These are our must-see films for this year’s Sundance Film Festival.
Queer content is in pink.
U.S. DRAMATIC COMPETITION
The Birth of a Nation
U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Nate Parker)
Set against the antebellum South, this story follows Nat Turner, a literate slave and preacher whose financially strained owner, Samuel Turner, accepts an offer to use Nat’s preaching to subdue unruly slaves. After witnessing countless atrocities against fellow slaves, Nat devises a plan to lead his people to freedom.
Cast: Nate Parker, Armie Hammer, Aja Naomi King, Jackie Earle Haley, Gabrielle Union, Mark Boone Jr.
U.S.A. (Director: Andrew Neel, Screenwriters: David Gordon Green, Andrew Neel, Michael Roberts)
Reeling from a terrifying assault, a 19-year-old boy pledges his brother’s fraternity in an attempt to prove his manhood. What happens there, in the name of “brotherhood,” tests both the boys and their relationship in brutal ways.
Cast: Nick Jonas, Ben Schnetzer, Virginia Gardner, Danny Flaherty, Austin Lyon.
U.S.A. (Director: So Yong Kim, Screenwriters: So Yong Kim, Bradley Rust Gray)
Neglected by her husband, Sarah embarks on an impromptu road trip with her young daughter and her best friend, Mindy. Along the way, the dynamic between the two friends intensifies before circumstances force them apart. Years later, Sarah attempts to rebuild their intimate connection in the days before Mindy’s wedding.
Cast: Jena Malone, Riley Keough, Brooklyn Decker, Amy Seimetz, Ryan Eggold, Rosanna Arquette.
Morris from America
U.S.A., Germany (Director and screenwriter: Chad Hartigan)
Thirteen-year-old Morris, a hip-hop loving American, moves to Heidelberg, Germany, with his father. In this completely foreign land, he falls in love with a local girl, befriends his German tutor-turned-confidant, and attempts to navigate the unique trials and tribulations of adolescence.
Cast: Markees Christmas, Craig Robinson, Carla Juri, Lina Keller, Jakub Gierszał, Levin Henning.
U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Chris Kelly)
A struggling comedy writer, fresh from breaking up with his boyfriend, moves to Sacramento to help his sick mother. Living with his conservative father and younger sisters, David feels like a stranger in his childhood home. As his mother worsens, he tries to convince everyone (including himself) he’s “doing okay.”
Cast: Jesse Plemons, Molly Shannon, Bradley Whitford, Maude Apatow, Zach Woods, June Squibb.
World Premiere. DAY ONE FILM
Southside With You
U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Richard Tanne)
Chronicles a single day in the summer of 1989 when the future president of the United States, Barack Obama, wooed his future First Lady on an epic first date across Chicago’s South Side.
Cast: Tika Sumpter, Parker Sawyers, Vanessa Bell Calloway.
U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Andrew Ahn)
A young Korean-American man works to reconcile his obligations to his struggling immigrant family with his burgeoning sexual desires in the underground world of gay hookups at Korean spas in Los Angeles.
Cast: Joe Seo, Haerry Kim, Youn Ho Cho, Tae Song, Ho Young Chung, Linda Han.
Swiss Army Man
U.S.A. (Directors and screenwriters: Daniel Scheinert, Daniel Kwan)
Hank, a hopeless man stranded in the wild, discovers a mysterious dead body. Together the two embark on an epic journey to get home. As Hank realizes the body is the key to his survival, this once-suicidal man is forced to convince a dead body that life is worth living.
Cast: Paul Dano, Daniel Radcliffe, Mary Elizabeth Winstead.
U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Sian Heder)
A rootless young woman takes a toddler from a wealthy, negligent mother and passes the baby off as her own in an effort to protect her. This decision connects and transforms the lives of three very different women.
Cast: Ellen Page, Allison Janney, Tammy Blanchard, Evan Jonigkeit, Uzo Aduba.
U.S. DOCUMENTARY COMPETITION
Author: The JT LeRoy Story
U.S.A. (Director: Jeff Feuerzeig)
The definitive look inside the mysterious case of 16-year-old literary sensation JT LeRoy—a creature so perfect for his time that if he didn’t exist, someone would have had to invent him. Perhaps someone did? The strangest story about story ever told.
U.S.A. (Director: Clay Tweel)
At the age of 34, Steve Gleason, former NFL defensive back and New Orleans hero, was diagnosed with ALS. Doctors gave him two to five years to live. So that is what Steve chose to do: Live—both for his wife and newborn son and to help others with this disease.
U.S.A. (Director: undisclosed)
Just out of college, a young filmmaker joins a loving, secretive, and spiritual community led by a charismatic teacher in 1980s West Hollywood. Twenty years later, the group is shockingly torn apart. Told through two decades of the filmmaker’s archival materials, this is their story.
U.S.A. (Director: Brian Oakes)
The public execution of American conflict journalist James Foley captured the world’s attention, but he was more than just a man in an orange jumpsuit. Seen through the lens of his close childhood friend, Jim moves from adrenaline-fueled front lines and devastated neighborhoods of Syria into the hands of ISIS.
U.S.A., Sweden (Director: Sara Jordenö)
Through a strikingly intimate and visually daring lens, Kiki offers a riveting, complex insight into a safe space created and governed by LGBTQ youths of color, who are demanding happiness and political power. The film is an exciting coming-of-age story about agency, resilience, and the transformative art form of voguing.
U.S.A. (Director: Roger Ross Williams)
Owen Suskind, an autistic boy who could not speak for years, slowly emerged from his isolation by immersing himself in Disney animated movies. Using these films as a roadmap, he reconnects with his loving family and the wider world in this emotional coming-of-age story. From the director of God Loves Uganda
U.S.A. (Director: Kim A. Snyder)
After joining the ranks of a growing club no one wants to belong to, the people of Newtown, Conn. weave an intimate story of resilience. This film traces the aftermath of the worst mass shooting of schoolchildren in American history as the traumatized community finds a new sense of purpose.
U.S.A. (Director: Penny Lane)
The mostly true story of Dr. John Romulus Brinkley, an eccentric genius who built an empire with his goat-testicle impotence cure and a million-watt radio station. Animated reenactments, interviews, archival footage, and one seriously unreliable narrator trace his rise from poverty to celebrity and influence in 1920s America.
The SAINT of Dry Creek
U.S.A. (DIRECTOR Julie Zammarchi)
Patrick Haggarty was a teenager in rural Dry Creek, Wash. in the late 1950s, Here, he remembers the day he first had a conversation with his father about being gay. Screens with Suited.
U.S.A. (Director: Jason Benjamin)
Bindle & Keep, a Brooklyn tailoring company, makes custom suits for a growing legion of gender-nonconforming clients. Screens with The Saint of Dry Creek.
U.S.A. (Director: Dawn Porter)
American abortion clinics are in a fight for survival. Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers (TRAP) laws are increasingly being passed by states that maintain they ensure women’s safety and health, but as clinics continue to shut their doors, opponents believe the real purpose of these laws is to outlaw abortion.
U.S.A., United Kingdom (Director: Aaron Brookner)
Howard Brookner’s first film, Burroughs: The Movie, captured the cultural revolution of downtown New York City in the early ‘80s. Twenty-five years after his promising career was cut short by AIDS, his nephew sets out to discover Howard’s never-before-seen films to create a cinematic elegy about his childhood idol.
U.S.A. (Directors: Josh Kriegman, Elyse Steinberg)
With unrestricted access to Anthony Weiner’s New York City mayoral campaign, this film reveals the human story behind the scenes of a high-profile political scandal as it unfolds, and offers an unfiltered look at how much today’s politics is driven by an appetite for spectacle.
WORLD CINEMA DOCUMENTARY COMPETITION
Sky Ladder: The Art of Cai Guo-Qiang
U.S.A. (Director: Kevin Macdonald)
Having reached the pinnacle of the global art world with his signature explosion events and gunpowder drawings, world-famous Chinese contemporary artist Cai Guo-Qiang is still seeking more. We trace his rise from childhood in Mao’s China and his journey to attempt to realize his lifelong obsession, Sky Ladder.
World Premiere. DAY ONE FILM
Germany, Iran, Switzerland (Director: Rokhsareh Ghaem Maghami)
If 18-year-old Sonita had a say, Michael Jackson and Rihanna would be her parents and she’d be a rapper who tells the story of Afghan women and their fate as child brides. She finds out that her family plans to sell her to an unknown husband for $9,000.
North American Premiere
First Girl I Loved
U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Kerem Sanga)
Seventeen-year-old Anne just fell in love with Sasha, the most popular girl at her L.A. public high school. But when Anne tells her best friend, Clifton—who has always harbored a secret crush on her—he does his best to get in the way.
Cast: Dylan Gelula, Brianna Hildebrand, Mateo Arias, Jennifer Prediger, Tim Heidecker, Pamela Adlon.
U.S.A., Italy (Director: Anna Rose Holmer, Screenwriters: Anna Rose Holmer, Saela Davis, Lisa Kjerulff)
In this psychological portrait, Toni, an 11-year-old tomboy, is assimilating into a tight-knit dance team in Cincinnati’s West End when a mysterious outbreak of fainting spells plagues the team, and her desire for acceptance is twisted.
Cast: Royalty Hightower, Alexis Neblett, Da’Sean Minor, Lauren Gibson, Makyla Burnam, Inayah Rodgers.
North American Premiere
(France-Poland / Director: Anne Fontaine, Screenwriters: Sabrina N. Karine, Alice Vial, Pascal Bonitzer)
1945 Poland: Mathilde, a young French doctor, is on a mission to help World War II survivors. When a nun seeks her assistance in helping several pregnant nuns in hiding, who are unable to reconcile their faith with their pregnancies, Mathilde becomes their only hope.
Cast: Lou de Laage, Agata Kulesza, Agata Buzek, Vincent Macaigne, Joanna Kulig, Katarzyna Dabrowska.
Director and screenwriter: Matt Ross
Deep in the forests of the Pacific Northwest, a father devoted to raising his six kids with a rigorous physical and intellectual education is forced to leave his paradise and re-enter society, beginning a journey that challenges his idea of what it means to be a parent.
Cast: Viggo Mortensen, Frank Langella, George MacKay, Kathryn Hahn, Steve Zahn, Ann Dowd.
Director: Kelly Reichardt, Screenwriter: Kelly Reichardt based on stories by Maile Meloy)
The lives of three woman intersect in small-town America, where each is imperfectly blazing a trail.
Cast: Laura Dern, Kristen Stewart, Michelle Williams, James Le Gros, Jared Harris, Lily Gladstone.
The Fundamentals of Caring
Director and screenwriter: Rob Burnett
Having suffered a tragedy, Ben becomes a caregiver to earn money. His first client, Trevor, is a hilarious 18-year-old with muscular dystrophy. One paralyzed emotionally, one paralyzed physically, Ben and Trevor hit the road, finding hope, friendship, and Dot in this funny and touching inspirational tale.
Cast: Paul Rudd, Craig Roberts, Selena Gomez, Jennifer Ehle, Megan Ferguson, Frederick Weller.
Hunt for the Wilderpeople
New Zealand (Director and screenwriter: Taika Waititi)
Ricky is a defiant young city kid who finds himself on the run with his cantankerous foster uncle in the wild New Zealand bush. A national manhunt ensues, and the two are forced to put aside their differences and work together to survive in this heartwarming adventure comedy.
Cast: Julian Dennison, Sam Neill, Rima Te Wiata, Rachel House, Oscar Kightley.
U.S.A. (Director: Ira Sachs, Screenwriters: Mauricio Zacharias, Ira Sachs)
When 13-year-old Jake’s grandfather dies, his family moves back into their old Brooklyn home. There, Jake befriends Tony, whose single Chilean mother runs the shop downstairs. As their friendship deepens, however, their families are driven apart by a battle over rent, and the boys respond with a vow of silence.
Cast: Greg Kinnear, Jennifer Ehle, Paulina Garcia, Theo Taplitz, Michael Barbieri. World Premiere
Love & Friendship
Ireland-France-Netherlands / Director and screenwriter: Whit Stillman
From Jane Austen’s novella, the beautiful and cunning Lady Susan Vernon visits the estate of her in-laws to wait out colorful rumors of her dalliances and to find husbands for herself and her daughter. Two young men, handsome Reginald DeCourcy and wealthy Sir James Martin, severely complicate her plans.
Cast: Kate Beckinsale, Chloe Sevigny, Xavier Samuel, Emma Greenwell, Tom Bennett, Stephen Fry.
Manchester by the Sea
Director and screenwriter: Kenneth Lonergan
After his older brother passes away, Lee Chandler is forced to return home to care for his 16-year-old nephew. There he is compelled to deal with a tragic past that separated him from his family and the community where he was born and raised.
Cast: Casey Affleck, Michelle Williams, Lucas Hedges, Kyle Chandler.
Ireland / Director and screenwriter: John Carney
A boy growing up in Dublin during the 80s escapes his strained family life and tough new school by starting a band to win the heart of a beautiful and mysterious girl.
Cast: Ferdia Walsh-Peelo, Lucy Boynton, Jack Reynor, Aidan Gillen, Mark McKenna.
Sophie and the Rising Sun
Director and screenwriter: Maggie Greenwald
In a small Southern town in the autumn of 1941, Sophie’s lonely life is transformed when an Asian man arrives under mysterious circumstances. Their love affair becomes the lightning rod for long-buried conflicts that erupt in bigotry and violence with the outbreak of World War ll.
Cast: Julianne Nicholson, Margo Martindale, Lorraine Toussaint, Takashi Yamaguchi, Diane Ladd, Joel Murray.
(Salt Lake City gala film)
Director and screenwriter: Todd Solondz
This film tells several stories featuring people who find their life inspired or changed by one particular dachshund, who seems to be spreading comfort and joy.
Cast: Greta Gerwig, Kieran Culkin, Danny DeVito, Ellen Burstyn, Julie Delpy, Zosia Mamet.
Directors: JJ Garvine, Tai Parquet
Trace Bob Hawk’s early years as the young gay child of a Methodist minister to his current career as a consultant on some of the most influential independent films of our time.
Mapplethorpe: Look at the Pictures
Directors: Fenton Bailey, Randy Barbato
This examination of Robert Mapplethorpe’s outrageous life is led by the artist himself, speaking with brutal honesty in a series of rediscovered interviews about his passions. Intimate revelations from friends, family, and lovers shed new light on this scandalous artist who ignited a culture war that still rages on.
Michael Jackson’s Journey From Motown to Off the Wall
Director: Spike Lee
Catapulted by the success of his first major solo project, Off the Wall, Michael Jackson went from child star to King of Pop. This film explores the seminal album, with rare archival footage and interviews from those who were there and those whose lives its success and legacy impacted.
Norman Lear: Just Another Version of You
Directors: Heidi Ewing, Rachel Grady
How did a poor Jewish kid from Connecticut bring us Archie Bunker and become one of the most successful television producers ever? Norman Lear brought provocative subjects like war, poverty, and prejudice into 120 million homes every week. He proved that social change was possible through an unlikely prism: laughter. World Premiere. (Day One film)
Nothing Left Unsaid: Gloria Vanderbilt & Anderson Cooper
Director: Liz Garbus
Gloria Vanderbilt and her son Anderson Cooper each tell the story of their past and present, their loves and losses, and reveal how some family stories have the tendency to repeat themselves in the most unexpected ways.
Under the Gun
Director: Stephanie Soechtig
The Sandy Hook massacre was considered a watershed moment in the national debate on gun control, but the body count at the hands of gun violence has only increased. Through the lens of the victims’ families, as well as pro-gun advocates, we examine why our politicians have failed to act.
U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Jeremy Saulnier)
This wickedly fun horror-thriller tells a story about the owner of a neo-Nazi club who squares off against an unsuspecting but resilient young punk band after they witness a horrific act of violence.
Cast: Anton Yelchin, Imogen Poots, Alia Shawkat, Joe Cole, Callum Turner, Patrick Stewart.
More information on Sundance and a full film schedule is at sundance.org