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Saturday , March 25 2023

Sundance unveils Premieres slate – Lineup includes films from James Schamus, Spike Lee

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This photo provided by Disney shows Daisey Ridley as Rey (left), and John Boyega as Finn, in a scene from the new film, ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens,’ directed by J.J. Abrams. The movie releases in the US on Dec 18. (AP)
This photo provided by Disney shows Daisey Ridley as Rey (left), and John Boyega as Finn, in a scene from the new film, ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens,’ directed by J.J. Abrams. The movie releases in the US on Dec 18. (AP)

LOS ANGELES, Dec 8 (RTRS): With a lineup that includes such Sundance alums as Todd Solondz, Whit Stillman, Kenneth Lonergan, Ira Sachs, Kelly Reichardt, Taika Waititi, John Krasinski, Diego Luna, Maggie Greenwald, Joshua Marston, John Carney, Anne Fontaine, Asif Kapadia, Matt Ross and Jim Strouse, it’s shaping up to be a veritable Park City homecoming week in the festival’s 2016 Premieres slate, which was unveiled today along with the Documentary Premieres, Spotlight, Sundance Kids and Special Events sections.

Festival director John Cooper and director of programming Trevor Groth announced that the closing-night film would be the Premieres entry “The Fundamentals of Caring,” a comedy about a caregiver and an 18-year-old suffering from muscular dystrophy; the film, which stars Paul Rudd, Craig Roberts, Selena Gomez, Jennifer Ehle, is directed by Rob Burnett. Cooper also noted a beefed-up Special Events roster that includes a look at the origins of Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson’s “Anomalisa”; Lodge Kerrigan and Amy Seimetz’s Starz anthology “The Girlfriend Experience”; and, in its nearly eight-hour entirety, Ezra Edelman’s O.J. Simpson documentary “O.J.: Made in America.”

“We’re carving out more space for these because so many filmmakers and artists that we admire are working in these different forms,” Cooper said.

As usual, however, most eyes will be drawn toward Premieres — particularly in light of the festival’s highly successful 2015 crop, which yielded at least one strong awards contender (“Brooklyn”), several favorably reviewed gems (“The End of the Tour,” “Experimenter,” “Grandma,” “I’ll See You in My Dreams,” “Mississippi Grind” and “Mistress America”), and a sleeper hit (“A Walk in the Woods”). Whether they meet with similar enthusiasm, the 17 features set to screen in Premieres in 2016 can be expected to generate most of the festival’s sales interest and star wattage.


Casey Affleck and Michelle Williams star in “Manchester by the Sea,” Lonergan’s first Sundance entry since “You Can Count On Me” won the grand jury prize in 2000, while Greg Kinnear and Jennifer Ehle round out the ensemble cast of “Little Men,” a Brooklyn-set drama from Sundance regular Sachs (“Love Is Strange,” “Keep the Lights On,” “Forty Shades of Blue”). Viggo Mortensen plays a father raising six children in the forests of the Pacific Northwest in “Captain Fantastic,” a sophomore drama directed by Matt Ross (“28 Hotel Rooms”), while Rachel Weisz, Michael Shannon, Kathy Bates, Danny Glover topline “Complete Unknown,” the first English-language feature directed by Joshua Marston (“Maria Full of Grace”).

Shannon also appears opposite Imogen Poots in the romantic thriller “Frank & Lola,” a directing debut for Matthew Ross (not to be confused with Matt Ross); and Glover is featured opposite Maya Rudolph in “Mr. …,” a Mexico-set, English-language road movie from actor-turned-helmer Diego Luna (“Abel”). And Kelly Reichardt, who hasn’t been to Sundance since her 2006 two-hander “Old Joy,” will work with her starriest cast yet with the small-town drama “Certain Women,” featuring Laura Dern, Kristen Stewart and Williams (in her third collaboration with Reichardt).

One Premieres entry comes from a director who, although making his debut in that capacity, is no stranger to Sundance or the independent scene.

“We even have a spry first-time filmmaker you’re going to hear a lot about, James Schamus,” Groth quipped about “Indignation,” Schamus’ Philip Roth adaptation starring Logan Lerman and Sarah Gadon.

Several of the titles in Premieres find their directors working again with actors and/or characters from earlier work. Greta Gerwig, Kieran Culkin, Danny DeVito, Ellen Burstyn star in Solondz’s “Wiener-Dog,” a canine comedy that features characters from his 1996 Sundance grand jury prizewinner, “Welcome to the Dollhouse.” Kate Beckinsale and Chloe Sevigny, who previously paired on Stillman’s “Last Days of Disco,” play 18th-century women in the director’s Jane Austen adaptation “Love & Friendship,” one of the few Premieres titles already acquired for distribution (in this case, by Amazon Studios).

On the international side, Premieres will also unspool the WWI-era drama “Ali & Nino,” a return to narrative filmmaking by British helmer Asif Kapadia after his well-received documentaries “Amy” and “Senna” (a 2010 Sundance entry); “Hunt for the Wilderpeople,” another offbeat, regionally specific comedy from New Zealand filmmaker Taika Waititi after his Park City pics “Eagle vs. Shark,” “Boy” and “What We Do in the Shadows”; and “Agnus Dei,” a Poland-set WWII drama from Anne Fontaine, who was at Sundance in 2013 with “Two Mothers,” later released as “Adore.”

Rounding out Premieres are “The Hollars,” Krasinski’s drama starring himself and Anna Kendrick; “Sing Street,” an ‘80s Dublin-set drama from John Carney (“Once”); and “Sophie and the Rising Sun,” a tale of cross-cultural conflict during WWII from Greenwald (“Songcatcher”), which will receive a Salt Lake City gala.

The festival’s Documentary Premieres program is similarly packed with veterans and heavyweights, including Werner Herzog with his Web-focused “Lo and Behold, Reveries of the Connected World”; Spike Lee with “Michael Jackson’s Journey From Motown to Off the Wall”; Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady with “Norman Lear: Just Another Version of You,” which will be one of four films to screen on the fest’s first day; Liz Garbus’ “Nothing Left Unsaid: Gloria Vanderbilt & Anderson Cooper”; and Chris Hegedus and D.A. Pennebaker’s “Unlocking the Cage.” Also in the mix are “Richard Linklater — Dream Is Destiny,” a portrait of the Austin filmmaker, and Stephane Soechtig’s “Under the Gun,” a gun-control documentary that, like Kim A. Snyder’s “Newtown” (premiering in the US dramatic competition), centers around the Sandy Hook tragedy.

The festival’s best-of-fests Spotlight slate includes Cannes premieres “Cemetery of Splendor,” “Embrace of the Serpent,” “Green Room,” “The Lobster” and “Rams”; Toronto titles “Land of Mine” and “Maggie’s Plan”; “Miles Ahead,” which made its premiere at the New York Film Festival; and “Viva,” which played at Telluride.

Special Events, introduced at the 2015 festival, is “an evolving section” that this year includes episodic work, short films and live post-screening discussions. In addition to the aforementioned titles, the program includes the two-hour premiere of “11.22.63,” Kevin Macdonald’s nine-hour event series about a time traveler trying to prevent the assassination of John F. Kennedy, and the first two hours of “The New Yorker Presents,” an Alex Gibney-produced docu series about the magazine. The Sundance Film Festival runs Jan 21-31.


“Agnus Dei” (France-Poland / Director: Anne Fontaine, Screenwriters: Sabrina N. Karine, Alice Vial, Pascal Bonitzer) — 1945 Poland: Mathilde, a young French doctor, is on a mission to help World War II survivors. When a nun seeks her assistance in helping several pregnant nuns in hiding, who are unable to reconcile their faith with their pregnancies, Mathilde becomes their only hope. Cast: Lou de Laage, Agata Kulesza, Agata Buzek, Vincent Macaigne, Joanna Kulig, Katarzyna Dabrowska.

“Ali & Nino” (UK / Director: Asif Kapadia, Screenwriter: Christopher Hampton) — Muslim prince Ali and Georgian aristocrat Nino have grown up in the Russian province of Azerbaijan. Their tragic love story sees the outbreak of the First World War and the world’s struggle for Baku’s oil. Ultimately they must choose to fight for their country’s independence or for each other. Cast: Adam Bakri, Maria Valverde, Mandy Patinkin, Connie Nielsen, Riccardo Scamarcio, Homayoun Ershadi.

“Captain Fantastic” (Director and screenwriter: Matt Ross) — Deep in the forests of the Pacific Northwest, a father devoted to raising his six kids with a rigorous physical and intellectual education is forced to leave his paradise and re-enter society, beginning a journey that challenges his idea of what it means to be a parent. Cast: Viggo Mortensen, Frank Langella, George MacKay, Kathryn Hahn, Steve Zahn, Ann Dowd.

“Certain Women” (Director: Kelly Reichardt, Screenwriter: Kelly Reichardt based on stories by Maile Meloy) — The lives of three woman intersect in small-town America, where each is imperfectly blazing a trail. Cast: Laura Dern, Kristen Stewart, Michelle Williams, James Le Gros, Jared Harris, Lily Gladstone.

“Complete Unknown” (Director: Joshua Marston, Screenwriters: Joshua Marston, Julian Sheppard) — When Tom and his wife host a dinner party to celebrate his birthday, one of their friends brings a date named Alice. Tom is convinced he knows her, but she’s going by a different name and a different biography — and she’s not acknowledging that she knows him. Cast: Rachel Weisz, Michael Shannon, Kathy Bates, Danny Glover.

“Frank & Lola” (Director and screenwriter: Matthew Ross) — A psychosexual noir love story — set in Las Vegas and Paris — about love, obsession, sex, betrayal, revenge and, ultimately, the search for redemption. Cast: Michael Shannon, Imogen Poots, Michael Nyqvist, Justin Long, Emmanuelle Devos, Rosanna Arquette.

“The Fundamentals of Caring” (Director and screenwriter: Rob Burnett) — Having suffered a tragedy, Ben becomes a caregiver to earn money. His first client, Trevor, is a hilarious 18-year-old with muscular dystrophy. One paralyzed emotionally, one paralyzed physically, Ben and Trevor hit the road, finding hope, friendship, and Dot in this funny and touching inspirational tale. Cast: Paul Rudd, Craig Roberts, Selena Gomez, Jennifer Ehle, Megan Ferguson, Frederick Weller. (Closing-night film)

“The Hollars” (Director: John Krasinski, Screenwriter: Jim Strouse) — Aspiring New York City artist John Hollar returns to his Middle America hometown on the eve of his mother’s brain surgery. Joined by his girlfriend, eight months pregnant with their first child, John is forced to navigate the crazy world he left behind. Cast: John Krasinski, Anna Kendrick, Margo Martindale, Richard Jenkins, Sharlto Copley, Charlie Day.

“Hunt for the Wilderpeople” / New Zealand (Director and screenwriter: Taika Waititi) — Ricky is a defiant young city kid who finds himself on the run with his cantankerous foster uncle in the wild New Zealand bush. A national manhunt ensues, and the two are forced to put aside their differences and work together to survive in this heartwarming adventure comedy. Cast: Julian Dennison, Sam Neill, Rima Te Wiata, Rachel House, Oscar Kightley.

“Indignation” / Director and screenwriter: James Schamus) — It’s 1951, and among the new arrivals at Winesburg College in Ohio are the son of a kosher butcher from New Jersey and the beautiful, brilliant daughter of a prominent alum. For a brief moment, their lives converge in this emotionally soaring film based on the novel by Philip Roth. Cast: Logan Lerman, Sarah Gadon, Tracy Letts, Linda Emond, Danny Burstein, Ben Rosenfield.

“Little Men” (Director: Ira Sachs, Screenwriters: Mauricio Zacharias, Ira Sachs) — When 13-year-old Jake’s grandfather dies, his family moves back into their old Brooklyn home. There, Jake befriends Tony, whose single Chilean mother runs the shop downstairs. As their friendship deepens, however, their families are driven apart by a battle over rent, and the boys respond with a vow of silence. Cast: Greg Kinnear, Jennifer Ehle, Paulina Garcia, Theo Taplitz, Michael Barbieri.

“Love & Friendship” (Ireland-France-Netherlands / Director and screenwriter: Whit Stillman) — From Jane Austen’s novella, the beautiful and cunning Lady Susan Vernon visits the estate of her in-laws to wait out colorful rumors of her dalliances and to find husbands for herself and her daughter. Two young men, handsome Reginald DeCourcy and wealthy Sir James Martin, severely complicate her plans. Cast: Kate Beckinsale, Chloe Sevigny, Xavier Samuel, Emma Greenwell, Tom Bennett, Stephen Fry.

“Manchester by the Sea” (Director and screenwriter: Kenneth Lonergan) — After his older brother passes away, Lee Chandler is forced to return home to care for his 16-year-old nephew. There he is compelled to deal with a tragic past that separated him from his family and the community where he was born and raised. Cast: Casey Affleck, Michelle Williams, Lucas Hedges, Kyle Chandler.

“Sing Street” (Ireland / Director and screenwriter: John Carney) — A boy growing up in Dublin during the ’80s escapes his strained family life and tough new school by starting a band to win the heart of a beautiful and mysterious girl. Cast: Ferdia Walsh-Peelo, Lucy Boynton, Jack Reynor, Aidan Gillen, Mark McKenna.

“Sophie and the Rising Sun” (Director and screenwriter: Maggie Greenwald) — In a small Southern town in the autumn of 1941, Sophie’s lonely life is transformed when an Asian man arrives under mysterious circumstances. Their love affair becomes the lightning rod for long-buried conflicts that erupt in bigotry and violence with the outbreak of World War ll. Cast: Julianne Nicholson, Margo Martindale, Lorraine Toussaint, Takashi Yamaguchi, Diane Ladd, Joel Murray. (Salt Lake City gala film)

“Wiener-Dog” (Director and screenwriter: Todd Solondz) — This film tells several stories featuring people who find their life inspired or changed by one particular dachshund, who seems to be spreading comfort and joy. Cast: Greta Gerwig, Kieran Culkin, Danny DeVito, Ellen Burstyn, Julie Delpy, Zosia Mamet.

Documentary premieres

“Eat That Question — Frank Zappa in His Own Words” (France-Germany / Director: Thorsten Schutte) — This entertaining encounter with the premier of sonic avant-garde is acidic, fun-poking, and full of rich and rare archival footage. This documentary bashes favorite Zappa targets and dashes a few myths about the man himself.

“Film Hawk” (Directors: JJ Garvine, Tai Parquet) — Trace Bob Hawk’s early years as the young gay child of a Methodist minister to his current career as a consultant on some of the most influential independent films of our time.

“Lo and Behold, Reveries of the Connected World” (Director: Werner Herzog) — Does the Internet dream of itself? Explore the horizons of the connected world.

“Mapplethorpe: Look at the Pictures” (Directors: Fenton Bailey, Randy Barbato) — This examination of Robert Mapplethorpe’s outrageous life is led by the artist himself, speaking with brutal honesty in a series of rediscovered interviews about his passions. Intimate revelations from friends, family, and lovers shed new light on this scandalous artist who ignited a culture war that still rages on.

“Maya Angelou and Still I Rise” (Directors: Bob Hercules, Rita Coburn Whack) — The remarkable story of Maya Angelou — iconic writer, poet, actress and activist whose life has intersected some of the most profound moments in recent American history.

“Michael Jackson’s Journey From Motown to Off the Wall” (Director: Spike Lee) — Catapulted by the success of his first major solo project, Off the Wall, Michael Jackson went from child star to King of Pop. This film explores the seminal album, with rare archival footage and interviews from those who were there and those whose lives its success and legacy impacted.

“Norman Lear: Just Another Version of You” (Directors: Heidi Ewing, Rachel Grady) — How did a poor Jewish kid from Connecticut bring us Archie Bunker and become one of the most successful television producers ever? Norman Lear brought provocative subjects like war, poverty, and prejudice into 120 million homes every week. He proved that social change was possible through an unlikely prism: laughter. World Premiere. (Day One film)

“Nothing Left Unsaid: Gloria Vanderbilt & Anderson Cooper” (Director: Liz Garbus) — Gloria Vanderbilt and her son Anderson Cooper each tell the story of their past and present, their loves and losses, and reveal how some family stories have the tendency to repeat themselves in the most unexpected ways.

“Resilience” (Director: James Redford) — This film chronicles the birth of a new movement among pediatricians, therapists, educators, and communities using cutting-edge brain science to disrupt cycles of violence, addiction, and disease. These professionals help break the cycles of adversity by daring to talk about the effects of divorce, abuse, and neglect.

“Richard Linklater — Dream Is Destiny” (Directors: Louis Black, Karen Bernstein) — This is an unconventional look at a fiercely independent style of filmmaking that arose in the 1990s from Austin, Texas, outside the studio system. The film blends rare archival footage with journals, exclusive interviews with Linklater on and off set, and clips from “Slacker,” “Dazed and Confused,” “Boyhood,” and more.

“Under the Gun” (Director: Stephanie Soechtig) — The Sandy Hook massacre was considered a watershed moment in the national debate on gun control, but the body count at the hands of gun violence has only increased. Through the lens of the victims’ families, as well as pro-gun advocates, we examine why our politicians have failed to act.

“Unlocking the Cage” (Directors: Chris Hegedus, Donn Alan Pennebaker) — Follow animal-rights lawyer Steven Wise in his unprecedented challenge to break down the legal wall that separates animals from humans. By filing the first lawsuit of its kind, Wise seeks to transform a chimpanzee from a “thing” with no rights to a “person” with basic legal protection.

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