The Sundance Film Festival supplemented its 2018 feature lineup by announcing its Indie Episodic, Shorts and Special Events program, reminding that its mission to showcasing and supporting independent voices isn’t limited by commercial prospects or the format in which they choose to express themselves.
“It was a real robust market last year, and it’s nice to see those films have lives out there in the world, but that’s not how we program,” says Sundance director of programming Trevor Groth. He and festival director John Cooper (who actually got his start with Sundance as a shorts programmer back in 1989) are just as committed to shorts, of which they have selected 69 for the 2018 edition, which runs from Jan. 18-28.
The lineup does feature one big innovation for 2018 — namely, the creation of an entirely new category. “This year, we are looking to create a bit of a market around episodic work,” Groth explains. Hence, the introduction of the Indie Episodic section, which marks a formal embrace of the kind of television and serial storytelling that Sundance tested earlier this year by shoe-horning them under its Special Events umbrella last January.
“We started this section based on the success we had last year on showing independently produced episodic work that came into the festival looking for distribution, and having a lot of that work get acquired by different platforms and different companies,” he says. “We felt we could play a role in that form in the way we did for film in the late ’80s through the ’90s, and seeing the film industry grow up around Sundance. I think we can help play a similar role for episodic work as well.”
The 2018 Sundance film festival will run from Jan. 18-28. In order not to get overshadowed by Sundance’s busy opening weekend, the Indie Episodic section is scheduled for Mon., Jan. 22 through Weds., Jan. 24, during which time 17 new projects will be unveiled to attendees, all but one of them world premieres. The Sundance Institute doubles down on its commitment to the creators of serialized work via an Episodic Lab, in which new voices receiving mentoring during the early development of such projects.
The full program:
The 17 series in this section are all world premieres unless otherwise indicated.
America To Me (Director: Steve James, Segment Directors: Bing Liu, Rebecca Parrish, Kevin Shaw) — This limited series captures a year-long look at one of Chicago’s most progressive and diverse public schools, located in suburban Oak Park. Unprecedented in scope, the series is both intimate and epic in its storytelling as it explores America’s charged state of race, culture and education today.
The Adulterers (Creators and screenwriters:: Tonya Glanz, Chris Roberti) — Two co-workers engaged in an extramarital affair discover an unexpected but limited intimacy which unlocks a secret world of creativity and freedom. Cast: Tonya Glanz, Chris Roberti.
Cherries (Director and screenwriter: Diaz Jacobs) — After a long separation, two sisters are forced to come together. When the man that once got between them reappears, a triangle emerges and they find themselves in a similar place after many years: suffocating, infuriating and incredibly familiar. Home. Cast: Shannon Plumb, Melora Walters, Robert Maffia, Lora Witty.
Franchesca (Executive Producers: Topic Studios, Franchesca Ramsey, K ara Welker, Director: Kaitlin Fontana) — Comedian Franchesca Ramsey finds communion and culture in this digital series which explores beauty and fashion. The pilot episode finds Franchesca escaping ubiquitous internet trolls as she spends the day with friend Michelle Buteau getting an ornate Japanese gel manicure. Cast: Franchesca Ramsey.
Halfway There (Director: Rick Rosenthal, Screenwriter: Nick Morton) — When recovering addict Jimmy Bishop finds his sober living facility teetering on the edge of bankruptcy, he is forced to take in his wealthy alcoholic mother as a client. Her arrival solves his immediate financial crisis but also unleashes every other problem he has struggled his whole life to contain. Cast: Matthew Lillard, Blythe Danner, Esai Morales, Sarah Shahi, Nishi Munshi, Paige Hurd.
High & Mighty (Director: Carlos Lopez Estrada, Screenwriter: Cesar Mazariegos) — After getting shot multiple times by a mysterious flower delivery man and surviving without a scratch, Chelo discovers he has superhuman powers. But only when he’s drunk or high. With the help of his homies, Chelo will decide whether to use his powers for good…or social media. Cast: Jorge Diaz, J.R. Villarreal, Adam Zastrow, James Eckhouse, Shakira Barrera, Chelsea Rendon. (Utah premiere)
I’m Poppy (Director and writer: Titanic Sinclair) — Join Internet sensation Poppy as she enters the real world for the very first time and quickly realizes that fame and fortune comes at a price, with secret societies, dangerous fanatics and a very envious mannequin named Charlotte. Cast: Poppy Chan, Samm Levine, Dan Hildebrand, Brad Carter, Kofi Boakye, Madison Lawlor.
Leimert Park (Director: Mel Jones, Screenwriters: Davita Scarlett, Mel Jones, Kady Kamakate) — Things get complicated when three friends share a house in South LA’s Leimert Park. Despite being married, beats-maker Mickey hasn’t had an orgasm in three months, Bridget mistakes sex for love while assisting a visiting artist and Kendra shoots videos of her numerous sexual encounters, hoping for her own art show. Cast: Ashley Blaine Featherson, Ashlí Haynes, Asia’h Epperson, Wade Allain-Marcus, Franz Latten, Ikenna Okoye.
The Mortified Guide (Director: Michael Mayer, Executive Producers: David Nadelberg, Neil Katcher) — A comedic look at the biggest issues of adolescence – from first loves to fitting in – as adults share their childhood writings and art in front of total strangers. Based on the Mortified stage shows, books, podcast and film, this docuseries celebrates the awkward insecurities that shaped us all. Cast: Robert Woo, Katie Westerfield, Adam Ruben.
Mr. Inbetween (Australia – Director: Nash Edgerton, Screenwriter: Scott Ryan) — Father, ex-husband, boyfriend: tough roles to juggle in the modern age. Even harde r when you’re a hitman. Cast: Scott Ryan, Justin Rosniak, Brooke Satchwell, Damon Herriman, Jackson Tozer, Chika Yasumura.
Paint (Creator and director: Michael Walker) — A 30-minute comedy/drama about three young artists, living in Brooklyn, and their adventures trying to make it in the art world and in life. C ast: Joshua Caras, Olivia Luccardi, Paul Cooper, Amy Hargreaves, David Patrick Kelley.
The Passage (Director: Kitao Sakurai, Writers: Phillip Burgers, Kitao Sakurai) — Phil, wide-eyed and mute, is on the run from a pagan cult. Phil’s scatterbrained ineptitude keeps getting him into trouble, however, and agents who’ve been hired to recapture him are always one step behind. The result is a series of misadventures that take the trio around the globe . Cast: Philip Burgers, Chad Damiani, Krystel Roche, Juzo Yoshida.
The Show About The Show (Season 2) (Director: Caveh Zahedi, Producer: Aziz Isham ) — In Season 2, Caveh and Mandy break up over the Show. Caveh gets involved with a fan but the pressure of having every aspect of their relationship made public begins to erode that relationship as well. The Show becomes a runaway train that Caveh struggles to keep from being derailed. Cast: Amanda Field, Ashley Foy, Emmy Harrington, Peter Rinaldi, Karley Sciortino, Caveh Zahedi.
susaneLand (Creators: Susane Lee and Andrew Olsen, Director: Andrew Olsen) — Dark, comedic vignettes from one young woman’s life. Cast: Susane Lee, Robert David Hall, Ken Takemoto, Mimi Cozzens, Travis Coles, Caitlin Kim.
Tammy’s Tiny Tea Time (Creator: Peter Gulsvig, Screenwriters: D aniel Shepard, Diana McCorry) — An animated comedy about a maladjusted 42-year-old woman with the emotional capacity of a child who shrinks to the size of her toys and forces them to entertain her before introducing several unrelated animated shorts. Cast: Rachel Butera, Nate Corddry, Peter Gulsvig, Jeremy Bent, Diana McCorry.
This Close (Director: Andrew Ahn, Creators: Josh Feldman, Shoshannah Stern) — Best friends Kate and Michael, who are deaf, try to balance their personal and professional lives. She’s newly engaged and struggles to grow at work, while he battles self-destructive writer’s block after having his heart broken. As they tackle their own issues, their friendship is put to the test. Cast: Shoshannah Stern, Josh Feldman, Zach Gilford, Colt Prattes, Marlee Matlin, Cheryl Hines.
Tropical Cop Tales (Director: Jim Hosking, Writers: Jim Hosking, Toby Harvard) — Two burned-out city cops — Keymarion “Primetime” Weeyums and Demetrius “Meechie” Franks — relocate to a tropical paradise for a relaxing twilight to their careers. It ends up being the most vicious, menacing place on earth, not even slightly relaxing. Cast: Wayne DeHart, Charles Noland, Carl Solomon, Nicole Crump, Brian Russell.
One-of-a-kind moments highlighting new independent works that add to the unique Festival experience. An evolving section, this year includes episodic work, short films and live post-screening discussions.
The King (U.S.-Germany-France (Director: Eugene Jarecki, Executive Producer: Steven Soderbergh) — Forty years after the death of Elvis Presley, a musical road trip across America in his 1963 Rolls Royce explores how a country boy lost his authenticity and became a king while his country lost her democracy and became an empire. Cast: Alec Baldwin, Chuck D, Emmylou Harris, Ethan Hawke, Van Jones, Mike Myers.
Pass Over (Director: Spike Lee, Playwright/Screenwriter: Antoinette Nwandu) — A provocative riff on “Waiting for Godot,” capturing the poetry, humor and humanity of this urgent and timely play about two young black men talking shit, passing the time and dreaming of the promised land. Cast: Jon Michael Hill, Julian Parker, Ryan Hallahan, Blake Delong.
The Trade (Director: Matthew Heineman, Executive Producers: Morgan Spurlock, Jeremy Chilnick, Pagan Harleman, Matthew Galkin) — A character-driven vérité docu-series which explores the opioid epidemic from the intimate perspectives of growers, addicts and law enforcement on both sides of the border. This interwoven narrative transcends the headlines to convey, with humanity and nuance, the scope and gravity of the crisis.
Wild Wild Country (Directors: Chapman Way, Maclain Way, Producer: Juliana Lembi) — When a mysterious guru and his disciples purchase a 64,000 acre ranch in desolate, rural Oregon — and build a $125 million utopian society — a war erupts with neighboring ranchers, pitting one way of life against the other and forcing both sides to take actions neither thought imaginable. Cast: Ma Anand Sheela, Jane Stork, Swami Prem Niren, John Silvertooth.
U.S. NARRATIVE SHORT FILMS
Agua Viva (Director and screenwriter: Alexa Lim Haas) — A Chinese manicurist in Miami attempts to describe feelings she doesn’t have the words for.
The Blazing World (Director and screenwriter: Carlson Young) — Margaret has been plagued with dreams of a strange world since she was a little girl. After a mysterious man with a map visits her one night, she decides to give in to the incessant calls of The Blazing World.
Blue Christmas (U.K.-U.S. – Director and screenwriter: Charlotte Wells) — On Christmas Eve, 1968, in a Scottish coastal town, a debt collector goes to work to avoid confronting his wife’s worsening psychosis at home.
Cheer Up Baby (Director and screenwriter: Adinah Dancyger) — A young woman who has been sexually assaulted by a stranger on the subway is rendered with psychological menace and sensory dislocation in this elliptical tale.
The Climb (Director and screenwriter: Michael Covino) — Kyle is depressed and a weekend bike ride with his best friend, Mike, should help. Fresh air. Camaraderie. Exercise. But Mike has something to say that might ruin the ride.
Don’t Be a Hero (Director and screenwriter: Pete Lee) — A middle-aged woman battles loneliness and boredom by robbing banks on her lunch break. But after the adrenaline rush wears off, she still has to deal with her deeply unhappy life. Inspired by a true story. DAY ONE
Emergency (Director: Carey Williams, Screenwriter: K.D. Dávila) — Faced with an emergency situation, a group of young Black and Latino friends carefully weigh the pros and cons of calling the police.
End of the Line (Director: Jessica Sanders, Screenwriter: Joanne Giger) — A lonely man goes to the pet store and buys a tiny man in a cage.
Eve (Director and screenwriter: Susan Bay Nimoy) — Eve, a 74 year old widow after 30 years of marriage, journeys through grief, sexual passion, and renewal.
Great Choice (Director and screenwriter: Robin Comisar) — A woman gets stuck in a Red Lobster commercial.
Hair Wolf (Director and screenwriter: Mariama Diallo) — In a black hair salon in gentrifying Brooklyn, the local residents fend off a strange new monster: white women intent on sucking the lifeblood from black culture.
Home Shopper (Singapore-U.S. – Director: Dev Patel, Screenwriter: Ryan Farhoudi) — In a loveless marriage, Penny finds solace in the hypnotic escape of the home shopping channel. When things take an unexpected turn with her husband, the channel proves to be her saving grace…or was it the problem all along?
LaZercism (Director and screenwriter: Shaka King) — Ask your doctor if LaZercism is right for you.
Maude (Director and screenwriter: Anna Margaret Hollyman) — Teeny thought it was just another routine babysitting job – until she’s shocked to meet the client. As the day goes on, Teeny decides to become the woman she had no idea she always wanted to be … until she gets caught.
Men Don’t Whisper (Director: Jordan Firstman, Screenwriters: Jordan Firstman, Charles Rogers) — After being emasculated at a sales conference, gay couple Reese and Peyton set out to do the most masculine thing they can think of – sleep with some women. DAY ONE
Mud (Hashtł’ishnii) (Director and screenwriter: Shaandiin Tome) — On her last day, Ruby faces the inescapable remnants of alcoholism, family and culture.
Painting with Joan (Director: Jack Henry Robbins, Screenwriters: Jack Henry Robbins, Nunzio Randazzo) — Today on “Painting with Joan”: a mixture of fun, learning and cobalt blue.
Ultraviolet (Director and screenwriter: Marc Johnson) — A woman named Kanchana and several scorpions explore collaborative survival approaches in a posthuman future in which all living beings are considered equal. Inter-species sociability, the Anthropocene and speculative Fabulations unfold in a futuristic and enchanted world.
War Paint (Director and screenwriter: Katrelle N. Kindred) — A young black girl in South L.A. experiences a series of events at the convergence of racism and sexism during the 4th of July holiday.
Wyrm (Director and screenwriter: Christopher Winterbauer) — Wyrm has two days to get his first kiss or he’ll be held back as part of the school district’s No Child Left Alone program and forced to wear his My.E.Q. Remote Monitoring collar through high school.
INTERNATIONAL NARRATIVE SHORT FILMS
Aria (Cyprus-France – Director and screenwriter: Myrsini Aristidou) — Athens, present day. Seventeen-year-old Aria, who is working at Jimmy’s kebab place, is waiting for a driving lesson with her father. DAY ONE
Careful How You Go (U.K. – Director and screenwriter: Emerald Fennell) — A darkly comic three-part short film about malevolent women.
Counterfeit Kunkoo (India – Director and screenwriter: Reema Sengupta) — In a city that houses millions, Smita discovers a strange pre-requisite to renting a house in middle-class Mumbai. She would make an ideal tenant, except for one glaring flaw – she is an Indian woman without a husband.
Deer Boy (Poland-Belgium-Croatia – Director and screenwriter: Katarzyna Gondek) — A hunter’s son is born with antlers; a reflection on how each man kills the thing he loves.
Fauve (Canada – Director and screenwriter: Jérémy Comte) — Set in a surface mine, two boys sink into a seemingly innocent power game, with Mother Nature as the sole observer.
The Fisherman (Cuba-Netherlands-U.S. – Director and screenwriter: Ana Alpizar) — A humble Cuban fisherman is having a harsh winter on the open sea. For the sake of his family and against all odds, he needs to capture a fish tonight.
For Nonna Anna (Canada – Director and screenwriter: Luis De Filippis) — A trans girl cares for her Italian grandmother. She assumes that her Nonna disapproves of her – but instead discovers a tender bond in their shared vulnerability.
Fry-Up (U.K. – Director and screenwriter: Charlotte Regan) — An intimate portrayal of what could be a family’s last day together, set against the urban backdrop of North London.
Garfield (U.K. – Director: Georgi Banks-Davies, Screenwriter: Myra Appannah) — Krishna wakes up in a strange place, with a strange guy. As she pieces together how she got there, she realizes that the reasons may be bigger than just the night before. DAY ONE
Matria (Spain – Director and screenwriter: Álvaro Gago) — Faced with a challenging daily routine, Ramona tries to take refuge in her relationships with her daughter and granddaughter.
The Right Choice (U.K. – Director: Tomisin Adepeju, Screenwriter: Vijay Varman) — With the help of an adviser, a husband and wife must answer three seemingly harmless questions to create their perfect designer baby.
Set Me as a Seal Upon Thine Heart (Israel – Director and screenwriter: Omer Tobi) — A gay sauna encounter between a young man and an older man becomes an unexpected lesson about love.
Swamp (Colombia – Director and screenwriter: Juan Sebastián Mesa) — Oscar and his family live in a humble country house threatened by a massive hydroelectric project. In the face of uncertainty and sorrow that means leaving the land where they were born, his grandparents decide to end it all.
Thursday Night (Portugal – Director and screenwriter: Gonçalo Almeida) — An elusive stranger pays Bimbo a visit in the middle of the night to deliver a vital message.
The Turk Shop (Sweden – Director and screenwriter: Bahar Pars) — A comedy about structural racism at the workplace.
Would You Look at Her (Macedonia – Director and screenwriter: Goran Stolevski) — A hard-headed tomboy spots the unlikely solution to all her problems in an all-male religious ritual.
Wren Boys (U.K. – Director: Harry Lighton, Screenwriters: Harry Lighton, John Fitzpatrick) — On the day after Christmas, a Catholic priest from Cork drives his nephew to prison.
DOCUMENTARY SHORT FILMS
Baby Brother (Director and screenwriter: Kamau Bilal) — The director’s baby brother moves back in with his parents.
The Driver Is Red (Director and screenwriter: Randall Christopher) — Argentina, 1960: a true crime story of how secret agent Zvi Aharoni hunts down one of the highest-ranking Nazi war criminals on the run.
End Game (Directors: Rob Epstein, Jeffrey Friedman) — Filmed and edited in intimate vérité style, this work follows visionary medical practitioners who are working on the cutting edge of life and death — and dedicated to changing our thinking about both.
I Like Girls (Canada – Director and screenwriter: Diane Obomsawin) — Charlotte, Mathilde, Marie, and Diane reveal the nitty-gritty about their first loves, sharing funny and intimate tales of one-sided infatuation, mutual attraction, erotic moments and fumbling attempts at sexual expression.
Intimity (Switzerland – Director and screenwriter: Elodie Dermange) — As she is showering, dressing, putting on her make-up, a woman bares her soul.
Judith Loves Martha (Director and screenwriter: Anna Gaskell) — A wily 87-year-old New Yorker, Judith Godwin is one of very few women of the Abstract Expressionist Movement. A creative awakening in college led her to produce the brilliant, gestural paintings for which she is renowned.
Julius Caesar Was Buried in a Pet Cemetery (Director and screenwriter: Sam Green) — A short documentary portrait of the greatest pet cemetery in the world.
My Dead Dad’s Porno Tapes (Canada – Director: Charlie Tyrell, Screenwriters: Josef Beeby, Charlie Tyrell) — Filmmaker Charlie Tyrell seeks to better understand his emotionally distant late-father through the personal belongings he left behind…including a stack of VHS dirty movies. Narrated by David Wain.
A Night at The Garden (Director: Marshall Curry) — Months before the start of World War II, 22,000 Americans gathered in New York’s Madison Square Garden to rally in support of Nazism.
Nuuca, Canada (Director: Michelle Latimer) — The oil boom in North Dakota has brought tens of thousands of new people to the region and with that has come an influx of drugs, crime and sex trafficking.
RX Eearly Detection: A Cancer Journey with Sandra Lee (Director and screenwriter: Cathy Chermol Schrijver) — The intense journey of a woman stunned when her routine annual mammogram delivers a cancer diagnosis. This film is unafraid to battle cancer directly, projecting a power to inspire, educate, destigmatize and effect change.
Symphony of a Sad Sea (Mexico – Director and screenwriter: Carlos Morales) — Hugo, a Mexican child and victim of the violence, flees his hometown with one single dream: crossing to the United States to meet his father and leave his past behind.
The Trader (Sovdagari) (Georgia – Director and screenwriter: Tamta Gabrichidze) — Gela sells secondhand clothes and household items in places where money is potatoes.
The Violence of a Civilization without Secrets (Directors and screenwriters: Adam Khalil, Zack Khalil, Jackson Polys) — An urgent reflection on indigenous sovereignty, the undead violence of museum archives and post-mortem justice through the case of the “Kennewick Man,” a prehistoric Paleoamerican man whose remains were found in Kennewick, Washington State in 1996.
Volte (Poland – Directors and screenwriters: Monika Kotecka, Karolina Poryzala) — Zuzia, 12, has been training for two years and has extraordinary role topping the acrobatic pyramid. At the start of a new season, it’s clear that she’s lost some grace and lightness. A growth spurt may be the culprit.
Wild Wild West: A Beautiful Rant by Mark Bradford (Director and screenwriter: Dime Davis) — Where do artists come from? An answer explored through paper, percussion, and one pissed off artist.
Zion (Director and screenwriter: Floyd Russ) — A portrait of Zion Clark, a young wrestler who was born without legs and grew up in foster care. DAY ONE
ANIMATED SHORT FILMS
Black (Poland-Japan – Director and screenwriter: Tomasz Popakul) — A pair of astronauts are trapped on an orbital space station due to unexpected nuclear war on Earth. They lost contact with Earth and all attempts to communicate with their base or anybody else have failed.
A Brief Spark Bookended by Darkness (Director and screenwriter: Brent Green) — A hand-drawn animated tale about love in an increasingly dark world.
The Burden (Sweden – Director and screenwriter: Niki Lindroth vo n Bahr) — A dark musical enacted in a modern shopping center, situated next to a large freeway. The employees of the various commercial venues deal with boredom and existential anxiety by performing cheerful musical turns. The apocalypse is a tempting liberator.
Eye Bags (Hong Kong – Director and screenwriter: Waikwan Ho) — Through monologue, Talia describes her chronic insomnia. She does not know its cause, and spends many painful nights awake. When Talia meets Ah Gum, a goldfish who lives in her eye bags, they develop an interesting relationship.
Glucose (Director and screenwriter: Jeron Braxton) — Sugar was the engine of the slave trade that brought millions of Africans to America. Glucose is sweet, marketable and easy to consume, but its surface satisfaction is a thin coating on the pain of many disenfranchised people.
Hedgehog’s Home (Canada-Croatia – Director and screenwriter: Eva Cvijanović) — In a lush and lively forest lives a hedgehog. Though he’s respected by the other animals, Hedgehog’s devotion to his home annoys a quartet of beasts, who decide to confront him.
Jeom, South Korea (Director and screenwriter: Kangmin Kim) — A father and a son both have the same big birthmark on their butt. Believing that the two birthmarks are connected, the son scrubs his father’s birthmark to remove it – but he just can’t get rid of it.
Manivald (Estonia-Croatia-Canada – Director: Chintis Lundgren, Screenwriters: Chintis Lundgren, Draško Ivezić) — Manival d is still living at home with his retired mother. The day before his 33rd birthday a hot young wolf named Toomas comes to fix their washing machine. A love triangle develops, which leaves Manivald increasingly frustrated.
Marfa (U.K. – Directors and screenwriters: Greg McLeod, Myles McLeod) — An isolated town in the Texas borderlands. A place out of time. A shrine to minimalist art. Home to a remote festival. A place where unexplained lights tremble in the night sky. And then there’s the giant lemon.
Nevada (Director and screenwriter: Emily Ann Hoffman) — A young couple’s romantic weekend getaway is interrupted by a birth control mishap in this stop-motion animated comedy.
[O] (United Kingdom (Directors and screenwriters: Mario Radev, Chiara Sgatti) — A film that imitates nature in its manner of operation, depicting animated cycles in a world entirely based on sound frequency and vibration.
Plur (Director and screenwriter: Julie Fliegenspan) — A claymation adaptation of a series of actual voicemails received after making out with someone at a rave.
The Shivering Truth (Directors: Vernon Chatman, Cat Solen, Screenwriter: Vernon Chatman) — An omnibus of painfully riotous daymares, dripping with dream logic; a slate of emotional parables from the deepest caverns of your unconscious, lovingly animated in stop-motion. In other words: it is the Truth.
Vox Lipoma (Sweden – Directors and screenwriters: Jane Magnusson, Liv Strömquist) — A short about Ingmar Bergman’s power, sexuality and facial lipoma that gives him no rest.
World of Tomorrow Episode Two: The Burden of Other People’s Thoughts (Director and screenwriter: Don Hertzfeldt) — Written entirely around candid audio recordings of Don Hertzfeldt’s five-year-old niece, “Episode Two” finds Emily Prime swept inside the brain of an incomplete backup clone of her future self, who’s on a mission to reboot her broken mind. DAY ONE