One thing film people love to do is rank their top films in various categories— “What’s your favorite indie film of the 90’s?” “What are your all-time top five films?” And, of course, I always get, “Name your top three favorite female directors!” Whatever the question is, I usually have trouble answering, but the last one is just impossible for me. There are so many great female directors, and I love them all for so many different reasons!
So when it comes to doing a highlights post about a film festival it is a challenge, to say the least. You’ll see in my 2016 L.A. Film Festival post I found a way around that by highlighting all the films directed by women. That was easy!
Since I’m short on time, on the verge of being swallowed up by the festival, it’s imperative that I narrow down my Sundance Film Festival list. So, below is a quick and dirty overview of some of the names and titles that piqued my interest, and I thought you might like to know about.
One of the films I’m most excited about is Landline, directed by Gillian Robespierre and appearing in the U.S. Dramatic Competition line-up. Robespierre partners once again with Jenny Slate after a very successful and funny teaming that resulted in Obvious Child, a Sundance 2014 selection. Landline is described as another subversive comedy, but this time it takes place in the 90’s. Score!
Also in the U.S. Dramatic Competition is Beach Rats, directed by Eliza Hittman. I’m a huge fan of her debut feature It Felt Like Love (a Sundance 2013 selection) for its ability to maintain a unique tension throughout a fairly straightforward story about a teenage girl. Beach Rats appears to return to a similar setting— teenagers during a summer in Brooklyn, but this time the main character is a young man. Also of note is the DP for this feature— Hélène Louvart, the woman who photographed “Pina.”
The Premieres section boasts four films by female directors I adore, but there’s only room for one in this post, so let’s talk about Mudbound. Dee Rees. That’s really all that needs to be said. When I think of her debut feature Pariah, it still moves me like few other films. I’m very much looking forward to seeing what she does with a film that seems to be larger in scope, a period piece about two families in post-WWII South.
In the Midnight section of the festival there are two films I’m excited to see— XX and Bitch. The titles alone are rad, but these are two films of note for very different reasons. XX, is a rare horror anthology that is directed solely by women, four of them: Annie Clark (aka, St. Vincent), Karyn Kusama (The Invitation, Girlfight), Roxanne Benjamin (Southbound), and Jovanka Vuckovic (former editor of Rue Morgue magazine). Pretty impressive, right?
And Bitch, marks an intriguing genre pivot for Scottish director Marianna Palka, who is probably best known for her 2008 comedy Good Dick.
Over the years, the documentary films that Sundance attracts have blown me away— I love the wide array of people, cultures, and topics that are covered. This year, four films that I’m excited about, and illustrate this point well, are: “Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked the World,” “Motherland,” “This is Everything: GG Gorgeous,” and “Take Every Wave: The Life of Laird Hamilton.”
Directed by Catherine Bainbridge and Alfonso Maiorana, “Rumble” covers the long overlooked influence of Native Americans and ancient indigenous musical traditions on modern rock music. The trailer gave me chills.
Also in the World Cinema Documentary section is Romona Diaz’s “Motherland.” Coincidentally, Diaz is probably best known for her fantastic music doc “Don’t Stop Believin’: Everyman’s Journey,” but this time she focuses on healthcare policy by documenting the planet’s busiest maternity hospital, which is located in the Philippines.
As a SoCal native, I can’t help but be attracted to Rory Kennedy’s latest documentary, “Take Every Wave: The Life of Laird Hamilton.” I’m looking forward to seeing what unexpected layers Kennedy unearths in this film about the legendary surfer. You know there will at least be stylin’ vintage footage and eye-popping waves, brah.
Two-time Oscar winner Barbara Kopple will be at Sundance with the YouTube Red-produced documentary “This is Everything: Gigi Gorgeous.” I find this documentary notable for a few reasons, all mostly connected with the fact that it’s a YouTube project. Firstly, the subject is very interesting— the story of a popular male YouTube personality, Gregory Gorgeous, known for giving make-up tutorials eventually came out as a transgendered woman to her millions of fans.
As a platform known for its youthful following, it’s also very cool to see that they tapped a veteran filmmaker like Barbara Kopple for this project (gives hope to those who might worry about how quickly time and technology continue to speed ahead. Not that I know anyone like that!). And lastly, it’s also interesting to note that this will have a small theatrical run before it premieres exclusively on YouTube Red five days later, following a similar pattern set by Netflix.
There are still so many screenings and events I’d like to highlight, but I’m running out of time, and space, so I’ll end with a single sentence (lie!) quick-fire for the last six. And GO:
“I Love Dick” — Holy shit, Jill Soloway, Andrea Arnold, and Kimberly Peirce together on one project? That’s certainly a dream team, and after watching the pilot on Amazon, it seems like a great match.
Desert Hearts (directed by Donna Ditch) — I’m just happy to see this ground-breaking filmmaker being recognized by the festival where she won a Special Jury Prize for Dessert Hearts in 1986. If you can’t catch it at Sundance, queue it up on Netflix. Essential viewing!
Lemon (directed by Janicza Bravo) — After her wild Sundance award-winning short (“Gregory Go Boom,” 2014) I am very intrigued to see where Bravo’s feature debut takes audiences— I have a feeling Bravo will be an important fearless creative contributor in the new world we’re about to embark on, we’re lucky she’s hitting her stride now.
Anna Kerrigan — Someone’s having a very good festival. Keep an eye on this filmmaker who is the director of Sundance selections “Hot Seat” (Shorts Competition) and the series “The Chances” (Special Events).
“Pussy“— (directed by Renata Gasiorowska) This was a winner at AFI Fest and it’s called “Pussy,” how can I not be curious?
“Waiting for Hassana” — (directed by Ifunanya Maduka) This short doc looks at the Boko Haram abduction of 276 schoolgirls in Chibok, Nigeria, from an important perspective, that of one of the escapees, and it’s directed by a Nigerian woman filmmaker.
Also, don’t forget to head to New Frontier section and the Jaunt VR lounge where there are some cool works by women, including Rose Troche, Melissa Painter, Yasmin Elayat, and many more. Plus, one of my condo-mates this year, VR expert Celine Tricart, DP’ed the “Under the Canopy” project, debuting in the Jaunt VR lounge tomorrow.
That’s about all I have time for before I jump into the Sundance stew. I’m extra excited about this year’s trip to the festival because it marks the first time I’ll have a press pass— hopefully, that translates to more screenings and more photos of female directors to share with you (so we can amplify their work together)! Remember, it only gets amplified with your retweets and shares, so don’t be shy.
Lastly, I’m hoping to shoot a little bit of video while I’m there— in the comments below, let me know if there’s anything special you’d like me to ask these filmmakers!