There's no need for all your heavy winter gear for this year’s Sundance Film Festival, as the Robert Redford-founded event celebrating independent cinema takes its programming online. Usually held annually in Park City, Utah, the prestigious festival is a staging ground for both emerging and established talents, where debuts and distribution deals are made. In light of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the Sundance Institute has created a custom-designed online viewing platform for this year’s event, running from January 28 through February 3, and operating in tandem alongside drive-ins, independent arthouses, and a network of local community partnerships for satellite viewings (as public health ordinances allow.) Several SVA alumni are showing work this year, part of an elite final roster of 120 films selected out of several thousand submissions from around the world.
Legendary filmmaker Wong Kar Wai produced One For the Road, co-written by Nottapon Boonprakob (MFA 2017 Social Documentary Film), premiering in the World Cinema Dramatic Competition. A joint venture from Thailand, Hong Kong and China, it follows consummate ladies’ man and popular bar-owner Boss as he travels from New York City back home to Bangkok at the behest of an estranged friend, Aood, who is dying of cancer; the two travel down memory lane throughout Thailand completing Aood’s bucket list but both harboring their own secrets.
In Cryptozoo, a fantastical feature animation for adults from writer and director Dash Shaw (BFA 2003 Cartooning), crypto-zookeepers wrestle with whether they should display and keep in captivity the mythical beasts they’ve tracked down (e.g., unicorns), or let them remain hidden from prying eyes and unknown. Starring Lake Bell, Michael Cera and Zoe Kazan and part of the festival’s Next programming, which features bold works distinguished by an innovative approach to storytelling, Cryptozoo explores multi-species justice, the alluring power of controlling dreams, and the complex relationship between idealism, utopian visions and the call to duty.
Daniela Altorre (MFA 2016 Social Documentary Film) co-produced Users, from director Natalia Almada, a U.S. Documentary Competition feature and visual essay that delves into the unintended and often dehumanizing consequences of society’s deeply held belief that technological progress will lead to the betterment of humanity. Framed around Almada’s young son, Users both marvels at and fears for a world in which a child is not only at risk from a warming Earth but comes to trust a perfectly constructed artificial caretaker over his own biological mother.
In the Short Films Program, Don’t Go Tellin’ Your Momma, produced by Luigi Rossi (BFA 2016 Film), is the visual component to an album of the same name from co-writer and director Topaz Jones. The result of Jones’ years-long, personal interrogation of his own identity and what it means to be a Black man in America, the live-action film revisits the history of the Black ABCs—developed in 1970 by Black educators in Chicago to provide Black-centered teaching materials in the vastly white educational landscape—and updates their meanings.
Each of the 70+ feature films at Sundance 2021 will premiere online in a dedicated time slot, followed by a live Q&A. Multiple films will premiere simultaneously roughly every three hours; this rollout is designed to preserve the energy of a festival, with a variety of choices and collective experiences for movie-goers. All films will return to the platform two days after their premiere for a “second screening,” offered on demand for 24 hours. Shorts programming will be available on-demand throughout the Festival. All films in the program will be available online in the United States, with certain films opting for global availability. Check out the full slate of programming and ticket options at festival.sundance.org.