Sundance Film Festival 2020

December 13th, 2019
Author: Meredith Taylor

In Park City Utah, ROBERT REDFORD and his programmer John Cooper have set the indie film agenda for 2020 with an array of provocative new titles in a festival that runs from 23 January until 2 February. This year’s selection includes the latest US drama from Josephine Decker (Thou Wast Mild and Lovely); and new documentaries about Chechnya, Bruce Lee and Woodstock competing in the US Dramatic section. Branden Cronenberg will be showing his latest film, Possessor starring Andrea Riseborough; who also appears in the Egyptian drama Luxor. Noemie Merlant is fresh from Portrait of a Woman on Fire, in Zoe Wittock’s Jumbo. 

UK director Oscar Raby brings A Machine for Viewing​, a unique three-episode hybrid of real-time VR experience, live performance and video essay in which three moving-image makers explore how we now watch films by putting various ‘machines for viewing,’ including cinema and virtual reality, face to face.

EXHIBITIONS

All Kinds of Limbo​ / United Kingdom (Lead Artists: Toby Coffey, Raffy Bushman, Nubiya Brandon) — The National Theatre of Great Britain’s communal musical journey reflecting the influence of West Indian culture on the UK’s music scene across the genres of reggae, grime, classical, and calypso. Immersive technologies, the ceremony of live performance and the craft of theatrical staging bring audiences into a VR performance space. Cast: Nubiya Brandon.

U.S. DRAMATIC COMPETITION

47% of the directors in this year’s U.S. Dramatic Competition are women; 52% are people of color; 5% are LGBTQ+.

The 40-Year-Old Version / U.S.A. Director and screenwriter: Radha Blank

A down-on-her-luck New York playwright decides to reinvent herself and salvage her artistic voice the only way she knows how: by becoming a rapper at age 40. Cast: Radha Blank, Peter Kim, Oswin Benjamin, Reed Birney, World Premiere

BLAST BEAT / U.S.A. Director: Esteban Arango

After their family emigrates from Colombia during the summer of ‘99, a metalhead science prodigy and his deviant younger brother do their best to adapt to new lives in America. Cast: Moises Arias, Mateo Arias, Daniel Dae Kim, Kali Uchis, Diane Guerrero, Wilmer Valderrama. World Premiere

Charm City Kings / U.S.A. (Director: Angel Manuel Soto

Mouse desperately wants to join The Midnight Clique, the infamous Baltimore dirt bike riders who rule the summertime streets. When Midnight’s leader, Blax, takes 14-year-old Mouse under his wing, Mouse soon finds himself torn between the straight-and-narrow and a road filled with fast money and violence.

Cast: Jahi Di’Allo Winston, Meek Mill, Will Catlett, Teyonah Parris, Donielle Tremaine World Premiere

Dinner in America / U.S.A. (Dir/writer: Adam Rehmeier

An on-the-lam punk rocker and a young woman obsessed with his band go on an unexpected and epic journey together through the decaying suburbs of the American Midwest.. Cast: Kyle Gallner, Emily Skeggs, Pat Healy, Griffin Gluck, Lea Thompson, Mary Lynn Rajskub. World Premiere

The Evening Hour / U.S.A. Dir: Braden King

Cole Freeman maintains an uneasy equilibrium in his rural Appalachian town, looking after the old and infirm while selling their excess painkillers to local addicts. But when an old friend returns with plans that upend the fragile balance and identity he’s so painstakingly crafted, Cole is forced to take action. Cast: Philip Ettinger, Stacy Martin, Cosmo Jarvis, Michael Trotter, Kerry Bishé, Lili Taylor. World Premiere

Farewell Amor / U.S.A. (Dir/writer: Ekwa Msangi

Reunited after a 17 year separation, Walter, an Angolan immigrant, is joined in the U.S. by his wife and teenage daughter. Now absolute strangers sharing a one-bedroom apartment, they discover a shared love of dance that may help overcome the emotional distance between them. Cast: Ntare Guma Mbaho Mwine, Zainab Jah, Jayme Lawson, Joie Lee, Marcus Scribner, Nana Mensah. World Premiere

Minari / U.S.A. (Dir/writer: Lee Isaac Chung

David, a 7-year-old Korean-American boy, gets his life turned upside down when his father decides to move their family to rural Arkansas and start a farm in the mid-1980s, in this charming and unexpected take on the American Dream. Cast: Steven Yeun, Han Yeri, Youn Yuh Jung, Will Patton, Alan Kim, Noel Kate Cho. World Premiere

Miss Juneteenth / U.S.A. (Dir/Writer: Channing Godfrey Peoples

Turquoise, a former beauty queen turned hardworking single mother, prepares her rebellious teenage daughter for the “Miss Juneteenth” pageant, hoping to keep her from repeating the same mistakes in life that she did. Cast: Nicole Beharie, Kendrick Sampson, Alexis Chikaeze, Lori Hayes, Marcus Maudlin. World Premiere

Never Rarely Sometimes Always / U.S.A. (Dir/Wri: Eliza Hittman

An intimate portrayal of two teenage girls in rural Pennsylvania. Faced with an unintended pregnancy and a lack of local support, Autumn and her cousin Skylar embark on a brave, fraught journey across state lines to New York City. Cast: Sidney Flanigan, Talia Ryder, Théodore Pellerin, Ryan Eggold, Sharon Van Etten. World Premiere

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Nine Days / U.S.A. (Dir/Writer: Edson Oda,

In a house distant from the reality we know, a reclusive man interviews prospective candidates—personifications of human souls—for the privilege that he once had: to be born. Cast: Winston Duke, Zazie Beetz, Benedict Wong, Bill Skarsgård, Tony Hale, David Rysdahl. World Premiere.

Palm Springs / U.S.A. Dir: Max Barbakow

When carefree Nyles and reluctant maid of honor Sarah have a chance encounter at a Palm Springs wedding, things get complicated the next morning when they find themselves unable to escape the venue, themselves, or each other. Cast: Andy Samberg, Cristin Milioti, J.K. Simmons, Meredith Hagner, Camila Mendes, Peter Gallagher. World Premiere

Save Yourselves! / U.S.A. Dir/Wri: Alex Huston Fischer, Eleanor Wilson

A young Brooklyn couple head upstate to disconnect from their phones and reconnect with themselves. Cut off from their devices, they miss the news that the planet is under attack. Cast: Sunita Mani, John Reynolds, Ben Sinclair, Johanna Day, John Early, Gary Richardson. World Premiere

Shirley / U.S.A. Dir: Josephine Decker

A young couple moves in with the famed author, Shirley Jackson, and her Bennington College professor husband, Stanley Hyman, in the hope of starting a new life but instead find themselves fodder for a psycho-drama that inspires Shirley’s next novel. Cast: Elisabeth Moss, Michael Stuhlbarg, Odessa Young, Logan Lerman. World Premiere

Sylvie’s Love / U.S.A. (Dir/Wri: Eugene Ashe

Years after their summer romance comes to an end, an aspiring television producer and a talented musician cross paths, only to find their feelings for each other never changed. With their careers taking them in different directions, they must choose what matters most. Cast: Tessa Thompson, Nnamdi Asomugha, Eva Longoria, Aja Naomi King, Wendi Mclendon-Covey, Jemima Kirke. World Premiere

Wander Darkly / U.S.A. (Dir/Wri: Tara Miele

New parents Adrienne and Matteo are forced to reckon with trauma amidst their troubled relationship. They must revisit the memories of their past and unravel haunting truths in order to face their uncertain future. Cast: Sienna Miller, Diego Luna, Beth Grant, Aimee Carrero, Tory Kittles, Vanessa Bayer. World Premiere

Zola / U.S.A. (Dir/Wri: Janicza Bravo, Jeremy O. Harris

@zolarmoon tweets “wanna hear a story about why me & this bitch here fell out???????? It’s kind of long but full of suspense.” Two girls bond over their “hoeism” and become fast friends. What’s supposed to be a trip from Detroit to Florida turns into a weekend from hell. Cast: Taylour Paige, Riley Keough, Nicholas Braun, Colman Domingo. World Premiere

U.S. DOCUMENTARY COMPETITION

Sixteen world-premiere American documentaries that illuminate the ideas, people and events that shape the present day. Films that have premiered in this category in recent years include APOLLO 11, Knock Down The House, One Child Nation, American Factory, Three Identical Strangers and On Her Shoulders. 45% of the directors in this year’s U.S. Documentary Competition are women; 23% are people of color; 23% are LGBTQ+.

A Thousand Cuts / U.S.A., Philippines Dir/Wri:Ramona S Diaz

Nowhere is the worldwide erosion of democracy, fueled by social media disinformation campaigns, more starkly evident than in the authoritarian regime of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte. Journalist Maria Ressa places the tools of the free press—and her freedom—on the line in defense of truth and democracy. World Premiere

Be Water / U.S.A., UK  Director: Bao Nguyen

In 1971, after being rejected by Hollywood, Bruce Lee returned to his parents’ homeland of Hong Kong to complete four iconic films. Charting his struggles between two worlds, this portrait explores questions of identity and representation through the use of rare archival, interviews with loved ones and Bruce’s own writings. World Premiere

Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets / U.S.A. Dir: Bill Ross, Turner Ross

In the shadows of the bright lights of Las Vegas, it’s last call for a beloved dive bar known as the Roaring 20s. A document of real people, in an unreal situation, facing an uncertain future: America at the end of 2016. World Premiere

Boys State / U.S.A. Dirs Jesse Moss, Amanda McBaine,

In an unusual experiment, a thousand 17-year-old boys from Texas join together to build a representative government from the ground up. World Premiere

Code for Bias / US/UK/China Dir/Wri Shalini Kantayya

Exploring the fallout of MIT Media Lab researcher Joy Buolamwini’s startling discovery that facial recognition does not see dark-skinned faces accurately, and her journey to push for the first-ever legislation in the U.S. to govern against bias in the algorithms that impact us all. World Premiere

The Cost of Silence / US  Dir: Mark Manning

An industry insider exposes the devastating consequences of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and uncovers systemic corruption between government and industry to silence the victims of a growing public health disaster. Stakes could not be higher as the Trump administration races to open the entire U.S. coastline to offshore drilling. World Premiere

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Crip Camp / U.S.A. (Dir: Nicole Newnham, Jim LeBrecht,

Down the road from Woodstock in the early 1970s, a revolution blossomed in a ramshackle summer camp for disabled teenagers, transforming their young lives and igniting a landmark movement. World Premiere. DAY ONE

Dick Johnson Is Dead / US. Dir: Kirsten Johnson

With this inventive portrait, a cameraperson seeks a way to keep her 86-year-old father alive forever. Utilizing moviemaking magic and her family’s dark humor, she celebrates Dr. Dick Johnson’s last years by staging fantasies of death and beyond. Together, dad and daughter confront the great inevitability awaiting us all. World Premiere

Feels Good Man / US. Dir: Arthur Jones

When indie comic character Pepe the Frog becomes an unwitting icon of hate, his creator, artist Matt Furie, fights to bring Pepe back from the darkness and navigate America’s cultural divide. World Premiere

The Fight / US. | Dirs: Elyse Steinberg, Josh Kriegman, Eli Despres

Inside the ACLU, a team of scrappy lawyers battle Trump’s historic assault on civil liberties. World Premiere

Mucho Mucho Amor / US. Dirs: Cristina Costantini, Kareem Tabsch

Once the world’s most famous astrologer, Walter Mercado seeks to resurrect a forgotten legacy. Raised in the sugar cane fields of Puerto Rico, Walter grew up to become a gender non-conforming, cape-wearing psychic whose televised horoscopes reached 120 million viewers a day for decades before he mysteriously disappeared. World Premiere

Spaceship Earth / U.S.A. Director: Matt Wolf

In 1991 a group of countercultural visionaries built an enormous replica of earth’s ecosystem called Biosphere 2. When eight “biospherians” lived sealed inside, they faced ecological calamities and cult accusations. Their epic adventure is a cautionary tale but also a testament to the power of small groups reimagining the world. World Premiere

Time / U.S.A. (Director: Garrett Bradley

Fox Rich, indomitable matriarch and modern-day abolitionist, strives to keep her family together while fighting for the release of her incarcerated husband. An intimate, epic, and unconventional love story, filmed over two decades. World Premiere

Us Kids / U.S.A. (Dir: Kim A. Snyder

Determined to turn unfathomable tragedy into action, the teenage survivors of Parkland, Florida catalyze a powerful, unprecedented youth movement that spreads with lightning speed across the country, as a generation of mobilized youth take back democracy in this powerful coming-of-age story. World Premiere

Welcome to Chechnya / U.S.A. (Dir: David France

This searing investigative work shadows a group of activists risking unimaginable peril to confront the ongoing anti-LGBTQ pogrom raging in the repressive and closed Russian republic. Unfettered access and a remarkable approach to protecting anonymity exposes this under-reported atrocity–and an extraordinary group of people confronting evil. World Premiere

Whirlybird / U.S.A. Dir: Matt Yoka

Soaring above the chaotic spectacle of ‘80s and ‘90s Los Angeles, a young couple revolutionized breaking news with their brazen helicopter reporting. Culled from this news duo’s sprawling video archive is a poignant L.A. story of a family in turbulence hovering over a city unhinged. World Premiere

WORLD CINEMA DRAMATIC COMPETITION

Twelve films from emerging filmmaking talents around the world offer fresh perspectives and inventive styles. Films that have premiered in this category in recent years include The Souvenir, The Guilty, Monos, Yardie, The Nile Hilton Incident and Second Mother.

Charter / Sweden (Dir/Wri: Amanda Kernell |

After a recent and difficult divorce, Alice hasn’t seen her children in two months as she awaits a custody verdict. When her son calls her in the middle of the night, Alice takes action, abducting the children on an illicit charter trip to the Canary Islands. Cast: Ane Dahl Torp, Troy Lundkvist, Tintin Poggats Sarri, Sverrir Gudnason, Eva Melander, Siw Erixon. World Premiere

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Cuties / France (Dir/Wri: Maïmouna Doucouré, Producer: Zangro)

Amy, 11 years old, meets a group of dancers called “Cuties.” Fascinated, she initiates herself to a sensual dance, hoping to join their band and escape family dysfunction… Cast: Fathia Youssouf, Médina El Aidi-Azouni, Esther Gohourou, Ilanah Cami-Goursolas, Myriam Hamma, Maïmouna Gueye. World Premiere. DAY ONE

Exil / Germany, Belgium, Kosovo (Dir/Wri: Visar Morina

A chemical engineer feeling discriminated against and bullied at work plunges into an identity crisis. Cast: Mišel Matičević, Sandra Hüller. World Premiere

High Tide / Argentina (Dir/Wri: Verónica Chen,

Laura is spending a few days at her beach house to supervise the construction of a barbecue shed. One afternoon, she seduces the chief builder, who never returns. Over the following days, the builders continually invade her home – until Laura grows ferocious. Cast: Gloria Carrá, Jorge Sesán, Cristian Salguero, Mariana Chaud, Camila Fabbri, Héctor Bordoni. World Premiere

Jumbo / France, Luxembourg, Belgium (Dir/Wri: Zoé Wittock,

Jeanne, a shy young woman, works in an amusement park. Fascinated with carousels, she still lives at home with her mother. That’s when Jeanne meets Jumbo, the park’s new flagship attraction… Cast: Noémie Merlant, Emmanuelle Bercot, Sam Louwyck. World Premiere

Luxor / Egypt, United Kingdom Dir/Wri Zeina Durra,

When British aid worker Hana returns to the ancient city of Luxor, she comes across Sultan, a talented archeologist and former lover. As she wanders, haunted by the familiar place, she struggles to reconcile the choices of the past with the uncertainty of the present. Cast: Andrea Riseborough, Karim Saleh, Michael Landes, Sherine Reda, Salima Ikram, Shahira Fahmy. World Premiere

Possessor / Canada, United Kingdom Dir/Wri: Brandon Cronenberg,

Vos is a corporate agent who uses brain-implant technology to inhabit other people’s bodies, driving them to commit assassinations for the benefit of the company. When something goes wrong on a routine job, she finds herself trapped inside a man whose identity threatens to obliterate her own. Cast: Andrea Riseborough, Christopher Abbott, Rossif Sutherland, Tuppence Middleton, Sean Bean, Jennifer Jason Leigh. World Premiere

Identifying Features (Sin Señas Particulares) / Mexico, Spain (Director: Fernanda Valadez,

Magdalena makes a journey to find her son, gone missing on his way to the Mexican border with the US. Her odyssey takes her to meet Miguel, a man recently deported from the U.S. They travel together, Magdalena looking for her son, and Miguel hoping to see his mother again. Cast: Mercedes Hernández, David Illescas, Juan Jesús Varela, Ana Laura Rodríguez, Laura Elena Ibarra, Xicoténcatl Ulloa. World Premiere

Summer White (Blanco de Verano) / Mexico (Dir/Wri: Rodrigo Ruiz Patterson,

Rodrigo is a solitary teenager, a king in the private world he shares with his mother. Things change when she takes her new boyfriend home to live. He must decide if he fights for his throne and crushes the happiness of the person he loves the most. Cast: Adrián Rossi, Sophie Alexander-Katz, Fabián Corres. World Premiere

Surge / United Kingdom (Director: Aneil Karia

A man goes on a bold and reckless journey of self-liberation through London. After he robs a bank he releases a wilder version of himself, ultimately experiencing what it feels like to be alive. Cast: Ben Whishaw, Ellie Haddington, Ian Gelder, Jasmine Jobson. World Premiere

This Is Not A Burial, It’s A Resurrection / Lesotho, South Africa, Italy (Dir/Wri Lemohang Jeremiah Mosese

When her village is threatened with forced resettlement due to reservoir construction, an 80-year-old widow finds a new will to live and ignites the spirit of resilience within her community. In the final dramatic moments of her life, Mantoa’s legend is forged and made eternal. Cast: Mary Twala Mhlongo, Jerry Mofokeng Wa Makheta, Makhoala Ndebele, Tseko Monaheng, Siphiwe Nzima. International Premiere

Yalda, a Night for Forgiveness / Iran, France, Germany, Switzerland, Luxembourg (Dir/Wri: Massoud Bakhshi,

Maryam accidentally killed her husband Nasser and is sentenced to death. The only person who can save her is Mona, Nasser’s daughter. All Mona has to do is appear on a TV show and forgive Maryam. But forgiveness proves difficult when they are forced to relive the past. Cast: Sadaf Asgari, Behnaz Jafari, Babak Karimi, Fereshteh Sadr Orafaee, Forough Ghajebeglou, Fereshteh Hosseini. International Premiere

WORLD CINEMA DOCUMENTARY COMPETITION

Twelve documentaries by some of the most courageous and extraordinary international filmmakers working today. Films that have premiered in this category in recent years include Honeyland, Sea of Shadows, Shirkers, This is Home, Last Men in Aleppo and Hooligan Sparrow.

Acasa, My Home / Romania, Germany, Finland (Director: Radu Ciorniciuc, Screenwriters: Lina Vdovii, Radu Ciorniciuc, Producer: Monica Lazurean-Gorgan

In the wilderness of the Bucharest Delta, nine children and their parents lived in perfect harmony with nature for 20 years–until they are chased out and forced to adapt to life in the big city. World Premiere

The Earth Is Blue as an Orange / Ukraine, Lithuania (Director: Iryna Tsilyk,

To cope with the daily trauma of living in a war zone, Anna and her children make a film together about their life among surreal surroundings. World Premiere

Epicentro / Austria, France, U.S.A. (Dir/writer: Hubert Sauper,

Cuba is well known as a so-called time capsule. The place where the New World was discovered has become both a romantic vision and a warning. With ongoing global cultural and financial upheavals, large parts of the world could face a similar kind of existence. World Premiere

Influence / South Africa, Canada (Directors and Screenwriters: Diana Neille, Richard Poplak,

Charting the recent advancements in weaponized communication by investigating the rise and fall of the world’s most notorious public relations and reputation management firm: the British multinational Bell Pottinger. World Premiere

Into the Deep / Denmark (Dir: Emma Sullivan

In 2016, a young Australian filmmaker began documenting amateur inventor Peter Madsen. One year in, Madsen brutally murdered Kim Wall aboard his homemade submarine. An unprecedented revelation of a killer and the journey his young helpers take as they reckon with their own complicity and prepare to testify. World Premiere

The Mole Agent / Chile, U.S.A., Germany, The Netherlands, Spain (Dir and screenwriter: Maite Alberdi

When a family becomes concerned about their mother’s well-being in a retirement home, private investigator Romulo hires Sergio, an 83 year-old man who becomes a new resident–and a mole inside the home, who struggles to balance his assignment with becoming increasingly involved in the lives of several residents. World Premiere

Once Upon A Time in Venezuela / Venezuela, United Kingdom, Brazil, Austria (DirWri: Anabel Rodríguez Ríos,

Once upon a time, the Venezuelan village of Congo Mirador was prosperous, alive with fisherman and poets. Now it is decaying and disintegrating–a small but prophetic reflection of Venezuela itself. World Premiere

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The Painter and the Thief / Norway Director: Benjamin Ree

An artist befriends the drug addict and thief who stole her paintings. She becomes his closest ally when he is severely hurt in a car crash and needs full time care, even if her paintings are not found. But then the tables turn. World Premiere. DAY ONE

The Reason I Jump / United Kingdom Dir: Jerry Rothwell

Based on the book by Naoki Higashida this immersive film explores the experiences of nonspeaking autistic people around the world. World Premiere

Saudi Runaway / Switzerland (Dir/Wri: Susanne Regina Meures, Producer: Christian Frei) — Muna, a young, fearless woman from Saudi Arabia, is tired of being controlled by the state and patronised by her family. With an arranged marriage imminent, a life without rights and free will seems inevitable. Amjad decides to escape. An unprecedented view inside the world’s most repressive patriarchy. World Premiere

Softie / Kenya (Director and screenwriter: Sam Soko, Producers: Toni Kamau, Sam Soko) — Boniface Mwangi is daring and audacious, and recognized as Kenya’s most provocative photojournalist. But as a father of three young children, these qualities create tremendous turmoil between him and his wife Njeri. When he wants to run for political office, he is forced to choose: country or family? World Premiere

The Truffle Hunters / Italy, U.S.A., Greece (Dirs: Michael Dweck, Gregory Kershaw

In the secret forests of Northern Italy, a dwindling group of joyful old men and their faithful dogs search for the world’s most expensive ingredient, the white Alba truffle. Their stories form a real-life fairy tale that celebrates human passion in a fragile land that seems forgotten in time. World Premiere

SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL | 23 JANUARY – 2 FEBRUARY 2020

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