Back to Sundance we go for another year of discovery. What’s on the line-up this year? Out of the 120+ films showing at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival, I’ve chosen 10 that I’m looking forward to seeing the most. To keep things well balanced, I’ve chosen 5 feature films and 5 documentaries from the line-up. There are so many films playing at the fest, and so many I’ll end up seeing (30+), that this is a quick list to get everyone acquainted with some of the work premiering in 2017 (and why I’m so excited for these). From docs about free speech and doping, to features about life after death. Nothing like watching movies in the mountains.
This is my 11th year in a row returning to Sundance, starting back in 2007. I’m so excited to be attending Sundance once again, and can’t wait to dive into the films more than anything, there’s so many I am excited to see from this year’s line-up. For now, here’s the list of our Top 10 most anticipated films pre-Sundance.
Alex’s Most Anticipated \Sundance 2017/ Feature Films:
Directed by Charlie McDowell
The second feature film from Charlie McDowell, director of the cult favorite low-key sci-fi film The One I Love from Sundance 2014. Not much is known about this film yet, but the brief logline is more than enough to make me interested: "A love story set one year after the existence of the afterlife is scientifically verified." The impressive cast includes Rooney Mara, Jason Segel, Robert Redford, Jesse Plemons and Riley Keough. I’ve got a very good feeling about this one, perhaps that it might be an emotionally resonant and deeply moving follow-up to The One I Love, challenging us to examine our own lives and the choices we make while we are alive. McDowell has already proven he is a very talented, unique director with The One I Love and I’m curious to see where he takes us with this story and how he discusses love this time around.
Directed by Matt Ruskin
I’m a big fan actor Keith Stanfield and this is one of my most anticipated primarily because he stars in it. The true story is about a kid in Crown Heights, Brooklyn in 1980 who is arrested and tried for a murder he did not commit. Stanfield plays Colin Warner, but the story is also about his best friend, Carl King played by Nnamdi Asomugha, who devotes his life to helping prove Colin’s innocence and freeing him from prison. This reminds me a bit of Fruitvale Station from Sundance 2013, and the intense struggle to prove someone’s innocence in a deeply broken system. I’m hoping this film is as powerful and as important as Fruitvale Station, not only showing how biased and broken the justice system can be, but also showing how important good friends are and that persistence can pay off. Plus, it’ll be good to see Stanfield in another strong role.
Directed by Zoe Lister-Jones
This is one of those perfectly-Sundance kind of Sundance films. Here’s the description: "A couple who can’t stop fighting embark on a last-ditch effort to save their marriage: turning their fights into songs and starting a band." This will either be totally awesome and hilarious, or totally terrible, but either way, I’m definitely looking forward to seeing it and finding out if it’s any good. Band Aid is the first feature film directed by actor/comedian/writer Zoe Lister-Jones, who also stars in this with an outstanding ensemble cast. Adam Pally, Fred Armisen, Susie Essman, Hannah Simone, Ravi Patel, Colin Hanks and Brooklyn Decker all appear in this comedy premiering on Tuesday night during the festival. I’m curious whether the songs they come up with as a band are actually enjoyable, but most of all I’m hoping for some good laughs.
A Ghost Story
Directed by David Lowery
I fell hard for a film at Sundance in 2013 called Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, directed by a filmmaker named David Lowery. Lowery went on to direct Pete’s Dragon, one of my favorite films of 2016, and he’s back at Sundance this year with a surprise low-budget film titled A Ghost Story. Lowery went off with his friends, Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara (both from Ain’t Them Bodies Saints), to Dallas, Texas to make this film quietly without anyone knowing. This is another film where not much us known about it – even the logline is very vague. "This is the story of a ghost and the house he haunts." Sundance describes it as an "enriching experiment in micro-cinema that gorgeously defies categorization." I’m very curious to see what Lowery has cooked up this time, and if he continues to evolve with each and every film he makes. Can’t miss this one.
The Incredible Jessica James
Directed by Jim Strouse
Writer/director Jim Strouse (or James C. Strouse) is a regular at Sundance, bringing three high acclaimed films at the festival over the last 10 years – Grace Is Gone in 2007, The Winning Season in 2009, and People Places Things in 2015. Actress/comedian Jessica Williams had a small role in People Places Things, and the two have teamed up for an entire feature, called The Incredible Jessica James. Jessica Williams stars as Jessica James, an aspiring playwright who strikes up a friendship with a guy while on the rebound from a break-up. Chris O’Dowd co-stars, along with Keith Stanfield and Noël Wells. There’s a certain honest, refreshing, yet comical feel to Strouse’s films, and I’m always interested in his work, whatever it is.
Other Feature Films I’m Looking Forward To Seeing: Gillian Robespierre’s Landline, Macon Blair’s I Don’t Feel At Home In This World Anymore, Brett Haley’s The Hero, Matt Spicer’s Ingrid Goes West, Michael Almereyda’s sci-fi Marjorie Prime, Dee Rees’ Mudbound, Mark Palansky’s sci-fi Rememory, Taylor Sheridan’s Wind River, Michael Showalter’s The Big Sick, Cate Shortland’s Berlin Syndrome, Jonathan Milott & Cary Murnion’s Bushwick, and the all-female horror anthology XX.
Alex’s Most Anticipated \Sundance 2017/ Documentaries:
Nobody Speak: Hulk Hogan, Gawker and Trials of a Free Press
Directed by Brian Knappenberger
I’m a very big fan of filmmaker Brian Knappenberger, who has made the fantastic docs We Are Legion: The Story of the Hacktivists and The Internet’s Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz. He’s one of only a few filmmakers who actually understands the internet and how we interact with it and how it affects society, and I’m always intrigued by his approach to the stories he tells in his docs. Nobody Speak is his latest film, a doc on the story of Gawker and the Hulk Hogan lawsuit that killed the website. I’m impressed this is ready already, within only 8 months of the lawsuit verdict being announced, and I’m wondering how far he’ll go showing how troubling the result is. Obviously the film’s subtitle ("Trials of a Free Press") indicates this is going to address limiting of free press, and I’m excited to see how provocative it is. I’ll be at the premiere.
Joshua: Teenager vs. Superpower
Directed by Joe Piscatella
I was wondering when we might finally see a good documentary about the 2014 Hong Kong protests, better known as the "Umbrella Movement", and here we have one at Sundance this year. Joshua: Teenager vs. Superpower is a documentary about the college student Joshua Wong, who started the historic student movement by organizing the initial protests at Civic Square in Hong Kong. The rest is history. Sundance hints that "Joshua comes of age on screen as he rallies tens of thousands to civil disobedience" which means this is as much of a story about him as it is about the movement. I’m fascinated by these protests and how many students ended up participating throughout the 79 days it lasted, and I hope this doc does a great job telling the inside story of what went down. Here’s to hoping it’s as good as, if not better than, CitizenFour.
Directed by Bryan Fogel
This documentary is poised to rattle some cages, and I’m looking forward to seeing if they’ve decided to take a bold risk and lift up the covers and reveal everything. Icarus is a documentary about Russia’s state-sponsored program of athletic doping, and the description reads like a cross between the docs Tickled and The Armstrong Lie. How’s this for an appealing tease? "When the truth is more complex than imagined, and accusations of illegalities run to Russia’s highest chains of command, the two realize they hold the power to reveal the biggest international sports scandal in living memory." The "two" people refers to the filmmaker, Bryan Fogel, and Russian scientist Dr. Grigory Rodchenkov, who became friends over the course of making this doc. Will this film reveal so much that Russia will finally have to admit the truth? We’ll find out soon.
City of Ghosts
Directed by Matthew Heineman
One of the best documentaries I’ve ever seen at Sundance is Cartel Land, an intimate and remarkable look at the tensions along the US-Mexico border. Filmmaker Matthew Heineman established connections with both sides to tell two stories, embedding himself directly into the conflict, and he deservingly won the Best Cinematography award at Sundance 2015. City of Ghosts is Heineman’s latest visceral documentary, an inside look at the ongoing crisis in Syria, with "deeply personal access" to a group of anonymous activists who banded together after their homeland was taken over by ISIS in 2014. Sundance says the film "exposes a new type of warfare: a battle over ideas, a fight for hearts and minds, a conflict over clicks and views." Count me in for this, I’m fully expecting Heineman to outdo himself, complete with jaw-dropping footage.
Of course! This is a surprise sequel to Al Gore’s climate change documentary An Inconvenient Truth, which premiered at Sundance 2006. Not too much is known about this doc yet – except that Al Gore is back, and things have only gotten worse since that first award-winning documentary hit theaters over 10 years ago. I’ve seen pretty much every climate change documentary in the last five years, and they’re starting to sound the same, but here’s to hoping this one finds a different angle. This doesn’t even have a title yet, tentatively being called An Inconvenient Sequel. The Sundance description says this "shows just how close we are to a real energy revolution", which makes me think this will remind us to be hopeful rather than fearful. I’m intrigued to see how they follow up An Inconvenient Truth and if this will earn as much acclaim as that film.
Other Documentaries I’m Looking Forward To Seeing: Jeff Orlowski’s Chasing Coral, Sabaah Folayan’s Whose Streets?, Adam Bhala Lough’s The New Radical, Evgeny Afineevsky’s Cries from Syria, Barbara Kopple’s This is Everything: Gigi Gorgeous, Kyoko Miyake’s Tokyo Idols, Pascale Lamche’s Winnie, and Marina Zenovich’s Water & Power: A California Heist.
For all of Alex’s Sundance 2017 reviews and updates: Follow @firstshowing
For more Sundance 2017 previews around the web, highlighting early picks and potential breakouts, see: Film School Reject’s 32 Films They Can’t Wait To See or The Film Stage’s 20 Most-Anticipated. You never know what might be good, or bad, and it’s vital to have a pulse on the buzz – even before the festival starts. There’s plenty of interesting and potentially incredible films hidden in the 2017 line-up, so let’s get going.
You can follow our Sundance 2017 coverage and updates in this category. The festival kicks off January 19th and runs until the 29th, with films premiering for 10 days straight. Let’s head in and start watching.