Returning to an in-person edition, along with the continuation of virtual offerings, the Sundance Film Festival kicks off this Thursday and lasts through January 29, offering a first glimpse at the year in cinema. While the annual festival has its fair share of returning filmmakers, it is certainly most renowned as a beacon of discovery, and we look forward to providing extensive coverage that one can follow here or on Twitter. Before reviews arrive, we’re highlighting the premieres that should be on your radar––a few we’ve already had the opportunity to see. If you’re interested in experiencing Sundance in person or from afar, one can see available tickets here.
All Dirt Roads Taste of Salt (Raven Jackson)
Considering the last directorial debut he backed ended up being our favorite film of the last year, expectations are high for the Barry Jenkins-produced All Dirt Roads Taste of Salt. Raven Jackson’s first feature chronicles decades in the life of a Black woman in Mississippi. It’s set to premiere at Sundance this month, and they note “Jackson’s nontraditional narrative borrows from the language of memory. Shifts in time are prompted by movement and emotion—the feeling of mud between fingers or the release felt from being outside during a storm.” – Jordan R.
Divinity (Eddie Alcazar)
Backed by executive producer Steven Soderbergh, Eddie Alcazar’s latest feature looks to expand his strange brand of cinema in exciting new ways. Divinity takes a black-and-white journey set in an “otherworldly human existence,” following the son of a late scientist who was searching for immortality through a serum from which the title derives its name. “Society on this barren planet has been entirely perverted by the supremacy of the drug, whose true origins are shrouded in mystery. Two mysterious brothers arrive with a plan to abduct the mogul, and with the help of a seductive woman named Nikita, they will be set on a path hurtling toward true immortality,” reads the official synopsis. Considering it is in the NEXT section rather than Midnight, expect something formally bold beyond the genre trappings. – Jordan R.
Earth Mama (Savanah Leaf)
A late addition to the Sundance Film Festival and one of the rare offerings not available online, Earth Mama marks the directorial debut of Savanah Leaf, an Olympian volleyball player turned filmmaker. After crafting shorts and music videos for the likes of Common and Gary Clark Jr. (check out this stunning Grammy-nominated one), her A24-backed debut finds her telling the story of a Bay Area mother fighting for her children. In a festival about discovery, we expect this to be one of the major breakouts. – Jordan R.
Eileen (William Oldroyd)
Before the long-gestating, Margot Robbie-produced take on My Year of Rest and Relaxation arrives, Ottessa Moshfegh’s sophomore 2015 novel gets the big screen treatment courtesy Lady Macbeth director William Oldroyd. As with his exceptional 2016 debut, this is another period character study where a young woman finds liberation within her life in the darkest of places––in this case, a young prison secretary’s (Thomasin McKenzie) relationship with a new staff member (Anne Hathaway) who entangles her in a shocking crime. – Alistair R.
The Eternal Memory (Maite Alberdi)
Returning to the Sundance Film Festival following The Mole Agent, which went on to earn an Oscar nomination, Chilean director Maite Alberdi is back with The Eternal Memory. Produced by Pablo Larraín, the documentary follows a couple facing the challenges of Alzheimer’s when husband Augusto Góngora is diagnosed. With tough subject matter, we look forward to seeing Alberdi’s graceful, tender vision into this struggle. – Jordan R.
Fair Play (Chloe Domont)
After a promising early career working for the likes of Francis Ford Coppola, the Coens, and Warren Beatty, we’ve been waiting for Alden Ehrenreich’s first post-Solo feature; it’s finally arriving five years later with Fair Play. This Rian Johnson-produced drama, also starring Phoebe Dynevor, examines the power and gender dynamics between an ambitious NYC couple. Described by the festival as a “taut psychological thriller” and “explosive feature debut,” we look forward to seeing Chloe Domont’s arrival as a feature director. – Jordan R.
Infinity Pool (Brandon Cronenberg)
Brandon Cronenberg’s previous film Possessor was a visceral, unsettling journey that took elements of his father’s visual sensibilities but channeled them toward something uniquely his own. Infinity Pool, his follow-up starring Alexander Skarsgård and Mia Goth, looks even darker, following a couple at an island resort who are faced with an unimaginable ethical quandary following a tragic accident. The trailer is deeply provocative and memorable; hopefully the film will deliver on its promise. – Logan K.
Kim’s Video (Ashley Sabin and David Redmon)
In a world where curation has been thrown out the window in favor of algorithms, Kim’s Video represented something to be cherished. While the original NYC stores are long gone, a portion of the 55,000-film collection recently found new life in the Alamo Drafthouse’s Manhattan location, and now Yongman Kim’s story will be immortalized in a new film by David Redmon and Ashley Sabin. Premiering on opening night, this is bound to be catnip for all film lovers headed to Park City. – Jordan R.
Landscape With Invisible Hand (Cory Finley)
Following up Thoroughbreds and Bad Education, writer-director Cory Finley is back with his first sci-fi feature. An adaptation of M.T. Anderson’s novel, Landscape With Invisible Hand follows an alien species that touches down on Earth and takes over humanity. In order to scrape by in this new society, a teenage couple live-stream their courtship to amuse the aliens, but things go awry. This is one of the few sci-fi features in the lineup, and we’re excited to see Finley head into new territory. – Jordan R.
Last Things (Deborah Stratman)
One of the most renowned artists premiering new work at Sundance, Deborah Stratman will debut her 50-minute film Last Things in the cut-back New Frontier section. “Weaving stunning imagery with evocative text and interviews, Last Things observes the history of all of us and this planet Earth through the most essential parts––evolution and extinction, from the POV of rocks,” reads the synopsis. Checkmate, Daniels. – Jordan R.
The Longest Goodbye (Ido Mizrahy)
Whether they are narratives or documentaries, most films about space travel focus on the grandeur of voyages to the great beyond and are less concerned about the psychological toll for both astronauts or those left behind on Earth. Ido Mizrahy’s intimate new documentary The Longest Goodbye takes a deep look into the trials and tribulations of both those taking the journey and their families, from fascinating insights into how those up in space present themselves to ground control to reckoning with missing years of your children’s lives. – Jordan R.
Magazine Dreams (Emanuele Crialese)
The rise of Jonathan Majors continues. After his breakout at Sundance in The Last Black Man in San Francisco, the actor returns to the festival with Magazine Dreams. Marking Elijah Bynum’s second feature, following Hot Summer Nights with Timothée Chalamet and Maika Monroe, the Dan Gilroy-produced drama concerns a budding bodybuilder reckoning with the physical and mental toll of achieving his dreams. Ahead of a major studio spring for the actor, with Creed III providing a bit more promise than a certain dreadful-looking Marvel sequel, we wouldn’t be surprised if Magazine Dreams boasts his best performance yet. – Jordan R.
Passages (Ira Sachs)
Franz Rogowski and Ben Whishaw married to each other. That should be all you need to get on board the new film from Ira Sachs (Keep the Lights On, Love Is Strange), but if you need more we’ll tell you that Rogowski’s character begins an affair with a younger woman played by Adèle Exarchopoulos, which leads to Whishaw striking out an affair of his own. It all sounds like the making of a complicated, intimate, expressly character-driven drama with a multitude of emotions and difficult characters who feel innately human. In other words: exactly what we’ve come to expect from Ira Sachs. – Mitchell B.
Past Lives (Celine Song)
After hearing high praise from test screenings last year, we’ve been waiting to see where Celine Song’s Past Lives would turn up on the festival circuit and, in a late addition, it’s found a home at Sundance. The playwright-turned-director makes her debut with this A24 drama that takes a time-jumping look at the connection between childhood friends who reconnect later in life. What seems to be a wistfully romantic journey could make for a major Sundance discovery this year. – Jordan R.
Plan C (Tracy Droz Tragos)
As women’s rights become further violated in our patriarchal, fundamentalist society, many are still fighting the good fight; a new documentary captures one such grassroots group. Returning to the festival after winning the Grand Jury Prize for 2014’s Rich Hill, Tracy Droz Tragos’s Plan C follows a network aiming to provide increased access to abortion pills across the United States, including areas where such access is illegal. Conveyed with the pulse-pounding rhythm of a thriller, the documentary shows the mental and physical toll such a mission takes, including the weight of knowing it is impossible to help everyone in desperate need. – Jordan R.
A Still Small Voice (Luke Lorentzen)
Following his kinetic look at a Mexico City family’s ambulance operation with Midnight Family, Sundance alum Luke Lorentzen examines a different side of the medical field in A Still Small Voice. Going inside the spiritual care department at the Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City during the first years of COVID, the documentary takes a sobering, emotionally staggering look at the resilience needed to weather the pain. In also examining layers of accountability and supervision needed to consider such a vocation successful, Lorentzen paints a searing portrait of empathy for all involved. – Jordan R.
The Starling Girl (Laurel Parmet)
If America’s current societal and political landscape is any indication, the damage the fundamentalist Christian community can enact is vast––particularly in the ways fledgling young minds might be warped to follow what they believe to be a righteous path. With her directorial debut, Laurel Parmet examines such a Kentucky community through the eyes of Eliza Scanlen’s Jem Starling. As her family attempts to start a courting process with a vaguely uninteresting fellow teen, she finds more intrigue in the youth pastor, played by an excellent Lewis Pullman. Avoiding the clichés of this kind of cloistered coming-of-age story, Parmet brings a delicate touch while she also examines the hypocrisy of the community and Jem’s own family. – Jordan R.
The Stroll (Kristen Lovell and Zackary Drucker)
Coming from trans artists Zackary Drucker and Kristen Lovell (in her directorial debut), The Stroll marks one of our most-anticipated films in the U.S. Documentary Competition. Examining the history of Manhattan’s Meatpacking District through the eyes of transgender women of color, the documentary looks at how the area––once a home of survival for those displaced from the workforce––has since been gentrified and corporatized. It’s backed by producer Matt Wolf, who recently came to Sundance with Spaceship Earth; we look forward to what should be an intimate view of a story that deserves a spotlight. – Jordan R.
The Tuba Thieves (Alison O’Daniel)
A fascinating, illuminating look at the deaf experience, Alison O’Daniel makes her directorial debut with The Tuba Thieves. Initially finding life through gallery installation, the feature-film version takes the tools of documentary to craft a fictionalized look at a series of tuba robberies in the early 2010s in Southern California. Through an avant-garde approach to presenting the moving image and what feels like a pioneering approach to captioning, the experience is a carefully calibrated, eye-opening look at rethinking cinematic language. In the two decades since Los Angeles Plays Itself, O’Daniel’s film acts as an inclusive rejoinder to how one can capture a place and the (often-overlooked) people in it. – Jordan R.
You Hurt My Feelings (Nicole Holofcener)
Nicole Holofcener’s first film since her overlooked The Land of Steady Habits, You Hurt My Feelings suggests another exploration of the delicate nature of romantic relationships. Centered on a novelist whose marriage starts to suffer when she finds out that her husband has lied about liking her writing, it should be another example of Holofcener’s capacity to wring out tension and heartbreak from seemingly mundane social situations. – Logan K.
More Films to See
With a lineup of more than 100 features, there’s of course plenty to seek out. Sometimes I Think About Dying, starring Daisy Ridley, will hopefully open the festival with a bang, while Jane Campion’s daughter Alice Englert makes her directorial debut with Bad Behaviour, starring Jennifer Connelly and Ben Whishaw. The Sofia Coppola-produced Fairyland and Cynthia Erivo-led Drift are also on our radar, along with Roger Ross Williams’ narrative debut Cassandro starring Gael García Bernal.
On the documentary side, Pianoforte is a riveting look at a world-class classical piano competition, and we’ve heard strong buzz for 5 Seasons of Revolution and Milisuthando. In the New Frontier section, Mary Helena Clark will also debut A Common Sequence, co-directed with Mike Gibisser.
We’re also curious if Cat Person, based on the viral New Yorker article, can make similar waves on the big screen. Scrapper, featuring a supporting turn from Harris Dickinson, is a lively coming-of-age tale. Once and Sing Street director John Carney will also make his return to the festival with Flora and Sun, as will Sebastián Silva with Rotting on the Sun. A pair of black-and-white features, D. Smith’s feature debut Kokomo City and C.J. “Fiery” Obasi’s Mami Wata look quite striking, while the Midnight entry Talk to Me is an effective creeper.
Last but not least, we’re also looking forward to catching up with recent festival favorites, including the Cannes winner The Eight Mountains and Venice premiere Other People’s Children.