January 2020 - Cover Story: Sundance Film Festival 2020


It’s January, which means snow and films are in the air in Utah. The Sundance Film Festival is back with a new round of films - 118 to be exact. The festival includes dramatic and documentary features and short films and series and episodic content. New Frontier showcases emerging media through multimedia installations, performances, and film. Along with daily filmmaker conversations, panel discussions, and live music events. Festival’s Director of Programming, Kim Yutani, is very excited about this year’s entries. “Authenticity and independent voices resonate across formats – and that’s evident across the full spectrum of this year’s Indie Episodic and Special Events slates. Defined by distinctive voices and enlightening viewpoints, these are riveting projects that find inspiration in the urgent stories and extraordinary individuals of our times.”

Sundance continues to show the diversity of its entries. 48% of the entries were directed or created by one or more women, 33% were directed or created by one or more filmmakers of color, and 19% by one or more people who identify as LGBTQIA. 7 were supported by Sundance Institute in development, whether through direct granting or Labs. 74 short films will screen at the Festival from 27 countries and chosen from 10,397 submissions - 4,992 from the U.S. and 5,405 international. The Institute's support for short films extends internationally and year-round, with select Festival shorts presented as a traveling program at seventy-five theaters in the U.S., Canada, and Europe each year, and short films and filmmakers taking part in regional Master Classes geared towards supporting emerging shorts-makers in several cities.

Mike Plante, Senior Programmer, Shorts, is excited with the variety of entries, “With an unprecedented number of 10,397 submissions, we had so many great shorts to choose from. It is thrilling to share so many unique visions and new talents from the burgeoning world of shorts." Among the shorts the Festival has shown in recent years are Fauve, Aziza, Ghosts of Sugar Land, Thunder Road, Whiplash and The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom.

Here are just a few selections that caught our eye:

Little Chief / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Erica Tremblay) — The lives of a Native woman and a troubled young boy intersect over the course of a school day on a reservation in Oklahoma.

Are You Hungry? / Finland (Director: Teemu Niukkanen, Screenwriter: Antti Toivonen) — A single mother struggles to connect with her adopted teenage son, whom she believes is gay.

A Love Song for Latasha / U.S.A. (Director: Sophia Nahli Allison) — A dreamlike archive in conversation with the past and the present to reimagine a more nuanced narrative of Latasha Harlins by excavating intimate and poetic memories shared by her cousin and best friend.

Untitled Pizza Movie / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: David Shapiro) — How do you remember somebody in a disposable world? Weaving an abandoned film about pizza (NYC in the early 90s), a stunning, physical archive (thousands of objects) with a remarkable triple portrait, this series traces three lives over thirty years, three continents, and the faultlines of class, dreams, and memory.

Hillary / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Nanette Burstein) — A portrait of a public woman, interweaving moments from never-before-seen 2016 campaign footage with biographical chapters of Hillary Rodham Clinton's life. Featuring exclusive interviews with Hillary herself, Bill Clinton, friends, and journalists, an examination of how she became simultaneously one of the most admired and vilified women in the world.

LANCE / U.S.A. (Director: Marina Zenovich, Producers: Marina Zenovich, P.G. Morgan) — This deeply personal examination of one of the world’s most controversial figures examines a man who’s both winner and loser, saint and sinner. With unprecedented access to Lance's world, this psychological portrait is a powerful study of that 21st-century phenomenon: the celebrity who falls spectacularly and publicly from grace.

McMillions / U.S.A. (Directors: James Lee Hernandez, Brian Lazarte, Executive Producers: Mark Wahlberg, Stephen Levinson, Archie Gips, James Lee Hernandez, Brian Lazarte) — McMillions is the definitive, real-life account of the McDonald's Monopoly game scam, which defrauded the American public throughout the 1990s, as told by the “prize winners," criminals, government officials, and FBI agents, whom eventually took the crime ring down.

The Last Shift / U.S.A. (Director: Andrew Cohn) — Stanley (Richard Jenkins), an aging fast-food worker, plans to call it quits after 38 years on the graveyard shift at Oscar’s Chicken and Fish. His last weekend takes a turn while training his replacement, Jevon (Shane Paul McGhie), a talented but stalled young writer whose provocative politics keep landing him in trouble. The men are worlds apart. A high school dropout who has watched life pass by his drive-through window, Stanley proudly details the nuances of the job. Jevon, a columnist who’s too smart to be flipping patties, contends their labor is being exploited. But a flicker of trust sparks during the long overnight hours in a quiet kitchen.

Nine Days / U.S.A. (Director: Edson Oda) — What if being born is not the beginning but the goal? In a house distant from the reality we know, a reclusive man named Will interviews prospective candidates—personifications of human souls—for the privilege he once had: to be born. Five contenders emerge. During the course of nine days, Will tests each of them, but he can choose only one. The victor will be rewarded with a coveted opportunity to become a newborn in the real world, while the others will cease to exist—nine days is everything they’ll ever experience.

Crip Camp / U.S.A. (Director: Narcissister) — Focusing on the exercise by women of their right to bare their breasts in public, this film is an investigation into how prohibitions on female toplessness are grounded in fear of and desire to control, the female body.

Dream Horse / U.S.A. (Director: Euros Lyn) — The film tells the true story of Jan Vokes, (Academy Award® nominee Toni Collette) a Welsh cleaner and bartender, who decides to breed and rear a racehorse. She persuades her neighbors and friends to contribute financially to the scheme. The group’s unlikely investment plan pays off as the horse rises through the ranks and puts them in a race for the national championship.

Find a full list of films at www.sundance.org.

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