Sundance Film Festival wrap: 19 extra films to look at in 2023

The 2023 Sundance Film Festival winds to an in depth this weekend, capping the pageant’s first in-person version because the COVID-19 pandemic broke out in early 2020. Instances movie reporter Mark Olsen and movie critic Justin Chang sat down to debate what they noticed and preferred on the pageant, and what it was wish to be again on the bottom in Park Metropolis for the primary time in three years.

Justin Chang: As we pore over the Sundance awards, Mark, I’m struck by a well-known response, albeit one I haven’t skilled in three years: “Wow, that’s a lot of movies — only a few of which I’ve seen.” Sundance has 4 totally different competitors sections — U.S. dramatic, U.S. documentary, world cinema dramatic, world cinema documentary — and few outdoors the pageant’s programming crew might probably see every part. Nonetheless, I’m glad I managed to catch a number of of the highlights, together with the grand jury prizewinner, “A Thousand and One,” A.V. Rockwell’s stirring, deceptively straightforward-looking drama a few mom (a terrific Teyana Taylor) and her younger son attempting to get by over a number of years in Harlem, beginning within the mid-Nineteen Nineties.

Rockwell’s film wasn’t the flashiest entry within the U.S. dramatic competitors, however that’s partly what makes its victory so quietly satisfying. My private jury of 1 might need differed from the precise jury in a number of different respects: I’d have preferred to see a prize go to Raven Jackson’s “All Dirt Roads Taste of Salt,” a uncommon instance of a pure artwork movie on this competitors, and one of many few that — not like among the different honorees (and I’ll go away it at that) — selected to inform its story in a primarily cinematic language, utilizing photos, textures and associations moderately than spoon-feeding us reams and reams of dialogue.

Past the American narratives, I used to be happy to see “The Eternal Memory,” Maite Alberdi’s touching portrait of the Chilean TV persona Augusto Góngora and his battle with Alzheimer’s illness, take high honors on the earth cinema documentary competitors. The unsurprising winner of the viewers award in that part was “20 Days in Mariupol,” Mstyslav Chernov’s completely devastating meeting of footage that he and his fellow Ukrainian journalists shot within the port metropolis of Mariupol, throughout the early days of a Russian invasion that continues unabated practically a 12 months later. It’s laborious to look at, and in addition vitally vital that we do.

Teyana Taylor and Aaron Kingsley in A.V. Rockwell’s “A Thousand and One,” which gained the U.S. dramatic grand jury prize on the 2023 Sundance Film Festival.

(Focus Options)

Mark Olsen: As we are saying yearly, the world cinema titles on the pageant are far too straightforward to miss. Among the many few movies I noticed from the part this 12 months, Charlotte Regan’s “Scrapper” was a transparent standout, so it’s no nice shock it gained the grand jury prize within the part. Starring Harris Dickinson (“Triangle of Sadness”) and younger Lola Campbell, the movie’s story of an estranged younger father returning to take care of his 12-year-old daughter after the demise of her mom provides a heartfelt earnestness and eccentric humorousness to what might have been a extra dour drama.

As you level out, Justin, there isn’t any strategy to see all of the movies within the competitions, not to mention all of the movies within the pageant. All through my time in Park Metropolis, again for the primary time in three years, I discovered myself asking one important query: “Is this weird?” There was the muscle reminiscence of the place the assorted venues are and the best way to get there, hopping on and off shuttle buses, navigating hazards of snow and ice, ready in traces and settling right into a theater seat in a cocoon of layers and coats. That every one appeared regular sufficient. However layered over it was a sense of hysteria, questioning if this was truly all a good suggestion, to be crammed collectively in tight indoor areas with others. I’ve been to in-person festivals because the begin of the COVID period, however one thing concerning the Sundance expertise introduced this to the forefront.

Then there’s the truth that the business itself feels so in-transition, as what the movie enterprise will appear like shifting ahead appears shrouded in uncertainty. Who’re these films for and the way will anybody see them is a looming query that one has to ask at just about the tip of each screening. The addition of an internet viewing platform as a part of the pageant did change the expertise in methods I’m nonetheless processing, as one might go by the schedule of what was taking part in in theaters, with excited crowds and filmmakers sharing within the feelings of the second, or you could possibly create an à la carte pageant at dwelling that for all its effectivity felt extra eliminated and remoted.

Anaita Wali Zada in the movie "Fremont," which premiered in the Next section at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival.

Anaita Wali Zada within the film “Fremont,” which premiered within the Subsequent part on the 2023 Sundance Film Festival.

(Laura Valladao)

One thing like writer-director Angus MacLachlan’s “A Little Prayer” felt like a welcome throwback to an old-school Sundance film, an emotionally detailed character examine merely informed and charged by beautiful performances. There have been few moments as impactful because the tenderly empathetic conversations between Jane Levy and David Strathairn as a lady in a foul marriage and her father-in-law who needs to assist her one way or the other turn out to be unstuck. (It was additionally thrilling to see the movie among the many pageant’s gross sales, going to Sony Footage Classics, and to assume there should be room within the market for a film comparable to this.)

Babak Jalali’s “Fremont” manages to make the deadpan sensibilities of traditional American unbiased movies into one thing contemporary. Donya (Anaita Wali Zada, in a improbable debut) was a translator for the U.S. authorities in her native Afghanistan and now finds herself adrift in rural Fremont, Calif., the place her job at a fortune cookie manufacturing facility turns into an surprising outlet of expression. With supporting roles by Gregg Turkington as a therapist obsessed by Jack London’s “White Fang” and “The Bear’s” Jeremy Allen White as a melancholy auto mechanic, the movie is a cross-cultural comedy that explores the liberty of being misplaced and the exhilaration of discovering oneself.

Chang: I do know what you imply, Mark, concerning the explicit strangeness of returning to Sundance and resuming its acquainted rituals. Possibly it’s felt weirder as a result of three years have handed; different festivals comparable to Cannes, Telluride and Toronto bounced again extra shortly from COVID for lots of causes, their extra temperate climes certainly being one in all them. And the web viewing platform you point out is unquestionably one other: It was a shrewd resolution for the pageant to keep up the digital possibility that helped it to outlive and even discover new audiences throughout the pandemic. On the similar time, the larger ease, comfort and accessibility that it afforded so many critics, programmers, patrons and moviegoers couldn’t assist however really feel like a concession to the dwindling screens and dispiriting economics of the business.

Greta Lee and Teo Yoo in the movie "Past Lives."

Greta Lee and Teo Yoo within the film “Past Lives.”

(Jon Pack/Sundance Institute)

I’ve written about my very own private impatience with the query, “Who is this film for?” — a vital enterprise consideration for gross sales brokers and distributors, however one which generally reduces the potential and unpredictable energy of flicks, and overlooks the intelligence and curiosity of the viewers. On the similar time, I can’t deny that “Past Lives,” the outstanding debut function of the playwright Celine Tune, was very a lot for me — although hardly for me alone. For many people, this soulfully written and beautifully acted drama, set throughout 24 years within the lives of two Korean-born childhood sweethearts separated by time and distance, was simply the movie of the pageant. Superbly acted by Greta Lee and Teo Yoo (with disarming help from John Magaro in a key function), it achieves a uncommon alchemy of contemplative distance and up-close-and-personal intimacy. The end result was each probably the most achingly romantic film I noticed at Sundance and probably the most disarmingly philosophical.

Romance of a way more torrid and unruly nature may very well be present in “Passages,” the newest and maybe most tempestuous function but from the writer-director Ira Sachs. The title of his much-acclaimed “Love Is Strange” might simply as nicely apply to this attractive and elegantly triangulated Paris-set drama, wherein two sane, cheap people (performed by Ben Whishaw and Adèle Exarchopoulos) are caught up within the poisonous spell of a monstrously egomaniacal movie director. He’s performed by German actor Franz Rogowski, who’s been quietly establishing himself as one of many best actors working at the moment (“Transit,” “Great Freedom”), and who’s seldom been so fearless or intense, so mesmerizingly abrasive, so liable to carrying mesh crop-tops (when he bothers to put on something in any respect).

Each “Passages” and “Past Lives,” like “A Little Prayer,” premiered in Sundance’s high-profile Premieres part. I’m curious, Mark, did you encounter any discoveries in different sections of the pageant?

Sophia Wilde in the movie "Talk to Me."

Sophia Wilde within the film “Talk to Me.”

(Sundance Institute)

Olsen: The pageant’s Nextsection, the place “Fremont” premiered, has lengthy been probably the most reliably adventuresome part of the pageant. There have been plenty of intriguing, form-defying documentaries this 12 months, comparable to “Kim’s Video,” “The Tuba Thieves,” “King Coal” and “Kokomo City” (winner of the Subsequent Innovator Award) that one hopes can attain wider audiences past Park Metropolis.

If one is on the lookout for a strategy to work by means of nervousness, then the horror-centric choices of the Midnight part can usually be a spot of surprising solace, a repository for unhealthy emotions. This 12 months’s midnight choices ranged from Brandon Cronenberg’s deeply disorienting sci-fi/horror hybrid “Infinity Pool” to the energetic mix of martial arts motion and household comedy in Nida Manzoor’s “Polite Society.”

Directed by the dual brother duo of Danny and Michael Philippou, “Talk to Me” is a horror-thriller with a really up to date twist. Clasping onto the sculptural type of a hand of unknown provenance places an individual in touch with a spirit who briefly overtakes the host’s physique. A gaggle of youngsters all do it at seances which might be half ceremonies, largely events and document one another with their telephones. However there’s a hazard of getting completely possessed if the spell isn’t damaged quick sufficient and the border between this world and the spirit realm turns into more and more unstable.

The Philippou brothers have a wildly profitable YouTube channel, and the film feels bracingly of-the-moment. One of many actors was on my flight out of Park Metropolis and having simply watched the film the evening earlier than, I used to be too freaked to even praise them on the movie. It made sense the film was picked up throughout the pageant by distributor A24, which has a approach of tapping into the youth market like no different firm.

Alden Ehrenreich and Phoebe Dynevor in Chloe Domont's "Fair Play," an official selection of the 2023 Sundance Film Festival

Alden Ehrenreich and Phoebe Dynevor in Chloe Domont’s “Fair Play,” an official choice of the 2023 Sundance Film Festival

(courtesy of Sundance Institute)

Chang: A24’s acquisition of “Talk to Me” speaks not solely to their data of their viewers, but in addition maybe to the continued viability of horror as a theatrical proposition (one thing we’ll see examined this weekend when Neon releases “Infinity Pool”). There have been different offers too, together with Searchlight Footage’ $8-million pickup of Molly Gordon and Nick Lieberman’s scrappy let’s-put-on-a-show mockumentary, “Theater Camp.” The film is fairly hit-and-miss, although its ensemble performing prize from the U.S. dramatic competitors jury was laborious to begrudge.

Nonetheless, it was the streamers that shelled out probably the most in Park Metropolis this 12 months. Apple, which scored a coup with its acquisition of future finest image Oscar winner “CODA” again in 2021, paid round $20 million for one more music-themed crowd-pleaser referred to as “Flora and Son.” Directed by John Carney (“Once,” “Sing Street”) and graced by a terrifically humorous lead flip by Eve Hewson, it’ll slip simply sufficient onto dwelling screens, although I used to be glad to have seen it with a crowd. Elsewhere, Netflix dropped $20 million on “Fair Play,” Chloe Domont’s wickedly barbed thriller set within the corridors of Wall Avenue energy.

Olsen: All of that is perhaps a really roundabout approach of claiming it was nice to be again. The surprising connections and interactions of an in-person pageant merely can’t be duplicated in a digital world. (There isn’t actually sufficient room right here to completely inform the story of an Uber driver whose automotive received iced in after dropping somebody off subsequent door and ended up spending the higher a part of a night within the condominium of Crew LAT ready for a tow truck.) Why did so many films function fake-out catastrophe moments that turned out to be fantasy reveries? Maybe we’ve all been dwelling in our personal heads for thus lengthy, the excellence between what’s actual and what’s not has turn out to be deceptively mutable.

Chang: My head is definitely spinning. However as we bid farewell to Sundance, Mark, and parse what this 12 months’s bounty means for the precarious way forward for unbiased movie, it feels important that we acknowledge the reminiscence of somebody who liked and championed cinema of each type — as a movie pageant programmer and director, as a curator, as a advisor, and as a author and critic. I’m talking of Noah Cowan, who died Jan. 25 on the age of 55, casting a pall over Park Metropolis and the whole movie neighborhood to which he devoted a lot. As I write this, I’m reminded of an awards jury he and I served on collectively greater than a decade in the past, and the wit, ardour and demanding acuity he delivered to the dialogue. I’m additionally reminded of the work he did to convey numerous nationwide cinemas, particularly Japanese and Indian cinema, to larger consideration from North American audiences.

Those that knew him finest — particularly those that labored alongside him on the Toronto Worldwide Film Festival and the San Francisco Film Society, or at his nonprofit World Film Initiative or the art-house distributor he based, Cowboy Footage — have their very own recollections and ideas on what Noah meant to them, and to the flicks. Nobody can change him, or put on all of the hats he wore, or do what he did so inimitably and tirelessly. However we are able to all attempt to observe his instance regardless, by loving this tough, exhilarating medium with out compromise or apology, and by remembering that there’s all the time one thing new and doubtlessly nice on the horizon.