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Sundance 2022 Begins – What to Watch at This Year’s Festival

Today marks the opening of the 2022 Sundance Film Festival.  The festival, this year meant to originally be a hybrid of online and in person at their Park City, Utah home, had to quickly change course due to Omicron, announcing January 5th that everything was going virtual.  But virtual is a word that Festival Director Tabitha Jackson, in charge since February 2020, wants to stay away from.  In a press conference held via Zoom on Thursday morning she said that when it comes to Sundance, there is “nothing virtual about it,” and that the reality is we are all still coming together at the same time to celebrate film, new film makers and their creativity.  

Jackson made clear today that Sundance is really all about, “togetherness, community and convergence.”  Whether that was to happen online or on the ground they were ready for the pivot, now what Jackson calls a ‘triggering’ word for her staff.  Disappointment that their hybrid dream was coming to an end was palpable, but they already had an online working platform and experience running the festival that way from last year, including their VR space that allows them to still host film parties, and spark conversations between filmmakers and film lovers alike.  And no matter what the future holds, Sundance is looking to permanently embrace that online side, likely keeping some hybrid version of the festival alive, especially to enable journalists who are unable to travel to cover films from wherever they are in the world.

Like last year, the programmers were spoilt for choice, proving the pandemic doesn’t dampen creativity.  They needed to make their way through 3,762 feature films to their final slate of 83, with 41% by first time filmmakers, representing 28 countries.  Of these features, 52% are directed by women, 35% by filmmakers who identify as people of colour and 10% by one or more filmmakers who identify as LGBTQ+.  

The 2021 iteration of the Sundance Film Festival introduced us to movies like CODA (which set a record when Apple+ acquired it for $25 million), Flee (a front runner for an Oscar in perhaps more than one category), Mass (an acting showcase that deserves more accolades) and one of my favourites the memorable, funny, and touching Together, Together amongst so many more wonderful offerings.  The following are a few (of a long list) I’m looking forward to most, during the course of this festival, which runs from January 20-30th.  

In no particular order…

Sebastian Stan and Daisy Edgar-Jones appear in FRESH by Mimi Cave, an official selection of the Midnight section at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute.

FRESH

Touted on the Sundance site as, “A penetrating thriller about the perils women face on the modern dating scene within a ferocious allegory for the commodification of their bodies,” FRESH stars Daisy Edgar-Jones (Normal People) as Noa, who finds out that her date Steve (Sebastian Stan) might have slightly unusual appetites.  This is director Mimi Cave‘s feature directorial debut (that also has Adam McKay as a producer).  As its screening as part of the festival’s Midnight selections, be prepared for a wild (if not potentially gory) ride.

Colin Farrell appears in After Yang by Kogonada, an official selection of the Spotlight section at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Benjamin Loeb / A24.

After Yang

In 2017 director Kogonada premiered his directorial debut, Columbus, at the Sundance Festival.  That absolutely gorgeous film starring John Cho and Haley Lu Richardson, met critical acclaim and earned a few Independent Spirit Award nominations, amongst others.  Now he returns with After Yang, a project that premiered at this year’s Cannes Film Festival and has already been awarded the Alfred P. Sloan Prize at this year’s Sundance (that award is given out to a feature that focuses on science and/or technology).  Starring Colin Farrell, Jodie Turner-Smith and also the returning Haley Lu Richardson, Yang is an android purchased as a family companion.  But, when he breaks down, Jake (Farrell) desperate to fix him, discovers more about his own life, and a need to reconnect with his family that he didn’t know existed.  I expect this, like Columbus, to be quiet, introspective, and equally beautiful.

Emma Thompson and Daryl McCormack appear in Good Luck to You, Leo Grande by Sophie Hyde, an official selection of the Premieres section at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Nick Wall.

Good Luck To You, Leo Grande

Directed by Sophie Hyde, whose debut feature drama 52 Tuesdays won the Directing Award at Sundance and the Crystal Bear at Berlinale, Good Luck To You, Leo Grande, is written by comedian Katy Brand.  Starring Emma Thompson, it follows a retired school teacher on a mission to finally have good sex.  She hires a sex worker who calls himself Leo Grande (played by Daryl McCormack) to finally fulfill her wishes of pleasure.  Emma Thompson almost never disappoints, and I look forward to a story where sex positivity is embraced and ageism is thrown out the window.  The Mindy Kaling comedy Late Night premiered at Sundance in 2019 and eventually landed Thompson a Golden Globe nomination (I know those are a controversial thing now but she was fantastic in the movie!). Hoping for equally great things here.

Elizabeth Banks, Chris Messina, Grace Edwards, and Bianca D’Ambrosio appear in Call Jane by Phyllis Nagy, an official selection of the Premieres section at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Wilson Webb.

Call Jane

The 2015 film Carol earned Phyllis Nagy an Oscar nomination for best adapted screenplay.  The writer moves behind the camera (previously directing the 2005 TV movie Mrs. Harris starring Annette Bening and Ben Kingsley) for this new film, Call Jane.  With Elizabeth Banks, Sigourney Weaver, Chris Messina and Kate Mara all part of the principle cast, they are almost reason enough to put this film on the ‘must watch’ list.  This period piece, taking place in 1968 Chicago, follows Joy (Banks) whose pregnancy is leading to a life threatening condition, with medical practitioners unwilling (and unable) to help her.  Navigating the reproductive rights battle, Joy finds the clandestine organization of women called “The Janes” that can give her an alternative safely.  Sadly still timely, with a woman’s right to control her own body remaining front page news, this narrative is not to be confused with this year’s Sundance documentary submission The Janes (which is therefore also making this list), which will tell the real life story of this brave and compassionate group of women.

Finn Wolfhard and Julianne Moore appear in When You Finish Saving the World by Jesse Eisenberg, an official selection of the Premieres section at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Beth Garrabrant.

When You Finish Saving the World

We are all familiar with Jesse Eisenberg‘s work in front of the camera in such films like The Social Network or Zombieland (amongst a lengthy list of credits).  However the actor now makes his feature film directorial debut with When You Finish Saving the World, which he also wrote.  With Emma Stone amongst its producers, the film tells the story of Evelyn (Julianne Moore) and her son Ziggy (Finn Wolfhard).  Evelyn runs a shelter for victims of domestic abuse and finds it hard to connect with Ziggy, who is a high school student most interested in performing folk-rock songs to his adoring online fans.  They are worlds apart, until Evelyn meets someone in residence that propels her to fix the connection with her son.  Eisenberg is adapting his Audible Original work of the same name here and while I’m unfamiliar with the source material, I’m excited to see what his creative force can achieve behind the camera.

These five films are just a handful of those that I could have highlighted for the festival.  The more you read about the available movies this year, the more you can change what you’re most excited about.  But for the most part, last year’s festival was a huge triumph in the face of adversity, and I have no doubt that 2022 will be just the same.

Other films I’ll be checking out this year include: Dual, Cha Cha Real Smooth, 892, Master, Am I OK?, Emily the Criminal, Living, Happening, Lucy and Desi, Resurrection, Sharp Stick, God’s Country, Alice, My Old School, Girl Picture, Palm Trees and Power Lines, and Honk for Jesus, Save Your Soul.

If you’re in the U.S., you can still get individual tickets for some films, available now but unfortunately most films for the general public are geo-locked for anyone outside the States.  You can still watch and discover talks and other events world wide.  All information can be found at www.sundance.org 

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One Comment

  1. Thanks for the suggestions, Hillary!

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