In a break from previous years, the Sundance Film Festival unveiled its entire feature program in a single announcement, touting 110 films — 99 of them world premieres — set to screen in Park City until January 28th. This year’s edition includes films from 47 first-time directors, representing 29 countries.
Films cover a wide range of genres and styles, while demonstrating conversation-setting engagement with a number of contemporary themes, from police brutality with films like “Blindspotting,” and “Monsters and Men”, to slave labor in “Kailash” to sexual abuse via a homosexual conversion therapy memoir titled “The Miseducation of Cameron Post”.
Looking over this year’s program guide and the talent involved, these are our twenty one must-see movies for Sundance 2018.
At a watershed moment in which America grapples with gender, race, and the complex nature of systemic change, an illustrious group of artists including Patrick Gaspard (vice president of the Open Society Foundation), Issa Rae (Insecure), Megan Smith (third U.S. chief technology officer, CEO of shift7), and Christine Vachon (Colette, Wonderstruck) talk with Washington Post journalist Sarah Ellison about their work, the power of media, and the role creative choices play in shifting culture and crystallizing the national conversation. How do storytellers transform not only the arts and media fields but society at large? What’s at stake in terms of the stories we tell and who tells them, and how will these decisions shape our future?
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Hidden inside overcrowded factories around the world, countless children are forced into slave labor due to rising global demands for cheap goods. With the help of a covert network of informants, Nobel Prize winner Kailash Satyarthi and his dedicated team carry out daring raids to rescue and rehabilitate imprisoned children. Using hidden cameras and playing the role of buyers at the factory to gain access, we watch Kailash take on one of his most challenging missions to date: finding Sonu, a young boy trafficked to Delhi for work who has been missing for eight months. Now his father dreams of Sonu coming home.
The Miseducation of Cameron Post
Cameron Post (Chloë Grace Moretz) looks the part of a perfect high school girl. But after she’s caught with another girl in the back seat of a car on prom night, Cameron is quickly shipped off to a conversion therapy center that treats teens “struggling with same-sex attraction.” At the facility, Cameron is subjected to outlandish discipline, dubious “de-gaying” methods, and earnest Christian rock songs—but this unusual setting also provides her with an unlikely gay community. For the first time, Cameron connects with peers, and she’s able to find her place among fellow outcasts.
Eighth-grader Kayla Day always has her phone in hand, hoping to find connections online that might make up for those she’s unable to forge in everyday life. She makes YouTube videos aimed at other adolescents dealing with similar issues—feelings of isolation, anxiety, and invisibility—but after so easily summoning this wisdom and confidence when addressing her (barely existent) audience, Kayla finds it paralyzingly difficult to apply in real situations.
MATANGI / MAYA / M.I.A.
Drawn from a cache of personal tapes shot by Maya and her closest friends over the last 22 years, MATANGI / MAYA / M.I.A. captures Maya’s remarkable journey from immigrant teenager in London to international popstar M.I.A. Maya kept the camera rolling through her battles with the music industry and mainstream media as her success and fame grew around the world. Filmmaker and longtime friend Stephen Loveridge situates us inside the personal process of one of the most provocative and divisive artists working in music today.
Studio 54 was the epicenter of ’70s hedonism—a monumental magnet for beautiful stars, casual sex, and mounds of cocaine, a den of excess that defined its own rules and enshrined the ostracized, queer, and fabulous. Matt Tyrnauer (Valentino: The Last Emperor) chronicles the rise and fall of this nightclub’s founders: two best friends from Brooklyn, Ian Schrager and Steve Rubell, who conquered New York City only to have it crumble before their eyes.
Over the past 25 years, Lauren Greenfield’s documentary photography and film projects have explored youth culture, gender, body image, and affluence. In this fascinating meld of career retrospective and film essay, Greenfield offers a meditation on her extensive body of work, structuring it through the lens of materialism and its increasing sway on culture and society in America and throughout the world. Underscoring the ever-increasing gap between the haves and the have-nots, her portraits reveal a focus on cultivating image over substance, where subjects unable to attain actual wealth instead settle for its trappings, no matter their ability to pay for it.
It’s 2017 in Bisbee, Arizona, an old copper-mining town just miles from the Mexican border. The town’s close-knit community prepares to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Bisbee’s darkest hour: the infamous Bisbee Deportation of 1917, during which 1,200 striking miners were violently taken from their homes, banished to the middle of the desert, and left to die.
A mysterious stream of pig carcasses floats silently toward China’s populous economic hub, Shanghai. As authorities struggle to explain the phenomenon, a down-and-out pig farmer with a youthful heart struggles to make ends meet, while an upwardly mobile landowner fights gentrification against an American expat seeking a piece of the Chinese dream. Meanwhile, a romantic busboy hides his job from his father, while a rich young woman struggles to find her independence. Like a mosaic, their stories intersect and converge in a showdown between human and machine, past and future, brother and sister.
Exploding with energy, style, and raw emotion, Blindspotting unravels today’s intersection of race and class with urgent and poetic justice. The electrifyingly talented cast serves Oakland’s heart and soul on a platter, and the film’s stars—Rafael Casal and Daveed Diggs—who play best friends in the film—also co-wrote the script. Boldly directed by Carlos López Estrada, this provocative hometown love letter glistens with humanity, dropping you into a vastly layered story and asking what you see.
Jane Fonda in Five Acts
Will the real Jane Fonda please stand up? This catchphrase (from the old TV show To Tell the Truth), sums up the heart of master documentarian Susan Lacy’s definitive examination into the life and work of a true American icon who has always confounded labels and outpaced the zeitgeist. Girl next door, sex kitten, political activist, fitness tycoon, feminist, Academy Award winner—Jane Fonda has lived a life of controversy, tragedy, and transformation, all in the public eye.
The Kindergarten Teacher
Stuck in Staten Island, married to a kind but oblivious husband, and living with kids that mostly ignore her, 40-year-old Lisa Spinelli (Maggie Gyllenhaal) plods through her days teaching kindergarten with growing numbness. Her one source of joy is an evening poetry class across the bay in Lower Manhattan. But one day everything changes—Lisa discovers that a five-year-old boy in her class may be the poet she can only dream of being. She becomes fascinated. Could this child be a prodigy?
Indonesia, India, Mexico, Hawaii, and many other countries, communities, and islands are rife with the ravages of environmental degradation. But hope comes with a surprising—and touching—group of young people. Meet six brilliant high school students as they prepare for the world’s largest high school science competition: the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF).
King in the Wilderness
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s leadership during the the bus boycotts, the sit-ins, and the historic Selma-to-Montgomery marches is now considered the stuff of legend. But left out of the history books is much of what happened afterward, during the last three years of his life. King in the Wilderness reveals a conflicted leader who, after the Voting Rights Act passed in 1965, faced an onslaught of criticism from both sides of the political spectrum; the Black Power movement saw his nonviolence as weakness, and President Lyndon B. Johnson saw his anti–Vietnam War speeches as irresponsible. King’s fervent belief in peaceful protest became a testing point for a nation on the brink of chaos.
Monsters And Men
One night, in front of a bodega in Brooklyn’s Bed–Stuy neighborhood, Manny Ortega witnesses a white police officer wrongfully gun down a neighborhood street hustler, and Manny films the incident on his phone. Now he’s faced with a dilemma: release the video and bring unwanted exposure to himself and his family, or keep the video private and be complicit in the injustice?
What happens when your nation is swallowed by the sea? With the harsh realities of climate change looming, the low-lying Pacific nation Kiribati must find a new solution for the survival of its people. With sweeping cinematography, Anote’s Ark interweaves two poignant stories. Anote Tong, endearing president of the island, races to find options—advocating in international climate negotiations and even investigating building underwater cities. At the same time, warm and sharp-witted Sermary, a young mother of six, tackles every struggle with humour. She must decide whether to leave the only culture she knows on the island and migrate to a new life in New Zealand.
Crime + Punishment
Meet the NYPD12: a group of minority whistleblower officers who risk everything to expose racially discriminatory policing practices and smash the blue wall of silence. Crime + Punishment is a captivating and cinematic investigation into the New York Police Department’s outlawed practices of quota-driven policing and officer retaliation.
Do objects retain a spark of life from their owner after that person dies? This question catapults a dynamic brother-sister filmmaking duo on an epic odyssey to excavate their deceased grandma Annette’s unassuming Newark home of 71 years. Toothbrushes, tax documents, three vacuum cleaners—her motley collection of stuff becomes a universe unto itself, springing to life in the cinematic playground of this innovative documentary.
Recently single, Korean-born LA artist Sophia devotes herself to her public performance art, whether it’s a provocative Korean perspective in the park on the LA Riots or face planting into cheesy puffs for Instagram. To pay the bills, she does odd jobs on TaskRabbit. When a filmmaker reaches out to discuss an acting role in his film, she is excited to explore the opportunity, only to realize he can’t distinguish between her art and her real-life identity.
Sorry To Bother You
Cassius Green (Lakeith Stanfield), a 30-something black telemarketer with self-esteem issues, discovers a magical selling power living inside of him. Suddenly he’s rising up the ranks to the elite team of his company, which sells heinous products and services. The upswing in Cassius’s career raises serious red flags with his brilliant girlfriend, Detroit (Tessa Thompson), a sign-twirling gallery artist who is secretly a part of a Banksy-style collective called Left Eye. But the unimaginable hits the fan when Cassius meets the company’s cocaine-snorting, orgy-hosting, obnoxious, and relentlessly optimistic CEO, Steve Lift (Armie Hammer).
I Think We’re Alone Now
Del (Peter Dinklage) is alone in the world. Literally. After the human race is wiped out, he lives in a small, empty town, methodically going from house to house, collecting batteries and other useful items, and burying the dead. He dines alone, reads, watches movies, and shelves books in the local library he’s made his home. He’s content in his solitude—until he discovers Grace (Elle Fanning), an interloper on his quiet earth. Her history and motives are obscure, and worse yet, she wants to stay.
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