The Sundance film festival is a prestigious program of the Sundance Institute, a non-profit organization founded by Robert Redford, committed to the growth and nurturing of independent artists. With the 2019 festival swiftly approaching this week, the unveiled line-up of films promises to provide a year of great cinema. This year’s festival boasts a line-up of 112 feature-length films, representing 33 countries and 45 first-time filmmakers. Over 50% of the directors in this year’s U.S. Dramatic Competition are women, 41% are people of color, and 18% identify as LGBTQIA+. Read on to see PCR’s most anticipated films from the 2019 program.
“Focusing a bright light on these independent stories is urgent and crucial, especially in the noise of today’s globalized media landscape. Voices from many places and perspectives, often shut out of the mainstream, offer us new insights. It’s immensely heartening to see these bold visions and their tellers thriving.” – Keri Putnam, Executive Director of Sundance Institute.
U.S. Dramatic Competition
This category shines a light on the freshest voices in American independent film.
1. Clemency / U.S.A.
Director: Chinonye Chukwu
Screenwriter: Chinonye Chukwu
Producers: Bronwyn Cornelius, Julian Cautherley, Peter Wong, Timur Bekbosunov
Cast: Alfre Woodard, Aldis Hodge, Richard Schiff, Wendell Pierce, Richard Gunn, Danielle Brooks.
Plot synopsis: Years of carrying out death row executions have taken a toll on prison warden Bernadine Williams. As she prepares to execute another inmate, Bernadine must confront the psychological and emotional demons her job creates, ultimately connecting her to the man she is sanctioned to kill.
2. The Farewell / U.S.A.,China
Director: Lulu Wang
Screenwriter: Lulu Wang
Producers: Daniele Melia, Peter Saraf, Marc Turtletaub, Chris Weitz, Andrew Miano, Anita Gou
Cast: Awkwafina, Tzi Ma, Diana Lin, Zhao Shuzhen, Lu Hong, Jiang Yongbo. World Premiere
Plot synopsis: A headstrong Chinese-American woman returns to China when her beloved grandmother is given a terminal diagnosis. Billi struggles with her family’s decision to keep grandma in the dark about her own illness as they all stage an impromptu wedding to see grandma one last time.
3. Hala / U.S.A.
Director: Minhal Baig
Screenwriter: Minhal Baig
Producers: Clarence Hammond, Jamal Watson, Minhal Baig
Cast: Geraldine Viswanathan, Jack Kilmer, Gabriel Luna, Purbi Joshi, Azad Khan, Anna Chlumsky
Plot synopsis: Muslim teenager Hala copes with the unraveling of her family as she comes into her own.
4. Honey Boy / U.S.A.
Director: Alma Har’el
Screenwriter: Shia LaBeouf
Producers: Brian Kavanaugh-Jones, Daniela Taplin Lundberg, Anita Gou, Christopher Leggett, Alma Har’el
Cast: Shia LaBeouf, Lucas Hedges, Noah Jupe
Plot synopsis: A child TV star and his ex-rodeo clown father face their stormy past through time and cinema.
5. Luce / U.S.A.
Director: Julius Onah
Screenwriters: JC Lee, Julius Onah
Producers: John Baker, Julius Onah, Andrew Yang
Cast: Naomi Watts, Octavia Spencer, Kelvin Harrison Jr., Tim Roth, Norbert Leo Butz
Plot synopsis: A married couple is forced to reckon with their idealized image of their son, adopted from war-torn Eritrea, after an alarming discovery by a devoted high school teacher threatens his status as an all-star student.
6. Ms. Purple / U.S.A.
Director: Justin Chon
Screenwriters: Justin Chon, Chris Dinh
Producers: Alex Chi, Justin Chon
Cast: Tiffany Chu, Teddy Lee, Octavio Pizano, James Kang
Plot synopsis: Kasie, stuck in LA’s Koreatown, works as a karaoke hostess getting paid for her companionship by drunken men. When her dad’s hospice nurse quits she reconnects with her estranged brother, Carey, forcing them to enter a period of intense self-reflection as their single father who raised them nears death.
7. Native Son / U.S.A.
Director: Rashid Johnson
Screenwriter: Suzan-Lori Parks
Producers: Matthew Perniciaro, Michael Sherman
Cast: Ashton Sanders, Margaret Qualley, Nick Robinson, KiKi Layne, Bill Camp, Sanaa Lathan
Plot synopsis: In this modern reimagining of Richard Wright’s seminal novel, a young African-American man named Bigger Thomas takes a job working for a highly influential Chicago family, a decision that will change the course of his life forever.
World Cinematic Dramatic Competition
This category gives the spotlight to filmmakers from all over the globe
1. Dolce Fine Giornata / Poland
Director: Jacek Borcuch
Screenwriters: Jacek Borcuch, Szczepan Twardoch
Producer: Marta Habior
Cast: Krystyna Janda, Katarzyna Smutniak, Vincent Riotta, Antonio Catania, Lorenzo de Moor, Robin Renucci
Plot synopsis: In Tuscany, Maria’s stable family life begins to erode as her relationship with a young immigrant develops against a backdrop of terrorism and eroding democracy.
2. Koko-di Koko-da / Sweden, Denmark
Director: Johannes Nyholm
Screenwriter: Johannes Nyholm
Producer: Johannes Nyholm
Cast: Leif Edlund, Ylva Gallon, Peter Belli, Katarina Jacobson
Plot synopsis: As a couple goes on a trip to find their way back to each other, a sideshow artist and his shady entourage emerge from the woods, terrorizing them, luring them deeper and deeper into a maelstrom of psychological terror and humiliating slapstick.
3. The Last Tree / United Kingdom
Director: Shola Amoo
Screenwriter: Shola Amoo
Producers: Lee Thomas, Myf Hopkins
Cast: Sam Adewunmi, Gbemisola Ikumelo, Tai Golding
Plot synopsis: Femi is a British boy of Nigerian heritage who, after a happy childhood in rural Lincolnshire, moves to inner London to live with his mum. Struggling with the unfamiliar culture and values of his new environment, teenage Femi has to figure out which path to adulthood he wants to take.
4. Monos / Colombia, Argentina, Netherlands, Germany, Sweden, Uruguay
Director: Alejandro Landes
Screenwriters: Alejandro Landes, Alexis Dos Santos
Producers: Alejandro Landes, Fernando Epstein, Santiago Zapata, Cristina Landes
Cast: Julianne Nicholson, Moisés Arias, Sofia Buenaventura, Deibi Rueda, Karen Quintero, Laura Castrillón
Plot synopsis: On a faraway mountaintop, eight kids with guns watch over a hostage and a conscripted milk cow.
5. WE ARE LITTLE ZOMBIES / Japan
Director: Makoto Nagahisa
Screenwriter: Makoto Nagahisa
Producers: Shinichi Takahashi, Tahei Tamanishi, Haruki Yokoyama, Haruhiko Hasegawa
Cast: Keita Ninomiya, Satoshi Mizuno, Mondo Okumura, Sena Nakajima
Plot synopsis: Their parents are dead. They should be sad, but they can’t cry. So they form a kick-ass band. This is the story of four 13-year-olds in search of their emotions.
The “Next” category focuses on pieces of art that are bold in nature, and purely innovative in it’s approach to storytelling.
1. The Infiltrators / U.S.A.
Directors: Alex Rivera, Cristina Ibarra
Screenwriters: Alex Rivera, Aldo Velasco
Producers: Cristina Ibarra, Alex Rivera, Darren Dean
Cast: Maynor Alvarado, Manuel Uriza, Chelsea Rendon, Juan Gabriel Pareja, Vik Sahay
Plot synopsis: A rag-tag group of undocumented youth – Dreamers – deliberately get detained by Border Patrol in order to infiltrate a shadowy, for-profit detention center.
2. Light From Light / U.S.A.
Director: Paul Harrill
Screenwriter: Paul Harrill
Producers: James M. Johnston, Kelly Williams, Toby Halbrooks, Elisabeth Moss, Tim Headington, Theresa Steele
Cast: Marin Ireland, Jim Gaffigan, Josh Wiggins, Atheena Frizzell, David Cale
Plot synopsis: Shelia, a single mom and sometime paranormal investigator, is enlisted to investigate a possible “haunting” at a widower’s farmhouse in East Tennessee.
3. Paradise Hills / Spain, U.S.A.
Director: Alice Waddington
Screenwriters: Nacho Vigalondo, Brian DeLeeuw
Producers: Adrian Guerra, Núria Valls
Cast: Emma Roberts, Danielle Macdonald, Awkwafina, Eiza González, Milla Jovovich, Jeremy Irvine
Plot synopsis: A young woman is sent to Paradise Hills to be reformed, only to learn that the high-class facility’s beautiful facade hides a sinister secret.
Films in this category are some of the most highly anticipated narrative films of the coming year.
1. After The Wedding / U.S.A.
Director: Bart Freundlich
Screenwriter: Bart Freundlich
Producers: Joel B. Michaels, Harry Finkel
Cast: Julianne Moore, Michelle Williams, Billy Crudup, Abby Quinn
Plot synopsis: Seeking funds for her orphanage in India, Isabelle travels to New York to meet Theresa, a wealthy benefactor. An invitation to attend a wedding ignites a series of events in which the past collides with the present while mysteries unravel. Based on the Academy Award-nominated film by Susanne Bier.
2. Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile / U.S.A.
Director: Joe Berlinger
Screenwriter: Michael Werwie
Producers: Michael Costigan, Nicolas Chartier, Ara Keshishian, Michael Simkin
Cast: Zac Efron, Lily Collins, Haley Joel Osment, Kaya Scodelario, John Malkovich, Jim Parsons
Plot synopsis: A chronicle of the crimes of Ted Bundy from the perspective of Liz, his longtime girlfriend, who refused to believe the truth about him for years.
3. I Am Mother / Australia
Director: Grant Sputore
Screenwriter: Michael Lloyd Green
Producers: Timothy White, Kelvin Munro
Cast: Clara Rugaard, Rose Byrne, Hilary Swank
Plot synopsis: In the wake of humanity’s extinction, a teenage girl is raised by a robot designed to repopulate the earth. But their unique bond is threatened when an inexplicable stranger arrives with alarming news.
4. Relive / U.S.A.
Director: Jacob Estes
Screenwriters: Jacob Estes, Drew Daywalt
Producers: Jason Blum, Bobby Cohen, David Oyelowo
Cast: David Oyelowo, Storm Reid, Mykelti Williamson, Alfred Molina, Brian Tyree Henry
Plot synopsis: After a man’s family dies in what appears to be a murder, he gets a phone call from one of the dead, his niece. He’s not sure if she’s a ghost or if he’s going mad — but as it turns out, he’s not. Instead, her calls help him rewrite history.
5. The Report / U.S.A.
Director: Scott Z. Burns
Screenwriter: Scott Z. Burns
Producers: Steven Soderbergh, Jennifer Fox, Scott Z. Burns, Danny Gabai, Eddy Moretti
Cast: Adam Driver, Annette Bening, Jon Hamm, Ted Levine, Maura Tierney, Michael C. Hall
Plot synopsis: The story of Daniel Jones, lead investigator for the US Senate’s sweeping study into the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program, which was found to be brutal, immoral and ineffective. With the truth at stake, Jones battled tirelessly to make public what many in power sought to keep hidden.
6. Troop Zero / U.S.A.
Director: Bert & Bertie
Screenwriter: Lucy Alibar
Producers: Todd Black, Jason Blumenthal, Steve Tisch, Alex Siskin, Viola Davis
Cast: Viola Davis, Mckenna Grace, Jim Gaffigan, Mike Epps, Charlie Shotwell, Allison Janney
Plot synopsis: In rural 1977 Georgia, a misfit girl dreams of life in outer space. When a national competition offers her a chance at her dream, to be recorded on NASA’s Golden Record, she recruits a makeshift troupe of Birdie Scouts, forging friendships that last a lifetime and beyond.
7. Velvet Buzzsaw / U.S.A.
Director: Dan Gilroy
Screenwriter: Dan Gilroy
Producer: Jennifer Fox
Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo, Toni Collette, Zawe Ashton, Tom Sturridge, Natalia Dyer
Plot synopsis: A thriller set in the contemporary art world scene of Los Angeles, where big money artists and mega-collectors pay a high price when art collides with commerce.
The “Midnight” category is dedicated to the films that keep you wide awake at night, whether it be a horror film, a comedy film, or even a film that defies genre classification.
1. Corporate Animals / U.S.A.
Director: Patrick Brice
Screenwriter: Sam Bain
Producers: Chris Harding, Paul O. Harris
Cast: Demi Moore, Ed Helms, Jessica Williams, Karan Soni
Plot synopsis: Lucy (Demi Moore) is the egotistical, megalomaniac CEO of Incredible Edibles, America’s premier provider of edible cutlery. In her infinite wisdom, Lucy leads her staff, including her long-suffering assistants, Freddie (Karan Soni) and Jess (Jessica Williams), on a corporate team-building caving weekend in New Mexico. When disaster strikes, not even their useless guide, Brandon (Ed Helms), can save them. Trapped underground by a cave-in, this mismatched and disgruntled group must pull together in order to survive.
2. The Hole in the Ground / Ireland
Director: Lee Cronin
Screenwriters: Lee Cronin, Stephen Shields
Producers: John Keville, Conor Barry
Cast: Seána Kerslake, James Cosmo, Kati Outinen, Simone Kirby, Steve Wall, James Quinn Markey
Plot synopsis: One night, Sarah’s young son disappears into the woods behind their rural home. When he returns, he looks the same, but his behavior grows increasingly disturbing. Soon, Sarah realizes that the boy who returned may not be her son at all…
3. Little Monsters / Australia
Director: Abe Forsythe
Screenwriter: Abe Forsythe
Producers: Jodi Matterson, Bruna Papandrea, Steve Hutensky, Keith Calder, Jessica Calder
Cast: Lupita Nyong’o, Alexander England, Josh Gad
Plot synopsis: A film dedicated to all the kindergarten teachers who motivate children to learn, instill them with confidence and stop them from being devoured by zombies.
4. The Lodge / U.S.A., United Kingdom
Directors: Veronika Franz, Severin Fiala
Screenwriters: Sergio Casci, Veronika Franz, Severin Fiala
Producers: Simon Oakes, Aliza James, Aaron Ryder
Cast: Riley Keough, Jaeden Martell, Lia McHugh, Alicia Silverstone, Richard Armitage
Plot synopsis: In this psychologically chilling slow burn, a young woman and her reticent new stepchildren find themselves isolated in the family’s remote winter cabin, locked away to dredge up the mysteries of her dark past and the losses that seem to haunt them all.
5. Sweetheart / U.S.A.
Director: JD Dillard
Screenwriters: JD Dillard, Alex Theurer, Alex Hyner
Producers: Jason Blum, JD Dillard, Alex Theurer, Alex Hyner, Bill Karesh
Cast: Kiersey Clemons, Emory Cohen, Hanna Mangan Lawrence, Andrew Crawford
Plot synopsis: Jenn has washed ashore a small tropical island and it doesn’t take her long to realize she’s completely alone. She must spend her days not only surviving the elements, but must also fend off the malevolent force that comes out each night.
6. Wounds / U.S.A., United Kingdom
Director: Babak Anvari
Screenwriter: Babak Anvari
Producers: Lucan Toh, Christopher Kopp
Cast: Armie Hammer, Dakota Johnson, Zazie Beetz, Karl Glusman, Brad William Henke
Plot synopsis: Will is a bartender in New Orleans. He has a great job, great friends, and a girlfriend, Carrie, who loves him. He skates across life’s surface, ignoring complications and concentrating on enjoying the moment. One night at the bar, a violent brawl breaks out, which injures one of his regular customers and causes some college kids to leave behind a cell phone in their haste. Will begins receiving disturbing texts and calls from the stranger’s phone. While Will hopes to not get involved, Carrie gets lost down a rabbit hole investigating this strange malevolence. They’ve discovered something unspeakable, and it’s crawling slowly into the light.
The Spotlight program is a tribute to great cinema from throughout the past year.
1. The Nightingale / Australia
Director: Jennifer Kent
Screenwriter: Jennifer Kent
Producers: Kristina Ceyton, Bruna Papandrea, Steve Hutensky, Jennifer Kent
Cast: Aisling Franciosi, Sam Claflin, Baykali Ganambarr, Damon Herriman, Harry Greenwood, Ewen Leslie
Plot synopsis: 1825. Clare, a young Irish convictwoman, chases a British officer through the Tasmanian wilderness, bent on revenge for a terrible act of violence he committed against her family. On the way she enlists the services of Aboriginal tracker Billy, who is marked by trauma from his own violence-filled past.