Sundance kids

by David Lamble

Director Alma Har'el's "Honey Boy" concerns a child TV star and his ex-rodeo-clown father. Photo: Courtesy Sundance Film Festival
Director Alma Har'el's "Honey Boy" concerns a child TV star and his ex-rodeo-clown father. Photo: Courtesy Sundance Film Festival  

The Sundance Film Festival was the brainchild of Hollywood star Robert Redford. For the past several decades its screenings, scholarships and workshops have provided a launching pad for films vying for American commercial distribution. This year 112 films have qualified for the diverse venues around Park City, Utah, from Jan. 24-Feb. 3, 2019.

A growing number of the entries are from women, LGBTQ and minority filmmakers, with casts and subjects that reflect an ever-increasing variety and ethnic diversity. Our annual Sundance report begins with films competing in the U.S. Dramatic Competition, with the world debuts of 16 narrative features. Women comprise 53% of the directors in this year's U.S. Dramatic Competition; 41% are people of color; 18% identify as LGBTQ. Fans of our Frameline LGBTQ festival should know that Sundance is an important source of future queer hits.

"Before You Know It" (director Hannah Pearl Utt) A family secret thrusts codependent 30something sisters Rachel and Jackie Gurner into a soap opera. Cast includes Judith Light, Mandy Patinkin, Alec Baldwin.

"Big Time Adolescence" (director Jason Orley) A suburban teen is under the destructive influence of his best friend, a college dropout. Cast includes Pete Davidson, Jon Cryer.

"Brittany Runs a Marathon" (director Paul Downs Colaizzo, producer Tobey Maguire) A woman living in New York takes charge of her life.

"Clemency" (director Chinonye Chukwu) Years of carrying out death-row executions have taken a toll on prison warden Bernadine Williams. Cast includes Alfre Woodard, Richard Schiff.

"The Farewell" (director Lulu Wang) An independent Chinese-American woman returns to China when her beloved grandmother is given a terminal diagnosis.

"Hala" (director Minhal Baig) Muslim teen Hala copes with the unraveling of her family as she comes into her own.

"Honey Boy" (director Alma Har'el, screenwriter Shia LaBeouf) A child TV star and his ex-rodeo-clown father face their stormy past. Cast includes Shia LaBeouf, Lucas Hedges.

"Imaginary Order" (director Debra Eisenstadt) The sexual and psychological unraveling of an obsessive-compulsive suburban mom.

"The Last Black Man in San Francisco" (director Joe Talbot) Jimmie Fails dreams of reclaiming the Victorian home his grandfather built in the heart of San Francisco.

"Luce" (director Julius Onah) A married couple is forced to reckon with their idealized image of their son, adopted from war-torn Eritrea. Cast includes Naomi Watts, Octavia Spencer, Tim Roth, Norbert Leo Butz.

"Ms. Purple" (director Justin Chon) Kasie, stuck in LA's Koreatown, works as a karaoke hostess.

"Native Son" (director Rashid Johnson, screenwriter Suzan-Lori Parks) In this modern reimagining of Richard Wright's seminal novel, young African-American man Bigger Thomas takes a job working for an influential Chicago family.

"Share" (director Pippa Bianco) 16-year-old Mandy discovers a disturbing video from a night she doesn't remember.

"The Sound of Silence" (director Michael Tyburski) A successful NYC house tuner meets a client with a problem he can't solve. Cast: Peter Sarsgaard, Rashida Jones, Austin Pendleton.

"Them That Follow" (directors Britt Poulton, Dan Madison Savage) A forbidden relationship in a snake-handling church deep in Appalachia. Cast: Olivia Colman, Jim Gaffigan, Thomas Mann.

"To the Stars" (director Martha Stephens) A withdrawn farmer's daughter forges an intimate friendship with a worldly new girl in 1960s Oklahoma.

U.S. Documentary Competition: 16 world-premiere American nonfiction films. 44% of the directors in this year's U.S. Docs are women; 22% are people of color; 5% identify as LGBTQ.

"Always in Season" (director Jacqueline Olive) 17-year-old Lennon Lacy is found hanging from a swing set in North Carolina, and more than a century of lynching African Americans bleeds into the present.

"Apollo 11" (director Todd Douglas Miller) An archival reconstruction of humanity's first trip to another world.

"Bedlam" (director Kenneth Paul Rosenberg) A psychiatrist makes rounds in ERs, jails, and homeless camps, a personal journey into the world of the seriously mentally ill.

"David Crosby: Remember My Name" (director A.J. Eaton) The life of a Woodstock-era rock star with everything but retirement on his mind.

"Hail Satan" (director Penny Lane) A look at the intersection of religion and activism, tracing the rise of The Satanic Temple.

"Jawline" (director Liza Mandelup) 16-year-old Austyn Tester is a rising star in the live-broadcast ecosystem.

"Knock Down the House" (director Rachel Lears) A movement of insurgent candidates challenges powerful incumbents in Congress.

"Mike Wallace Is Here" (director Avi Belkin) For over half-a-century, "60 Minutes" attack-dog anchor Mike Wallace went head-to-head with the world's most influential figures.

"One Child Nation" (directors Nanfu Wang, Jialing Zhang) The untold history of China's one-child policy.

"Pahokee" (directors Ivete Lucas, Patrick Bresnan) In a small agricultural town in the Florida Everglades, hopes for the future are concentrated on the youth.

"Tigerland" (director Ross Kauffman) In Far East Russia, the guardians of the last Siberian tigers risk everything to save the species.

"Where's My Roy Cohn?" (director Matt Tyrnauer). Roy Cohn personified the dark arts of American politics, turning empty vessels into dangerous demagogues, from Joseph McCarthy to his final project, Donald J. Trump. How a deeply troubled master manipulator shaped our current American nightmare.

Director Alma Har'el's "Honey Boy" concerns a child TV star and his ex-rodeo-clown father. Photo: Courtesy Sundance Film Festival

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