2021 gets off to a lowkey start with Sundance film festival announcing a mostly virtual edition, along with Rotterdam that follows in its footsteps on February 7th.
Sundance welcomes fewer features to this year’s line-up with 72 feature films as apposed to last year’s 118, but nearly half are female directed and 15% from the LGBTQ+ community.
Themes of retreat, regeneration and renewal are the touchstones to this year’s programme and this seems entirely appropriate given our global experience since March 2020. The world has taken stock of itself but not necessarily come up with the answers. Many film festivals are congratulating themselves for ‘increased attendance record’ with a boost from their online community. Watching films, and attending festivals online works as a complementary form of entertainment in extremis, but make no mistake, the vast majority of viewers still prefer the buzz of the festival experience and the human element that it brings.
As we stand of the brink of 2021 most of us are experiencing some sense of disconnection with our previous existence, and Robin Wright echoes this sentiment in her directorial debut, in which she also stars ,as a woman who seeks a life off grid after bereavement. Very much in the same vein as the Venice 2020 triumph Nomadland, Wright’s film Land is one of the most apposite and buzz-worthy films in the premiere lineup at this year’s Utah festival.
Sundance Institute founder and president Robert Redford is deeply aware of this social and emotional disenfranchisement and comments “Togetherness has been an animating principle here at the Sundance Institute as we’ve worked to reimagine the festival for 2021, because there is no Sundance without our community,”
And this sentiment resonates through the competition line-up. with other narrative features directly alluding to the tragedy that has affected, possibly more than we realise going forward.
A list of films confirmed for the 2021 Sundance Film Festival are as follows.
World Cinema Dramatic Competition
The Dog Who Wouldn’t Be Quiet | Argentina (Dir: Ana Katz, writers: Ana Katz, Gonzalo Delgado | World Premiere
Sebastian, a man in his 30s, works a series of temporary jobs and he embraces love at every opportunity. He transforms, through a series of short encounters, as the world flirts with possible apocalypse. Cast: Daniel Katz, Julieta Zylberberg, Valeria Lois, Mirella Pascual, Carlos Portaluppi.
Passing / UK/US (Dir/wri: Rebecca Hall | World Premiere
Based on the 19th century novel by Chicago born writer Nella Larsen, this first feature for Rebecca Hall sees two high old school friends reunited in a mutual obsession that threatens both of their carefully constructed realities.
El Planeta / US/Spain (Dir/Wri Amalia Ulman | World Premiere
Amid the devastation of post-crisis Spain, mother and daughter bluff and grift to keep up the lifestyle they think they deserve, bonding over common tragedy and an impending eviction. Cast: Amalia Ulman, Ale Ulman, Nacho Vigalondo, Zhou Chen, Saoirse Bertram.
Fire in the Mountains / India (Dir/Wri: Ajitpal Singh | World Premiere
A mother toils to save money to build a road in a Himalayan village to take her wheelchair-bound son for physiotherapy, but her husband, who believes that an expensive religious ritual is the remedy, steals her savings. Cast: Vinamrata Rai, Chandan Bisht, Mayank Singh Jaira, Harshita Tewari, Sonal Jha.
Hive / Kos, Switzerland, Macedonia, Albania (Dir/Wri: Blerta Basholli | World Premiere
Fahrije’s husband has been missing since the war in Kosovo. She sets up her own small business to provide for her kids, but as she fights against a patriarchal society that does not support her, she faces a crucial decision: to wait for his return, or to continue to persevere. Cast: Yllka Gashi, Çun Lajçi, Aurita Agushi, Kumrije Hoxha, Adriana Matoshi, Kaona Sylejmani.
Human Factors / Ger, Italy, Denmark (Dir/Wri: Ronny Trocker | World Premiere
A mysterious housebreaking exposes the agony of an exemplary middle-class family. Cast: Sabine Timoteo, Mark Waschke, Jule Hermann, Wanja Valentin Kube, Hannes Perkmann, Daniel Séjourné.
Luzzu / Malta (Dir/Wri): Alex Camilleri | World Premiere
Jesmark, a struggling fisherman on the island of Malta, is forced to turn his back on generations of tradition and risk everything by entering the world of black-market fishing to provide for his girlfriend and newborn baby. Cast: Jesmark Scicluna, Michela Farrugia, David Scicluna.
One for the Road / China,Hong Kong, Thailand (Dir: Baz Poonpiriya, Wri: Baz Poonpiriya, Nottapon Boonprakob, Puangsoi Aksornsawang, Wong Kar Wai) | World Premiere
Boss is a consummate ladies’ man, a free spirit and a bar owner in NYC. One day, he gets a surprise call from Aood, an estranged friend who has returned home to Thailand. Dying of cancer, Aood enlists Boss’ help to complete a bucket list — but both are hiding something. Cast: Tor Thanapob, Ice Natara, Violette Wautier, Aokbab Chutimon, Ploi Horwang, Noon Siraphun.
The Pink Cloud / Brazil (Dir/Wri: Iuli Gerbase, | World Premiere
A mysterious and deadly pink cloud appears across the globe, forcing everyone to stay home. Strangers at the outset, Giovana and Yago try to invent themselves as a couple as years of shared lockdown pass. While Yago is living in his own utopia, Giovana feels trapped deep inside. Cast: Renata de Lélis, Eduardo Mendonça.
Pleasure / Swed/Neth/France (Dir,Wri: Ninja Thyberg | World Prem
A 20-year-old girl moves from her small town in Sweden to L.A. for a shot at a career in the adult film industry. Cast: Sofia Kappel, Revika Anne Reustle, Evelyn Claire, Chris Cock, Dana DeArmond, Kendra Spade.
Prime Time / Poland (Dir: Jakub Piątek, Writers: Jakub Piątek, Lukasz Czapski | World Premierę
On the last day of 1999, 20-year-old Sebastian locks himself in a TV studio. He has two hostages, a gun and an important message for the world. The story of the attack explores a rebel’s extreme measures and last resort. Cast: Bartosz Bielenia, Magdalena Poplawska, Andrzej Klak, Malgorzata Hajewska-Krzysztofik, Dobromir Dymecki, Monika Frajczyk.
World Cinema Documentary Competition
Faya Dayi / Ethiopia/US (Dir/Wri: Jessica Beshir) | World Premiere
A spiritual journey into the highlands of Harar, immersed in the rituals of khat, a leaf Sufi Muslims chewed for centuries for religious meditations — and Ethiopia’s most lucrative cash crop today. A tapestry of intimate stories offers a window into the dreams of youth under a repressive regime.
Flee / Den/Norway/Sweden/France (Dir Jonas Poher Rasmussen | World Premiere
Amin arrived as an unaccompanied minor in Denmark from Afghanistan. Today, he is a successful academic and is getting married to his longtime boyfriend. A secret he has been hiding for 20 years threatens to ruin the life he has built. W
Inconvenient Indian | Canada (Dir/Wri: Michelle Latimer | International premiere
An examination of Thomas King’s brilliant dismantling of North America’s colonial narrative, which reframes history with the powerful voices of those continuing the tradition of Indigenous resistance.
Misha and the Wolves
United Kingdom, Belgium (Dir/Wri: Sam Hobkinson) | World Premiere
A woman’s Holocaust memoir takes the world by storm, but a fallout with her publisher turned detective reveals her story as an audacious deception created to hide a darker truth.
The Most Beautiful Boy in the World / Sweden (Dir: Kristina Lindström, Kristian Petri | World Premiere
Swedish actor/musician Björn Andresen’s life was forever changed at the age of 15, when he played Tadzio, the object of Dirk Bogarde’s obsession in Death in Venice — a role that led Italian maestro Luchino Visconti to dub him “the world’s most beautiful boy.”
Playing With Sharks / Australia (Dir/Wri: Sally Aitken | World Premier
Valerie Taylor is a shark fanatic and an Australian icon — a marine maverick who forged her way as a fearless diver, cinematographer and conservationist. She filmed the real sharks for Jaws and famously wore a chainmail suit, using herself as shark bait, changing our scientific understanding of sharks forever.
President / Denmark/US, Norway (Dir: Camilla Nielsson | World Premiere
Zimbabwe is at a crossroads. The leader of the opposition MDC party, Nelson Chamisa, challenges the old guard ZANU-PF led by Emmerson Mnangagwa, known as “The Crocodile.” The election tests both the ruling party and the opposition — how do they interpret principles of democracy in discourse and in practice?
Sabaya / Sweden (Dir/Wri: Hogir Hirori | World Premiere
With just a mobile phone and a gun, Mahmud, Ziyad and their group risk their lives trying to save Yazidi women and girls being held by ISIS as Sabaya (abducted sex slaves) in the most dangerous camp in the Middle East, Al-Hol in Syria
Taming the Garden / Swit/Ger, Georgia (Dir: Salomé Jashi | World Premiere
A poetic ode to the rivalry between men and nature. World Premiere
Writing With Fire / India (Dir/Wris: Rintu Thomas, Sushmit Ghosh | World Premiere
In a cluttered news landscape dominated by men, emerges India’s only newspaper run by Dalit women. Armed with smartphones, chief reporter Meera and her journalists break traditions on the front lines of India’s biggest issues and within the confines of their own homes, redefining what it means to be powerful.
The Blazing World / U.S.A. (Dir: Carlson Young, Wri: Carlson Young, Pierce Brown | World Premiere
Decades after the accidental drowning of her twin sister, a self-destructive young woman returns to her family home, finding herself drawn to an alternate dimension where her sister may still be alive. Cast: Udo Kier, Carlson Young, Dermot Mulroney, Vinessa Shaw, John Karna, Soko.
Cryptozoo / US (Dir/Wr: Dash Shaw) | World Premiere
As cryptozookeepers struggle to capture a Baku (a legendary dream-eating hybrid creature) they begin to wonder if they should display these rare beasts in the confines of a cryptozoo, or if these mythical creatures should remain hidden and unknown. Cast: Lake Bell, Michael Cera, Angeliki Papoulia, Zoe Kazan, Peter Stormare, Grace Zabriskie
First Date / US. (Dir/Wri: Manuel Crosby, Darren Knapp | World Premiere
Conned into buying a shady ’65 Chrysler, Mike’s first date with the girl next door, Kelsey, implodes as he finds himself targeted by criminals, cops and a crazy cat lady. A night fueled by desire, bullets and burning rubber makes any other first date seem like a walk in the park. Cast: Tyson Brown, Shelby Duclos, Jesse Janzen, Nicole Berry, Ryan Quinn Adams, Brandon Kraus.
Ma Belle, My Beauty / US., France (Dir/Wri: Marion Hill | World Premiere
A surprise reunion in southern France reignites passions and jealousies between two women who were formerly polyamorous lovers. Cast: Idella Johnson, Hannah Pepper, Lucien Guignard, Sivan Noam Shimon.
R#J / US (Dir/Wri Carey William | World Premiere
A reimagining of Romeo and Juliet, taking place through their cellphones, in a mash-up of Shakespearean dialogue with current social media communication. Cast: Camaron Engels, Francesca Noel, David Zayas, Diego Tinoco, Siddiq Saunderson, Russell Hornsby.
Searchers / US. (Dir: Pacho Velez | World Premiere
In encounters alternately humorous and touching, a diverse set of New Yorkers navigate their preferred dating apps in search of their special someone.
Strawberry Mansion / US (Dir/Wri: Albert Birney, Kentucker Audley | World Premiere
In a world where the government records and taxes dreams, an unassuming dream auditor gets swept up in a cosmic journey through the life and dreams of an aging eccentric named Bella. Together, they must find a way back home. Cast: Penny Fuller, Kentucker Audley, Grace Glowicki, Reed Birney, Linas Phillips, Constance Shulman.
We’re All Going to the World’s Fair / US (Dir/Wri: Jane Schoenbrun | World Premiere
A teenage girl becomes immersed in an online role-playing game. Cast: Anna Cobb, Michael J. Rogers.
Amy Tan: Unintended Memoir / US. (Director: James Redford | World Premiere
Amy Tan has established herself as one of America’s most respected literary voices. Born to Chinese immigrant parents, it would be decades before the author of The Joy Luck Club would fully understand the inherited trauma rooted in the legacies of women who survived the Chinese tradition of concubinage.
Bring Your Own Brigade / US. (Dir/wri: Lucy Walker | World Premiere
A character-driven verité and revelatory investigation takes us on a journey embedded with firefighters and residents on a mission to understand the causes of historically large wildfires and how to survive them, discovering that the solution has been here all along.
Eight for Silver / U.S.A., France (Dir/Wri Sean Ellis | World Premiere
In the late 1800s, a man arrives in a remote country village to investigate an attack by a wild animal but discovers a much deeper, sinister force that has both the manor and the townspeople in its grip. Cast: Boyd Holbrook, Kelly Reilly, Alistair Petrie, Roxane Duran, Aine Rose Daly.
How It Ends / US (Dir/Wri Daryl Wein, Zoe Lister-Jones | World Premiere
On the last day on Earth, one woman goes on a journey through L.A. to make it to her last party before the world ends, running into an eclectic cast of characters along the way. Cast: Zoe Lister-Jones, Cailee Spaeny, Olivia Wilde, Fred Armisen, Helen Hunt, Lamorne Morris.
In the Earth / UK (Dir/Wri: Ben Wheatley | World Premiere
As a disastrous virus grips the planet, a scientist and a park scout venture deep into the forest for a routine equipment run. Through the night, their journey becomes a terrifying voyage through the heart of darkness as the forest comes to life around them. Cast: Joel Fry, Ellora Torchia, Hayley Squires, Reece Shearsmith
In the Same Breath / US. (Dir: Nanfu Wang) | World Premiere
How did the Chinese government turn pandemic coverups in Wuhan into a triumph for the Communist party? An essential narrative of firsthand accounts of the novel coronavirus, and a revelatory examination of how propaganda and patriotism shaped the outbreak’s course — both in China and in the U.S. World Premiere, Documentary. DAY ONE
Marvelous and the Black Hole / US (Dir/Wri Kate Tsang, Producer | World Premiere
A teenage delinquent befriends a surly magician who helps her navigate her inner demons and dysfunctional family with sleight of hand magic, in a coming-of-age comedy that touches on unlikely friendships, grief and finding hope in the darkest moments. Cast: Miya Cech, Rhea Perlman, Leonardo Nam, Kannon Omachi, Paulina Lule, Keith Powell.
Mass / US (Dir/Wri: Fran Kranz | World Premiere
Years after a tragic shooting, the parents of both the victim and the perpetrator meet face to face. Cast: Jason Isaacs, Ann Dowd, Martha Plimpton, Reed Birney.
My Name Is Pauli Murray / US (Dirs: Betsy West, Julie Cohen |World premiere
Overlooked by history, Pauli Murray was a legal trailblazer whose ideas influenced RBG’s fight for gender equality and Thurgood Marshall’s landmark civil rights arguments. Featuring never-before-seen footage and audio recordings, a portrait of Murray’s impact as a nonbinary Black luminary: lawyer, activist, poet and priest who transformed our world.
Philly D.A. / US. (Dirs: Ted Passon, Yoni Brook | World Premiere
A groundbreaking inside look at the long-shot election and tumultuous first term of Larry Krasner, Philadelphia’s unapologetic district attorney, and his experiment to upend the criminal justice system from the inside out.
Prisoners of the Ghostland / US. (Dir: Sion Sono, Wri: Aaron Hendry, Reza Sixo Safai | World Premiere
A notorious criminal is sent to rescue an abducted woman who has disappeared into a dark supernatural universe. They must break the evil curse that binds them and escape the mysterious revenants that rule the Ghostland, an East-meets-West vortex of beauty and violence. Cast: Nicolas Cage, Sofia Boutella, Nick Cassavetes, Bill Moseley, Tak Sakaguchi, Yuzuka Nakaya.
The Sparks Brothers / UK (Dir: Edgar Wright | World Premiere
How can one rock band be successful, underrated, hugely influential and criminally overlooked all at the same time? Take a musical odyssey through five weird and wonderful decades with brothers Russell & Ron Mael, celebrating the inspiring legacy of Sparks: your favorite band’s favourite band.
Street Gang: How We Got to Sesame Street / US. (Dir/: Marilyn Agrelo | World Premiere
How did a group of rebels create the world’s most famous street? In 1969 New York, this “gang” of mission-driven artists, writers and educators catalyzed a moment of civil awakening, transforming it into Sesame Street, one of the most influential and impactful television programs in history.
Censor / UK (Dir/Wri: Prano Bailey-Bond, Aris: Prano Bailey-Bond, Anthony Fletcher | World Premiere
When film censor Enid discovers an eerie horror that speaks directly to her sister’s mysterious disappearance, she resolves to unravel the puzzle behind the film and its enigmatic director — a quest blurring the lines between fiction and reality in terrifying ways. Cast: Niamh Algar, Nicholas Burns, Vincent Franklin, Sophia La Porta, Adrian Schiller, Michael Smiley.
Coming Home in the Dark / NZ (Dir: James Ashcroft, Wri: Eli Kent, James Ashcroft | World Premiere
A family’s outing descends into terror when teacher Alan Hoaganraad, his wife Jill, and stepsons Maika and Jordon explore an isolated coastline. An unexpected meeting with a pair of drifters, the enigmatic psychopath Mandrake and his accomplice Tubs, thrusts the family into a nightmare when they find themselves captured. Cast: Daniel Gillies, Erik Thomson, Miriama McDowell, Matthias Luafutu.
A Glitch in the Matrix / US (Dir Rodney Ascher | World Premiere
A multimedia exploration of simulation theory — an idea as old as Plato’s Republic and as current as Elon Musk’s Twitter feed — through the eyes of those who suspect our world isn’t real. Part sci-fi mind-scrambler, part horror story, this is a digital journey to the limits of radical doubt.
Knocking / Sweden (Dir: Frida Kempff, Wri: Emma Broström | World Premiere
When Molly moves into her new apartment after a tragic accident, a strange noise from upstairs begins to unnerve her. As its intensity grows, she confronts her neighbors — but no one seems to hear what she is hearing. Cast: Cecilia Milocco.
Mother Schmuckers / Belgium (Dir/Wri: Lenny Guit, Harpo Guit | World Premiere
Issachar & Zabulon, two brothers in their 20s, are supremely stupid and never bored, as madness is part of their daily lives. When they lose their mother’s beloved dog, they have 24 hours to find it — or she will kick them out. Cast: Harpo Guit, Maxi Delmelle, Claire Bodson, Mathieu Amalric, Habib Ben Tanfous.
Life in a Day 2020 / US/UK. (Dir: Kevin Macdonald | World Premier
An extraordinary, intimate, global portrait of life on our planet, filmed by thousands of people across the world, on a single day: 25th July 2020.
Sundance Film Festival | 28 January – 3 February 2021