These may be turbulent times for the country, but as sure as the sun rises tomorrow, the 33rd edition of the Sundance Film Festival brings tales of dysfunctional families, college hazing, and soldiers coping with Gulf War trauma, as well as new work from such independent film stalwarts as Parker Posey, Michael Cera, and Elizabeth Olsen.
And yet, if such offerings sound familiar, think again, as Sundance director John Cooper and director of programming Trevor Groth insist that the 2017 lineup for the festival’s four juried categories — American and World narrative, and documentary competitions — as well as Next, includes a wealth of new voices, one-of-a-kind portraits of never-before-seen characters, and fresh spins on mainstream genres.
This year, the most intense segment of the selection process occurred at the very moment Americans were focused on the election. “While that was going on in the outside world, we were watching films showing the other side — an intimate, more personal side of people’s lives,” Cooper told Variety. “In the end, it gives me great encouragement and optimism, even with everything happening out there. The work we’re seeing this year adds so much dimension. It’s really the human side. Giving the whole story of who we are is really important to the world.”
The festival’s U.S. dramatic competition comprises 16 films, eight of them debut features, including Matt Spicer’s social-media stalker comedy “Ingrid Goes West,” in which Aubrey Plaza’s character is obsessed with the aforementioned Olsen; the music-driven story of a plus-size white rapper, “Patti Cake$,” written and directed by Geremy Jasper (a member of Court 13, the creative team responsible for “Beasts of the Southern Wild”); and “To the Bone,” an intimate look at anorexia, from “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” producer Marti Noxon.
“I haven’t seen a fiction film that captures the issues around eating disorders so accurately and so humanely, and I think that for young people going through similar things, a film like this can have a real healing power,” Groth said.
Though the festival’s commitment to diversity makes it difficult to spot trends at this stage, competition has traditionally been a platform for actors making their directorial debuts (none more sensational than Nate Parker’s “The Birth of a Nation” last year). This time, Zoe Lister-Jones unveils romantic comedy “Band Aid,” and character actor Macon Blair bows “I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore,” starring Melanie Lynskey and Elijah Wood.
The U.S. dramatic competition also welcomes several returning filmmakers, a number of whom previously had films in Sundance’s Next section, among them Gillian Robespierre (“Obvious Child”), whose ’90s-set period piece “Landline” reunites her with Jenny Slate; and Alex Ross Perry (“Listen Up Philip”), reteaming with Jason Schwartzman on Brooklyn-based relationship drama “Golden Exits.” Likewise, Spike Lee protégé Michael Larnell, whose hip-hop-themed “Roxanne Roxanne” premieres in competition, previously debuted “Cronies” in Next — of which “Beach Rats” helmer Eliza Hittman (“It Felt Like Love”) and “The Yellow Birds” director Alexandre Moors (“Blue Caprice”) are also veterans.
But the Next-to-competition track is not necessarily a one-way trajectory, as “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints” director David Lowery (who co-wrote “The Yellow Birds”) demonstrates with his uniquely odd “A Ghost Story.” “Coming off of working with a studio — he actually had a good experience with Disney on ‘Pete’s Dragon’ — he just had this jolt of creativity to go back to his indie roots,” said Groth, who typically saves many of the festival’s most exciting discoveries (e.g. “Tangerine”) for the low-budget, boundary-pushing category. “There is a fluidity between Next and competition. All Next films could go into competition, but not all competition films could go in Next. I do think there’s a boldness of vision that makes a Next film.”
On the documentary side, topics range from Japanese girl bands (“Tokyo Idols”) to tabloid scandals (“Nobody Speak: Hulk Hogan, Gawker and Trials of a Free Press”), as the form continues to evolve (demonstrated by hybrid doc “Casting JonBenet”). Cooper cited the vitality of “the citizen journalism effect” in recent nonfiction filmmaking: “A lot of filmmakers are relying on footage from people that were there, at the scene, using images caught on cell phones,” he said, referring to cases in which eyewitness footage from Syria (“Last Men in Aleppo”) and Ferguson (Pete Nicks’ “The Force”) heightens the impact of those projects.
This year’s edition also introduces a special program, called “The New Climate,” reflecting Sundance president and founder Robert Redford’s ongoing commitment to environmental issues. Designed to further public discussions around climate change, the idea was to include a thread of programming that runs through the festival’s various sections focusing on an issue that, according to Cooper, “really got left out during the election,” encompassing such films as Jeff Orlowski’s “Chasing Coral” and Jiu-liang Wang’s recycling factory doc “Plastic China.”
Cooper seemed especially proud of the strength he sees in the festival’s world competition categories, which launched a number of key international films, including films that went on to become Israel and the U.K.’s official foreign language submissions (“Sand Storm” and Iran-set midnight movie “Under the Shadow,” respectively). This year, more than half of the festival’s 4,068 feature submissions came from abroad, representing 32 countries in all.
“It’s an interesting view of what international cinema thinks of Sundance, and what they think it can do for them. We got a lot of films dealing in subjects that countries haven’t necessarily dealt with that much before, especially regarding the sexuality of characters,” Cooper said, specifically referencing Mexican director Ernesto Contreras’ “I Dream in Another Language,” in which the legacy of a nearly extinct dialect depends on two aging gay men; English coming-out drama “God’s Own Country”; and African-made “The Wound,” which examines homosexuality in a tribal context.
As usual, Sundance represents a far more diverse lineup of filmmaking voices than the more commercial studio world (“In the Next category, five of the 10 directors are people of color,” Groth said), though nowhere near the balance of 2013, when half the competition directors were women. This year, there were only five women directors in each of the U.S. competition categories — though Cooper said the number is up in Premieres, which will be announced next Monday. The New Frontier lineup will be unveiled Thursday, with shorts to follow on Dec. 6.
The festival itself is scheduled to take place from Jan. 19-29, and will once again kick off with screenings of four competition titles — “I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore ” (U.S. dramatic), “Whose Streets?” (U.S. documentary), “Pop Aye” (World Cinema dramatic) and “The Workers Cup” (World Cinema documentary) — and Next entry “Dayveon.”
The full lineup:
U.S. DRAMATIC COMPETITION
The 16 films in this section are all world premieres.
“Band Aid” (Director and screenwriter: Zoe Lister-Jones) — A couple who can’t stop fighting embark on a last-ditch effort to save their marriage: turning their fights into songs and starting a band. Cast: Zoe Lister-Jones, Adam Pally, Fred Armisen, Susie Essman, Hannah Simone, Ravi Patel.
“Beach Rats” (Director and screenwriter: Eliza Hittman) — An aimless teenager on the outer edges of Brooklyn struggles to escape his bleak home life and navigate questions of self-identity, as he balances his time between his delinquent friends, a potential new girlfriend, and an older men he meets online. Cast: Harris Dickinson, Madeline Weinstein, Kate Hodge, Neal Huff.
“Brigsby Bear” (Director: Dave McCary, Screenwriters: Kevin Costello, Kyle Mooney) — “Brigsby Bear Adventures” is a children’s TV show produced for an audience of one: James. When the show abruptly ends, James’s life changes forever, and he sets out to finish the story himself. Cast: Kyle Mooney, Claire Danes, Mark Hamill, Greg Kinnear, Matt Walsh, Michaela Watkins.
“Burning Sands” (Director: Gerard McMurray, Screenwriters: Christine Berg, Gerard McMurray) — Deep into a fraternity’s Hell Week, a favored pledge is torn between honoring a code of silence or standing up against the intensifying violence of underground hazing. Cast: Trevor Jackson, Alfre Woodard, Steve Harris, Tosin Cole, DeRon Horton, Trevante Rhodes.
“Crown Heights” (Director and screenwriter: Matt Ruskin) — When Colin Warner is wrongfully convicted of murder, his best friend, Carl King, devotes his life to proving Colin’s innocence. Adapted from “This American Life,” this is the incredible true story of their harrowing quest for justice. Cast: Keith Stanfield, Nnamdi Asomugha, Natalie Paul, Bill Camp, Nestor Carbonell, Amari Cheatom.
“Golden Exits” (Director and screenwriter: Alex Ross Perry) — The arrival of a young foreign girl disrupts the lives and emotional balances of two Brooklyn families. Cast: Emily Browning, Adam Horovitz, Mary-Louise Parker, Lily Rabe, Jason Schwartzman, Chloë Sevigny.
“The Hero” (Director: Brett Haley, Screenwriters: Haley, Marc Basch) — Lee, a former Western film icon, is living a comfortable existence lending his golden voice to advertisements and smoking weed. After receiving a lifetime achievement award and unexpected news, Lee reexamines his past, while a chance meeting with a sardonic comic has him looking to the future. Cast: Sam Elliott, Laura Prepon, Krysten Ritter, Nick Offerman, Katherine Ross.
“I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore” (Director and screenwriter: Macon Blair) — When a depressed woman is burglarized, she finds a new sense of purpose by tracking down the thieves, alongside her obnoxious neighbor. But they soon find themselves dangerously out of their depth against a pack of degenerate criminals. Cast: Melanie Lynskey, Elijah Wood, David Yow, Jane Levy, Devon Graye.
“Ingrid Goes West” (Director: Matt Spicer, Screenwriters: Spicer, David Branson Smith) — A young woman becomes obsessed with an Instagram lifestyle blogger and moves to Los Angeles to try to befriend her in real life. Cast: Aubrey Plaza, Elizabeth Olsen, O’Shea Jackson Jr., Wyatt Russell, Billy Magnussen.
“Landline” (Director: Gillian Robespierre, Screenwriters: Elisabeth Holm, Robespierre) — Two sisters come of age in ’90s New York when they discover their dad’s affair — and it turns out he’s not the only cheater in the family. Everyone still smokes inside, no one has a cell phone, and the Jacobs finally connect through lying, cheating, and hibachi. Cast: Jenny Slate, John Turturro, Edie Falco, Abby Quinn, Jay Duplass, Finn Wittrock.
“Novitiate” (Director and screenwriter: Maggie Betts) — In the early 1960s, during the Vatican II era, a young woman training to become a nun struggles with issues of faith, sexuality, and the changing church. Cast: Margaret Qualley, Melissa Leo, Julianne Nicholson, Dianna Agron, Morgan Saylor.
“Patti Cake$” (Director and screenwriter: Geremy Jasper) — Straight out of Jersey comes Patricia Dombrowski, a.k.a. Killa P, a.k.a. Patti Cake$, an aspiring rapper fighting through a world of strip malls and strip clubs on an unlikely quest for glory. Cast: Danielle Macdonald, Bridget Everett, Siddharth Dhananjay, Mamoudou Athie, Cathy Moriarty.
“Roxanne Roxanne” (Director and screenwriter: Michael Larnell) — The most feared battle emcee in early-’80s NYC is a fierce teenager from the Queensbridge projects with the weight of the world on her shoulders. At age 14, hustling the streets to provide for her family, Roxanne Shanté is well on her way to becoming a hip-hop legend. Cast: Chanté Adams, Mahershala Ali, Nia Long, Elvis Nolasco, Kevin Phillips, Shenell Edmonds.
“To the Bone” (Director and screenwriter: Marti Noxon) — In a last-ditch effort to battle her severe anorexia, 20-year-old Ellen enters a group recovery home. With the help of an unconventional doctor, Ellen and the other residents go on a sometimes-funny, sometimes-harrowing journey that leads to the ultimate question: Is life worth living? Cast: Lily Collins, Keanu Reeves, Carrie Preston, Lili Taylor, Alex Sharp, Liana Liberato.
“Walking Out” (Directors and screenwriters: Alex Smith, Andrew Smith) — A father and son struggle to connect on any level until a brutal encounter with a predator in the heart of the wilderness leaves them both seriously injured. If they are to survive, the boy must carry his father to safety. Cast: Matt Bomer, Josh Wiggins, Bill Pullman, Alex Neustaedter, Lily Gladstone.
“The Yellow Birds” (Director: Alexandre Moors, Screenwriter: David Lowery) — Two young men enlist in the Army and are deployed to fight in the Gulf War. After an unthinkable tragedy, the surviving soldier struggles to balance his promise of silence with the truth and a mourning mother’s search for peace. Cast: Tye Sheridan, Jack Huston, Alden Ehrenreich, Jason Patric, Toni Collette, Jennifer Aniston.
U.S. DOCUMENTARY COMPETITION
The 16 films in this section are all world premieres.
“Casting JonBenet” (U.S.-Australia / Director: Kitty Green) — The unsolved death of 6-year-old American beauty queen JonBenet Ramsey remains the world’s most sensational child murder case. Over 15 months, responses, reflections, and performances were elicited from the Ramsey’s Colorado hometown community, creating a bold work of art from the collective memories and mythologies the crime inspired.
“Chasing Coral” (Director: Jeff Orlowski) — Coral reefs around the world are vanishing at an unprecedented rate. A team of divers, photographers, and scientists set out on a thrilling ocean adventure to discover why and to reveal the underwater mystery to the world. (The New Climate)
“City of Ghosts” (Director: Matthew Heineman) — With unprecedented access, this documentary follows the extraordinary journey of Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently — a group of anonymous citizen journalists who banded together after their homeland was overtaken by ISIS — as they risk their lives to stand up against one of the greatest evils in the world today.
“Dina” (Directors: Dan Sickles, Antonio Santini) — An eccentric suburban woman and a Walmart door-greeter navigate their evolving relationship in this unconventional love story.
“Dolores” (Director: Peter Bratt) — Dolores Huerta bucks 1950s gender conventions by co-founding the country’s first farmworkers’ union. Wrestling with raising 11 children, gender bias, union defeat and victory, and nearly dying after a San Francisco Police beating, Huerta emerges with a vision that connects her newfound feminism with racial and class justice.
“The Force” (Director: Pete Nicks) — This cinema verité look at the long-troubled Oakland Police Dept. goes deep inside its struggles to confront federal demands for reform, a popular uprising following events in Ferguson, and an explosive scandal.
“Icarus” (Director: Bryan Fogel) — When Bryan Fogel sets out to uncover the truth about doping in sports, a chance meeting with a Russian scientist transforms his story from a personal experiment into a geopolitical thriller involving dirty urine, unexplained death, and Olympic Gold — exposing the biggest scandal in sports history.
“The New Radical” (Director: Adam Bhala Lough) — Uncompromising millennial radicals from the United States and the United Kingdom attack the system through dangerous technological means, which evolves into a high-stakes game with world authorities in the midst of a dramatically changing political landscape.
“Nobody Speak: Hulk Hogan, Gawker and Trials of a Free Press” (Director: Brian Knappenberger) — The trial between Hulk Hogan and Gawker Media pitted privacy rights against freedom of the press, and raised important questions about how big money can silence media. This film is an examination of the perils and duties of the free press in an age of inequality.
“Quest” (Director: Jonathan Olshefski) — For more than a decade, this portrait of a North Philadelphia family and the creative sanctuary offered by their home music studio was filmed with vérité intimacy. The family’s 10-year journey is an illumination of race and class in America, and it’s a testament to love, healing, and hope.
“Step” (Director: Amanda Lipitz) — The senior year of a girls’ high-school step team in inner-city Baltimore is documented, as members try to become the first in their families to attend college. The girls strive to make their dancing a success against the backdrop of social unrest in the troubled city.
“Strong Island” (U.S.-Denmark / Director: Yance Ford) — Examining the violent death of the filmmaker’s brother and the judicial system that allowed his killer to go free, this documentary interrogates murderous fear and racialized perception, and re-imagines the wreckage in catastrophe’s wake, challenging us to change.
“Trophy” (Director: Shaul Schwarz, Co-Director: Christina Clusiau) — This in-depth look into the powerhouse industries of big-game hunting, breeding, and wildlife conservation in the U.S. and Africa unravels the complex consequences of treating animals as commodities. (The New Climate)
“Unrest” (Director: Jennifer Brea) — When Harvard PhD student Jennifer Brea is struck down at 28 by a fever that leaves her bedridden, doctors tell her it’s “all in her head.” Determined to live, she sets out on a virtual journey to document her story — and four other families’ stories — fighting a disease medicine forgot.
“Water & Power: A California Heist” (Director: Marina Zenovich) — In California’s convoluted water system, notorious water barons find ways to structure a state-engineered system to their own advantage. This examination into their centers of power shows small farmers and everyday citizens facing drought and a new, debilitating groundwater crisis. (The New Climate)
“Whose Streets?” (Director: Sabaah Folayan, Co-Director: Damon Davis) — A nonfiction account of the Ferguson uprising told by the people who lived it, this is an unflinching look at how the killing of 18-year-old Michael Brown inspired a community to fight back — and sparked a global movement.
WORLD CINEMA DRAMATIC COMPETITION
The 12 films in this section are world premieres unless otherwise specified.
“Axolotl Overkill” (Germany / Director and screenwriter: Helene Hegemann) — Mifti, age 16, lives in Berlin with a cast of characters including her half-siblings; their rich, self-involved father; and her junkie friend Ophelia. As she mourns her recently deceased mother, she begins to develop an obsession with Alice, an enigmatic, and much older, white-collar criminal. Cast: Jasna Fritzi Bauer, Arly Jover, Mavie Hörbiger, Laura Tonke, Hans Löw, Bernhard Schütz.
“Berlin Syndrome” (Australia / Director: Cate Shortland, Screenwriter: Shaun Grant) — A passionate holiday romance takes an unexpected and sinister turn when an Australian photographer wakes one morning in a Berlin apartment and is unable to leave. Cast: Teresa Palmer, Max Riemelt.
“Carpinteros” (Woodpeckers)” (Dominican Republic / Director and screenwriter: José María Cabral) — Julián finds love and a reason for living in the last place imaginable: the Dominican Republic’s Najayo Prison. His romance with fellow prisoner Yanelly must develop through sign language and without tipping off the dozens of guards. Cast: Jean Jean, Judith Rodriguez Perez, Ramón Emilio Candelario.
“Don’t Swallow My Heart, Alligator Girl!” (Brazil-Netherlands-France-Paraguay / Director and screenwriter: Felipe Bragança) — In this fable about love and memories, Joca is a 13-year-old Brazilian boy in love with an indigenous Paraguayan girl. To win her love, he must face the violent region’s war-torn past and the secrets of his elder brother, Fernando, a motorcycle cowboy. Cast: Cauã Reymond, Eduardo Macedo, Adeli Gonzales, Zahy Guajajara, Claudia Assunção, Ney Matogrosso.
“Family Life” (Chile / Directors: Alicia Scherson, Cristián Jiménez, Screenwriter: Alejandro Zambra) — While house-sitting for a distant cousin, a lonely man fabricates the existence of a vindictive ex-wife withholding his daughter, in order to gain the sympathy of the single mother he has just met. Cast: Jorge Becker, Gabriela Arancibia, Blanca Lewin, Cristián Carvajal.
“Free and Easy” (Hong Kong / Director: Jun Geng, Screenwriters: Jun Geng, Yuhua Feng, Bing Liu) — When a traveling soap salesman arrives in a desolate Chinese town, a crime occurs, and sets the strange residents against each other with tragicomic results. Cast: Gang Xu, Zhiyong Zhang, Baohe Xue, Benshan Gu, Xun Zhang.
“God’s Own Country” (U.K. / Director and screenwriter: Francis Lee) — Springtime in Yorkshire: Isolated young sheep farmer Johnny Saxby numbs his daily frustrations with binge drinking and casual sex, until the arrival of a Romanian migrant worker, employed for the lambing season, ignites an intense relationship that sets Johnny on a new path. Cast: Josh O’Connor, Alec Secareanu, Ian Hart, Gemma Jones.
“My Happy Family” (Georgia / Directors: Nana & Simon, Screenwriter: Nana Ekvtimishvili) — Tbilisi, Georgia, 2016: In a patriarchal society, an ordinary Georgian family lives with three generations under one roof. All are shocked when 52-year-old Manana decides to move out from her parents’ home and live alone. Without her family and her husband, a journey into the unknown begins. Cast: Ia Shugliashvili, Merab Ninidze, Berta Khapava, Tsisia Qumsishvili, Giorgi Tabidze, Dimitri Oragvelidze.
“The Nile Hilton Incident” (Sweden / Director and screenwriter: Tarik Saleh) — In Cairo, weeks before the 2011 revolution, Police Detective Noredin is working in the infamous Kasr el-Nil Police Station when he is handed the case of a murdered singer. He soon realizes that the investigation concerns the power elite, close to the president’s inner circle. Cast: Fares Fares, Mari Malek, Mohamed Yousry, Yasser Ali Maher, Ahmed Selim, Hania Amar.
“Pop Aye” (Singapore-Thailand / Director and screenwriter: Kirsten Tan) — On a chance encounter, a disenchanted architect bumps into his long-lost elephant on the streets of Bangkok. Excited, he takes the elephant on a journey across Thailand in search of the farm where they grew up together. Cast: Thaneth Warakulnukroh, Penpak Sirikul, Bong.
“Sueño en otro idioma” (I Dream in Another Language) (Mexico / Director: Ernesto Contreras, Screenwriter: Carlos Contreras) — The last two speakers of a millennia-old language haven’t spoken in 50 years, when a young linguist tries to bring them together. Yet hidden in the past, in the heart of the jungle, lies a secret concerning the fate of the Zikril language. Cast: Fernando Álvarez Rebeil, Eligio Meléndez, Manuel Poncelis, Fátima Molina, Juan Pablo de Santiago, Hoze Meléndez.
“The Wound” (South Africa / Director: John Trengove, Screenwriters: Trengove, Thando Mgqolozana, Malusi Bengu) — Xolani, a lonely factory worker, travels to the rural mountains with the men of his community to initiate a group of teenage boys into manhood. When a defiant initiate from the city discovers his best-kept secret, a forbidden love, Xolani’s entire existence begins to unravel. Cast: Nakhane Touré, Bongile Mantsai, Niza Jay Ncoyini.
WORLD CINEMA DOCUMENTARY COMPETITION
The 12 films in this section are world premieres unless otherwise specified.
“The Good Postman” (Finland-Bulgaria / Director: Tonislav Hristov) — In a small Bulgarian village troubled by the ongoing refugee crisis, a local postman runs for mayor — and learns that even minor deeds can outweigh good intentions. North American Premiere
“In Loco Parentis” (Ireland-Spain / Directors: Neasa Ní Chianáin, David Rane) — John and Amanda teach Latin, English, and guitar at a fantastical, stately home-turned-school. Nearly 50-year careers are drawing to a close for the pair, who have become legends with the mantra: “Reading! ’Rithmetic! Rock ’n’ roll!” But for pupil and teacher alike, leaving is the hardest lesson. North American Premiere
“It’s Not Yet Dark” (Ireland / Director: Frankie Fenton) — This is the incredible story of Simon Fitzmaurice, a young filmmaker who becomes completely paralyzed from motor neurone disease but goes on to direct an award-winning feature film through the use of his eyes. International Premiere
“Joshua: Teenager vs. Superpower” (U.S. / Director: Joe Piscatella) — When the Chinese Communist Party backtracks on its promise of autonomy to Hong Kong, teenager Joshua Wong decides to save his city. Rallying thousands of kids to skip school and occupy the streets, Joshua becomes an unlikely leader in Hong Kong and one of China’s most notorious dissidents.
“Last Men in Aleppo” (Denmark / Directors: Feras Fayyad, Steen Johannessen) — After five years of war in Syria, Aleppo’s remaining residents prepare themselves for a siege. Khalid, Subhi, and Mahmoud, founding members of The White Helmets, have remained in the city to help their fellow citizens — and experience daily life, death, struggle, and triumph in a city under fire.
“Machines” (India-Germany-Finland / Director: Rahul Jain) — This intimate, observant portrayal of the rhythm of life and work in a gigantic textile factory in Gujarat, India, moves through the corridors and bowels of the enormously disorienting structure — taking the viewer on a journey of dehumanizing physical labor and intense hardship. North American Premiere. (The New Climate)
“Motherland” (U.S.-Philippines / Director: Ramona Diaz) — The planet’s busiest maternity hospital is located in one of its poorest and most populous countries: the Philippines. There, poor women face devastating consequences as their country struggles with reproductive health policy and the politics of conservative Catholic ideologies.
“Plastic China” (China / Director: Jiu-liang Wang) — Yi-Jie, an 11-year-old girl, works alongside her parents in a recycling facility while dreaming of attending school. Kun, the facility’s ambitious foreman, dreams of a better life. Through the eyes and hands of those who handle its refuse comes an examination of global consumption and culture. International Premiere. (The New Climate)
“Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked the World” (Canada / Director: Catherine Bainbridge) — This powerful documentary about the role of Native Americans in contemporary music history — featuring some of the greatest music stars of our time — exposes a critical missing chapter, revealing how indigenous musicians helped shape the soundtracks of our lives and, through their contributions, influenced popular culture.
“Tokyo Idols” (U.K.-Canada / Director: Kyoko Miyake) — This exploration of Japan’s fascination with girl bands and their music follows an aspiring pop singer and her fans, delving into the cultural obsession with young female sexuality and the growing disconnect between men and women in hypermodern societies.
“Winnie” (France / Director: Pascale Lamche) — While her husband served a life sentence, paradoxically kept safe and morally uncontaminated, Winnie Mandela rode the raw violence of apartheid, fighting on the front line and underground. This is the untold story of the mysterious forces that combined to take her down, labeling him a saint, her a sinner.
“The Workers Cup” (U.K. / Director: Adam Sobel) — Inside Qatar’s labor camps, African and Asian migrant workers building the facilities of the 2022 World Cup compete in a soccer tournament of their own.
The 10 films in this section are world premieres and from the U.S.
“Columbus” (Director and screenwriter: Kogonada) Casey lives with her mother in a little-known Midwestern town haunted by the promise of modernism. Jin, a visitor from the other side of the world, attends to his dying father. Burdened by the future, they find respite in one another and the architecture that surrounds them. Cast: John Cho, Haley Lu Richardson, Parker Posey, Rory Culkin, Michelle Forbes.
“Dayveon” (Director: Amman Abbasi, Screenwriters: Amman Abbasi, Steven Reneau) — In the wake of his older brother’s death, 13-year-old Dayveon spends the sweltering summer days roaming his rural Arkansas town. When he falls in with a local gang, he becomes drawn to the camaraderie and violence of their world. Cast: Devin Blackmon, Kordell “KD” Johnson, Dontrell Bright, Chasity Moore, Lachion Buckingham, Marquell Manning. World Premiere.
“Deidra & Laney Rob a Train” (Director: Sydney Freeland, Screenwriter: Shelby Farrell) — Two teenage sisters start robbing trains to make ends meet after their single mother’s emotional meltdown in an electronics store lands her in jail. Cast: Ashleigh Murray, Rachel Crow, Tim Blake Nelson, David Sullivan, Danielle Nicolet, Sasheer Zamata.
“A Ghost Story” (Director and screenwriter: David Lowery) — This is the tale of a ghost and the house he haunts. Cast: Casey Affleck, Rooney Mara, Will Oldham, Sonia Acevedo, Rob Zabrecky, Liz Franke.
“Gook” (Director and screenwriter: Justin Chon) — Eli and Daniel, two Korean American brothers who own a struggling women’s shoe store, have an unlikely friendship with 11-year-old Kamilla. On the first day of the 1992 L.A. riots, the trio must defend their store — and contemplate the meaning of family, their personal dreams, and the future. Cast: Justin Chon, Simone Baker, David So, Curtiss Cook Jr., Sang Chon, Ben Munoz.
“L.A. Times” (Director and screenwriter: Michelle Morgan) — In this classically styled comedy of manners set in Los Angeles, sophisticated thirtysomethings try to determine whether ideal happiness exists in coupledom or if the perfectly suited couple is actually just an urban myth. Cast: Michelle Morgan, Dree Hemingway, Jorma Taccone, Kentucker Audley, Margarita Levieva, Adam Shapiro.
“Lemon” (Director: Janicza Bravo, Screenwriters: Bravo, Brett Gelman) — A man watches his life unravel after he is left by his blind girlfriend. Cast: Brett Gelman, Judy Greer, Michael Cera, Nia Long, Shiri Appleby, Fred Melamed.
“Menashe” (Director: Joshua Z Weinstein, Screenwriters: Weinstein, Alex Lipschultz, Musa Syeed) — Within Brooklyn’s ultra-orthodox Jewish community, a widower battles for custody of his son. A tender drama performed entirely in Yiddish, the film intimately explores the nature of faith and the price of parenthood. Cast: Menashe Lustig.
“Person to Person” (Director and screenwriter: Dustin Guy Defa) — A record collector hustles for a big score while his heartbroken roommate tries to erase a terrible mistake, a teenager bears witness to her best friend’s new relationship, and a rookie reporter, alongside her demanding supervisor, chases the clues of a murder case involving a life-weary clock shop owner. Cast: Abbi Jacobson, Michael Cera, Tavi Gevinson, Philip Baker Hall, Bene Coopersmith, George Sample III, Ben Rosenfield.
“Thoroughbred” (Director and screenwriter: Cory Finley) — Two teenage girls in suburban Connecticut rekindle their unlikely friendship after years of growing apart. In the process, they learn that neither is what she seems to be — and that a murder might solve both of their problems. Cast: Olivia Cooke, Anya Taylor-Joy, Anton Yelchin, Paul Sparks, Francie Swift, Kaili Vernoff.
(Pictured: Aubrey Plaza and Elizabeth Olsen in “Ingrid Goes West”)