Issue 11: Sundance Recap 2024
Currently on the films I saw (at home) for Sundance Film Festival.
Since COVID, the Sundance Film Festival has expanded its offerings to virtual screenings, in which I've participated for the last three years. This year, I shared the at-home experience by hosting ten films over a weekend with eight friends.
Love Me 🌕🌕🌕🌗🌑
World premiering at Sundance, ‘Love Me’ is the debut feature from Sam and Andy Zuchero, starring Kristen Stewart and Steven Yeun. Spanning over billions of years, ‘Love Me’ tells the love story between a buoy and a satellite. It’s imaginative, creative, and reminds me of an adultified ‘Wall-E,’ but it was just a little too macro in its vision for me to connect with fully. However, Stewart and Yeun give incredible performances in the numerous forms they portray, and I look forward to what’s next from the Zucheros. ‘Love Me’ won the Alfred P. Sloan Feature Film Prize and is seeking distribution.
A New Kind of Wilderness 🌕🌕🌕🌕🌑
‘A New Kind of Wilderness’ documents the journey of a Norwegian family living an isolated lifestyle off the grid but forced to adjust to modern society after a tragic event. It’s an intimate story about our responsibility to the planet, parenting in the modern world, and navigating life after loss. While ‘Love Me’ looked at relationships through a telescope, ‘A New Kind of Wilderness’ uses a microscope, resulting in an unintentional juxtaposition in programming that made me appreciate both films even more. I could watch this family romp through the forest, chopping wood for hours. ‘A New Kind of Wilderness’ won the Documentary World Cinema Grand Jury Prize and is seeking distribution.
Girls Will Be Girls 🌕🌕🌕🌑🌑
‘Girls Will Be Girls’ is the debut feature from writer/director Shuchi Talati and the talented actor Preeti Panigrahi. It’s a subtle and unexpectedly tense coming-of-age story that unfolds in the heart of India, exploring the tangled dynamics between a young woman, her mother, and her first love — set within an environment of harassment by her male classmates. While not classified as horror, it evokes the same feelings that elevated horror films do, where the most frightening moments are the ones crafted in your own imagination. ‘Girls Will Be Girls’ won the World Cinema Dramatic Audience Award and is seeking distribution.
Skywalkers: A Love Story 🌕🌕🌕🌕🌑
‘Skywalkers: A Love Story’ documents the daring couple Angela Nikolau and Ivan Beerkus, two “rooftoppers” who have made a career out of climbing the world’s tallest buildings without safety equipment, all to share breathtaking photos on social media. Thrilling, dizzying, and anxiety-inducing, ‘Skywalkers’ unfolds like a heist version of ‘Free Solo’. What it may lack in narrative depth is compensated by its stunning visuals. ‘Skywalkers: A Love Story’ has been acquired by Netflix.
World premiering at Sundance, ‘Thelma’ is the feature directorial debut of Josh Margolin. Inspired by a real-life experience of his grandmother, the film follows a 90-year-old woman (June Squibb) who embarks on a quest to recoup her money after losing $10,000 to a phone scammer pretending to be her grandson. While I acknowledge that viewers may find it to be a hilarious thrill ride with a resonating commentary on what it means to grow old, I found it a little too over the top with confusingly mediocre performances. ‘Thelma’ has been acquired by Magnolia Pictures.
‘Daughters’ documents four young girls as they prepare for a daddy-daughter dance, a chance to reunite with their incarcerated fathers as part of a fatherhood program in a Washington, D.C., prison. It’s a moving story about love and physical connection, but it also serves as a nudge for viewers to take another look into the American prison system and the efforts made to rehabilitate inmates. ‘Daughters’ won the U.S. Documentary Audience Award and was acquired by Netflix.
‘Sujo’ comes from Astrid Rondero and Fernanda Valadez (‘Identifying Features’) and follows the life of a boy as he grows up in the shadow of his cartel father's death. The story revolves around the woman who attempts to shepherd him safely to adulthood and the pervasive violence surrounding him during each stage of his life in the isolated Mexican countryside. Visceral, intentional, and slightly mystical, ‘Sujo’ is wonderfully shot, acted, and written, but it unfolded a little too patiently for me to stay engaged through its 2+ hour runtime. ‘Sujo’ won the Dramatic World Cinema Grand Jury Prize and is seeking distribution.
‘Ibelin’ comes from director Benjamin Ree (‘The Painter and the Thief,’ which I highly recommend) and documents the story of Mats Steen, a Norwegian gamer who died of a degenerative muscular disease at the age of 25. It uniquely blends World of Warcraft video game footage with real-life conversations, creating a moving tribute to the impact Mats had on others. It’s a funny, emotional, and ultimately extremely important example of how friendship, community, and love can exist in a digital world. I'm tearing up right now just thinking about it. ‘Ibelin’ won the World Cinema Documentary Audience Award and was acquired by Netflix.
A Real Pain 🌕🌕🌕🌕🌑
World premiering at Sundance, ‘A Real Pain’ is the second feature from writer/director Jesse Eisenberg (‘When You Finish Saving The World’) and also stars Kieran Culkin (‘Succession’). It centers on two cousins reuniting in an airport shortly after the death of their grandmother, bound for Poland on a Holocaust-themed tour. Eisenberg and Culkin’s performances are grounded, grating, charming, and funny, providing an intimate look into profound relationships with strangers, family, ourselves, and the past. I’ve never used the word “whipsmart” before, but this is the epitome of a “whipsmart” dramedy, and we'll likely be hearing more about Culkin’s performance during the next awards season. ‘A Real Pain’ won the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award and was acquired by Focus Features.
World premiering at Sundance, ‘Dìdi’ is the feature debut from writer/director Sean Wang. It’s a coming-of-age story about a shy Asian teenager navigating an awkward adolescence while listening to Motion City Soundtrack, learning to skateboard, making videos, customizing his MySpace page, and flirting with his first love on AIM. This film was made for me—an intimate, tender, familiar, and honest portrayal of growing up and fitting in. I can’t wait to revisit it with others. ‘Dìdi’ won both the U.S. Dramatic Audience Award and a Special Jury Prize for the film’s ensemble and was acquired by Focus Features.
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