany) “A mind-boggling ‘coincidence’ leads the filmmaker to track down his fifth grade class — and fifth grade teacher — to examine their memory of and complicity in a bullying incident fifty years ago.” Director/screenwriter: Jay Rosenblatt.
“Up at Night” • (Democratic Republic of the Congo/Belgium) “As dusk fades and another night without electricity falls, Kinshasa’s neighborhoods reveal an unstable environment of violence, political conflict and uncertainty over the building of the Grand Inga 3 hydroelectric dam, promising a permanent source of energy to the Congo.” Director/screenwriter: Nelson Makengo.
“The Fire Next Time” • (United Kingdom) • “Rioting spreads as social inequality causes tempers in a struggling community to flare, but the oppressive environment takes on a life of its own as the shadows of the housing estate close in.” Director: Renaldho Pelle. Screenwriter: Kerry Jade Kolbe.
“Forever” • “A life insurance company uses an AI algorithm to determine the risk of a new applicant. The subsequent denial sparks a period of introspection for the individual in question.” Director/screenwriter: Mitch McGlocklin.
“The Fourfold” • (Canada) “An exploration of the indigenous worldview and wisdom based on ancient shamanistic traditions and animistic beliefs in Siberia and Mongolia. With hand-crafted animation, a testament of reclaiming animism for environmental ethics and non-human materialities.” Director/screenwriter: Alisi Telengut.
“Ghost Dogs” • “A family’s new rescue pup is terrorized by deceased pets in this mind-bending horror.” Director: Joe Cappa. Screenwriters: Joe Cappa, J.W. Hallford.
“GNT” • (Australia) • “Glenn is a woman on an unwholesome mission, but just how far will she go to conquer the clique — and social media at large?” Directors/screenwriters: Sara Hirner, Rosemary Vasquez-Brown.
“KKUM” • (South Korea/United States) “My mother’s dreams have always been strong premonitions for important moments in my life. I rely on her dreams more than any religion.” Director/screenwriter: Kang-min Kim.
“Little Miss Fate” • (Switzerland) “When the opportunity arises, Little Miss Fate slips into the role of the world leader. Unintentionally she creates a monster, which greedily wants to suck up all the love of the world. Overwhelmed by the rapid development, she loses control.” Director/screenwriter: Joder von Rotz.
“Misery Loves Company” • (United States/South Korea) “As Seolgi is lying on a grass field with friends, a shooting star falls, and dark, intrusive thoughts hit her. Her melancholy blooms into bright and colorful ‘flower people,’ dancing and wishing for a meteorite to end the world.” Director: Sasha Lee. Screenwriters: Sasha Lee, Yejin Choi.
“Souvenir Souvenir” • (France) “For ten years, I’ve pretended to make a movie out of my grandfather’s Algerian war souvenirs. Today, I’m not sure I want to hear what he has to say.” Director/screenwriter: Bastien Dubois.
“Trepanation” • “What was once familiar is now unrecognizable. All previous desires are overshadowed by the need to disappear completely.” Director: Nick Flaherty.