Considering it’s been three years since Park City, Utah will once again see cinephiles descending for in-person screenings, we would be remiss not to celebrate some of the titles showing at this year’s Sundance Film Festival (and to be clear, those still wanting to screen from home, can also virtually participate.). We’re giving you five buzzworthy titles at the festival, along with the performances to watch in each. Keep reading for a hefty amount of feature directorial debuts — including from the daughter of one iconic filmmaker — and even a lighter comedy feature thrown in the mix. We promise that you’ll want to keep them on your radar.
Looking for a psychological thriller that the filmmaker calls “both personal and political for me”? We’ve got you covered. In her feature debut, writer-director Chloe Domont tells the story of the recently engaged Emily and Luke, a thriving couple in New York who also happen to work at the same highly competitive financial firm. But after Emily lands the promotion that Luke thought was going to be his, their relationship takes a turn. The film tackles destructive gender dynamics, and in her “Meet the Artist” segment for Sundance, Domont details how she “wanted to be as ruthless with the execution of it as the nature of the subject matter itself.” Bringing her vision to life onscreen are Phoebe Dynevor as Emily and Alden Ehrenreich as Luke.
A Thousand and One
The writing and directing debut feature from A.V. Rockwell stars Teyana Taylor as Inez, a mother in mid-1990s New York City who goes from shelter to shelter while her 6-year-old son Terry remains in the foster care system. Convinced it’s a necessary crime, Inez kidnaps her son so that they can build a life together. Years pass, their family grows, and Terry grows into being a quiet and smart teenager. But, the secret of their past threatens to implode the home they’ve built together. While leaving you on that cliffhanger, we will mention two other performances to watch for in this heavy-hitting family drama. Keep an eye out for Aaron Kingsley Adetola as the younger version of Terry and Josiah Cross as his teenaged counterpart. The film promises to pack a punch with its central storyline of a mother and son seeking to reclaim their “sense of home, identity, and stability.”
What happens when the founder of a scrappy theater camp in upstate New York falls into a coma? First-time feature directorial duo Molly Gordon and Nick Lieberman take you on that journey with their aptly-named comedy. Theater Camp follows the efforts of Troy — the clueless “crypto-bro” son of said founder — and a band of eccentric teachers at the camp to keep AdirondACTS running amidst the threat of financial ruin. Gordon also stars in the feature as one of the quirky educators, alongside Ben Platt. And fans of Home Economics may recognize some similarities between Jimmy Tatro’s character on the ABC series and his role in Theater Camp as Troy. Sundance may not be as known for its lighter fare, but Theater Camp stands out on our list as a film that may just offer some “heart hugs” along the way.
Justin Chon is no stranger to Sundance. The former Twilight actor-turned-filmmaker won the NEXT Audience Award for his 2017 feature Gook and brought his family drama Ms. Purple to the 2019 festival. With Jamojaya, Chon tells another family-centric story, which follows an aspiring Indonesian rapper named James while he’s at a resort in Hawaii. The trip is for business reasons, though, with James there to cut his debut album for a big-time U.S. record label. In the middle of those high stakes for his career, the rising artist has to navigate some tough family dynamics. His father — who also happens to be his former manager — is still mourning the loss of James’ brother and insists on accompanying James on the trip as a sort of personal assistant. The young rapper is forced to find his voice amidst the power struggle at play with a doting but demanding father who still wants a say in his son’s career. Real-life rapper Imanuel plays James, making his feature film debut, with Yayu A.W. Unru portraying his dad in Jamojaya. And we’ll leave you with a teaser of what may be a surprise name on the film’s cast list — Jamojaya also houses an appearance from one of the members of the Red Hot Chili Peppers.
If you’ve ever wondered if the daughter of acclaimed auteur Jane Campion inherited the filmmaking gene, your query can now be resolved. For the dark comedy Bad Behaviour, Alice Englert stepped behind the camera, as well as starred in the film that she also wrote. The feature debut of the newly minted multi-hyphenate tells the story of Lucy, a former child actress who joins her spiritual guru at a silent retreat while exploring the turbulent relationship she has with her stunt performer daughter Dylan. The stacked cast list includes Jennifer Connelly as Lucy — whose bad behavior in the film may or may not inspire its title — and Ben Whishaw as the character’s guru. Englert plays her daughter and told Variety why performing in that role felt right for her feature directorial debut. “There was a creature quality to Dylan that I really felt like I could hold and embody, and push her into places that I wanted the mother-daughter dynamic to go,” she disclosed.
From Fair Play to Bad Behaviour, we hope you’ve been inspired to keep a finger on the pulse of some of the top titles at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. Interested in discovering more? You can find a full list of the festival’s 2023 films here.
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