With the 2015 Sundance Film Festival kicking off in a matter of days, Park City will once again be the center of the independent film world. With over 100 narratives, documentaries, shorts, experimental films playing over the course of the two week festival, there is surely something for every taste and film interest. Based on our own subjective interests, as well as having the luxury of a full slate of quality films to choose from, we’ve chosen a handful of selections to look forward too at this year’s festival.
By going through the entire slate of films, representatives from the documentary, midnight and spotlight and NEXT programs have found their way onto our list, representing a slew of themes, ideas, visual approaches and social criticisms that only the autonomous world of unfiltered, independently produced filmmaking can effectively provide.
*Listed in no particular order with competition films purposely omitted*
Performed entirely in sign language, eschewing audience comforts like subtitles or score, The Tribe is often near-silent, but its sound design is exquisitely performed to fully immerse the audience in the world of its characters, transcending alienation through the intense performances of a deaf non-professional cast. As audacious and exhilarating as it is chilling and brutal, director Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy’s feature debut is a remarkable accomplishment and wildly unique filmgoing experience, already featured on Sight & Sound’s Top 10 from 2014.
Last Days in the Desert
Director Rodrigo Garcia reimagines Christ’s last days of fasting in the desert as he walks back to civilization. In the midst of the harsh landscape, fatigued and hallucinating, Christ is met by the Devil, who is eager to test and tempt the weary traveler. With exquisite cinematography by Emmanuel Lubezki (Gravity, Birdman) audiences are, not only, submerged into classic cinematic metaphor for confrontation with the self but also transforming the desert itself into psychological adversary.
Electronic dance music is the rock ‘n’ roll of our time. And the jazz. And the punk. Whichever your frame of reference, EDM calls to mind stories of creative genius and staggering fame — but also of lives lost and abandoned in the night. It’s not easy to capture the texture of this culture on film, but writer-director Mia Hansen-Love has found an ideal approach. Drawing on the story of her own brother Sven, with whom she co-wrote the screenplay, Hansen-Love has created what you could call a low-key epic. Yes, the film captures the rise of dance music in Paris, Chicago, and New York — but via intimate moments in the company of young people who didn’t become Daft Punk. Instead, they gave everything in search of that intoxicating cocktail of euphoria and melancholy so often found in the club.
Following an exploration on the deep effects of cinema in his feature Room 237, director Rodney Ascher now investigates the phenomenon of sleep paralysis. In this documentary-horror film, we experience the terror that a surprisingly large number of people suffer when they find themselves trapped between the sleeping and waking worlds every night. What should be explained by science gets complicated as sufferers from random backgrounds have very similar visions. The Nightmare enhances the stories with eerie dramatizations of what (and who) the subjects see.
The Forbidden Room
A game cast including Mathieu Amalric, Charlotte Rampling, and Udo Kier embody a cavalcade of misfits, thieves, and lovers, imbuing passion and humor into Guy Maddin’s new epic (co-directed by Evan Johnson). Visuals, sound, even story are layered upon themselves, color schemes morph into and over one another, as each element heightens the joyful delirium of the kaleidoscopic viewing experience. The film also contains copious amounts of the filmmaker’s trademark twisted whimsy and absurdist eroticism—from a lusty crew of female skeletons to an exceptionally catchy musical celebration of the derriere.
The two young women (Lorenza Izzo and Ana de Armas) standing on Evan Webber’s (Keanu Reeves) doorstep are where all his dreams takes a nightmarish turn. Given co-writer/director Eli Roth’s well-deserved reputation for creating cinematic discomfort, it should come as no surprise what happens next: Things get weird, and then dark, and then much, much, much darker. But this is no splatter film, so Roth keeps the horror nice and psychological as Evan’s life—and house—get ripped apart, piece by beautiful piece.
Chuck Norris vs. Communism
In Chuck Norris vs Communism, one sees the power of film to change individuals and whole societies. Through the stories of the hardworking female dubber (the most famous voice of Romania), the memories of everyday citizens, evocative re-creations of the time, and an enormous selection of clips from ’80s movies, first-time director Ilinca Calugareanu presents a film about the unexpected consequences of mass entertainment, leading to the conclusion that the greatest threat to Ceaușescu’s dictatorship might just have been the VCR.
Set amidst the backdrop of the 2008 housing market catastrophe, Dennis Nash (Andrew Garfield), a hard-working and honest man, can’t save his family home despite his best efforts. Thrown to the streets with alarming precision by real estate shark Mike Carver (Michael Shannon), Dennis, out of work and luck, is given a unique opportunity—to join Carver’s crew and put others through the harrowing ordeal done to him in order to earn back what’s his. Delicately training his eye on the rigorous details, the reliably astute Ramin Bahrani imbues his characters with icy complexity to achieve his compassionate portrait of a man whose integrity has become ensnared within an all-too-relevant American crisis.
The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution
The story of the Black Panthers is often told in a scatter of repackaged parts, often depicting tragic, mythic accounts of violence and criminal activity. Master documentarian Stanley Nelson goes straight to the source, weaving a treasure of rare archival footage with the voices of the people who were there: police, FBI informants, journalists, white supporters and detractors, and Black Panthers who remained loyal to the party and those who left it. An essential history, The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution, is a vibrant, human, living and breathing chronicle of this pivotal movement that birthed a new revolutionary culture in America.
Writer/director/actor Sebastien Silva (‘Crystal Fairy & The Magic Cactus‘) returns with his fifth premiere at the Sundance Film Festival. Shot with a keen eye for the minutiae of Outer Borough life and featuring strong central performances by Kristen Wiig and Silva himself, Nasty Baby is a constantly morphing critique of the blithe self-absorption of modern bohemia. It masterfully toys with audience expectations in ways that prove insightful and challenging in equal measure.
– Steve Rickinson (with additional words by Sundance Film Festival programming staff)