Sundance: Film’s Winter Wonderland
Amidst the snowy mountains and crisp air of Park City and surrounding towns in Utah, Sundance Film Festival brings throngs who support and admire independent filmmaking every Winter. The 2019 festival proved a banner year for female participation, diversity of subject matter, and sales of women-led films for distribution.
Inclusiveness at the Festival
One of the things that struck me about the 2019 festival was how it embraced inclusiveness in filmmaking. Of the 112 films selected, at least 40 percent were directed or co-directed by women, 36 percent by a person of color, and 13 percent by someone who identifies as LGBTQIA+.
This shift is in part due to the promotion of Kim Yutani from Senior Programmer to Director of Programming in 2018. She represents the first woman and first person of color to head programming at a major international film festival.
“There’s a shift happening, and we are not only part of it but we’re responsible for leading it,” Yutani said in Utah.
Female Directors Win Biggest Awards at Sundance 2019
The four Grand Jury Prizes were all awarded to films directed or co-directed by female filmmakers. Best U.S .Drama Clemency (Chinonye Chukwu), Best U.S. Documentary One Child Nation (Nanfu Wang), Best World Drama The Souvenir (Joanna Hogg), and Best World Doc Honeyland (Tamara Kotevska and Ljubomir Stefanov).
Popular Sundance Films Sold to Streaming Services
Amazon shelled out more than any other buyer at Sundance – much more than Netflix — by spending $41 million on just five films. They gambled big on Mindy Kaling’s workplace comedy Late Night directed by Nisha Ganatra, political investigative thriller The Report starring Adam Driver, Audience Award winner Brittany Runs a Marathon, US Documentary winner One Child Nation, and Shia LaBeouf’s childhood reenactment Honey Boy (my favorite of the festival).
With the expansion of online streaming services purchasing Sundance premiering films (Hulu, Netflix, Amazon, HBO and Apple), there is now a greater possibility to watch a wide scope of festival favorites at home. Quite a few of the purchased films will have theatrical distribution, so keep a lookout for Sundance films in the theater as well.
My Favorite Films at Sundance 2019
In my week in Park City, I saw 17 films. All were solid, but a few really stood out.
One of my personal favorites was Shia LaBeouf’s semi-autobiographical Honey Boy. It is written by Shia and directed by Alma Har’el. Honey Boy tells Shia’s story of a child actor raised by a troubled father as they both demonstrate love for each other. Shia LaBeouf portrays his own father, while Lucas Hedges represents the movie star Shia, and Noah Jupe expertly plays the 12-year-old TV star Shia. Alma won the Special Jury Award for Vision and Craft for her powerful and yet delicate filmmaking.
Fighting with My Family
Fighting with My Family premiered at Sundance, although it was not in competition for awards. The Rock brings to light the true story of a British family who dreamed of participating in the WWE. Uplifting and kighthearted with a heart of gold at its core, the movie is directed by creator of the UK version of The Office Stephen Merchant.
Untitled Amazing Jonathan Documentary
Untitled Amazing Jonathan Documentary is a surprisingly hysterical low-budget doc about a retired Vegas magician (Amazing Jonathan) who announced five years ago that he had a year to live. Is his illness a ruse or is it real? Ben Berman tracks down Jonathan today and discovers that he is not the only one interested in Jonathan’s whereabouts. Reminiscent of 1986’s Sherman March, the director somehow becomes the subject of the film.
Apollo 11, directed by Todd Douglas Miller, is a brilliant documentary reconstruction of man’s mission to the Moon. It is put together from a newly discovered trove of unseen 65mm archival footage, and unheard audio recordings. We already have The Right Stuff, Apollo 13, Apollo 18, First Man, and From the Earth to the Moon. Do we need another film about manned spacecraft missions? A resounding yes, it turns out.
Brittany Runs a Marathon
Brittany Runs a Marathon by director and screenwriter Paul Downs Colaizzo is an inspiring comedy showcasing a woman living in New York City trying to reclaim her life one city block at a time. Starring Jillian Bell, this crowdpleaser won the Audience Award for the U.S. Dramatic Competition.
More Noteworthy Films
Other Sundance critic and crowd favorites include the following. Look for The Farewell (starring Awkwafina), The Last Black Man in San Francisco, Luce, and Blinded by the Light. Check out festival favorite Knock Down the House, a political documentary about the 2018 elections which sold to Netflix for $10 million.
VR Experiences at Sundance
Several VR experiences at the New Frontier exhibition brought technology to the arts.
Embody by Melissa Painter, Thomas Wester, and Siân Slawson engages users with peaceful visualizations encouraging the viewer to try yoga poses and a deep physical sense of calm.
Aquarela, directed by Victor Kossakovsk, is a cinematic journey through the transformative beauty and raw power of water.
Runnin by lead artists Reggie Watts and Kiira Benzing offers an interactive dance experience. You are transported to a retro-future dance party where you can show off your moves alongside a troupe of dancers.
Sundance 2019 Wellness Lounges
From Friday to Sunday, there were three relaxing lounges providing a variety of experiences on Main Street in Park City. WanderLuxxe offered insider access to a daily Wellness Lounge By Essential Costa Rica. The morning began with lululemon-led yoga classes, followed by a treatments with Sunlighten infrared saunas, vegan skincare and cosmetics, and Women in Film panels.
Wellhaus was the first fully integrated health, wellness, and CBD-focused concept house at the festival. The lounge was sponsored by Charlotte’s Web, the Colorado-based CBD industry pioneer, and The Herbal Chef Chris Sayegh, who is famous for CBD and cannabis-infused fine dining events. In addition, the LA-based health and wellness company REME, an app for mindful health and wellness, offered VIPs their choice of B12 shots, energy boost IV drips, and hangover IV drips, plus chair massages.
Another lounge opened during second half of the festival. V Suite, created by Adriana Ryan of vegan toothpaste brand UGLY by Nature and TMG’s Paolo Sadri, with sponsorship by MegaFood, provided vegan celebrities a respite during the festival. “At Sundance, healthy meal options are scarce with vegan/plant-based options virtually nonexistent,” Ryan said. “The tight schedules, crowds, and often inclement weather can make off-site visits impossible. So we created a smarter, serene alternative that lets celebrities relax and regenerate privately.” The suite featured vegan meals prepared by Miami-based chef Stephanie Lobato plus massages and daily yoga classes.
My recap of the festival represents only a few highlights of the most action-action-packed 2019 Sundance Film Festival! The schedule includes numerous panel discussions, musical performances, Q & As, and many many more films. It is a whirlwind of entertainment that could be spread out over months, not just 10 days. Look for the best of this year’s offerings at home and in the theaters soon!