Above image: still from Greener Grass (dir. Jocelyn DeBoer 2019)
Over the course of the last decade, Sundance has developed a reputation as one of the most progressive and forward thinking festivals, continually defying norms and averages when it comes to screening films by women, people of colour and lesser-known directors.
This year’s lineup (for the festival beginning in January 2019) of 112 feature films typifies the eclectic profile of filmmakers that North America’s leading independent film festival has championed in recent years, unveiling a a competition slate that is 53% female. Of the 112, 40 were directed by a filmmaker of colour, 45 by one or more women and 15 by members of the LGBTQ+ community. For comparison, last year’s Venice Film Festival featured the work of just one woman while Cannes included just three.
Accordingly, a common thread to this year’s roster is the idea of empowerment and of overcoming disenfranchisement and marginalisation – a reflection perhaps of the work done by the nonprofit Sundance Institute that operates year long programmes designed to increase participation from those whose voices are rarely given a platform to be heard. From Rashid Johnson’s adaption of Richard Johnson’s novel Native Son, which tells the story of a young African American, trapped in a tortuous circle of poverty on the South Side of Chicago (staring HERO cover start Nick Robinson), to Geraldine Viswanathan’s starring role in Minhal Baig’s Muslim-American coming of age, Hala, there is a strong trend of non-white protagonists.
Other highlights include Shia LeBouf’s role in Honey Boy (directed by Alma Har’el) which recounts the semi-autobiographical tale of a child actor’s volatile relationship with his father, and Jennifer Kent’s (The Babadook, 2014) new period thriller The Nightingale, set in the British penal colony of Van Diemen’s Land in 1825. Be sure to look out for Where’s My Roy Cohn (dir. Matt Tyrnauer) on the American lawyer who famously defended Joseph McCarthy and Donald Trump and Share – one of three films produced by A24 – based on the nightmare story of illicit images posted online after a night of black-out debauchery. For the comprehensive list on everything playing at Sundance 2019 be sure to visit their website.
Sundance Film Festival takes place in Park City, Utah, from 23 January – 2 February 2019