Films devoted to exploring the myriad forms of human sexuality have an unusually prominent place in the 2013 Sundance program, festival director John Cooper noted as he unveiled the fest’s competition slates on Wednesday.
Citing titles slotted into the U.S. dramatic competition (“Afternoon Delight,” “Concussion,” “Kill Your Darlings,” “The Lifeguard”) as well as the micro-budget Next section (“It Felt Like Love,” “Milkshake,” “Pit Stop”), Cooper and his director of programming, Trevor Groth, said the films were marked by a rare level of candor and sensitivity — and in some cases, humor — in their approach to risque subject matter.
“It is, I think, still our most taboo subject, something people have a really hard time addressing,” Groth added. “And yet this year, something happened and the floodgates opened.”
“These films are not afraid to delve into the complex nature of sex in our society — not only sexuality as power, but also sexuality as a basic need and desire, part of what it is to be human,” Cooper said.
Cooper and Groth noted that exploring the subject in depth meant moving beyond mere titillation, pointing to films such as documentary competition title “God Loves Uganda,” which focuses on that country’s evangelical movement, and World Cinema dramatic entry “Wajma (An Afghan Love Story),” about an Afghan woman who becomes pregnant out of wedlock.
Movies about sex are, admittedly, not a rare breed at festivals. Certainly it was a popular Sundance topic last year, popping up in titles ranging from the universally beloved (Ben Lewin’s “The Sessions,” then titled “The Surrogate”) to the intensely controversial (Craig Zobel’s “Compliance”).
Bizzers will hit Park City, Utah, hoping to find similarly hot titles among the 113 features (98 of them world premieres) set to screen at the festival, which runs Jan. 17-27. Above all, they’ll be on the lookout for a runaway critical/audience hit on the level of “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” which, along with several other Sundance 2012 selections — including “Keep the Lights On,” “Safety Not Guaranteed” and “Middle of Nowhere” — has recently drawn kudos buzz via the Gotham Awards and the Independent Spirit Award nominations.
Cooper and Groth said they hoped potential buyers would be willing to take chances on a wider range of films, based on the diversity of the 2012 batch and the increasing number of distribution options available. Two high-profile Sundance pickups from earlier this year, Lionsgate/Roadside Attractions’ “Arbitrage” and Radius-TWC’s “Bachelorette,” have made significant sums from simultaneous VOD releases.
“My least favorite thing to hear at the festival is ‘I loved that film, but I don’t know what to do with it,'” Cooper said. “Hopefully now, if people love a film, they can figure out how to connect with audiences. I think audiences’ appetites are expanding.”
As usual, documentaries can be expected to draw much of the attention, and Cooper noted that the 2013 slate is as politically engaged as ever. The nationwide income gap, such a prevalent topic during the recent election, is touched on by two U.S. documentary competition entries, “Inequality for All” and “99%: The Occupy Wall Street Collaborative Film.” That section also includes films addressing subjects such as late-term abortion (“After Tiller”), GOP politics (“Citizen Koch”) and the war on terror (“Dirty Wars,” “Manhunt”).
As the economy shows tentative signs of recovery, Cooper said it was “a very optimistic time” for filmmakers, noting not only the thriving level of production, as reflected in the high volume of submissions this year (12,146 features and shorts), but also the increasing number of actors and below-the-line artists flocking to the independent realm. Even budgets seemed a bit bigger than usual, he said. Another notable theme: eight of the 16 dramatic competition titles are helmed by women.
The dramatic competition includes several Sundance alums: Shane Carruth, a 2004 grand jury prize winner for “Primer,” will bring his long-anticipated sophomore feature, “Upstream Color”; Cherien Dabis (“Amreeka”) will compete with “May in the Summer”; Lynn Shelton (“Humpday”) returns with “Touchy Feely”; and James Ponsoldt, at Sundance earlier this year with “Smashed,” already has a follow-up, “The Spectacular Now.”
The edgy Next sidebar, distinguished by “an innovative, forward-thinking approach to storytelling,” will unspool 10 titles, up from eight earlier this year. Among them are “Computer Chess,” the latest from mumblecore maven Andrew Bujalski, and “I Used to Be Darker,” the third feature from “Putty Hill” writer-director Matthew Porterfield.
In keeping with recent tradition, the festival will forego a single opening-night film and kick off with screenings of four competition titles: “May in the Summer” (dramatic), Morgan Neville’s “Twenty Feet From Stardom” (docu), Sebastian Silva’s “Crystal Fairy” (World Cinema dramatic) and Marc Silva’s “Who Is Dayani Cristal?” (World Cinema docu). A shorts program will also screen on day one.
The festival will announce its Spotlight, Park City at Midnight and New Frontier titles Thursday, while Premieres and Documentary Premieres lineups will be unveiled Monday.
The 16 films in this section are world premieres and, unless otherwise noted, are from the U.S.
“Afternoon Delight” – Directed and written by Jill Soloway. A dark comedy about a Los Angeles houswife who hires a stripper as a live-in nanny. Stars Kathryn Hahn, Juno Temple, Josh Radnor and Jane Lynch.
“Ain’t Them Bodies Saints” – Directed and written by David Lowery. A Texas outlaw escapes from prison and sets out to reunite with his wife and daughter. With Rooney Mara, Casey Affleck, Ben Foster, Nate Parker and Keith Carradine.
“Austenland” (U.S.-U.K.) — Directed by Jerusha Hess, written by Hess and Shannon Hale. A thirtysomething woman obsessed with Mr. Darcy from “Pride and Prejudice” sees her fantasies come to life at an English resort. Features Keri Russell, JJ Feild, Bret McKenzie, Jennifer Coolidge, Georgia King and James Callis.
“C.O.G.” – Directed and written by Kyle Patrick Alvarez. A cocky young man travels to Oregon to work on an apple farm in this first film adaptation of David Sedaris’ work. Stars Jonathan Groff, Denis O’Hare, Corey Stoll, Dean Stockwell, Casey Wilson, Troian Bellisario.
“Concussion” – Directed and written by Stacie Passon. A housewife decides to make a dramatic life change after receiving a blow to the head. With Robin Weigert, Maggie Siff, Johnathan Tchaikovsky, Julie Fain Lawrence, Emily Kinney and Laila Robins.
“Emanuel and the Truth About Fishes” – Directed and written by Francesca Gregorini. A disturbed young girl becomes preoccupied with her new neighbor, who bears a strong resemblance to her dead mother. Stars Kaya Scodelario, Jessica Biel, Alfred Molina, Frances O’Connor, Jimmi Simpson, Aneurin Barnard.
“Fruitvale” – Directed and written by Ryan Coogler. A fact-based account of a 22-year-old Bay Area resident having an eventful day on Dec. 31, 2008. Stars Michael B. Jordan, Octavia Spencer, Melonie Diaz, Ahna O’Reilly, Kevin Durand, Chad Michael Murray.
“In a World … ” – Directed and written by Lake Bell. A woman pursues her dreams of becoming a voiceover star, encouraged by her father, the king of movie-trailer voiceovers. Features Bell, Demetri Martin, Rob Corddry, Michaela Watkins, Ken Marino and Fred Melamed.
“Kill Your Darlings” – Directed by John Krokidas, written by Austin Bunn and Krokidas. A look at the origins of the Beat generation as seen through the eyes of Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac and William Burroughs when they were students at Columbia in 1944. Stars Daniel Radcliffe, Dane DeHann, Ben Foster, Mi
chael C. Hall, Jack Huston and Elizabeth Olsen.
“The Lifeguard” – Directed and written by Liz W. Garcia. A New York reporter quits her job and returns to her childhood home in Connecticut, where she takes on the profession of the title. With Kristen Bell, Mamie Gummer, Martin Starr, Alex Shaffer, Amy Madigan and David Lambert.
“Mother of George” – Directed by Andrew Dosunmu, written by Darci Picoult. The story of a woman willing to risk everything for her marriage. Stars Isaach De Bankole, Danai Gurira, Anthony Okungbowa, Yaya Alafia and Bukky Ajayi.
“May in the Summer” (U.S.-Qatar-Jordan) — Directed and written by Cherien Dabis. A bride-to-be reunites with her family in Jordan, where she is forced to confront the reality of her parents’ divorce. Features Dabis, Hiam Abbass, Bill Pullman, Alia Shawkat, Nadine Malouf and Alexander Siddig.
“The Spectacular Now” – Directed by James Ponsoldt, written by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber. A study of a relationship between a high-school senior and the introverted woman he tries to save. Stars Miles Teller, Shailene Woodley, Brie Larson, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Kyle Chandler.
“Touchy Feely” – Directed and written by Lynn Shelton. A massage therapist develops a sudden aversion to bodily contact; meanwhile, her uptight dentist brother finds himself endowed with a “healing touch.” With Rosemarie DeWitt, Allison Janney, Ron Livingston, Scoot McNairy, Ellen Page, Josh Pais.
“Toy’s House” – Directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts, written by Chris Galletta. A tale of three unhappy teenage boys who plan to flee into the wilderness. Features Nick Robinson, Gabriel Basso, Moises Arias, Nick Offerman, Megan Mullally, Alison Brie.
“Upstream Color” — Directed by Shane Carruth. A man and woman find themselves drawn together as they struggle to reassemble the fragments of their wrecked lives. Stars Amy Seimetz, Carruth, Andrew Sensenig, Thiago Martins.
The 16 films in this section are world premieres and, unless otherwise noted, are from the U.S.
“99%: The Occupy Wall Street Collaborative Film” – Directed by Audrey Ewell, Aaron Aites, Lucian Read and Nina Kristic. A cooperative effort by filmmakers across America to tell the story of the Occupy movement that erupted in September 2011.
“After Tiller” – Directed by Martha Shane and Lana Wilson. A study of the only four doctors willing to provide late-term abortions in the U.S. following the 2009 assassination of Dr. George Tiller.
“American Promise” – Directed by Joe Brewster, Michele Stephenson. An intimate 12-year study of two African-American families trying to seek opportunity by educating their sons.
“Blackfish” – Directed by Gabriela Cowperthwaite. Explores the consequences of keeping whales in captivity through the story of Tilikum, an orca responsible for the deaths of three individuals.
“Blood Brother” – Directed by Steve Hoover. Follows the journey of Rocky, a man who went to India as a tourist and stayed to help a group of HIV-positive children.
“Citizen Koch” – Directed by Carl Deal and Tia Lessin. Focuses on Wisconsin, the birthplace of the Republican Party, now ground zero in the battle for the party’s future.
“Cutie and the Boxer” – Directed by Zachary Heinzerling. A portrait of the 40-year marriage of boxing painter Ushio Shinohara and his wife/assistant, Noriko.
“Dirty Wars” – Directed by Richard Rowley. Follows journalist Jeremy Scahill as he investigates America’s covert wars.
“Gideon’s Army” – Directed by Dawn Porter. A study of three young public defenders who spend long hours working for people in society’s margins.
“The Good Life” – Directed by Sean Fine and Andrea Nix Fine. Follows the efforts of two doctors to save their son from the rare and fatal disease progeria.
“Inequality for All” – Directed by Jacob Kornbluth. Economic policy expert Robert Reich addresses the topic of income inequality in the U.S.
“Manhunt” – Directed by Greg Barker. Traces the CIA’s lengthy war vs. Al Qaeda.
“Narco Cultura” – Directed by Shaul Schwarz. A look at the rising pop-cultural influence of Mexican drug cartels, as seen through the eyes of an aspiring singer in Los Angeles and a detective in Juarez.
“Twenty Feet From Stardom” – Directed by Morgan Neville. Spotlights the little-seen lives of backup singers.
“Valentine Road” – Directed by Marta Cunningham. A study of the circumstances leading up to and following the 2008 murder of California teen Lawrence King by his classmate.
WORLD CINEMA DRAMATIC COMPETITION
The 12 films in this section are world premieres unless otherwise specified.
“Circles” (Serbia-Germany-France-Croatia-Slovenia) — Directed by Srdan Golubovic. The story of five individuals coping with the aftermath of a tragic act that occurred 20 years earlier. Stars Aleksandar Bercek, Leon Lucev, Nebojsa Glogovac, Hristina Popovic, Nikola Rakocevic and Vuk Kostic.
“Crystal Fairy” (Chile) — Directed and written by Sebastian Silva. Two very different strangers go on a drug-fueled road trip to Chile. With Michael Cera, Gabby Hoffmann, Juan Andres Silva, Jose Miguel Silva and Agustin Silva.
“The Future” (Chile-Germany-Italy-Spain) — Directed and written by Alicia Scherson. When their parents die, a brother and sister begin a dangerous journey. With Manuela Martelli, Rutger Hauer, Luigi Ciardo, Nicolas Vaporidis, Alessandro Giallocosta.
“Houston” (Germany) — Directed and written by Bastian Guenther. A corporate headhunter and alcoholic increasingly loses his grip on reality during a business trip to the titular Texas city. Stars Ulrich Tukur, Garret Dillahunt, Wolfram Koch, Jenny Schily, Jason Douglas, Jens Muenchow.
“Jiseul” (South Korea) — Directed and written by Muel O. A drama about 120 Korean villagers who hid from soldiers in a cave during the 1948 Jeju Island massacre. Features Sung Min-chul, Yang Jung-won, Oh Young-soon, Park Soon-dong, Moon Suk-bum and Jang Kyung-sub. International premiere.
“Lasting” (Poland-Spain) — Directed by Jacek Borcuch. Two Polish students fall in love while working summer jobs in Spain, but their lives are unexpectedly thrown into chaos. Stars Jakub Gierszal, Magdalena Berus and Angelina Molina.
“Metro Manila” (U.K.-Philippines) — Directed by Sean Ellis. A Filipino farming family moves to Manila in search of a better life. Features Jake Macapagal, John Arcilla and Althea Vega.
“Shopping” (New Zealand) — Directed and written by Mark Albiston and Louis Sutherland. The tale of a teenage boy torn between his family and a gang of shoplifters in 1981 New Zealand. Stars Kevin Paulo, Julian Dennison, Jacek Koman and Alistair Browning.
“Soldate Jeannette” (Austria) — Directed by Daniel Hoesl. Two characters leave their old lives behind in a quest for personal liberty. Features Johanna Orsini-Rosenberg, Christina Reichsthaler, Josef Kleindienst, Aurelia Burckhardt, Julia Schranz, Ines Rossl.
“There Will Come a Day” (Italy-France) — Directed by Giorgio Diritti, written by Diritti, Fredo Valla and Tania Pedroni. A young Italian woman grappling with self-doubt journeys into the Amazon rainforest. Stars Jasmine Trinca, Anne Alvaro and Pia Engleberth.
“Wajma (An Afghan Lov
e Story)” (Afghanistan) — Directed and written by Barmak Akram. An unmarried girl becomes pregnant after being seduced by a young man in Kabul. With Wajma Bahar, Mustafa Abdulsatar, Haji Gul and Breshna Bahar.
“What They Don’t Talk About When They Talk About Love” (Indonesia) — Directed and written by Mouly Surya. A story of love and misunderstanding at a high school for the visually impaired. With Nicholas Saputra, Ayushita Nugraha, Karina Salim, Anggun Priambodo and Lupita Jennifer.
WORLD CINEMA DOCUMENTARY COMPETITION
The 12 films in this section are world premieres unless otherwise specified.
“Fallen City” (China) — Directed by Qi Zhao. Four years in the lives of three families who survived the 2008 Sichuan earthquake. North American premiere.
“Fire in the Blood” (India) — Directed by Dylan Mohan Gray. Follows the fight to bring low-cost AIDS drugs to Africa. North American premiere.
“Google and the World Brain” (Spain-U.K.) — Directed by Ben Lewis. Follows Google’s ambitious project to build a giant digital library by scanning millions of copyrighted books.
“The Machine Which Makes Everything Disappear” (Georgia-Germany) — Directed by Tinatin Gurchiani. A director visits villages and cities to cast the 15-to-23-year-old protagonist of her new film.
“The Moo Man” (U.K.) — Directed by Andy Heathcote and Heike Bachelier. A year in the rapidly changing lives of a farmer and his cows.
“Pussy Riot — A Punk Prayer” (Russian Federation-U.K.) — Directed by Mike Lerner and Maxim Pozdorovkin. Follows the fates of three young women facing prison time for a satirical performance in a Moscow cathedral.
“A River Changes Course” (Cambodia-U.S.) — Directed by Kalyanee Mam. A look at the crippling effects of deforestation, overfishing and debt on three young Cambodians.
“Salma” ( U.K.-India) — Directed by Kim Longinotto. A profile of a South Indian woman locked away by her parents when she reached puberty.
“The Square” (Egypt-U.S.) — Directed by Jehane Noujaim. A look at five Egyptian activists caught up in the country’s ongoing revolution.
“The Stuart Hall Project” (U.K.) — Directed by John Akomfrah. A portrait of the eponymous British anti-nuclear campaigner and New Left activist, spanning seven years of Hall’s film, radio and TV appearances.
“The Summit” (Ireland-Switzerland) — Directed by Nick Ryan. Covers an ill-fated 2008 climbing mission at K2, the world’s second-highest mountain. International premiere.
“Who Is Dayani Cristal?” (U.K.) — Directed by Marc Silver. Follows the search to identify a body discovered in the Arizona desert.
The 10 American films in this section are world premieres.
“Blue Caprice” – Directed by Alexandre Moors, written by R.F.I. Porto and Moors. A story of an abandoned boy and a dangerous father figure, inspired by the events leading up to the 2002 sniper attacks in Washington, D.C. Stars Isaiah Washingon, Tequan Richmond, Joey Lauren Adams, Tim Blake Nelson, Cassandra Freeman and Leo Fitzpatrick.
“Computer Chess” – Directed by Andrew Bujalski. An existential comedy about the men who taught machines to play chess. With Patrick Riester, Myles Paige, James Curry, Robin Schwartz, Gerald Peary and Wiley Wiggins.
“Escape From Tomorrow” – Directed and written by Randy Moore. Chronicles an epic battle between an unemployed, middle-aged father and two teenage girls he meets on vacation. Features Roy Abramsohn, Elena Schuber, Katelynn Rodriguez, Annet Mahendru, Danielle Safady and Allison Lees-Taylor.
“I Used to Be Darker” – Directed by Matthew Porterfield, written by Amy Belk and Porterfield. A family drama in which a runaway seeks refuge in Baltimore with her aunt and uncle, whose marriage is on the rocks. Stars Deragh Campbell, Hannah Gross, Kim Taylor, Ned Oldham, Geoff Grace and Nick Petr.
“It Felt Like Love” – Directed by Eliza Hittman. The story of a 14-year-old girl’s sexual odyssey, which takes a dangerous turn when she pursues an older man. Features Gina Piersanti, Giovanna Salimeni, Ronen Rubinstein, Jesse Cordasco, Nick Rosen and Case Prime.
“Milkshake” – Directed by David Andalman, written by Andalman and Mariko Munro. Charts the tragic sex life and identity crisis of Jolie Jolson, the great-great-grandson of legendary vaudevillian Al Jolson. Stars Tyler Ross, Shareeka Epps, Georgia Ford, Eshan Bay, Leo Fitzpatrick and Danny Burstein.
“Newlyweeds” – Directed by Shaka King. A dark coming-of-age comedy about a Brooklyn repo man and his globetrotting girlfriend. With Amari Cheatom, Trae Harris, Tone Tank, Colman Domingo, Isiah Whitlock Jr. and Adrian Martinez.
“Pit Stop” – Directed by Yen Tan, written by Tan and David Lowery. A love story about two working-class gay men in a small Texas Town. With Bill Heck, Marcus DeAnda, Amy Seimetz, John Merriman, Alfredo Maduro and Corby Sullivan.
“A Teacher” – Directed by Hannah Fidell. A popular teacher at a suburban Texas high school has an affair with one of her students. Features Lindsay Burdge, Will Brittain, Jennifer Prediger, Jonny Mars, Julie Phillips and Chris Dubeck.
“This Is Martin Bonner” – Directed and written by Chad Hartigan. In which the title character starts his life over at age 58 with a new job in prison rehabilitation and an unlikely friendship with an ex-con. Stars Paul Eenhoorn, Richmond Arquette, Sam Buchanan, Robert Longstreet and Demetrius Grosse.