Looking at the Heart of Sundance Film Festival Lineup

3 Dec 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Biopic of Obamas’ first date and Ellen Page baby swap drama among Sundance competition titles.

Following the announcement of its Midnight horror-themed section, the Sundance film festival has unveiled the lineup for its competitions, in both dramatic and documentary formats, as well as its non-competitive Next selection, of promising experimental work.

Some 65 films have got the nod from the programmers of the influential festival, which is designed to showcase independent and unconventional film-making. The US dramatic competition has settled on 16 films, with the most attention-grabbing projects including The Birth of a Nation, an ironically titled account of the early-19th century slave rebellion led by Nat Turner; Goat, a fraternity-pledge drama featuring musician Nick Jonas; and Southside With You, a chronicle of Barack and Michelle Obama’s first date in 1980s Chicago. Familiar Sundance faces will be on show in other films: Ellen Page plays the lead in Tallulah, about a woman who passes off another’s child as her own; Jena Malone features in Lovesong, from For Ellen director So Yong Kim; and Rebecca Hall stars in Christine, about the TV reporter Christine Chubbuck, who killed herself on air in 1974. Chubbuck is also the subject of a film in the US documentary strand: Kate Plays Christine, directed by Robert Greene, in which actor Kate Lynn Sheil prepares to take on a role as Chubbuck.

This time, the festival’s heart — the 32 American-made narrative films and documentaries, all world premieres, that compete for grand jury and audience prizes — will beat around movies that are notable for their multiculturalism (on both sides of the camera), seriousness, and, as ever with Sundance, deeply idiosyncratic topics. Other major names in the 16 films in this strand include Keith Fulton and Louis Pepe (The Hamster Factor) with The Bad Kids, a study of an unconventional school in the Mojave desert; Josh “Gasland” Fox with How to Let Go of the World, an examination of the effects of climate change, and Jeff Feuerzeig (The Devil and Daniel Johnston) who returns with a profile of mystery author JT LeRoy.

Playing on opening night, a high-profile slot where films like “Whiplash” and “What Happened, Miss Simone?” have debuted in recent years, will be “Other People,” a comedic drama about a gay, big-city comedy writer who moves home to Sacramento, Calif., to care for his conservative, gravely ill mother. The World sections will feature 12 films each, with the Ireland-based director Rebecca Daly’s Mammal selected for the dramatic competition, alongside India’s Brahman Naman (about a quiz team from Bangalore university) and Israel’s Sand Storm, focusing on a Bedouin mother and daughter whose lives are upended when another wife arrives. Directed and written by Chris Kelly — and based on his own experience — “Other People” stars Jesse Plemons (“Fargo,” “Friday Night Lights”) and Molly Shannon. (The movie counts the actor Adam Scott as a producer.) “We want opening night to get our audiences fired up, and ‘Other People’ will do that,” John Cooper, the festival’s director, said over lunch earlier this week. “It makes you laugh. Iranian director Bahman Ghobadi leads the World documentary competition with A Flag Without a Country, chronicling the lives of Kurds attempting to survive harsh conditions.

Groth said. “And it gives you a deeper understanding of how these things happen, and, hopefully, how you might stop them from happening moving forward.” One of the quirkier competition films — Sundance will disclose selections for its starrier Premieres section on Monday — belongs to a pair of directors known for music videos, Daniel Scheinert and Daniel Kwan. An unusual number of selections have period settings. “Southside With You,” a biographical romantic drama, follows a young President Obama, played by Parker Sawyers, as he tries to woo his future first lady, played by Tika Sumpter. “Christine,” based on the true story of a troubled reporter (Rebecca Hall) who committed suicide on live television in 1974, was directed by Antonio Campos, known to cinephiles for “Simon Killer.” Sundance, coming up on its 32nd installment, has long served as a launching pad for documentaries. “Twenty Feet From Stardom,” which went on to win the 2014 documentary Oscar, was first seen in competition at Sundance in 2013, for instance.

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