Sundance 2018: Debuts, Docs and anticipated returns

“Sundance is weird.  The movies are weird—you actually have to think about them when you watch them.”

Britney Spears – 2003, following the Sundance premiere of The Singing Detective


Thanks, Britney, you were phenomenal in Crossroads, but you’re right, Sundance is weird. It is the first film festival of the year of any significance, there is very little glitz and glamour, just Columbia jackets, North Face beanies and snow boots. It is unlike any major film festival out there, and yes to some degree the movies are weird Britney, but perhaps not quite how you have defined a ‘weird’ movie. This year marks the 40th anniversary of the (weird) Sundance Film Festival. As always it offers us a first glimpse and initiation of the hype machine on a number of films from around the world. Strangely, no film that has premiered at Sundance has ever gone on to win Best Picture. Come March this may change if Call Me by Your Name or Get Out were to deservedly walk away with the statue at the Academy Awards.


But looking even further ahead there are more than enough films premiering this year to keep tabs on for next year’s awards. Below I will be discussing the films to look out for following their Sundance premiere.


American Animals – Bart Layton, 2018



You may remember around 6 years ago many people absolutely losing their shit over a documentary called The Imposter. Rightly so. It was intense, gripping and played out more like a thriller than a documentary. 6 years on and Bart Layton, the director behind it has decided to finally jump back in the chair once more flipping over his previous genre-bending to make a thriller based on a true story.

Lexington, Kentucky, 2004: Spencer and Warren dream of remarkable lives beyond their middle-class suburban existence. They head off to colleges in the same town, haunted by the fear they may never be special in any way. Spencer is given a tour of his school’s incredibly valuable rare book collection and describes it all to Warren. Suddenly, it hits them—they could pull off one of the most audacious art thefts in recent history, from the university’s special collections library. Convinced they can get away with it, they recruit two other friends. Suddenly, the dance of knowing what happens if they cross the line becomes all-consuming.

The cast reads like a list of breakthrough stars on the cusp of greatness. Barry Keoghan follows up his great year here, Evan Peters who was the better of two Quicksilvers in the Marvel universe joins him as does Blake Jenner who showed loads of promise in Linklater’s Everybody Wants some!. Joining them is the criminally underrated actress Ann Dowd, all the parts are there for this to be a great film and let’s be honest who doesn’t love a heist movie?


I Think We’re Alone Now – Reed Morano, 2018


Off the back of her Emmy win for her work on The Handmaid’s Tale, Reed Morano will premiere her new film I Think We’re Alone Now. Starring Peter Dinklage alongside Elle Fanning, Morano’s film presents a post-apocalyptic story that on the face of it, we have all seen on screen numerous times before.

Del (Peter Dinklage) is alone in the world. Literally. After the human race is wiped out, he lives in a small, empty town, methodically going from house to house, collecting batteries and other useful items, and burying the dead. He dines alone, reads, watches movies, and shelves books in the local library he’s made his home. He’s content in his solitude—until he discovers Grace (Elle Fanning), an interloper on his quiet earth. Her history and motives are obscure, and worse yet, she wants to stay.

The difference here is that there appears to be no interest in how the apocalypse happened, instead the focus is on the relationship between the two. Dinklage may now mostly be known for his role as Tyrion in Game of Thrones, but if we take his phenomenal leading role as Finbar McBride in The Station Agent, this film with similar ideas themes of solitude could propel Dinklage to the next level. At the same time, it is a huge year for Elle Fanning. Having created quite the eclectic filmography at the age of 19, I Think We’re Alone Now will be one of four films she stars in this year. Living in the shadow of her sister is no longer a concern.


Three Identical Strangers – Tim Wardle, 2018


Sundance has always had documentaries play a prominent role in its programme with the same level of recognition given to them as well as dramatic films. Through the years they have premiered greats such as Brother’s Keeper, Grizzly Man, Paris is Burning and last, years critically acclaimed Icarus. This year there are many potential candidates for another addition to that list (a few more will pop up here) but one of the most interesting in my opinion is Three Identical Strangers.

New York, 1980: Three complete strangers—Bobby Shafran, Eddy Galland, and David Kellman—make the astounding discovery that they are identical triplets. Separated at birth, adopted, and raised by three different families, the 19-year-olds are reunited by chance. Their story sets the tabloids on fire, and the triplets suddenly become famous around the world. The brothers forge a relationship and become fast friends. They move in together in a swinging bachelor pad and open a restaurant that skyrockets to success. The toast of Manhattan, the triplets are living the high life. But their fairy-tale reunion sets off a chain of events that ultimately unearths an extraordinary and sinister secret that could answer controversial questions at the heart of human behaviour.

This is a debut feature for Bafta-nominated director Tim Wardle who teams with Channel 4 and CNN to premiere the documentary at Sundance. Looking into the psychology elements of triplets separated at birth could be a fascinating watch especially coupled with a ‘sinister secret’. Expect Netflix to sniff around this one early on.


Yardie – Idris Elba, 2018


Since 2002 Idris Elba has been on a fast upward trajectory towards Hollywood A-list and having recently spit out Sorkin dialog in Molly’s Game, he is showing no signs of slowing down. He even manages to balance a career as a DJ on the side. Somehow this isn’t enough for Elba, and at Sundance, he will premiere his feature film directorial debut; Yardie.

On a hot night in Kingston, Jamaica, 1973, Jerry Dread stops the music at an outdoor party to encourage a truce between warring gangs. His little brother Denis looks on from the crowd as an assassin’s bullet rings out, taking Jerry’s life. A decade later, Denis is the right-hand man to gang boss Fox, who sends him on a loyalty-testing mission to London. But when the mission goes wrong, Denis hides out with an old flame and decides to find his brother’s killer.

Filmed in both Jamaica and London the film, set in the 80s, promises to be a gangster movie with heart, seemingly echoing Jacques Audiard’s The Beat That My Heart Skipped. His lead Aml Ameen is London born from Jamaican parents which will lend some authenticity to what could be a breakthrough role. The film could go either way, Elba has chosen some strange career moves but hopefully, his decision to direct a feature proves to be a wise one. This is another film that I imagine Netflix going after, they have a history with Elba having previously bought the rights to Beasts of No Nation, and Elba has proven to be an incredibly marketable actor for this generation.


Wildlife – Paul Dano, 2018


You have to wonder if Zoe Kazan whilst on the set of The Big Sick, a film written by a real-life couple, thought ‘I wonder if I and Paul should try and get that project we wrote together off the ground?’. Well, they did, and the premiere of their film Wildlife will also mark Paul Dano’s directorial debut. Unlike The Big Sick neither of them will star in the film nor is it based on their real lives, in fact, it is an adaptation of Richard Ford’s novel.

Fourteen-year-old Joe is the only child of Jeanette and Jerry—a housewife and a golf pro—in a small town in 1960s Montana. Nearby, an uncontrolled forest fire rages close to the Canadian border, and when Jerry loses his job—and his sense of purpose—he decides to join the cause of fighting the fire, leaving his wife and son to fend for themselves. Suddenly forced into the role of an adult, Joe witnesses his mother’s struggle as she tries to keep her head above water.

if Dano and Kazan’s acting talent is a sign of their talent behind the scenes this film will be a must-see. Dano has become much more selective in his projects in recent times, couple that with the cast they have accrued (Jake Gyllenhaal and Carey Mulligan lead) and perhaps he and Kazan have adapted a mighty fine screenplay. Fingers crossed.


Robin Williams: Come Inside my Mind – Marina Zenovich, 2018


For my age group (a late 80’s child), and I am sure many others when Robin Williams died a small part of our childhood perished. Gone was the man who gave us Mrs. DoubtfireHook, Jumanji, Aladdin. As you got older you saw a completely different side of him in Dead Poets Society or Good Will Hunting. He was an amazing talent and by all accounts seemed to be an amazing human being. He was open about issues he had encountered in his past and the ones he still tackled, and then one day, August 11th, 2014 to be precise, he was gone.

When David Letterman saw a young Robin Williams perform stand-up, Letterman quipped, “It was like he could fly.” Williams’s boundless energy, lightning wit, and knack for comedic characters sparked a career on stage and screen unlike any other, making him one of the most beloved stars in modern entertainment. Marina Zenovich carefully collects a trove of intimate archival material and new interviews with Williams’s confidants (including Pam Dawber and Billy Crystal) to summon an intricate portrait of a man who needed an audience just as much as audiences needed someone like him.

We were always going to get a Robin Williams documentary, he was too big of a character and his passing too sad to ignore. But at least it comes with Marina Zenovich at the helm, an experienced documentarian having tackled Richard Pryor in a previous film. It will be incredibly sad to see Williams on the big screen once more, but to celebrate his life and what he achieved to make this a must-see. Given Robin Williams popularity with millennials, I expect this will be bought up by Netflix.


Sorry to Bother You – Boots Riley, 2018


Boots Riley is probably one of the most socially conscious and political rappers out there right now, which makes his directorial debut Sorry to Bother You, all the more intriguing. The film, which uses the same name as his 2012 album, has an eclectic cast comprising of many rising talents. Lakeith Stanfield leads and is due a big year with another of his films premiering at Sundance and a role in the (recast) Girl With the Dragon Tattoo reboot. Joining him is Tessa Thompson and Armie Hammer.

Cassius Green (Lakeith Stanfield), a 30-something black telemarketer with self-esteem issues, discovers a magical selling power living inside of him. Suddenly he’s rising up the ranks to the elite team of his company, which sells heinous products and services. The upswing in Cassius’s career raises serious red flags with his brilliant girlfriend, Detroit (Tessa Thompson), a sign-twirling gallery artist who is secretly a part of a Banksy-style collective called Left Eye. But the unimaginable hits the fan when Cassius meets the company’s cocaine-snorting, orgy-hosting, obnoxious, and relentlessly optimistic CEO, Steve Lift (Armie Hammer).

The plot sounds insane, but given the talent involved, I am confident that they will pull it off. It sounds extremely Sundance, and given that last year’s winner was the oddball I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore, it wouldn’t surprise me if this took home the Grand Jury prize. I expect it to have a political core to it which could raise some interesting questions about race, gentrification, and capitalism. Boots Riley has such a powerful voice through both his music and politics that I expect this to cause a positive stir. Given that it’s three stars have had their biggest years yet, I think a theatrical release is likely here, but I fully expect Netflix to show interest.

Eighth Grade – Bo Burnham, 2018


In yet another directorial debut, the American comedian Bo Burnham will present his first feature; Eighth Grade. Having built an impressive career in stand up, Burnham has already cut his teeth directing comedic specials for comics such as Chris Rock. His own stand up has always had a musical element to it which makes the choice of plot for his feature debut all the more curious.

Eighth-grader Kayla Day always has her phone in hand, hoping to find connections online that might make up for those she’s unable to forge in everyday life. She makes YouTube videos aimed at other adolescents dealing with similar issues—feelings of isolation, anxiety, and invisibility—but after so easily summoning this wisdom and confidence when addressing her (barely existent) audience, Kayla finds it paralyzingly difficult to apply in real situations. In the final week of a thus-far-disastrous school year—and with high school looming on the horizon—Kayla struggles to bridge the gap between how she perceives herself and who she believes she should be.

Writing a screenplay that revolves around an eighth-grade girl in a coming of age story couldn’t be further from Bo Burnham’s own life. Is it risky? maybe. But given that A24 has already become involved I am confident that this has the potential to become a hit. It might not hit wide (in the UK Burnham is not a well-known name), but if A24 are good at one thing (they’re not, they’re great at a lot), it’s generating buzz.


Beirut – Brad Anderson, 2018


With a script by Tony Gilroy and an experienced director such as Brad Anderson, Beirut could be an extremely enjoyable thriller. We often read that the mid-budget film is a dying breed, but with John Hamm and the brilliant Rosamund Pike leading the line, this could be a surprise hit.

Mason Skiles (Jon Hamm), a top U.S. diplomat, left Lebanon in the 1970s after a tragic incident. Ten years later, the CIA calls him back to a war-torn Beirut with a mission only he can accomplish. Meanwhile, a CIA field agent who is working undercover at the American embassy is tasked with keeping Skiles alive and ensuring that the mission is a success. Without knowing who is on his side and with lives on the line, Skiles must outmanoeuvre everyone to expose the truth.

Brad Anderson who previously directed The Machinist and The Transsiberian, seems to be incredibly excited about it saying, “Tony may have been channeling John le Carré when he wrote this, and as such it has many of the themes I love that make those stories so great – the political intrigue, the betrayals, the morally compromised characters, the reluctant heroes. And it’s set in a world – war-torn Beirut – that’s seldom depicted on screen“. If only half of his statement is true this could be another great script from Gilroy. Premiering at Sundance, the film is already slated to be released in April in the States.


Hal – Amy Scott, 2018


Hal Ashby is a name that we never really hear that often when talking about the great American directors. In the 1970s he made some of the most critically acclaimed films, achieving 24 Oscar nominations for the 7 films he made during the decade. When Hollywood shifted during the late 70s and early 80s, Ashby struggled to adapt. If we take Rotten Tomato scores, none of his films from the 80s got above 25%. Amy Scott, however, has been fascinated by his career and with her new documentary Hal, she looks to explore and examine his career.

Amy Scott’s exuberant portrait—drawn from rare archival materials, interviews, personal letters, and audio recordings—explores that curious oversight, revealing a passionate, obsessive artist. Having hitchhiked to LA, Ashby eventually landed in the editing room, where a chance encounter with Norman Jewison brought his big break (and a lifelong friendship). Ashby’s subsequent films were guided by compassion and deep engagement with social justice, class, and race. Scott conjures the special quality Ashby’s films possess—an elusive blend of honesty, irreverence, humor, and humanity. Through Hal, you feel buoyed by Ashby’s love of people and of cinema, a little like walking on water.

One for cinephiles, Hal is somewhat of a passion project for Amy Scott having started the project in 2014 and sought finance through Indiegogo. I imagine it will be somewhat of a relief to finally get it out there into the world, and if it achieves anything, hopefully, it will shine a light back on a decade of films which were truly exceptional works of art.


Come Sunday – Joshua Marston, 2018


It has been 14 years since Joshua Marston came to Sundance to premiere the criminally underrated Maria Full of Grace. This year he returns with his new film Come Sunday. Starring Chiwetel Ejiofor, Martin Sheen, Danny Glover and Jason Segel, this film could remind us of the talent we once saw from the director.

Every Sunday, Bishop Carlton Pearson—evangelical megastar, brilliant orator, and television host with millions of followers—preaches the fundamentalist gospel to six thousand supplicants at his Higher Dimensions Church. He’s the pride and joy of his spiritual father, Oral Roberts, and the toast of Tulsa. One day, rattled by an uncle’s suicide and distraught by reports of the Rwandan Genocide, Pearson receives an epiphany. Suddenly it’s crystal clear—God loves all humankind; everyone is already saved, whether Christian or not; and there is no hell. But these ideas are heretical, violating sacrosanct doctrines. The next Sunday, when Pearson unveils this theology of inclusion to his flock, shock waves sweep the enormous hall. Church leaders and members begin to defect in droves, and his empire topples.

Perhaps this will be a film where Eljifor gets another shot at Best Actor awards, he is one of the best British actors working today and with a role such as this he is given the platform to show off his varying talents. However, he may have to overcome the industries reluctance to acknowledge Netflix as a legitimate distributor, as the streaming company has Come Sunday locked in already.


Damsel – David and Nathan Zellner, 2018


When Robert Pattinson’s career is over we may look back on 2017 as the year where he officially shed his Twilight tween actor fascia. Clearly, Pattinson has been more selective in his roles since Twilight finished, working with some huge names such as David Michôd, David Cronenberg, and Werner Herzog. But he had never quite found the right role to show off his talents until he worked with the Safdie Brothers on the brilliant Good Time, another strong showing in The Lost City of Z and Pattinson has shown that he has the potential to become one of the best actors of our generation. At Sundance, he will have another opportunity with the premiere of the Zellner Brothers film; Damsel. 

It’s a classic tale of the Old West: Samuel Alabaster is a man searching for his true love. Parson Henry is another, much drunker man, searching for a new start. Penelope is a woman who has found her own path. And Rufus Cornell is just a mean bastard with a taste for buckskin. There’s rotgut, rawhide, rootin’, tootin’, and hootin’. Plus, a little tiny horse.

Reuniting with his Map to The Stars co-star Mia Wasikowska, the film is yet another example of a renaissance of the Western genre. Production stills have shown Pattinson with a guitar and a rifle and a rather tiny horse, something which may excite some (myself included). As for the Zellner brothers, their filmography is mixed at best, but if their last feature, the bizarre Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter is anything to go by, this could be a western like no other.


Don’t Worry He Won’t Get Far on Foot – Gus Van Sant, 2018


Arguably it will have been 10 years since Gus Van Sant produced his last great film; Milk. Since then he has disappointed with projects such as Restless, Promised Land and the Cannes-mocked The Sea of Trees. Don’t Worry He Won’t Get Far on Foot will mark his return to feature film directing for the first time in 3 years, and will reunite him with Joaquin Phoenix. Combine that with an unrecognisable Jonah Hill and the brilliant Rooney Mara, and perhaps Van Sant is back to form.

John Callahan has a lust for life, a knack for off-color jokes, and a drinking problem. When an all-night bender ends in a catastrophic car accident, John wakes up to the reality of being confined to a wheelchair for the rest of his life. In his journey back from rock bottom, his honesty and wicked sense of humor turned out to be his saving grace, as he makes friends with an oddball AA group, finds that love is not beyond his reach, and develops a talent for drawing irreverent and sometimes shocking cartoons.

A biopic about quadriplegic cartoonist John Callahan (played by Phoenix), the film looks similar to The Sessions in tone, darkly comedic and heartwarming. Given that both Van Sant and John Callahan are hugely important to Portland’s cultural status, the subject matter is definitely in the right hands with Van Sant.


Leave No Trace (My Abandonment) – Debra Granik, 2018


8 years on from Debra Granik’s brilliant Winter’s Bone and we finally get another feature from the extremely gifted director. Helping to launch the careers of Jennifer Lawerence and John Hawkes, surely Ben Foster and the relative newcomer Thomasin McKenzie, the stars of her latest film, will be hoping it has the same effect.

For years Will and his teenage daughter, Tom, have lived off the grid, blissfully undetected by authorities in a vast nature reserve on the edge of Portland, Oregon. When a chance encounter blows their cover, they’re removed from their camp and put into the charge of social services. Struggling to adapt to their new surroundings, Will and Tom set off on a perilous journey back to the wilderness, where they are finally forced to confront conflicting desires—a longing for community versus a fierce need to live apart.

Winter’s Bone was such a brilliant film that it is baffling as to why it has taken 8 years for her latest feature film. Regardless of the reasons, I am excited to see what her return will bring, and the plot feels like it might provide a platform for some truly terrific performances. If I had to put money on it, I would bet that Leave No Trace is a favorite to leave Sundance with the most buzz. Hopefully, Granik doesn’t leave it another 8 years before her next one.


The Catcher Was a Spy – Ben Lewin, 2018

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At once slated to premiere at TIFF, The Catcher Was a Spy has one of the strongest casts at Sundance. TIFF’s loss is most definitely Sundance’s gain. Paul Rudd is joined by Mark Strong, Jeff Daniels, Sienna Miller, Guy Pearce and Paul Giamatti, strong may be a slight understatement.

In the midst of World War II, major league catcher Moe Berg (Paul Rudd) is drafted to join a new team: the Office of Security Services (the precursor to the CIA). No ordinary ballplayer, the erudite, Jewish Ivy League graduate speaks nine languages and is a regular guest on a popular TV quiz show. Despite his celebrity, Berg is an enigma—a closeted gay man with a knack for keeping secrets. The novice spy is quickly trained and sent into the field to stop German scientist Werner Heisenberg before he can build an atomic bomb for the Nazis.

With Rudd in the lead perhaps this is an indication that the thriller will have a comedic element to it, or perhaps Rudd is looking to shed his comedic skin. Either way, the film sounds like it will be a sure-fire hit, especially when it was written by Robert Rodat who was the screenwriter for Saving Private Ryan. With this talent, we can expect a wide theatrical release on this one.



Blindspotting – Carlos López Estrada, 2018


Hamilton has shaken up theatre more than any other show in recent times with constant sellouts, rave reviews, political protests and being the central plot of a Curb episode defining a musical that has just opened up in London’s West End. Looking to capitalise on the success he had with Hamilton, is original cast member and alumni Daveed Diggs who co-wrote and stars in Blindspotting, a film which will play on the opening day of the festival.

Collin is trying to make it through his final days of probation for an infamous arrest he can’t wait to put behind him. Always by his side is his fast-talking childhood bestie, Miles, who has a knack for finding trouble. They grew up together in the notoriously rough Oakland, a.k.a. “The Town,” which has become the new trendy place to live in the rapidly gentrifying Bay Area. But when Collin’s chance for a fresh start is interrupted by a life-changing missed curfew, his friendship with Miles is forced out of its comfortable buddy-comedy existence, and the Bay boys are set on a spiraling collision course with each other.

It is a buddy movie in more ways than one. Daveed Diggs shares a writing credit and the screen with Rafael Casal. Friends in real life, both of them used their experiences growing up in Oakland to inspire the screenplay. For both of them, Blindspotting represents a great opportunity to show off their acting talent, a springboard for what is likely going to be a fruitful career in film and television for them both.


Seeing Allred – Sophie Sartain, 2018


Probably the most timely documentary to show at Sundance, Seeing Allred is a documentary that profiles the women’s rights attorney Gloria Allred. Hollywood, and beyond, is having to take a long hard look at itself in the mirror amid the sudden realisation that, shocker, sexual assault, intimidation, and abuse is rife in the industry. Helping to lead the charge to finally stamp it out of an industry that has previously swept it under the proverbial carpet is Gloria Allred.

To some, Gloria Allred is a money-grubbing, shrill feminist prone to tawdry theatrics; to others, she’s the most effective and fearless women’s rights attorney in America. In this intimate, warts-and-all documentary, one thing is certain: Allred’s 40-year devotion to asserting, protecting, and expanding the rights of women is unwavering and her influence unassailable.

Whether fighting gender discrimination in toy stores, spousal abuse in the O.J. trial, or sexual harassment by Donald Trump, every case is personal and an opportunity to amplify the cause. Her special brand of advocacy often calls for creative solutions. When the statute of limitations prevented her clients from pressing charges against Bill Cosby, she led them in a battle to eliminate the statute for the benefit of future victims. At 75, like an unstoppable superhero with a rolling suitcase and no time to lose, she crisscrosses the country arguing cases, marching for justice, and delivering impromptu speeches on the Lincoln Memorial steps. And as the #MeToo movement gathers steam and powerful men fall, Allred knowingly, stoically declares, “The fight has only just begun.”

What is incredibly interesting is that the film has been treated as a living organism. Filming and editing will continue up until the premiere at Sundance, documenting any new cases and the progress on Allred’s current cases such as disgusting Alabama Republican Roy Moore and the man-child himself; Donald Trump. With so many cases popping up daily, this documentary, which is already distributed by Netflix, will show the battle for justice that is gaining more and more positive traction. Producers on the film include Marta Kauffman (Co-creator of Friends) and Hannah KS Canter (Grace & Frankie).


Half the Picture – Amy Adrion, 2018


Following on from Seeing Allred, we have yet another very timely documentary which will be a must see coming out of the festival; Half the Picture. Focusing on the current disproportionate number of female filmmakers compared to male in the industry, the film will interview prominent women filmmakers in the industry, along with gender-parity experts, discuss what is essentially mass discrimination and a civil rights issue.

It’s 2018—the necessity of discussions surrounding women filmmakers and Hollywood’s gender bias should have diminished by now. But within the first few moments of Half the Picture, it is abundantly clear that discrimination against women filmmakers remains a highly relevant story. This is a fundamental civil rights issue: women in the industry are not offered equal opportunities as compared to their male counterparts. Gender-parity experts and academics discuss Hollywood’s dismal employment practices, and these conversations are woven between interviews with a wealth of prominent women directors (including Kasi Lemmons, Catherine Hardwicke, Penelope Spheeris, Ava DuVernay, and many others), telling their stories of breaking into a male-centered business. They confirm the double standards that still exist while eloquently outlining their career paths, their struggles, and their hopes for the future.

Some of the stats in the industry are phenomenally disappointing and it is clear from the recent Golden Globes ceremony and All the Money in The World pay fiasco, that this is an issue that needs to be addressed. Natalie Portman, we salute you. If this issue is not addressed head-on and hammered home continually we have a problem. Unequal pay has been something highlighted again and again, and yet here we are witnessing Mark Wahlberg (a 1x Oscar nominee) an actor who has a handful of great performances, and a suitcase full of distinctly average ones, get paid 1,500 x more than Michelle Williams (a 4x Oscar nominee). It is the elephant in the room, and it must be seen and discussed.


Benzinho (Loveling) – Gustavo Pizzi, 2018 


The Brazilian film industry has been through numerous developments, in the 90s it barely existed with cinemas being left empty due to rising ticket prices, lack of funding, the accessibility of televisions coupled with a focus on high-quality telenovelas. In the 00s however, Brazilian cinema started to come into focus again on a global scale, and also on a local level. Films such as Central Station, Carandiru and the Brazilian film that has become part of the cultural tapestry of cinema: City of God. The majority of films coming out of the industry have been political, or have a social commentary that is impossible to see. It is here where Brazilians have been able to voice their discontent with their government and the current state of the country. Which makes Gustavo Pizzi’s second feature all the more interesting.

Irene is raising four rambunctious sons in a home that is physically crumbling but warm and happy. As Irene simultaneously shelters her sister Sonia (who just left a volatile marriage), supports her own husband through a financial crisis, and plans her own long-awaited high school graduation, Irene’s eldest son, Fernando, suddenly announces he has been recruited by a professional handball team in Germany and will be leaving in just three weeks. Consummate caretaker Irene prickles at the idea of emancipating the 16-year-old so he can travel and live alone, and she becomes increasingly anxious about what her future holds.

I am sure it will have some socio-political connotations, but on the face of it, this appears to be Brazilian cinema at it’s most intimate. Delving into family life, Pizzi teams up with his lead actress, the impressive Karine Teles to write the story and hopefully, her performance is as strong as her performance in The Second Mother. Pizzi and Teles are part of a new movement in Brazilian cinema, one which we should all have our eyes on.


The Kindergarten Teach – Sara Colangelo, 2018


Somehow in this cruel world, Maggie Gyllenhaal has only ever been nominated for one Oscar. The talent has always been there and is on display in numerous great films, but some of the choices she has made in her career have been bewildering, and often she has been slapped with the label ‘the only positive’ or ‘the best thing about the film is…’. Trust The Man, anyone? White House Down, seriously? And all of these come alongside performances in Frank, Crazy Heart, Secretary and the underrated Stranger Than Fiction. But, off the back of her incredible performance (she is also a producer) in HBO’s The Deuce, Gyllenhaal will produce and star in Sara Colangelo’s second feature; The Kindergarten Teacher. 

Stuck in Staten Island, married to a kind but oblivious husband, and living with kids that mostly ignore her, 40-year-old Lisa Spinelli (Maggie Gyllenhaal) plods through her days teaching kindergarten with growing numbness. Her one source of joy is an evening poetry class across the bay in Lower Manhattan. But one day everything changes—Lisa discovers that a five-year-old boy in her class may be the poet she can only dream of being. She becomes fascinated. Could this child be a prodigy? A Mozart? Fascination turns to obsession as Lisa pushes boundaries to protect the boy from a banal life she knows too well. In a harrowing climax, Lisa risks her career, her family, and her freedom to nurture his genius and possibly tap into her own.

It screams ‘Oscar nominee’, but then so did SherrybabyIt is a remake of an Israeli film by Nadav Lapid; Haganenet which has been adapted by Colangelo. It also stars the phenomenal Gael García Bernal. In the current industry environment, it may also be one of the more important films at the festival. Gyllenhaal has spoken very openly about her feelings on roles available to women in the industry, her producer credit on this is no coincidence, she is taking it upon herself to create and show these roles. Here she does so with the majority of the cast and crew being women. From the director to the star, to the financiers and productions companies involved, the majority are all women working and producing a major film. It is a step in the right direction for the industry, and perhaps a new step in the career of Maggie Gyllenhaal.


And finally, a little honourable mention…

Dead Pigs – Cathy Yan, 2018


Just read this…

A mysterious stream of pig carcasses floats silently toward China’s populous economic hub, Shanghai. As authorities struggle to explain the phenomenon, a down-and-out pig farmer with a youthful heart struggles to make ends meet, while an upwardly mobile landowner fights gentrification against an American expat seeking a piece of the Chinese dream. Meanwhile, a romantic busboy hides his job from his father, while a rich young woman struggles to find her independence. Like a mosaic, their stories intersect and converge in a showdown between human and machine, past and future, brother and sister.

You had me at Pigs floating silently. Say no more. I’m in.

And there you have it, Sundance 2018 looks packed to the brim with films to look forward to. Hopefully it lives up to it.

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