For their 2022 edition, the Sundance Film Festival has once again adapted to the ever-shifting pandemic landscape. Having recently scrapping their in-person plans, they’ve shifted to a virtual-only lineup that will begin this Thursday and last through January 30, offering the first glimpse at the year in cinema.
We’ll have extensive coverage from the festival (which one can follow here or on Twitter). Before reviews arrive, we’re highlighting the premieres that should be on your radar. If you’re interested in experiencing Sundance from home, one can see available tickets here.
2nd Chance (Ramin Bahrani)
As his early films exuded a documentary-like approach to riveting character studies, it’s not surprising that Ramin Bahrani’s first fully fledged non-fiction feature is a wildly entertaining look at a complicated figure. 2nd Chance explores the life and career ambitions of Richard Davis, a pizzeria owner who built a bulletproof-vest empire. Full of twists, turns, and contradictions, I would recommend not reading up on the facts beforehand and simply let Bahrani take you on the rollercoaster of a journey. – Jordan R.
A Love Song (Max Walker-Silverman)
Director Max Walker-Silverman’s first feature finds Dale Dickey and Wes Studi coming together for a romantic, naturalistic drama. Set lakeside in the mountains, A Love Song follows these two widows as they talk about the lives they lived, the loves they lost, and the times they’ve spent apart. Bringing together two actors who have been known for decades, often working in supporting roles, Walker-Silverman’s film—premiering in the NEXT section—hopes to realize connection and love through intimacy. – Michael F.
AM I OK? (Stephanie Allynne and Tig Notaro)
The great Tig Notaro makes her feature-directing debut with Am I OK?, pushing herself into a new role after decades of acclaimed work on stage, in front of the camera, and as a writer-director on projects like her Amazon series One Mississippi. Stephanie Allynne (also a writer on One Mississippi) co-directs from a script by Lauren Pomerantz, wherein Lucy (Dakota Johnson, leading two at Sundance this year) and Jane (Sonoya Mizuno, of Ex Machina and Devs)’s close friendship is thrown for a loop as one prepares a move to London and the other confesses her long-held secret that she likes women. With two great actresses in the parts, and a team of proven talents behind the scenes, Am I OK? sounds like exactly the kind of complicated, heartfelt human drama you hope to see at Sundance. — Mitchell B.
Brainwashed: Sex-Camera-Power (Nina Menkes)
After watching thousands of hours worth of cinema, what filmmaking techniques are ingrained to the form that lead to disempowering and objectifying women? Using examples from Martin Scorsese’s Raging Bull, Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing, Sofia Coppola’s Lost In Translation, Denis Villeneuve’s Blade Runner 2049, Abdellatif Kechiche’s Blue Is the Warmest Color, and much more, Nina Menkes digs deep to unpack the precise directorial decisions––some perhaps even subconscious––that have led to women being diminished throughout cinema history. In a world where Film Twitter can latch on to plot points to take down a film, perhaps even sight-unseen, it’s refreshing to see someone like Menkes take such a thorough formal inquiry into some of the most acclaimed films in the medium. – Jordan R.
Call Jane (Phyllis Nagy)
Carol screenwriter Phyllis Nagy is returning with her first directorial work since her debut, 2005’s HBO movie Mrs. Harris. Call Jane, set in Chicago 1968, is a narrative take on the Jane Collective, whose real-life story is depicted in the documentary The Janes, also premiering at Sundance. The group provided thousands of safe abortions to women in need during a time when they couldn’t turn to established medical providers. Nagy’s story follows Elizabeth Banks as a housewife whose pregnancy leads to a life-threatening condition and necessitates help. – Jordan R.
Cha Cha Real Smooth (Cooper Raiff)
Cooper Raiff’s directorial debut Shithouse was one of the most exciting American indies of the last few years, showcasing a detailed understanding of momentary connections, loneliness, and infatuation alongside genuinely funny writing. His upcoming Cha Cha Real Smooth implies an expanded scope by working with Dakota Johnson and Leslie Mann, and centering his script on a directionless college graduate who finds a bond with a young mother and her teenage daughter. If it’s as good as Shithouse we should be hearing about Raiff for a long time. – Logan K.
Dual (Riley Stearns)
Following The Art of Self-Defense––a future cult classic for admirers of its dark, twisted sense of humor, as well as enlightening commentary on toxic masculinity––Stearns is ready to again deconstruct the pervasive violence of America with Dual, starring Karen Gillan and Aaron Paul. Gillan plays Sarah, a woman who must fight her own clone in a duel to the death to determine who is most worthy of living. Stearn’s penchant for stylish black comedy and dark satire is sure to lend itself well to this project, which premieres at Sundance. – Margaret R.
Emily the Criminal (John Patton Ford)
Aubrey Plaza is the kind of performer you always expect to see at Sundance, so it’s no surprise that she’s back. What may be surprising, however, is the type of film we have with John Patton Ford’s debut feature Emily the Criminal. Unlike the acerbic comedies we’re used to seeing from the star, this one is billed as a taut thriller, describing Plaza’s performance as “nervy and committed,” taking Emily from a put-upon temp to a calm, cool, collected thief as she looks to get rich off a scheme involving stolen credit cards. Plaza has been pushing herself into more and more interesting territory in recent years with films like Black Bear (a Sundance 2020 debut) and Guy Ritchie’s upcoming Operation Fortune: Ruse de guerre, so it’ll be a thrill to see how she adapts to this new genre. — Mitchell B.
Fire of Love (Sara Dosa)
Premiering on the opening day of the Sundance Film Festival in the U.S. Documentary Competition section, Sara Dosa’s Fire of Love follows a couple who were dedicated, perhaps obsessed, with volcanoes. Katia and Maurice Krafft, who hailed from France, were volcanologists who scoured the globe in search of the next eruption. While their story ends tragically, this Miranda July-narrated documentary looks to be a visually staggering look at a shared life-long passion. – Jordan R.
God’s Country (Julian Higgins)
Playing a woman fed up with the misogyny and racism seeping into both her home and work life, Thandie Newton gives an intense performance in Julian Higgins’ feature debut, the neo-western God’s Country. It’s a drama of great restraint and detail, following the actress as a professor in an isolated mountain town who has reached a breaking point after being dealt the proverbial death by a thousand cuts. – Jordan R.
jeen-yuhs: A Kanye Trilogy (Coodie & Chike)
Kanye West is one of the most divisive, idiosyncratic, fascinating pop-culture figures of the 21st century. He has incited controversy after controversy, with his last few years being more defined by his multiple incendiary comments and erratic behavior than artistic accomplishments. Yet so much of our knowledge about West is defined from the outside: how he uses the media, what he does while knowing the public is looking at him. jeen-yuhs is a three-part, 4.5-hour Netflix documentary using footage from the past 20 years of West’s life to piece together a portrait of a complicated, selfish genius. With any luck it’ll be essential for any fan of his music (or those fascinated by his public persona) to see what lies under the surface of the provocateur. – Logan K.
Master (Mariama Diallo)
A few years after career-best work in Sundance alum Andrew Bujalski’s Support the Girls, Regina Hall is bringing two new films to the festival. Along with Honk for Jesus, Save Your Soul, she is leading Master, which follows three women in a predominantly white New England college haunted by the past and present. While it’s premiering in the U.S. Dramatic Competition section, the drama is said to have notes of horror and psychological thriller, which certainly has us curious about what is in store. – Jordan R.
Meet Me in the Bathroom (Dylan Southern, Will Lovelace)
Cinematic catnip for indie music fans, Dylan Southern and Will Lovelace’s latest project is an adaptation of Lizzy Goodman’s book, charting the NYC music scene in the wake of 9/11 and boom of Napster. Intimately capturing the birth and quick rise to fame of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Strokes, LCD Soundsystem, and Interpol through a wealth of well-structured, engrossing archival footage, Meet Me in the Bathroom will have anyone interested in this scene clamoring for a sequel by the time the credits roll. – Jordan R.
Nanny (Nikyatu Jusu)
One of the more intriguing premieres in the U.S. Dramatic Competition section is the directorial debut of Nikyatu Jusu. Nanny stars Anna Diop (Us) as an undocumented Senegalese immigrant who leaves her son behind and gets hired by a Manhattan couple as a nanny, only to find her getting wrapped up in their marriage. Judging just from the synopsis, one wonders if Ousmane Sembène’s masterful Black Girl was an influence here––as Diop’s character seemingly gets trapped in this domestic prison of sorts––but either way, we look forward to seeing the drama soon. – Jordan R.
Sharp Stick (Lena Dunham)
It was over a decade ago since Lena Dunham broke out with her SXSW-winning, Criterion-approved directorial debut Tiny Furniture, leading to six seasons of her acclaimed HBO drama Girls. Understandably, there wasn’t much time during the run to return to feature filmmaking, but now Dunham has completed her second film, shot secretly during the pandemic. Led by Kristine Froseth, Taylour Paige, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Jon Bernthal, Scott Speedman, and Dunham herself, Sharp Stick follows a 26-year-old in L.A. who begins an affair with the father of a boy for whom she acts as caregiver. The film also marks the first of two new Dunham-directed features this year, with the medieval coming-of-age comedy Catherine, Called Birdy likely to arrive later in 2022.
Something in the Dirt (Justin Benson & Aaron Moorhead)
Bringing an entertaining level of scrappy inventiveness and fresh ideas to the world of genre filmmaking this past decade, Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead return with Something in the Dirt, which follows new neighbors who experience a supernatural phenomenon and go about capturing it in their own documentary for the world to see. Like most films at Sundance this year, it was shot during the pandemic but feels invigorated by its restrictions, able to eloquently convey a sense of wonder and danger about the mysteries of the universe. – Jordan R.
Resurrection (Andrew Semans)
One year after storming Sundance with her directorial debut Passing (one of our Top 50 Films of 2021), Rebecca Hall is back in front of the camera with Resurrection, a psychological horror centered on Margaret (Hall), a single mother whose life is thrown into disarray by the arrival of David (Tim Roth), a frightening shadow from her past. Writer-director Andrew Semans (Nancy, Please) clearly knows that Hall is exactly the type of actor you want to have in a role like this—someone who thinks she has it all under control, abruptly having the floor ripped from underneath her while she tries to maintain the facade that everything is okay. Hall has done wonders with this type of losing-her-grip performance in the past in films like Christine and The Night House, and this is sure to be another one worth watching from the star. — Mitchell B.
RIOTSVILLE, USA (Sierra Pettengill)
As American society contends with excessive police force attempting to silence protestors speaking out for equality, a new documentary exploring the country six decades prior has much to reveal when it comes to the government’s involvement and power to bolster those designated to “keep the peace.” Not only using archival footage, but also commenting on the process of working with these materials, Sierra Pettengill’s fascinating RIOTSVILLE, USA deconstructs President Lyndon Johnson’s Kerner Commission and their 1968 findings that this country is “moving toward two societies, one black, one white—separate and unequal.” Utilizing military training footage of model towns but through fabricated riots, Pettengill paints a harrowing portrait of history bound to repeat itself when escalating aggression seems to be the government’s only answer.
The Territory (Alex Pritz)
With a total population of around 100, the Uru-eu-wau-wau people are an indigenous community located deep in the rainforests of Brazil. Currently facing threats of deforestation with no help from Bolsonaro to protect their land, they face a daily struggle to defend their home. Produced by Darren Aronofsky, Alex Pritz’s new documentary The Territory takes a staggeringly immersive look into this battle from multiple sides. Beautifully capturing what’s at stake and the heartbreaking fight these indigenous people must contend with, a powerful tale of the importance of documentation emerges. – Jordan R.
When You Finish Saving the World (Jesse Eisenberg)
Jesse Eisenberg makes his directorial debut with When You Finish Saving the World, a comedy-drama in the Premieres section. Starring Finn Wolfhard and Julianne Moore, the A24 film follows a son and mother as they navigate new and old relationships, struggling to understand one another in an age of political activism and social influence. Adapting his own Audible narrative podcast, Eisenberg will look to gain recognition outside his acting capabilities through this lighthearted drama firmly planted in today’s digital age. – Michael F.
With more than 70 features in the lineup, there’s plenty more to anticipate. First up, there’s a handful of 2021 premieres that will be coming to the festival, including The Cathedral, The Worst Person in the World, After Yang, Happening, and Neptune Frost.
In terms of world premieres, we’re intrigued to see what the Kazuo Ishiguro-scripted, Oliver Hermanus-directed, and Bill Nighy-led Ikiru remake Living brings. There are also the coming-of-age genre outings Hatching and Piggy. James Ponsoldt will also be returning to Sundance with Summering. Noomi Rapace leads the thriller You Won’t Be Alone. Utama (shot by The Headless Woman cinematographer Bárbara Alvarez), looks to be a powerful drama. For titles alone, The Cow Who Sang A Song Into The Future has our eye as well.
On the documentary side, Eva Longoria Bastón’s La Guerra Civil, capturing the 1996 boxing battle between Oscar De La Hoya and Julio César Chávez, looks to kick off the festival with a bang. Descendant, the Sinéad O’Connor doc Nothing Compares, and the Christine Choy-centered The Exiles also all look intriguing.