The Sundance Film Festival hits the ground running this week, in person for the first time since Covid-19 forced the legendary indie film extravaganza online. While online screenings of many films are available (check the site), in-person premieres and parties will bring the electricity and buzz back to the proceedings.
As always, the program offers a mouth-watering buffet for indie film lovers, including a select few en français! Now let’s collectively hold our breath and pray that the famous Park City bidding wars lead to all of these beauties getting snatched up by distributors and released promptly to theaters in our home towns.
Cat Person, directed by Susanna Fogel (France, U.S.)
In one of the most buzzed-about films at the festival, college student Margot (CODA‘s Emilia Jones) meets Robert, a flirtatious older man (Succession‘s Nicholas Braun), at the movie theater where she works. As the pair moves toward romance, Margot’s mind spins with the potential highs and dark, damaging lows of such a connection. Based on the most read (and most hotly debated) short story ever published in The New Yorker, the film, directed by Susanna Fogel (co-writer of Booksmart) explores power dynamics, consent, gender roles, and the risks of modern dating. Lovers and haters of Kristen Roupenian’s story will welcome a chance to see Margot’s interior life played out on screen.
Fairyland, directed by Andrew Durham (United States, in English and French)
After the death of his wife, writer and activist Steve Abbott (Scoot McNairy) and his young daughter Alysia (Nessa Dougherty) head to 1970s San Francisco, where Steve is excited to explore his sexuality. Based on Alysia Abbott’s moving 2013 memoir and produced by Sofia Coppola, writer-director Andrew Durham’s debut feature digs into the unique father-daughter relationship. While Steve cares deeply for his daughter, parental responsibility often clashes with the allure of the San Fran literary scene and gay community. When Alysia grows up (played by Emilia Jones) and heads to college in New York and Paris, dad and daughter struggle to balance needs that are increasingly at odds. Backgrounded by the AIDS crisis, the film portrays the unusual close relationship between two people who love each other more than anything, while also longing for independence, creative success, romantic love, and a sense of belonging. Full disclosure: author Abbott is a close friend and her book very dear to my heart. This is the one I can’t wait to see!
Animalia, directed by Sofia Alaoui (France, Morocco, Qatar)
2020 Short Film Grand Jury Prize winner Sofia Alaoui (So What if the Goats Die) returns to Sundance with an eerie sci-fi thriller about Itto, a pregnant woman left alone in her massive house while her rich husband is away for business. When a state of emergency is called and the weather mysteriously shifts, Itto wonders if a supernatural presence is to blame in a film that “explores the tension between faith and purpose, eroding myths and challenging class prejudice to expose the ways we are all more connected than we know.”
Drift, directed by Andrew Chen (France, UK, Greece)
The first English-language film by director Chen, whose debut feature Ilo Ilo won the 2013 Caméra d’Or at Cannes, stars Cynthia Erivo (Harriet) as a once wealthy refugee from war-torn Liberia struggling to survive alone on a Greek island. The film moves between her days stealing food and squatting wherever she can find shelter and her memories of the violent uprising she fled back home. Hope arrives in the form of an unlikely friendship with a lonely American tour guide (Alia Shawkat).
Passages, directed by Ira Sachs (France)
Sachs’ eighth film to premiere at Sundance—Forty Shades of Blue won the 2005 Dramatic Grand Jury Prize—takes place in contemporary Paris, where German filmmaker Tomas (Franz Rogowski) cheats on his husband Martin (Ben Whishaw), with a woman (Adèle Exarchopoulos), triggering an existential crisis in the marriage. Sachs is a master of intimate moments that shine a light on life’s complexity, the characters’ imperfections, and a world where there are no easy answers—only growth, emotion, and a path forward that may or may not provide relief from pain and discomfort.
Smoke Sauna Sisterhood, directed by Anna Hints (Estonia, France, Iceland)
The subject of this documentary is the Estonian smoke sauna tradition, known as “savvusanna kombõ.” In addition to introducing audiences to the practice of giving birth in the smoke saunas, the filmmaker invites us into a sauna buried in the forest of southern Estonia, where women gather to share their secrets, fears and desires. Moving the camera around the tight, sweaty space builds an intimacy rarely seen in a doc, the filmmaker exploring the bodies and faces in visceral, painterly fashion. The result of the women’s stories filling this intimate space promises to be both personal and universal.
The Pod Generation, directed by Sophie Barthes (Belgium, France, UK)
In this sci-fi satire, a tech executive (Game of Thrones’ Emilia Clarke) is excited by the opportunity to give birth using a detachable artificial womb, or pod, while her botanist husband (Chiwetel Ejiofor) yearns to do pregnancy and birth the old-fashioned way. (He, of course, won’t be the one suffering the nausea, weight gain, mood swings, hemorrhoids—and on and on and on—now, is he?) Barthes has fun digging deep into the ways that tech could further disrupt our lives in the name of convenience. The film promises loads of food for thought. The Pod Generation is this year’s winner of the Alfred P. Sloan Feature Film Prize, presented to an outstanding feature film focusing on science or technology as a theme, or depicting a scientist, engineer or mathematician as a major character.
Andrea Meyer has written creative treatments for commercial directors, a sex & the movies column for IFC, and a horror screenplay for MGM. Her first novel, Room for Love (St. Martin’s Press) is a romantic comedy based on an article she wrote for the New York Post, for which she pretended to look for a roommate as a ploy to meet men. A long-time film and entertainment journalist and former indieWIRE editor, Andrea has interviewed more actors and directors than she can remember. Her articles and essays have appeared in such publications as Elle, Glamour, Variety, Time Out NY, and the Boston Globe.