There’s a reason Lars Von Trier decided to premiere his sexually explicit “Nymphomaniac” at the Sundance Film Festival last year. The mountainside gathering has a history of attracting edgy and boundary-pushing fare.
The Danish auteur won’t be showing anything explosive in Park City this time, but the 2015 edition of Sundance promises to have plenty of controversial documentaries and feature films about everything from sexual abuse to Scientology that are certain to spark debate.
Here’s a look at some of the most controversial projects looking to heat up the snowbound festival.
STANFORD PRISON EXPERIMENT
Cast: Billy Crudup, Tye Sheridan, Ezra Miller
Director: Kyle Patrick Alvarez
Why It Pushes Buttons: Based on the true story about a Stanford University psychological survey that had students create a mock prison setting to look at the root causes of abuse, the film will bring to mind recent clashes with authority ranging from the shooting death of Michael Brown to the torture scandal at Abu Ghraib. The original test caused a stir when it was conducted in 1971. The dramatization could be just as sensational.
Director: Amy Berg
Why It Pushes Buttons: Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ Latter Day Saints leader Warren Jeffs caused a media firestorm in 2006 when he fled prosecution and made the FBI’s Most Wanted List. His subsequent capture, trial and conviction on charges of child sexual assault and racist comments have made him one of the most widely loathed figures in recent history. This film doesn’t sound likely to rehabilitate his image.
LAST DAYS IN THE DESERT
Cast: Ewan McGregor, Tye Sheridan
Director: Rodrigo Garcia
Why It Pushes Buttons: From “The Passion of the Christ” to “Exodus: Gods & Kings,” biblical pictures have a tendency to ruffle the faithful’s feathers. This picture, which finds McGregor playing both Jesus and the Devil, follows the son of God as he is tempted by evil while on a walkabout in the desert. It’s a topic that could attract detractors from both the secular and religious communities.
THE HUNTING GROUND
Director: Kirby Dick
Why It Pushes Buttons: After looking at sexual abuse in the armed services with “The Invisible War,” Dick turns his attention to how colleges mishandle — and in some cases cover up — rapes that occur on campuses. Dick’s previous film shook up the defense establishment, and his latest film should deliver a body blow to the ivory tower.
GOING CLEAR: SCIENTOLOGY AND THE PRISON OF BELIEF
Director: Alex Gibney
Why It Pushes Buttons: Let’s hope Gibney and company lawyered up, because the Church of Scientology tends to be very litigious when it comes to investigations into their practices and the colorful life of founder L. Ron Hubbard. The film is based on Lawrence Wright’s book of the same name which, among other things, reported on alleged physical abuse of certain members and the questionable leadership practices of head David Miscavige. It’s probably not making Tom Cruise’s Netflix queue anytime soon.
I AM MICHAEL
Cast: James Franco, Emma Roberts, Zachary Quinto
Director: Justin Kelly
Why It Pushes Buttons: From “Interior. Leather Bar” to “Howl,” Franco has never shied away from exploring human sexuality. His latest project may be his most divisive. “I Am Michael” focuses on an LGBT activist who renounces his homosexuality and finds religion. Oh, and it’s a true story.
DIARY OF A TEENAGE GIRL
Cast: Christopher Meloni, Kristen Wiig and Alexander Skarsgård
Directed by: Marielle Heller
Why It Pushes Buttons: A teenage girl growing up in 1970s San Francisco has an affair with her mother’s boyfriend. It’s an emotionally and morally complex of portrait of adolescence that is certain to shock.
Director: Bryan Buckley
Cast: Melissa Rauch, Sebastian Stan, Gary Cole
Why It Pushes Buttons: Buzz on this film is that it’s raunchy with a capital R. It’s the story of a washed-up Olympic medalist, who is years away from her glory days and festering away in her father’s basement. It sounds kind of like the middle section of “Foxcatcher,” but funny.
Director: Louie Psihoyos
Why It Pushes Buttons: “The Cove” director moves from dolphin hunting to ecological disaster on an apocalyptic scale. Psihoyos is an activist and this film points the finger of blame for the risk of extinction that 50% of the earth’s species face squarely at the human race. That should go over well among climate change deniers.