Sundance Film Festival 2020: Preview

The Sundance Film Festival is underway in Utah, with its usual impressive array of indie movies from all over the world. With 118 films receiving world premieres, a mix of features, documentaries and shorts, there’s a huge wealth to choose from. So what to look out for?

Well, diversity to start with. In the US Dramatic Competition, 56 percent of the directors are people of colour – a record. Seven of the sixteen movies in this strand are led by black characters. Of this selection, Charm City Kings looks particularly promising. Set in Baltimore, it stars Jahi Di’Allo Winston as a lad who dreams of joining the Midnight Clique, a group of dirt bike riders.

Still from Charm City Kings.

In the World Dramatic Competition strand, there is the return of Brandon Cronenberg, son of David, back eight years after his 2012 debut Antiviral. His second film, the sci-fi tale Possessor stars British actress Andrea Riseborough and Jennifer Jason Leigh (who featured in Cronenberg Snr.’s virtual reality drama eXistenZ). This has similar funky tech – it’s the story of a corporate agent who uses brain implant technology to inhabit other people’s bodies and lure them into committing assassinations.

The premieres strand feels particularly strong this year. Nat Faxon and Jim Rash, who won an Oscar for co-writing The Descendants with Alexander Payne, are back with Downhill, a remake of Ruben Östlund’s 2014 breakout movie Force Majeure, in which a Swedish family’s holiday in the French Alps crumbles when an avalanche strikes. This time, Will Ferrell and Julia Louis-Dreyfus takes the leads and the story has been relocated to Austria; expect excruciating comedy.

There are some strong returnees. Novelist, artist and filmmaker Miranda July (Me, You and Everyone We Know) is back with her third film, Kajillionaire. This stars Evan Rachel Wood as daughter of two con artist parents. Then there’s Dee Rees, who made a huge impact with 2017’s Mudbound. Her latest, The Last Thing He Wanted features Ben Affleck and Anne Hathaway in a story set in the world of journalism, based on the novel by Joan Didion.

Meanwhile, from Britain, Euros Lyn’s Dream Horse will be unveiled. The true story of a syndicate from the Welsh valleys that bred a racehorse – Dream Alliance – on an allotment, it stars Toni Collette as Jan Vokes, the brains behind the operation. It’s the second time this story will be told to Sundance audiences, after the 2015 documentary Dark Horse played at the festival and won the Audience Award.

Still from Taylor Swift: Miss Americana.

On the documentary front, Taylor Swift fans will get an intimate portrait of the singer in Netflix title Taylor Swift: Miss Americana, directed by Lana Wilson. But the water-cooler movie will undoubtedly be On The Record, the new film from Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering. It tells of music industry executive Drew Dixon, and her decision to step forward about the abuse she has faced from male colleagues. It looks incendiary.

The Sundance Film Festival runs until 2 February. For more details, visit here.

James Mottram

1. The Last Thing He Wanted.