Sundance 2022 once again followed the ongoing festival trend in this increasingly pandemic prone era: “festival-goers” were forced to peer into their home screens to watch the selection, rather than enjoying the fresh mountain air and apres ski moments in snowy Park City, Utah.
In the spirit of independent cinema the winners were nevertheless worthwhile in their subject matter, a sardonic Bill Nighy saving things from being too worthy with his cancer-themed drama LIVING described by The Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw as “a gentle, exquisitely sad film” set in 1950s London, deftly adapted from Akira Kurosawa’s original screenplay by Kazuo Ishiguro, and directed by Oliver Hermanus, a South African filmmaker who goes from strength to strength building on his previous success with Moffie (Venice 2020).
The main festival prizes went to Daniel Roher’s NAVALNY an expansive documentary that follows the increasingly relevant story of nerve agent poisoning survivor and politician Alexei Navalny, lifting the lid on the toxic backstory behind his struggle to survive in Putin’s ongoing regime.
Two Indian brothers choose the urgent plight of a bird known as the Black Kite to raise the profile of New Delhi’s toxic pollution and escalating violence in ALL THAT BREATHES, an impressionistic documentary that won the World Cinema Grand Jury Prize. From a makeshift hospital in their tiny basement the brothers look after the endangered creatures that fall daily from the skies into their tender care. Awarding the film 4.5 out of 5, Critic Amber Wilkinson wrote: “(director) Sen could easily just have made an observational documentary about the brothers’ day-to-day work or simply focused on the kites themselves but he stretches its wings much further than that”.
Other features to look out for are CHA CHA REAL SMOOTH an intoxicating love story which won an Audience Award and stars Cooper Raiff as a Bar Mitzvah party host who falls in love with Dakota Johnson’s divorced mother coping with an autistic child.
The tragic life of Diana, Princess of Wales gets another airing (thankfully in documentary form after Pablo Larrain’s ghastly fleshing in his ill-advised recent drama). UK director Ed Perkins’s THE PRINCESS uses a cash of clips and commentary to offer further insight into a tragic story that just keeps on going.
UTAMA, Alejandro Loayza Grisi’s feature debut and winner of the World Cinema Dramatic Prize, looks at the daily life of an elderly couple surviving against the odds in the challenging climate of the Bolivian Highlands. Another film exploring human stories of endeavour, THE EXILES, was awarded the US Documentary prize for documentarian Violet Columbus who continues her investigation into three exiled dissidents from the Tiananmen Square massacre, a feature she first started shooting in the aftermath to the atrocities in 1989.
And to end on a note of horror, Nikyatu Jusu expands on her TV series ‘Two Sentence Horror Stories’ with her feature debut NANNY that took the Top Jury Prize in the US Dramatic strand. Combining the well-worn themes of alienation, colonialism and privilege it tells the story of a young black woman who discovers strange goings on when she takes a job in an market New York household. MT