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 28, 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 via our daily newsletter.

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 ahead of Thursday’s in-person opening and an online viewing window that kicks off January 25.

Between the Temples (Nathan Silver)

After working at a prolific pace throughout his early career, it’s been a few years since we last heard from Nathan Silver: The Great Pretender debuted in 2018; Cutting My Mother, 2019. Thankfully that changes soon when Between the Temples premieres at Sundance. Lensed on 16mm by frequent collaborator Sean Price Williams (who’s said he’s most proud of his Silver work), the comedy will be a look at the Jewish faith, with a logline nodding to Jason Schwartzman’s past as Max Fischer. Rounding out the cast is Robert Smigel as the temple Rabbi, Madeline Weinstein (Beach Rats) as his daughter, and Triangle of Sadness breakout Dolly De Leon as one of Schwartzman’s two mothers. The return of one of low-budget American cinema’s most-distinct voices is a great way to kick off 2024, and should lend some indie cred to a festival that’s been lacking such for a while now. – Caleb H.

A Different Man (Aaron Schimberg)

Aaron Schimberg’s criminally underseen Chained for Life was a scorched-Earth satire about the cruel ways disabled people have historically been depicted in cinema. His A24-produced follow-up looks set to twist the knife further, as a man who has undergone facial reconstruction surgery (Sebastian Stan) becomes obsessed with the actor playing him, pre-surgery, in a stage play. The only downside to this getting a wider audience than Schimberg’s prior feature? It will likely be greeted by some of the year’s worst discourse. – Alistair R.

Freaky Tales (Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden)

After cashing their Marvel check before the machine began going up in flames, Half Nelson and Mississippi Grind duo Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden have returned to the world of indie filmmaking for their first feature in half a decade. With a cast including Pedro Pascal, Ben Mendelsohn, and the late Angus Cloud, here’s the synopsis from Sundance: “In 1987 Oakland, a mysterious force guides The Town’s underdogs in four interconnected tales: Teen punks defend their turf against Nazi skinheads, a rap duo battles for hip-hop immortality, a weary henchman gets a shot at redemption, and an NBA All-Star settles the score. Basically another day in the Bay.” – Jordan R.

Gaucho Gaucho (Michael Dweck, Gregory Kershaw)

Returning to a Sundance for a third time after The Last Race and The Truffle Hunters, directors Michael Dweck and Gregory Kershaw are exploring the community of Argentine cowboys and cowgirls, known as Gauchos, for their latest subject. With their observational, painterly approach, we look forward to seeing how the duo invites us into this world. – Jordan R.

Good One (India Donaldson)

One of a handful of U.S. Dramatic Competition premieres we’re anticipating is India Donaldson’s directorial debut Good One, which centers on a 17-year-old girl who embarks on a camping trip in the Catskills with her father and his best friend. With this set-up as well as the casting of Sundance favorite Kelly Reichardt’s collaborator James Le Gros, it has the makings of an Old Joy-esque trip into the wilderness. – Jordan R.

Handling the Undead (Thea Hvistendahl)

Worst Person in the World duo Renate Reinsve and Anders Danielsen Lie are back together for Handling the Undead, the first feature from Norwegian director Thea Hvistendahl. This horror-drama, based on the novel by John Ajvide Lindqvist (Let the Right One In and Border), follows three Oslo families whose lives are thrown into chaos when the dead come back to life. With a screenplay co-written by Hvistendahl and Lindqvist, this is already one of Sundance’s buzziest premieres. No wonder Neon’s already called dibs. – Lena W.

Ibelin (Benjamin Ree)

On paper, Benjamin Ree’s The Painter and the Thief follow-up Ibelin shouldn’t work. To tell the story of Mats Steen, who died at the age of 25 due to Duchenne muscular dystrophy, Ree recreates the homebound Norwegian gamer’s connections in World of Warcraft with extensive in-game sequences. What could be a schmaltzy gimmick is rather astutely utilized to tell a deeply emotional story of a family uncovering the life-changing impact their late son had on hundreds of people across the world. – Jordan R.

In A Violent Nature (Chris Nash)

What new perspective can one bring to the horror genre? With his directorial debut, Chris Nash answers this question with a resoundingly brutal and formally fascinating answer. Primarily following a murderer’s steps and slashes through his travels terrorizing those near a remote cabin, In a Violent Nature sticks to its meticulous conceit and delivers one of the most chilling horror movies I’ve seen in years. – Jordan R.

I Saw the TV Glow (Jane Schoenbrun)

Jane Schoenbrun’s Sundance breakout We’re All Going to the World’s Fair was one of the most-celebrated features to date by a transgender filmmaker, and they seem well on the way to a flourishing, long-running career, with their third feature Nevada also ramping up production. For this year, Schoenbrun will premiere I Saw the TV Glow, produced by A24 and Emma Stone’s company Fruit Tree, swapping World’s Fair’s Internet fascination for traditional broadcast media: two teenagers (Justice Smith and Brigette Lundy-Paine) face strange phenomena after their favorite TV show is canceled. Keeping with their debut’s Y2K-era nostalgia, Fred Durst is featured in the cast. – David K.

Love Lies Bleeding (Rose Glass)

Rose Glass’ debut feature Saint Maud was for weird girls with God complexes and psychosexual mommy issues. Her new film is seemingly for those of us who love muscular women, mullets, and Kristen Stewart. Love Lies Bleeding, which stars Katy O’Brian as Stewart’s ripped love interest, is a romantic Western thriller with a predictably great trailer. (Extra points for using Bronski Beat’s gay ‘80s bop “Smalltown Boy.”) It will premiere shortly as part of Sundance’s Midnight section, and it’s already set for a wide release on March 8. Thank goddess. – Lena W.

Love Me (Sam and Andy Zuchero)

When it comes to the Sundance lineup, this directorial debut from Sam and Andy Zuchero boasts both some of the most intriguing casting––Kristen Stewart and Steven Yeun––and, in addition to taking place over a billion years, perhaps the most compelling synopsis: “Long after humanity’s extinction, a buoy and a satellite meet online and fall in love.” We’ll let the filmmakers’ introduction video do the rest of the talking. – Jordan R.

Porcelain War (Brendan Bellomo and Slava Leontyev)

A vital dispatch from the front lines of the War on Ukraine, Porcelain War captures a trio of artists fighting for their country. Going far beyond a vérité portrait of the everyday battle, Brendan Bellomo and Slava Leontyev’s documentary also matches the creativity of its subject, incorporating a propulsive score and immersive cinematography (including directly from its subjects), to show how they are outsmarting Russia’s attacks and why they want to preserve both their way of life and artistic ambitions. – Jordan R.

Power (Yance Ford)

Oscar-nominated Strong Island director Yance Ford is returning to the Sundance Film Festival this year with what will surely be one of the best documentaries in the lineup. Power is a lively, detailed essay film that takes a deep look at the history of policing in the United States and unceasing expansion of its scope and scale, much to the detriment of marginalized communities. Another powerful, informative inquiry from the filmmaker about the failings of systems meant to protect citizens, hopefully Netflix will launch it soon after its premiere. – Jordan R.

Presence (Steven Soderbergh)

Steven Soderbergh has flirted with horror before––2018’s Unsane in particular nearly broke out of its psychological-thriller straitjacket––but his latest collaboration with screenwriter David Koepp (writer of the most purely enjoyable film from his current phase, Kimi) appears to be a good old-fashioned fright fest. The brief synopsis reads: “A family discover they are not alone when they move into a new house.” Whether that refers to a home-invasion story or something more supernatural, we’ll find out soon enough. But I’m hoping the chameleonic filmmaker is ticking another genre off his bucket list. – Alistair R.

Realm of Satan (Scott Cummings)

Made in collaboration with the Church of Satan, as stated in its opening titles, Scott Cumming’s Realm of Satan doesn’t seek to expose hidden secrets of the religion, investigate the church’s place amongst belief systems, or––for the most part––even hear from those who may oppose its teachings. Rather, solely through a series of inspired cinematic tableaus, we are invited to take a look from the inside to witness the practices and everyday lives of those who follow this atheistic path. Due to the welcome decision of not delving deeper into the minds of the subjects as well as displaying little input on the part of the filmmaker (apart from the frames he chooses to capture), Realm of Satan becomes a compelling Rorschach test for how one may perceive the religious. – Jordan R.

Sasquatch Sunset (David and Nathan Zellner)

Coming off brilliant work with Nathan Fielder and Benny Safdie directing episodes of The Curse, the Zellner brothers (Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter and Damsel) return to the world of sasquatches. Sasquatch Sunset stars Riley Keough and Jesse Eisenberg as we follow a year in the life of their family of, yes, sasquatches. Almost nothing else is known about the project and we wouldn’t want it any other way. – Jordan R.

Seeking Mavis Beacon (Jazmin Jones)

Selling over six million copies, Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing was a key tool in schools at the dawn of the personal computing age. But who was Mavis Beacon, this figure so many students associate with their early days of technology use? Is she even real? What is she doing three decades later? To spoil the answers to these questions would rob Jazmin Jones’s fascinating, personal inquiry of some of its power, but it can be revealed that this journey is rife with complicated questions of ownership, representation, and what true resolution entails. – Jordan R.

Soundtrack to a Coup D’Etat (Johan Grimonprez)

How can one distill the labyrinthine, knotty history of the Congo Crisis into documentary form? With Soundtrack to a Coup D’Etat, filmmaker Johan Grimonprez utilizes the musical qualities of his subject––that of how notable jazz figures were intertwined in the conflict––to create a lively, sprawling essay portrait of U.S. attempts to mask misdeeds with music and the debilitating effects of decolonization. – Jordan R.

Tendaberry (Haley Elizabeth Anderson)

While as exciting as it can be to see the latest work from a favorite filmmaker at Sundance, it is the backbone of the festival to spotlight new voices, and there’s nothing as thrilling as experiencing the birth of a promising new director. One poised for such a breakout this year is Haley Elizabeth Anderson, whose debut feature Tendaberry takes a poetic, hybrid look at life in Brooklyn through the eyes of Dakota, a 23-year-old juggling romance, work, friendship, and family. – Jordan R.

Union (Stephen T. Maing and Brett Story)

Brett Story (The Hottest August) and Stephen T. Maing (Crime + Punishment) have teamed up to take an in-depth look at how a group of past and present Amazon workers in Staten Island united to fight a corporate behemoth. We can hope the documentary, exploring how Chris Smalls led the workers to victory, making history as the first unionized warehouse in Amazon’s history, will be a guide for others across the country to band together for proper working conditions. – Jordan R.

More Films to See

With over 80 feature films premiering at the festival, there’s more to have on your radar. In terms of narrative features, we’re looking forward to Brief History of a Family and the Saoirse Ronan-led drama The Outrun, both headed to Berlinale after Sundance; Jesse Eisenberg’s second directorial effort A Real Pain; Exhibiting Forgiveness starring André Holland; Megan Park’s follow-up after her top SXSW winner The Fallout with My Old Ass starring Aubrey Plaza; the Darren Aronofsky-backed Little Death; and, after John Early delivered the best standup special last year, his upcoming lead role in Stress Positions also brings much anticipation. It may be acquired taste based on your penchant for jet-black comedy, but Vendi Vidi Vici certainly leaves a mark. Sean Wang’s Dìdi (弟弟) is an energetic coming-of-age tale that captures 2008 with vivid authenticity.

As for documentaries, it’s another election year, which means it’s a fitting time for Girls State, coming from Boys State directors Amanda McBaine and Jesse Moss, the latter who is also at the festival with War Game, co-directed with Tony Gerber, which imagines if January 6 was escalated into a complete political coup. Daughters explores a unique opportunity for incarcerated fathers in Washington, D.C. to connect with their daughters through a dance. Two investigative documentaries are early highlights: Black Box Diaries is a gripping look at journalist Shiori Ito as she takes justice into her own hands following her sexual assault by a powerful figure in Japan, while Emily Kassie and Julian Brave NoiseCat’s Sugarcane takes an intimate, exhaustive look at the horrors committed by the Catholic Church decades ago upon the indigenous population at a residential school in British Columbia.

We’re intrigued by Gary Hustwit’s Brian Eno documentary, which uses a generative approach resulting in a different film every time it’s shown. The Greatest Night in Pop is an entertaining look at the making of “We Are the World,” particularly for Dylan and Springsteen obsessives. Also on the music front, DEVO captures the formation of the band as directed by Chris Smith. Lana Wilson returns to the festival with Look Into My Eyes, a portrait of NYC-based psychics. Christopher Reeve gets a documentary portrait with Super/Man while Will & Harper captures Will Ferrell’s journey with his long-time friend Harper Steele, who recently came out as a trans woman. Also exploring the trans experience, the hybrid feature Desire Lines takes a refreshingly frank, detailed look at the parameters of sexual satisfaction.

In the Midnight section, we’re eager to experience the Nick Frost-led Krazy House with a crowd along with It’s What’s Inside. Last but not least, several festival favorites from last year will stop by the festival, including the return of Richard Linklater to Park City with Hit Man, plus the Cannes winner How to Have Sex, the Oscar-shortlisted The Mother of All Lies, and àma Gloria.

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