Sundance Film Festival 2020

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Sundance 2020 Final Dispatch: Softie, Farewell Amor, A Machine for Viewing, Infinitely Yours

Previously, when attending a premiere heavy festival like Sundance, I was usually lucky enough to be present as part of a team of programmers. We divided the screenings between all of us to cover as many of the films as possible. (There are spreadsheets and rating systems involved.) Watching films as a freelancer, I realized over the first few days at Sundance that I was playing it safe by watching films by filmmakers I was already familiar with for the guarantee that at least the film would appear finished at the screening. For programmers working at festivals like Sundance, what […]

“I Was Taken by the Capriciousness and Boldness of his Flirtation”: Heidi Ewing | I Carry You With Me

Whether capturing or creating a world, the objects onscreen tell as much of a story as the people within it. Whether sourced or accidental, insert shot or background detail, what prop or piece of set decoration do you find particularly integral to your film? What story does it tell? It’s 1995 in conservative Puebla, Mexico and we’re inside Bar Franco,  a clandestine gay watering hole located in an old mansion. Gerardo, a regular, spots a man at the bar (Iván) whom he’s not seen before. He’s intrigued. There is a quick but promising glance between them. But how to be […]

Looking for the New at the 2020 Sundance New Frontier

Like couture as the harbinger of everyday fashion, Sundance positions New Frontier — New Frontier at the Ray, New Frontier Central and the Biodigital Theatre — as the pilot showcase for what is coming down the pike for moving-image storytellers (a likely justification for programming what only relatively few people wearing headsets can experience at a film festival, which, by definition, caters to large audiences). Begun in 2007 with art installations, Sundance’s New Frontier shifted in 2012 with Nonny de la Pena’s Virtual Reality Hunger in Los Angeles, and now the exhibition portion of NF exclusively shows new technologies. I […]

Sundance 2020 Dispatch 9: Dick Johnson is Dead, Tesla

I don’t have anything like Six Takeaways From This Year’s Sundance to structure my final dispatch: The most I can offer is my general peer group’s consensus that the fiction side was relatively quiet while nonfiction work was stronger and more attention-getting, including the four-film launch of Concordia Studio. They arrived with, among others, my personal best-of-fest Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets and Time, and ended their first Sundance with the (reported) $12 million sale of verité doc Boys State to Apple and A24. Also high on the nonfiction priorities list, via Netflix, was Kirsten Johnson’s Dick Johnson is Dead, which premiered with the director […]

“We Learned to Lean into the More Lyrical Aspects of the Story and Let the Emotion Carry the Day”: Editors Michael Taylor and Jeff Betancourt on Nine Days

In an alternate reality, Will (Winston Duke) carries the burden of choosing which among nine candidates has what it takes to be born into the world as a full-fledged human being. Nine Days follows these souls through a series of trials designed to determine who among them will receive the gift of life and personhood, and who must resign from existence once the nine days are complete. Editors Michael Taylor and Jeff Betancourt delve into the many screenings, cuts and reworks that went into shaping director Edson Oda’s  film. Filmmaker: How and why did you wind up being the editor of your […]

Minari, Boy’s State Win Top Prizes at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival

Minari, Lee Isacc-Chung’s fourth feature, an autobiographical portrait of his Korean-American family’s life in the 1980s as he was growing up in a small Arkansas town, won two top prizes — the U.S. Dramatic Grand Jury Prize and U.S. Dramatic Audience Award — tonight at 2020 Sundance Film Festival Awards Ceremony. Jesse Moss and Amanda McBaine’s Boys State, a documentary about a contentious kind of civic summer camp for Texas teens, won the U.S. Documentary Grand Jury Prize. A24 will release both films, the latter in partner with Apple TV+. The World Cinema Dramatic Grand Jury Prize was awarded to […]

Sundance Institute Announces Tabitha Jackson as New Festival Director

During the festival’s 2020 awards ceremony tonight, the Sundance Institute announced Tabitha Jackson, the Director since 2013 of the Institute’s Documentary Film Program, to be the new Director of the Sundance Film Festival. Jackson will succeed John Cooper, who, after 11 years as Director of the Festival, will move into a newly created Emeritus Director role. Said the Sundance Institute’s Executive Director, Keri Putnam, in a press release, “Tabitha is fiercely devoted to independent artists, has been a visionary member of the Sundance Institute’s leadership team for the last six years. Her authenticity, experience and perspective will serve her well […]

Sundance 2020 Dispatch #7: Dick Johnson is Dead, Kajillionaire The Glorias and More

For the last several years, the very first film I’ve seen in Park City has been among the festival’s best, launching my Sundance with a bang. The lucky title this year is Dick Johnson is Dead, a documentary—whatever that label means in this case—directed and photographed by Dick’s daughter, cinematographer Kirsten Johnson (Cameraperson), whose cinematic imagination couldn’t be more alive and kicking. The imminent death, or what’s worse, the gradual ravaging by Alzheimer’s, of an aging parent is a personal and emotional minefield few are ever equipped to traverse, no less understand, when the time comes. Alzheimer’s is also a […]

Sundance 2020 Dispatch 6: Yalda, a Night of Forgiveness; Time; Panels and Mixers

As I hinted at in my first dispatch, co-creation has been buzzy in documentary circles of late, with gatekeepers and filmmakers both interested in finding ways of working that challenge the decision-making processes of nonfiction filmmaking. This year’s Sundance was also chock full of filmmakers who started out in documentary and have recently moved into fiction; Canon even sponsored a panel featuring Matt Heineman on this very topic. One of these films was Yalda, a Night of Forgiveness, an ingeniously conceptualized, impeccably acted and tightly shot single location piece, it both buys into and subverts crucial elements of thriller, reality […]