This year’s Sundance is shorter, virtual, national instead of local and has a new director for the first time in years. But what has not changed is that Sundance remains one of the best marketplaces for independent films. This year’s lineup even has some hopeful Oscar contenders such as Robin Wright’s “Land” and “Judas and the Black Messiah” from Warner Bros., and we’ve already seen a few titles such as “Together Together,” “The World to Come” and “The Most Beautiful Boy in the World” find homes. But while there may be fewer films overall and without the in-person wheeling and dealing, the market figures to be just as robust with some exciting movies up for sale (all titles are presented alphabetically).
“Captains of Zaatari”
A potential crowd-pleaser out of the World Documentary Competition, “Captains of Zaatari” was a late addition to the Sundance lineup, and the film follows two best friends living in a refugee camp in Jordan who have dreams of becoming pro soccer players. Despite their circumstances, they’re given the chance of a lifetime when a sports academy comes to visit. Ali El Arabi, who has produced docs for Nat Geo, is making his feature directorial debut on the film.
Sian Heder in her follow-up to “Tallulah” directs this heartwarming drama about a teen girl (Emilia Jones) who is the only hearing person in her deaf family and is stuck keeping their family fishing business afloat. But when she’s drawn to her school’s choir club, she’s encouraged by her teacher (Eugenio Derbez) to pursue a career in music. The film is playing in the U.S. Dramatic Competition.
Parker Hill and Isabel Bethencourt direct this documentary following three girls in a small Texas town and how they grapple with discussions of sexual violence, consent and their own rebellious instincts. “Cusp” is shot in a cinema verite style and tracks the teens over a year in their lives. The film is also playing in competition in the U.S. Documentary section.
“Eight For Silver”
Sundance has a rich history of indie horror movies that go on to big box office performances, and this year’s big contender is “Eight for Silver,” a period werewolf movie starring Boyd Holbrook as a hunter and land baron who unleashes a curse after slaughtering a Roma clan. Sean Ellis, an Oscar nominee for his short film “Cashback,” wrote and directed the film.
“How It Ends”
Directors Daryl Wein and Zoe Lister-Jones return to Sundance for this offbeat apocalyptic comedy about a woman (Lister-Jones) who is trying to make it to a massive party on the night before an asteroid is scheduled to obliterate the Earth. Lister-Jones also stars alongside “The Craft: Legacy” star Cailee Spaeny as a younger version of herself, as well as a supporting cast that includes Olivia Wilde, Fred Armisen, Helen Hunt, Lamorne Morris and Nick Kroll. “How It Ends” is a premiere playing out of competition at the festival.
“John and the Hole”
“John and the Hole” is a twisted, psychological thriller about a 13-year-old boy who discovers an underground bunker and then drugs his parents and sister to keep them there captive while he does what he always wanted. Michael C. Hall and Jennifer Ehle play the parents to the troubled teen played by Charlie Shotwell, and the film is the first from Spanish visual artist Pascual Sisto.
“On the Count of Three”
Sundance describes “On the Count of Three” from director Jerrod Carmichael as an “unusual existential bromance” and dark comedy. After Carmichael’s impressive career as an actor, comic, a writer on his own show and a producer on “Ramy,” he is now making his feature directorial debut on the film and also stars in it alongside Christopher Abbott. They play two best friends with two guns who agree to take each other’s lives at the end of the day. “On the Count of Three” also co-stars J.B. Smoove, Tiffany Haddish and Henry Winkler.
Actress Rebecca Hall is making her directorial debut on “Passing,” a psychological thriller set in 1920s New York and starring Tessa Thompson and Ruth Negga. The film finds two Black women who have been able to “pass” as white due to their lighter colored skin, but their comfortable lives are now brought into question. “Passing” is based on a 1929 novel by Nella Larsen, is shot in a silky black and white and is playing in the U.S. Dramatic Competition.
“Prisoners of the Ghostland”
Nicolas Cage teams with Japanese auteur Sion Sono for this spoof film that mashes up Westerns, samurai films, action movies and post-apocalyptic thrillers. Cage stars as a bank robber who is strapped into a leather suit that will self-destruct in five days and is tasked with rescuing a missing person played by Sofia Boutella. The hyper violent and bloody “Prisoners of the Ghostland” is playing out of competition at the festival.
It’s Shakespeare for the Tik Tok era. “R#J” is a telling of the classic “Romeo and Juliet” play but set in the modern day of smart phones and social media. In fact, much like the film “Searching,” the love story is told entirely through social media feeds and screens. The film, which is playing in the NEXT section, is directed by Carey Williams and is produced by Timur Bekmambetov.
“Rebel Hearts” follows a group of nuns in Los Angeles who over the course of 50 years have fought the patriarchy of the Catholic Church and become unexpected activists and trailblazers in the community. Pedro Kos, who worked as a writer on “The Great Hack,” directs the documentary playing in competition that combines archival footage, animation and modern day images of the nuns protesting during the Women’s March in LA.
“The Sparks Brothers”
“Baby Driver” director Edgar Wright pivoted to a documentary for the first time to tell the story of the two brothers who form the band Sparks, a highly influential yet overlooked synth dance pop band from 1970s Los Angeles. The tongue-in-cheek documentary was three years in the making for Wright, and the director describes the film as “a musical odyssey through five weird & wonderful decades” about “your favorite band’s favorite band.”
“Summer of Soul…Or When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised”
Originally titled “Black Woodstock,” The Roots bandleader Questlove borrowed a line from Gil Scott Heron for the full title to his debut documentary “Summer of Soul,” which documents the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival that drew over 300,000 attendees and yet received very little media attention compared to Woodstock. Questlove combs through 40 hours of footage of never-before-seen performances from Stevie Wonder, Sly and the Family Stone, Nina Simone, B.B. King, the Staple Singers, the 5th Dimension, David Ruffin, Mahalia Jackson and Gladys Knight and the Pips. “Summer of Soul” is playing in the U.S. Documentary Competition.
Hyped for its lead performance from Michael Greyeyes, its visual style and as a potential touchstone for Native American cinema, “Wild Indian” is a survival drama about a man who now has to face his past sins after murdering a man when he was just a boy. The film is written, directed, produced and edited by Lyle Mitchell Corbine Jr and is playing in the dramatic competition field.