Five Artisans Talk About Their Work on Buzzy Sundance Titles

At this year’s Sundance, 118 features will make their debut. Here are five hotly anticipated films that will be in the mix and some of the artisans behind them. 

Bad Hair (Midnight)

Costume designer Ceci reconnects with Justin Simien (“Dear White People”) on a satirical horror set in 1989 Los Angeles, where ambitious Anna (Elle Lorraine) hopes to be the next on-air talent for a music video TV show. Her new boss, Zora (Vanessa Williams) wants Anna to change her natural hair, and she acquiesces by getting a weave. One problem: The strands have a mind of their own. 

Ceci fully developed the look of each individual role down to the smallest detail. “My intention is that the viewer can readily identify, relate or understand who the characters are and the story being told,” she says. “Before Anna gets her first weave, her wardrobe is reflective of her ethnocentric upbringing coupled with her homespun, budget-conscious, individual style.” 

Shirley (U.S. Dramatic Competition)

Based on the book by Susan Scarf Merrell, this adaptation adds an atmosphere of psychological menace to the tale of a writer (played by Elisabeth Moss) whose new novel is inspired by the young couple she and her husband take in as boarders. 

Popular on Variety

Composer Tamar-kali conjured the story’s music. “Josephine [Decker, the director] was very interested in the female voice, and as a vocalist, I was able to go to a place that I wouldn’t normally go,” says the musician, who added a string quartet, piano and other synthetic elements to the track. “Because it’s a psychological thriller, I needed to
create layers, as so much is going on inside of Moss’ portrayal of the character.” 

Tesla (Premieres)

Director Michael Almereyda tapped cinematographer Sean Price Williams (“Marjorie Prime”) to invent the visual grammar of this film about inventor Nikola Tesla. 

Williams paired a Sony Venice camera with smoothing Super Baltar lenses to photograph the period film with a stylish yet mannered frame that added scope to the ambitious project. For lighting, the DP used tungsten and LED fixtures on some scenes, with others featuring candlelight. “The look does have a dark quality to it, but you feel the fire and the heat of the lights through
the warm color palette,” he says. “We wanted to be faithful to the time, but we did take liberties in props and history. We were not strapped to the period.”

Wendy (Premieres)

“Beasts of the Southern Wild” director Benh Zeitlin returns to Sundance with an imaginative adaptation of J.M. Barrie’s “Peter Pan.”

Guiding its eye-popping aesthetic was production designer Eliza Zeitlin, who co-wrote the screenplay with her brother. The buried city of Plymouth on the island of Montserrat became a central part of the story, with a homogeneous color palette underlining the look. The philosophy was to build complete sets. “It allows the children and non-actors the freedom to move around and for the camera to capture unexpected things,” says the production designer, who not only constructed 360-degree sets but sank a 50-foot salvage boat and hand-built a giant underwater puppet. “I’m always adamant about it being the real thing,” she adds. “The emotional impact is just deeper.”  

Worth (Premieres)

Editor Julia Bloch balanced pacing with emotion to detail a narrative about a lawyer appointed to distribute funds to 9/11 victims. 

“The lead character [played by Michael Keaton] is someone who’s routine-oriented and unflappable. His comfort zone is calculators and spreadsheets, but when he comes face-to-face with the victims, he’s a little lost for words,” notes Bloch. “As a lawyer, his very definition of ‘winning’ changes: It becomes not just about the numbers but what he needs to do to help the people.” 

More Film

  • PAW Patrol

    'PAW Patrol' Animated Movie in the Works

    PAW Patrol is on a roll! The popular Nickelodeon animated series is coming to the big screen. The Paramount film, directed by animation veteran Cal Brunker, whose credits include “Nut Job 2: Nutty by Nature” and “Escape From Planet Earth,” hits theaters in August 2021. Spin Master Entertainment’s executive vice president Jennifer Dodge will produce [...]

  • Bruce Willis attends the "Motherless Brooklyn"

    Bruce Willis’ ‘Cosmic Sin’ Picked up by Saban for North America

    Saban Films has acquired North American rights to Bruce Willis-starring sci-fi-action project “Cosmic Sin.” One of the hottest projects being pitched at the Berlin Film Festival’s European Film Market, the picture is written and directed by Corey Large and Edward Drake (“Breach”) with Large also producing. “Cosmic Sin” follows a group of warriors and scientists [...]

  • 'Swimming Out Till the Sea Turns

    'Swimming Out Till the Sea Turns Blue': Film Review

    At a kitchen table where two younger women are industriously assembling dumplings, an elderly resident of Jia Family Village, a rural settlement in China’s Shanxi province, reflects on a colorful past. In the 1950s, he served as First Secretary of the Communist Youth League, playing his own part in the country’s social revolution and carousing [...]

  • Donna Rotunno Gloria Allred

    Donna Rotunno Complains to Judge About Gloria Allred Attacking Her in the Media

    Harvey Weinstein’s lead attorney Donna Rotunno asked the judge to silence Gloria Allred, the high-powered attorney who is representing three women who’ve testified in the New York rape trial. Before the jury entered the courtroom on Friday morning, the fourth day of deliberations, Rotunno made a complaint on the record to the judge regarding Allred’s [...]

  • Call of the Wild

    Box Office: 'Call of the Wild' Fetches $1 Million on Thursday Night

    Harrison Ford’s “The Call of the Wild” opened with $1 million in Thursday night previews. STX’s supernatural horror sequel “Brahms: The Boy II,” meanwhile, earned $375,000 at 1,800 screens from Thursday previews. The earnings for Disney-20th Century’s “The Call of the Wild” is in the same vicinity as “The Upside,” which took in $1.1 million [...]

  • Infinity Hill

    Viacom International Studios, Infinity Hill Sign Exclusive First Look Deal

    Viacom International Studios (VIS) has signed an exclusive first look development deal with Infinity Hill. The companies will co-develop and co-produce a slate of Spanish-language features, filmed globally and utilizing international talent on both sides of the camera. Infinity Hill is the new label from longtime Telefonica and Viacom exec Axel Kuschevatzky, one of the [...]

  • There Is No Evil

    German Regional Film Funder Boosts Budget, Targets Young Filmmakers

    Since taking the helm at German regional funder Filmförderung Hamburg Schleswig-Holstein (FFHSH) last year, Helge Albers has revamped the organization, worked to increase its budget by €3 million ($3.3 million) and introduced new initiatives aimed at young filmmakers. Albers, a former film producer who previously served as head of the German Producers Assn. and a [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content