See below the 11 Sundance Film Festival world premieres screened at Starlite Drive-In on Jan. 28 through Feb 02, 2021.
Director Siân Heder, 111m (US Dramatic Competition)
Ruby (Emilia Jones) is the only hearing member of a deaf family. At 17, she works mornings before school to help her parents (Marlee Matlin and Troy Kotsur) and brother (Daniel Durant) keep their Gloucester fishing business afloat. But in joining her high school’s choir club, Ruby finds herself drawn to both her duet partner (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo) and her latent passion for singing. Her enthusiastic, tough-love choirmaster (Eugenio Derbez) hears something special and encourages Ruby to consider music school and a future beyond fishing, leaving her torn between obligation to family and pursuit of her dream.
Director Christopher Makoto Yogi, 100m
(US Dramatic Competition)
The rushing wind on the North Shore of Oahu, Hawai’i, never stops. It constantly rustles the leaves outside Masao’s house, providing a balmy sonic backdrop. Nature is both a driving force and a spiritual indicator in I Was a Simple Man, the second feature from writer-director Christopher Makoto Yogi. When Masao is healthy, his plants thrive; when a terminal sickness encroaches, the plants wither and die. The island’s ambient noises—the waves, the wind, the birds—thread through the film’s time-shifting chapters, from the pre-World War II sugar plantations of Oahu to Hawai’i statehood to the present gentrification of Honolulu.
As Masao gets sicker, he is visited by ghosts of his past, including his wife, Grace (Constance Wu), who helps shepherd him into the beyond. Part dream, part family history, I Was a Simple Man feels both achingly intimate and incredibly expansive. The director’s restrained filmmaking grounds the film in Hawaii’s pastoral landscape, while match cuts and surrealistic editing alter time and space, connecting and disrupting past and present and one family’s relationship to their patriarch—and the place they call home.
Director Fran Krantz, 110m. (Premiere)
Imagine the most dreaded, tense, and emotionally draining interaction you could find yourself in and multiply it by 10. That is exactly what two sets of parents—Richard (Reed Birney), Linda (Ann Dowd), Jay (Jason Isaacs), and Gail (Martha Plimpton)—are facing. Years after a tragedy caused by Richard and Linda’s son tore all their lives apart, Jay and Gail are finally ready to talk in an attempt to move forward.
In his impressive screenwriting and directorial debut, acclaimed actor Fran Kranz ponders ways in which people process grief, look for answers, and find the strength to persevere. Kranz uses the formal confines of this chamber piece to his advantage, creating tension and ambience filled with awkwardness from the outset. Much of this film’s emotional impact lies in its rigor, impeccable direction, and stunning performances from all members of the cast. Mass is a thoughtful, beautifully executed ode to humanity—in all its flawed and messy glory.
Director Hogir Hirori, 91m., Sweden
(World Cinema Documentary Competition)
In August 2014, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (Daesh) attacked the ancestral homeland of the Yazidis, one of the oldest ethnic and religious minorities in Iraq. Among many atrocities, Daesh committed was the abduction of thousands of women and girls, who were passed on as sex slaves (sabaya) among the jihadists. Five years after the attack, filmmaker Hogir Hirori takes us on an eye-opening journey that follows a group of volunteers from the Yazidi Home Center on their mission to save the women and children held by Daesh in the Al-Hol camp.
Led by Mahmud and Ziyad, these men and women volunteers tirelessly coordinate searches, infiltrate the camp and plan rescue operations to bring back Yazidi victims. The ones they manage to free are traumatized and ashamed, fearing rejection by their community and families. The process of reinstating some sense of normalcy in their lives is only now beginning. Sabaya is a visceral, often petrifying journey that will keep you on the edge of your seat. Contains discussion of sexual violence.
Directed by Sam Hobkinson, 90m. UK
(World Cinema Documentary Competition)
A young orphaned girl survives the Holocaust by fleeing her home in search of her parents, escaping Nazis by sticking to the woods and living with wolves. Author Misha Defonseca’s story is an incredible one, and not just because of the wolves. Her memoir took the world by storm, but fallout with her publisher-turned-detective exposes the shocking truth beneath Misha’s deception. A real-life mystery unfolds, with a slate of characters individually revealing pieces of the puzzle in this stranger-than-fiction revelation.
Reenactments, interviews, and archival footage stylishly blend to tell a vivid story about truth, deception, and self-preservation in director Sam Hobkinson’s engrossing film. Each peeled-back layer is met with surprise, prompting larger questions as the story twists and turns. Whom do we trust, and what motivates deception? Where does the line blur between victim and perpetrator? Hobkinson brings fresh understanding and perspective to a story that might sound familiar to some, while delivering a gripping plunge for anyone new to the saga of Misha and her wolves.
Director Karen Cinorre, 100m. (US Dramatic Competition)
An unusual storm is approaching, and it’s about to change everything for Ana (Grace Van Patten). After a short circuit at her workplace mysteriously transports her to an alternate world, she meets a crew of female soldiers caught in an endless war. Along a strange and rugged coastline, men face the stark truth lurking behind damsels who appear to be in distress. Under the leadership of Marsha (Mia Goth), Ana trains as a sharpshooter and discovers a newfound freedom in this uninhibited sisterhood. She soon senses she may not be the ruthless killer they expect, though, and time is running out for her to find a path home.
Directed by Ajitpal Singh, 85m., India
(World Cinema Dramatic Competition)
Chandra and her husband, Dharam, run the Swizerland Homestay, an inn that hovers high above the only road in a small Himalayan village. The terrain poses a problem for the family, who must transport their son Prakash down the mountain in his wheelchair to go to the doctor and school. Though Chandra believes Prakash needs more medical attention, Dharam isn’t as keen on the idea. He’d rather put the money toward a shamanic ritual he believes will rid them of a deity’s curse, the cause of Prakash’s affliction. Tensions increase as their worldviews collide and slowly erode their familial ties.
Directed by Kevin Macdonald, 85m., UK/U.S.A.
Ten years after the 2011 Sundance Film Festival premiere of Life in a Day, award-winning director Kevin Macdonald returns to Sundance to present the story of another day on Earth: July 25, 2020. Following the concept of the original, Life in a Day 2020 is an extremely ambitious crowdsourced documentary, this one compiled from 15,000 hours of footage submitted from 192 countries and made in collaboration with YouTube and Ridley Scott’s RSA Films.
Social interaction was a tricky thing in 2020. In-person experiences were deemed unsafe, so we had to find new ways to gather and to stay connected. And this is exactly what Life in a Day 2020, an extraordinary collective effort, does: It unites individuals from around the world and creates a feeling of connectivity, a sense of belonging. Macdonald masterfully combines seemingly unrelated snapshots into beautiful stories—stories of love, loss, struggle, parenthood, and everything in between. It’s a very special “action” movie, a reminder that there’s real beauty in our everyday lives, even though it might not always seem that way.
Directed by Shaka King, 85m., USA
Director Maisie Crowe, 96m.
(US Documentary Competition)
Ten miles from the Mexican border, students at Horizon High School in El Paso, Texas, are enrolling in law enforcement classes and joining a unique after-school activity: the criminal justice club. Through mock-ups of drug raids and active-shooter takedowns, they inch closer to their desired careers in border patrol, policing, and customs enforcement. We follow Mexican American students Kassy and Cesar and recent graduate Cristina as they navigate the complications inherent in their chosen path and discover their choices may clash with the values and people they hold closest.
Through intimate access and a clear-sighted lens, director Maisie Crow takes us inside one of the largest policing education programs in the region, offering a rare portrait of Latinx adolescents grappling with their place within their communities. Unafraid of confronting the difficult questions that lurk at the intersection of identity, immigration, and personal politics, At the Ready asks: What is the price of pursuing dreams that have very real ramifications?
Directed by Jamila Wignot, 82m., USA
Many know the name Alvin Ailey, but how many know the man? Ailey’s commitment to searching for truth in movement resulted in pioneering and enduring choreography that centers on African American experiences. Director Jamila Wignot’s resonant biography grants artful access to the elusive visionary who founded one of the world’s most renowned dance companies, the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater.
Wignot’s approach shares Ailey’s love of poetry. Where Ailey conveyed poetry through movement, Wignot crafts a visual poetry to evoke Ailey’s memories. Archival footage, layered with audio recordings, expounds on Ailey’s upbringing and establishes the language of his inspiration. Interviews with celebrated company dancers and distinguished choreographers give insight into Ailey’s process and legacy, while the current company of dancers work to bring a tribute to life. Wignot’s portrait is complex, capturing the talent and confidence of a man in the spotlight while also carving out space for Ailey’s vulnerability. Wignot moves between the interior and exterior, the inhale and exhale, to capture Ailey’s reverberating impact.
Expanding beyond its Utah home, the Festival has created a network of partnerships to bring feature films and customized local programming — talks, events, artist meet-ups — to communities across the country. In addition to these Satellite Screen partnerships, the Institute will program screenings at The Ray in Park City and the Rose Bowl and Mission Tiki Drive-Ins in Los Angeles, health and safety guidelines permitting. Each Satellite Screen will create and host their own events, sharing local cultural conversations with broader Festival audiences, with most also screening selections from the 2021 program.
“These partners are the backbone of independent artistic communities across the country, where filmmakers are born and cinephiles are developed,” said Jackson. “We’re entering these partnerships because a healthy ecosystem for artists and audiences requires that independent cinemas across the country survive and thrive.”
Programming details for films at these screens will be available when the program is announced later this month, and these plans will evolve in conjunction with the COVID-19 pandemic health and safety guidelines.