Sundance 2023

Sundance 2023 Day 9 Recap | Mami Wata, Passages, & More!

The 2023 Sundance Film Festival completed its ninth day of in-person and virtual programming yesterday, January 27th. Today was one of my busiest days yet with 6 feature films knocked off my watchlist.

From stories about legacy and human connection to ones about sexuality and history, Day 9 was a great day overall. Here’s a recap of some heartwarming and creative films that I knocked off my 2023 Sundance Film Festival watchlist!

1. Mami Wata | Director: C.J. “Fiery” Obasi

Mama Wata for Sundance 2023
Courtesy of Sundance Institute

Sundance Synopsis: In the oceanside village of Iyi, the revered Mama Efe (Rita Edochie) acts as an intermediary between the people and the all-powerful water deity Mami Wata. But when a young boy is lost to a virus, Efe’s devoted daughter Zinwe (Uzoamaka Aniunoh) and skeptical protégé Prisca (Evelyne Ily Juhen) warn Efe about unrest among the villagers. With the sudden arrival of a mysterious rebel deserter named Jasper (Emeka Amakeze), a conflict erupts, leading to a violent clash of ideologies and a crisis of faith for the people of Iyi.

Review: Mami Wata is a visually scrumptious story that is both captivating and thrilling. Although it isn’t always straightforward, the intricate story is beautifully told. As it centers on power, legacy, responsibility, and bravery, Obasi’s feature has a way of pulling audiences in naturally. And thanks to compelling acting from Uzoamaka Aniunoh and Evelyne Ily, the 107-minute and beautifully shot feature will be enough to keep viewers fully engaged.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

2. Bravo, Burkina! | Director: Walé Oyéjidé

Bravo Burkina! for Sundance 2023
Courtesy of Sundance Insitute

Sundance Synopsis: Walé Oyéjidé’s imaginative debut feature is the story of a Burkinabè boy who migrates to Italy but later discovers a way to go back in time to regain what he lost. The poetic story bends time to explore the meaning of existing in two states, coming and going, running away and running toward. It is a multidimensional exploration of love and migration. 

Review: Oyéjidé’s imaginative feature centers itself on the narrative of migrants. While it doesn’t always possess a coherent storytelling approach, the journey experienced by the main characters is heartbreaking and compelling. Oyéjidé’s direction is alluring even when the script is not. As a result, this lyrical experience is dreamy and imaginative, even as it focuses on negative aspects of immigration.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

3. The Accidental Getaway Driver | Director: Sing J. Lee

The Accidental Getaway Driver for Sundance 2023

Sundance Synopsis: Long, a Vietnamese driver in Southern California, answers a late-night call for a ride. Already in his pajamas, he reluctantly accepts, picking up a man, Tây, and his two companions. But the men, recently escaped convicts from an Orange County jail, take Long hostage at gunpoint, thrusting him into their getaway plan. When complications arise, the fugitives and their hostage hole up at a motel, and a tense waiting game unfolds.

Review: Sing J. Lee’s methodical storytelling about human connection is strikingly sweet and compassionate. With gorgeous visuals and a slow-burn nature to his direction, the film is unnerving and intense in all the ways it promises to be. It’s easy to look at The Accidental Getaway Driver as a wrong place, wrong time experience designed to rile up its viewers. Yet, the poignant script examines isolation and family estrangement in ways that will rock viewers emotionally. Ultimately, this budding relationship between Long and Tây makes for an enticing and heartwarming watching experience.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

4. A Little Prayer | Director: Angus MacLachlan

A Little Prayer for Sundance 2023
Courtesy of Sundance Institute

Sundance Synopsis: Tammy (Jane Levy) and husband David (Will Pullen) lead a quiet life in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, sharing a home with David’s parents, Bill (David Strathairn) and Venida (Celia Weston). David and Bill work together and have always been closely involved in each other’s lives. When Bill begins to suspect that David is straying in his marriage, he is drawn into a relationship minefield, caught between wanting to protect his amicable daughter-in-law and trying to understand his impulsive son. As Bill confronts the limits of patriarchal influence, he is also forced to reckon with disheartening behavioral patterns that may be transcending generations.

Review: “Blood is thicker than water” is a phrase that people say when they want to express that loyalty is important when it comes to family. However, sometimes, family members can be assholes and do crappy things to other people we love. MacLaughlin’s deeply personal and sincere script beautifully captures this concept. Additionally, standout performances from Jane Levy and David Strathairn makes one realize the value of chosen family. This may not be a fast-paced film that contains many dramatic moments. However, nuanced performances and a sincere script makes this worth the watch.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

5. Passages | Director: Ira Sachs

Passages for Sundance 2023
Courtesy of Sundance Institute

Sundance Synopsis: In contemporary Paris, German filmmaker Tomas (Franz Rogowski) embraces his sexuality through a torrid love affair with a young woman named Agathe (Adèle Exarchopoulos), an impulse that blurs the lines which define his relationship with his husband, Martin (Ben Whishaw). When Martin begins an extramarital affair of his own, he successfully gains back his husband’s attention while simultaneously unearthing Tomas’ jealousy. Grappling with contradicting emotions, Tomas must either embrace the confines of his marriage or come to terms with the relationship having run its course.

Review: There’s always a film at the Sundance Film Festival that absolutely floors me with its storytelling. This year, that’s Ira Sachs’ Passages. A compassionate yet powerful showcase of uncertainty and sexuality, the story presents human experience in ways that feel inventive yet familiar. And with showstopping and downright sexy performances from Rogowski, Exarchopoulos, and Whishaw, it’s easy to see why Passages is one of my favorite films of the festival. Add this one to your watchlist now!

Rating: 4 out of 5.

6. King Coal | Director: Elaine McMillion Sheldon

King Coal for Sundance 2023
Courtesy of Sundance Institute

Sundance Synopsis: Central Appalachia is a place of mountains and myth. Director Elaine McMillion Sheldon knows this well, calling those mountains home. Coal has had a profound influence on this community’s identity, but Sheldon dares to consider what future stories might look like out of the shadow of coal, now that relationships to coal are changing. She takes us on an alluring cinematic journey through the past, present, and future of Appalachia. 

Review: Director Sheldon’s vision to capture moments of life in a coal-mining town are simply beautiful. She mixes archival footage and lovely landscapes to celebrate the love the locals have for their community. While the voiceover isn’t as effective as hearing the learnings from the local inhabitants, things like the score and interactions between the locals amplify the watching experience. A great balance of expressive storytelling and an imaginative self-reflection, King Coal is a beautiful film about legacy and familial history.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

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