From Sundance’s website: “It is often through media that we understand ourselves and each other, and so the stories that frame our lives must be inclusive of the full range of voices. This year, of the 122 feature films premiering at the Sundance Film Festival, 37% are directed by women, markedly ahead of the mainstream industry.”
From the return of established feature film directors to shorts directors breaking into long form, these ambitious Sundance premieres carry the spark of something that may be exceptional.
Director and writer Tamara Jenkins (The Savages, The Slums of Beverly Hills) specializes in dysfunctional family portraits. With a deft sense of how families survive life’s tribulations and each other, she weaves together moving and quirky journeys of the heart. After a decade away from directing, Jenkins reemerges with a story about a couple (Kathryn Hahn and Paul Giamatti) desperate to have a baby. Hahn and Giamatti’s finely honed comedic chops are sure to add sardonic charisma to some caustic situations. Also premiering at Sundance is an adaptation of novelist Nick Hornby’s Juliet, Naked with a script that Jenkins co-wrote.
Summer of ‘84
Writer/director Anouk Whissell (along with partners François Simard and Yoann-Karl Whissell, collectively known as the group RKSS) is set to whip up another crazed and brilliant nostalgia-filled nosedive into gory antics. After the Sundance success of Turbo Kid, Whissell returns with a group of young boys out to track down a serial killer in the Summer of ‘84. Turbo Kid was equal parts innocence, perseverance and no-holds-barred carnage — and we can hopefully expect nothing less from this.
Christina Choe’s NANCY portrays a woman (Andrea Riseborough) whose lies gradually get out of hand and start her off on a path toward complete mental disintegration. In Choe’s debut feature film, we have a protagonist unsure of her present and past. Endeavoring to have an imagination of note, reality blurs when she begins to believe she may be a child who went missing 30 years ago. It’s an engaging hook of a storyline, with promising talent to back it up. John Leguizamo, Steve Buscemi and Ann Dowd co-star.
The Kindergarten Teacher
Profiling a teacher (Maggie Gyllenhaal) who is consumed with promoting a student who may be a genius in the making, Sara Colangelo’s The Kindergarten Teacher stands to deliver an enigmatic exploration of a woman awakened by the untold possibilities of youth and talent. Colangelo’s Little Accidents premiered at Sundance in 2014, and skillfully explicated the repercussions of greed, passion, and circumstance after a small town coal mining incident. Here, in Colangelo’s second feature, she has an opportunity to delve into risk and hope on a smaller — but no less insignificant — scale.
Jennifer Fox’s remarkably topical re-examination of the formative years of a woman (Laura Dern) who may have been sexually assaulted gives a voice to both her younger and grown selves. Dern’s spotlight has recently gloriously been restored in Showtime’s Twin Peaks revival, Star Wars: The Last Jedi and HBO’s Big Little Lies. With Fox placing her front and center, we’ll be treated to Dern in her dramatic element without other actors crowding her moments. Fox’s history as a documentarian may bring personal gravitas to a story that feels deeply resonant in the current climate of women revealing and reclaiming their past.
The last time director Lauren Greenfield was at Sundance, her doc The Queen of Versailles premiered on opening night to acclaim. Tracing the attempted building of a mansion meant to resemble Versailles by an American couple who directly profited from the bad lending practices that led to the 2008 financial crisis, she lent insight into the reckless greed that ruined so many American lives. Greenfield returns with Generation Wealth, which casts a wider lens on the world’s ever-growing income inequality, and the careless abandon with which many of the ultra rich carry on their lives. Greenfield has a knack for siphoning empathy while simultaneously remaining unflinching about how the excesses of a few have undeniably contributed to the downward mobility of the majority of the humankind. She is attuned to exhibiting the thoughtlessness of the rich, with an inviting vigor and curious reach deep into what divides societal classes.