Jess’ Most Anticipated Films of Sundance 2019
As I’ll be attending Sundance for the first time ever (and hopefully not the last!) there’s a lot of travel anxiety and crazy pre-planning going on. But what always brings me back to peace as a blissful reminder are the many films just waiting to be seen. I wish I could already just inject everything into my eyeballs, but I’ll just have to be patient and have fun making mental lists for now! Here are ten of my most anticipated films screening at Sundance Film Festival.
This Is Not Berlin (dir. Hari Sama)
Set in the wake of Mexico’s 1986 World Cup, director Hari Sama’s drama is about a 17-year-old boy, Carlos, who doesn’t feel like he fits in anywhere. Rather than anticipating the soccer festivities, he’s busy with record collections and admiring his best friend’s older sister. Much like a coming-of-age film, he soon discovers sexual liberties, art like no other, and being introduced to party drugs at a nightclub. Set to a post-punk rock soundtrack and fueled by experimental angst, This Is Not Berlin seems to be an inviting, infectious film to catch from this unique voice and his cast of actors. After all, Hari Sama is a lead vocalist in the Mexico-based Punk-New Wave band, Euridice, so I’m yearning to see how performance art and ravishing musical influence find their way into the film. Sama’s previous feature films The Dream of Lu (2011), Awakening Dust (2013), and Sunka Raku – Evanescent Joy (2015) have screened in a variety of film festivals worldwide. His latest will be competing in the World Cinema Dramatic Competition.
The Last Tree (dir. Shola Amoo)
Dubbed by director Shola Amoo as “semi-autobiographical,” his latest film The Last Tree follows Femi (Sam Adewunmi), a British boy of Nigerian descent living in Lincolnshire with his foster-mother. When his biological mother enters his life to reclaim him, Femi struggles to conform to the inner-city London life and will start to carve his own identity and mature in this new mental environment. Amoo’s film seems like a very personal journey of catharsis and growth. With the push and pulls of never knowing your heritage and balancing those changes, this film seems like an internal, quiet power of self. Amoo’s film will be competing in the World Cinema Dramatic Competition.
Knock the House Down (dir. Rachel Lears)
Director and producer Rachel Lears takes a candid dive into the rise and tribulations of four women looking to shake things up in American politics. The documentary follows Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Amy Vilela, Cori Bush, and Paula Jean Swearengin as they push forward in their valiant campaigns to topple the incumbents that sit high in the country’s government. The backbone of this “people over profit” movement is demonstrated in full heroism as they fight for what’s right. Lears’ first feature, The Hand That Feeds, which followed a group of undocumented immigrants fighting against their abusive workforce conditions in a New York restaurant chain, was nominated for an Emmy. Lears’ eye for the important and unjust is a pointed direction of immediacy and therefore, I cannot wait to see this new documentary. Knock Down The House is produced by Rachel Lears’ company with Robin Blotnick, Jubilee Films and will be competing in the U.S. Documentary Competition.
The Sharks (dir. Lucía Garibaldi)
I may be a bit partial to this one, considering director Lucía Garibaldi is Uruguayan. Her debut feature film Los Tiburones (The Sharks) is a coming-of-age tale set alongside rumors of sharks entering the coastal area our character Rosina lives in. Not only does she tackle the real world edges, but she also approaches first time worries as any other teenager would have to. With the looming thoughts of shark sightings and maneuvering through a budding relationship, Rosina (Romina Bentancur) sets off on a path to not be overlooked. Hazy, quiet, and soaked in warmth, Garibaldi’s film looks right up my alley. It’ll be competing in the World Cinema Dramatic Competition.
Greener Grass (dir. Jocelyn DeBoer, Dawn Luebbe)
A dark comedy for the midnight madness! Jocelyn DeBoer and Dawn Luebbe co-write and co-direct this peculiar and absurd film about two suburban women contending for societal validation in a reality that is far off the deep end of normality. Much like their award-winning short of the same name, Greener Grass is set in a world where virtually everyone wears braces with perfect teeth and is complicit in a very farcical, very dark playing field of a society. This looks like it can satisfy the absurdist in us! With the two filmmakers starring as leads, they’re accompanied in the cast by Beck Bennett, Neil Casey, Mary Holland, and D’Arcy Carden. DeBoer and Luebbe’s film will be competing in the Midnight program.
Sweetheart (dir. JD Dillard)
Blumhouse will be present at this year’s festival with JD Dillard’s Sweetheart starring Kiersey Clemons. The film will of course be a horror/thriller looking to ignite discussion. After a wonderful performance in Hearts Beat Loud, Clemons takes up a genre role that sounds like the perfect showcase of talent for her career. Jenn gets stranded on a tropical island. With no one in sight, she must fend for herself and survive, even against the unknown force that comes out at night. Dillard’s sophomore directorial effort will be screening in the Midnight program.
Hala (dir. Minhal Baig)
If you’re not already familiar with Minhal Baig’s background of work, get familiar! She’s a story editor on Netflix’s Bojack Horseman, a previous staff writer on the Untitled Ramy Youssef Project, and now she’s adapted her short film Hala into a feature length telling. Hala is a teen in Chicago, academically talented and an only child to Pakistani immigrants. When her Muslim faith impedes on her coming-of-age passion and discovered sexual identity, Hala must come to terms with these complications and persist on challenging these customs in order to keep her individuality. Geraldine Viswanathan (Blockers) leads the film in what can only boost her charismatic prowess. Baig’s Hala will be competing in the U.S. Dramatic Competition.
Honey Boy (dir. Alma Har’el)
With a screenplay written by the idiosyncratic Shia LaBeouf, Alma Har’el’s Honey Boy stars Lucas Hedges as a child actor, Otis, growing up to endure a tough relationship with his heavy drinking father (LaBeouf) over the course of a decade. Noah Jupe (A Quiet Place) takes on the role of a younger Otis, in a story that looks to examine relational pains and awaited forgiveness in the confines of this father-son dynamic. Having LaBeouf pen the script is something that already begs a curiosity out of me. His last writing credit was for the 2011 short horror mockumentary Maniac, which he directed. His “Just Do It” video never ceases to whoop my procrastination in the ass, so color me intrigued for his creative venture here. Working with a director on this film who is artistically known to infuse performance art and dreamlike cinematography, this piques at least some interest. Har’el’s documentary Bombay Beach (2011) won a Jury Award at Tribeca Film Festival. She has a background working on music videos, shorts, and docs. Her film Honey Boy will be competing in the U.S. Dramatic Competition.
The Farewell (dir. Lulu Wang)
What is said to be a remarkable turn of role for Awkwafina, Lulu Wang’s The Farewell centers on the unbreakable bonds of a family, one that is slowly learning to say goodbye to their matriarch who has terminal lung cancer. Rather than telling her, the family, with Billi’s (Awkwafina) arrival from New York, intend to relish in the rekindlement of bonds in the face of their grief and plan a wedding for their goodbyes. The film will be competing in the U.S. Dramatic Competition.
Part of the Shorts Festival Program, eight animated short films ranging from a girl dreaming of a perfect world called ‘Abroad,’ to a street race paralleling the Black experience in America, the animated medium is an always flourishing landscape that knows no boundaries. It invites the escapism, the lonely, the curious, the fascinating, and even the protests of norms. It’s the sort of thinking that bursts colors in our dreams and welcomes you into artistic imageries that follow you home. The Animated Shorts Program will be screening works from Renee Zhan, Ana Nedeljkovic, Anca Damian, Marc Torices, André Hörmann, Jeron Braxton, Lorène Yavo, and Tomek Popakul.