With the 2016 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 competition, 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*
Writer/director Felix van Groeningen (who directed the Academy Award–nominated Broken Circle Breakdown) bathes the screen in golden hues and kinetic energy, creating an immersive experience of the excess and euphoria of being in the hottest nightclub in town. Set to the eclectic sounds of acclaimed Belgian band Soulwax, this precisely crafted, fast-paced tale shows the brothers’ intoxicating ascent to success—and the crash and burn that follows. Belgica is about living in the moment and realizing that moving forward is not only inevitable but necessary.
Embrace of the Serpent
Remarkably merging past and present, Embrace of the Serpent enlightens us through the dialogue generated between two tribes divided by their great cultural distance. With spellbinding black-and-white cinematography, and hovering camera used to heighten the lure and vibrations of the Amazon, filmmaker Ciro Guerra has ventured deep to create a masterpiece of cosmic dimensions that invokes the memory of Earth’s forgotten civilizations.
The Green Room
With his third feature film, Jeremy Saulnier can claim the title of reigning badass of American independent cinema. Green Room is a brutal siege thriller that makes swift, logical action set pieces look easy. The cast (Anton Yelchin, Alia Shawkat, Imogen Poots, Mark Webber) revel in playing these against-type roles—especially Patrick Stewart as the sinister owner of the club.
With characteristic flair and zero remorse, Director Rob Zombie rips the wings off of his little counterculture butterflies, baring their true, animal natures—not to mention a shitload of viscera. Like any nightmare, 31 is terrifying because you never know what’s coming next.
Kelly Reichardt returns to the American West, by way of Maile Meloy’s short stories, but upends its traditional associations. Here, the rugged men of yesteryear struggle with age, injury, and indignation while the women imperfectly blaze trails. Reichardt’s unhurried, observational style resists judgment or sentimentality. The picturesque setting masks lives of quiet desperation and conflicting emotion. All three stories strain with longing, populated by flawed people wrestling with moral ambiguity and living between isolation and intimacy.
Writer and director Kevin Smith returns to the Sundance Film Festival with an intoxicatingly silly pulp tale for the Instagram age. Powered by the irrepressible energy of its young stars—and some impressive work from a hilarious supporting cast that includes Johnny Depp, Tony Hale, and Natasha Lyonne—the story charges ahead into gleeful nonsense. Get ready to rock oot!
A film of sharp humor and surprising warmth, Rams imbues its simple tale with tremendous visual beauty (bolstered by the stunning work of director of photography Sturla Brandth Grøvlen) and a rich storytelling voice. Veteran actors Sigurður Sigurjónsson and Theodór Júlíusson find unexpected notes of pathos and wit in their portrayals of the feuding brothers.
Ira Sachs, director of Love Is Strange and the Sundance Grand Jury Prize WinnerForty Shades of Blue, accentuates the natural vibrancy of Brooklyn and brings out the best in his actors. Taplitz and Barbieri have a natural rapport and earnestness that belies their young age. Kinnear and Garcia bring weight to their roles as the feuding parents, and Jennifer Ehle, Talia Balsam, and Alfred Molina round out the cast with wonderful supporting turns. It’s a triumphant return to the Festival for Sachs, who has made a film that never lets its abundant kindness interfere with its honest portrayal of a rapidly changing neighborhood.
Director Steven Caple Jr. makes an auspicious debut with this atmospheric film filled with pitch-perfect performances by an ensemble cast, including newcomer Jorge Lendeborg Jr., Erykah Badu, Machine Gun Kelly, Michael Kenneth Williams, and Linda Emond, who is bone chilling as Momma. More than a crime drama, The Land is a beautifully rendered story about friendship, values, and what it means for disaffected youth to come of age on the streets of Cleveland.
We Are X
X’s journey to play Madison Square Garden amidst a Beatlemania-shaped maelstrom is expertly captured by director Stephen Kijak and editors Mako Kamitsuna and John Maringouin, who dismantle the kitsch and dig into the cult of personality to reveal a story of misfortune and tragedy that has shadowed the band time and again. Just as it is for their fans, music becomes a lifeblood for X Japan, as they are forced to reinvent and regroup in order to survive. Cameos by artistic giants including Marilyn Manson and David Lynch mark some memorable moments in this roller-coaster musical experience.
– Steve Rickinson (with additional words by Sundance programming staff)