Sundance Film Festival opens door to TV and web series with Indie Episodic slate

Festival programmers pick 17 titles that tell stories in installments, reflecting “all of the digital platforms that are omnipresent right now.”

(Participant Media | courtesy Sundance Institute) Kendale McCoy (center) is one of the students profiled in Steve James' docu-series "America To Me," which will screen in the Indie Episodic program of the 2018 Sundance Film Festival.

The 2018 Sundance Film Festival will try to do for television and web-based programming what it’s done for independent movies: Be a place to discover what’s new and what’s next.

Starting this January, the festival in Park City will include a separate program, Indie Episodic, to showcase unique storytelling that is delivered in bite-size chunks — an hour or a half-hour or, for the web, sometimes shorter.

“It all has to do with the way audiences are engaging with this kind of media, with all of the digital platforms that are omnipresent now,” said Trevor Groth, the festival’s programming director. “People are hungry for all kinds of content. We’ve seen some really great, amazing storytelling happening in the episodic world that really captured people’s imaginations and expanded the notions of what that kind of storytelling could be.”

The 17 titles in the Indie Episodic program, unveiled Monday, represent a wide range of styles: comedy, drama, documentary, even music. Some feature familiar faces, like Matthew Lillard (“SLC Punk,” “The Descendants”), while others feature newly minted internet stars, like comedian Franchesca Ramsey or singing icon Poppy.

The program springs from the Sundance Institute’s Episodic Storytelling Lab, where creators gather at Robert Redford’s Sundance resort to workshop their episode-driven stories. “We’ve basically embraced the kind of creative writers and directors who are working in storytelling, whether it’s feature film or episodic,” Groth said.

Creating the Indie Episodic program formalizes something Sundance has been doing for the past few years under the umbrella label of Special Events. Last year, the festival introduced ABC’s sitcom “Downward Dog,” Fox’s crime drama “Shots Fired” and CNN’s documentary series “The History of Comedy.” The year before, the festival launched Hulu’s Stephen King adaptation “11.22.63,” ESPN’s Oscar-winning 7-hour documentary “O.J.: Made in America,” and Starz’s drama “The Girlfriend Experience.”

The festival, for the second year in a row, has taken open submissions for episodic works, and programmers have found more independently produced work seeking distribution. The new program, Groth said, will “help carve out a space in the festival for those films to connect with potential distributors, much as we do with films.”

The festival will premiere the Indie Episodic titles over three days, Monday through Wednesday, Jan. 22-24. Viewers can binge-watch all the episodic works then at two nearby theaters on Park City’s Park Avenue: The Ray, a 400-seat venue in the old Sports Authority storefront, and the Park Avenue, formerly the Yarrow.

The 2018 Sundance Film Festival runs Jan. 18-28 in Park City and at venues in Salt Lake City and the Sundance resort.

How to Sundance<br>When • Jan. 18-28<br>Where • Park City and venues in Salt Lake City and the Sundance resort in Provo Canyon.<br>Passes and ticket packages • On sale at sundance.org/festivals. <br>Individual tickets • Go on sale starting Jan. 16; $25 for the first half of the festival in Park City (Jan. 18-23), $20 for Salt Lake City screenings and for the second half in Park City (Jan. 24-28).<br>Information sundance.org/festivals


Here are the titles in the 2018 Sundance Film Festival’s Indie Episodic and Special Events programs:

Indie Episodic

“America To Me” • Steve James (“Hoop Dreams,” SFF ’94) directs this limited series covering a year at one of Chicago’s most progressive and diverse public schools, in suburban Oak Park — looking at the state of race, culture and education today.

“The Adulterers” • Tonya Glanz and Chris Robert are the directors, writers and stars in this romantic comedy-drama, as co-workers who have an extramarital affair, discovering unexpected but limited intimacy that opens up a secret world of creativity and freedom.

“Cherries” • Writer-director Diaz Jacobs creates this story of sisters (Shannon Plumb, Melora Walters) reuniting after a long separation — a rift caused by a guy (Robert Maffia) who came between them. When the guy reappears, a triangle is formed and the sisters are back in familiar, and infuriating, roles. Also starring Lora Witty.

“Franchesca” • Comedian and YouTube star Franchesca Ramsey hosts this digital series exploring beauty and fashion. The pilot episode, directed by Kaitlin Fontana, has Franchesca dodging internet trolls to spend a day getting an ornate Japanese gel manicure with her friend Michelle Buteau.

“Halfway There” • Recovering addict Jimmy Bishop (Matthew Lillard) finds his sober-living facility near bankruptcy, so he takes in a wealthy client: his alcoholic mother (Blythe Danner). But solving his money problem means letting loose other problems he’s spent his life trying to contain. Rick Rosenthal directs, Nick Morton is the screenwriter. The cast includes Esai Morales, Sarah Shahi, Nishi Munshi and Paige Hurd.

“High and Mighty” • Chelo (Jorge Diaz) gets shot by a mysterious flower delivery man, but when he survives unharmed he discovers he has superpowers — that only work when he’s drunk or high. Directed by Carlos Lopez Estrada (whose “Blindspotting” premieres in the festival’s U.S. Dramatic competition), written by Cesar Mazariegos. The cast includes J.R. Villarreal, Adam Zastrow, James Eckhouse, Shakira Barrera, Chelsea Rendon.

“I’m Poppy” • Internet music star Poppy enters the real world and finds fame and fortune have their price: secret societies, dangerous fanatics and an envious mannequin named Charlotte. Poppy Chan stars as herself, with Titanic Sinclair as director and writer. The supporting cast features Samm Levine, Dan Hildebrand, Brad Carter, Kofi Boakye and Madison Lawlor.

“Leimert Park” • Three friends share a house in Leimert Park, in south Los Angeles, each with their own sex problems. Directed by Mel Jones, written by Davita Scarlett, Mel Jones and Kady Kamakate, the cast includes Ashley Blaine Featherson, Ashlí Haynes, Asia’h Epperson, Wade Allain-Marcus, Franz Latten and Ikenna Okoye.

“The Mortified Guide” • A six-episode comedy/documentary series, directed by Michael Mayer, based on the “Mortified” stage shows, books, podcasts and film — in which adults share their childhood writings with an audience of strangers, exposing the biggest issues of adolescence.

“Mr. Inbetween” (Australia) • Nash Edgerton directs this series, written by and starring Scott Ryan, who plays Ray Shoesmith, a father, ex-husband, boyfriend and hitman. The cast includes Justin Rosniak, Brooke Satchwell, Damon Herriman, Jackson Tozer, Chika Yasumura.

“Paint” • Three Brooklyn artists try to make it in the art world and in life in this half-hour comedy-drama directed by Michael Walker. The cast includes Joshua Caras, Olivia Luccardi, Paul Cooper, Amy Hargreaves and David Patrick Kelley.

“The Passage” • Inept and mute, Phil is on the run from a pagan cult, with a couple of hired agents one step behind him, in a series that takes the trio around the globe. Director Kitao Sakurai and star Phillip Burgers are co-writers on the show. Also starring Chad Damiani, Krystel Roche and Juzo Yoshida.

“The Show About the Show (Season 2)” • The premise to this YouTube series is a little meta: A filmmaker (Caveh Zahedi, the show’s writer-director) persuades a Brooklyn arts nonprofit to bankroll his show, in which every episode is about the making of the previous one. With season 2 starting, the show’s a runaway hit, but it’s caused Caveh to break up with his girlfriend (Amanda Field) and take up with a fan — all on camera. The show also stars Emmy Harrington, Peter Rinaldi, Karley Sciortino and Caveh Zahedi.

“susaneLand” • Star Susane Lee and director Andrew Olsen co-created this surreal comic web series, based on Lee’s experiences as an Asian-American actor and human. Also stars Robert David Hall, Ken Takemoto, Mimi Cozzens, Travis Coles and Caitlin Kim.

“Tammy’s Tiny Tea Time” • Animator Peter Gulsvig created this series, written by Daniel Shepard and Diana McCorry, an animated comedy about a 42-year-old woman with the emotional capacity of a child, who shrinks to the size of her toys and makes them entertain her before introducing unrelated animated shorts. The voice cast includes Rachel Butera, Nate Corddry, Jeremy Bent, Gulsvig and McCorry.

“This Close” • Kate (Shoshannah Stern) and Michael (Josh Feldman), best friends who are deaf, navigate their professional and personal lives in this series, which Stern and Feldman, the co-creators, brought to Sundance last year (under the title “The Chances”) in the Short Form Episodic Showcase. This incarnation, being developed for the Sundance Now streaming service, is directed by Andrew Ahn (“Spa Night,” SFF ’16) and also stars Zach Gilford, Colt Prattes, Marlee Matlin and Cheryl Hines.

“Tropical Cop Tales” • Police work in a tropical paradise seems appealing to two burned-out city cops, but it turns out to be the most vicious, menacing place on Earth in this series, directed by Jim Hosking (“The Greasy Strangler,” SFF ’17, “An Evening with Beverly Luff Linn,” SFF ’18) and written by Toby Harvard. The cast includes Wayne DeHart, Charles Noland, Carl Solomon, Nicole Crump and Brian Russell.

Special Events

“The King” (United Stated/Germany/France) • Director Eugene Jarecki (“Why We Fight,” SFF ‘05; “Reagan,” SFF ’11; “The House I Live In,” SFF ’12) takes a musical trip across America, to juxtapose the legacy of Elvis Presley with the 2016 election. Among those interviewed: Alec Baldwin, Chuck D, Emmylou Harris, Ethan Hawke, Van Jones and Mike Myers.

“Pass Over” • Spike Lee directs screenwriter Antoinette Nwandu’s adaptation of her controversial play, a mix of the biblical story of Exodus and Samuel Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot” that deals with, in Nwandu’s words, “the violent effects of white oppression on black bodies.” The cast includes Jon Michael Hill, Julian Parker, Ryan Hallahan and Blake Delong.

( Courtesy Sundance Institute) An image of poppies, taken from Matthew Heineman's docu-series about the opioid epidemic, "The Trade," which will screen in the Special Events program of the 2018 Sundance Film Festival.

“The Trade” • Matthew Heineman (“Cartel Land,” SFF ’15, “City of Ghosts,” SFF ’17) directs this vérité documentary series about the opioid crisis, talking to growers, addicts and law enforcement on both sides of the border.

“Wild Wild Country” • A guru and his disciples buy a ranch in rural Oregon to build a $125 million utopian society, but their plans face opposition from neighboring ranchers. Directed by Chapman Way and Maclain Way (“The Battered Bastards of Baseball,” SFF ’14), with a cast that includes Ma Anand Sheela, Jane Stork, Swami Prem Niren and John Silvertooth.

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