Preview: Sundance Film Festival 2021

This year’s Sundance Film Festival in Utah has, like so many other movie get-togethers, been forced to rethink in the midst of a global pandemic. America’s most prestigious gathering of independent moviemaking, the festival that’s launched the likes of Quentin Tarantino and Steven Soderbergh, has gone virtual this year for the first time.

As such, there are online premieres available to the public in America and some international territories, as well as in-person screenings in arthouse venues the U.S. where public safety allows. The selection may have been slimmed down, but with 71 features from 29 different countries, with 38 first-time directors, it’s still an impressive line-up.

As ever, the line-up is mouth-watering. Nicolas Cage does his mad man thing in criminal/supernatural tale Prisoners of the Ghostland, from director Sion Sono. A film that looks like it’ll give recent Cage outings Mandy and Colour Out of Space a run for their money, Cage plays a criminal who is sent to rescue a girl who has been imprisoned in a dark alternate universe.

Talking of which, Rodney Ascher is back with A Glitch in the Matrix, a doc about people who believe the world around them is not real, which is actually being released in the UK next week. Ascher previously directed Room 237, his absorbing look at movie obsessives who dug in conspiracy theories around Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. Hopes are high for this one.

Of the first-time directors, there are some well-known faces among them, including British actress Rebecca Hall. She steps behind the camera for Passing, an adaptation of Nella Larsen’s novel about two African-American women (Tessa Thompson and Ruth Negga) who renew a friendship years after their time together in high school.

Robin Wright also first-time directs and stars in Land, a two-hander set to the stark backdrop of the American wilderness. Co-starring Mexican actor Demián Bichir, it comes from a screenplay by Jesse Chatham and Erin Dignam, who previously wrote Loved (starring Wright) and The Last Face (which Wright’s ex Sean Penn directed).

Among the most promising premieres is CODA from Siân Heder, who made 2016’s Talullah. CODA stands for ‘Child of Deaf Adults’ and casts real-life deaf actors, alongside Emilia Jones – daughter of Aled Jones – who spent nine months learning sign language for the role. In a medium where the deaf community is often overlooked, this promises to be a hugely important movie.

The Sundance Film Festival runs until 3 February. For more details, click here.

Words: James Mottram