The nonprofit Sundance Institute announced on December 4th, 2019 the lineup of films selected across all categories for the 2020 Sundance Film Festival. The Sundance Film Festival took place in Park City, Salt Lake City and at Sundance Mountain Resort, from January 23–February 2, 2020.
The Sundance Film Festival is Sundance Institute’s flagship public program, widely regarded as the largest American independent film festival and attended by more than 120,000 people and 1,300 accredited press, and powered by more than 2,000 volunteers last year. There were 14 NYWIFT Members involved in the production of 15 different films being screened at the festival this year. Congratulations to them all!
Congratulations to our NYWIFT community members who took home Sundance Awards – Radha Blank, who won the award for Directing for her debut film The 40-Year-Old-Version (which was picked up by Netflix); Huriyyah Muhammad, producer of Ekwa Msangi’s Farewell Amor, who received this year’s Sundance Institute / Amazon Studios Producers Award for narrative feature producer; and Heidi Ewing, who received the NEXT Innovator Prize for I Carry You with Me (which was picked up by Sony Pictures Classics)!
NYWIFT was proud to have two events at the festival this year. NYWIFT co-presented the panel “Women on the Front Lines: Changing the Game” with AMC Networks, WIF LA and ReFrame at the SundanceTV HQ on Main Street. Panelists included Haifaa al-Mansour, Jackie Cruz, Hanelle Culpepper, Monica Levinson and Ekwa Msangi in a conversation moderated by Arianna Bocco, EVP of Acquisitions and Production, IFC Films. Then, NYWIFT hosted a cocktail reception in celebration of the women of the Sundance Film Festival, including its members with films at the fest, and gave a special award to IFC Films in celebration of its 20 years of championing independent cinema.
Learn more about the 2020 Sundance Film Festival.
For more information on each film, click the pictures.
The films below are sorted by category.
U.S Dramatic Competition
“It’s been 17 years since Walter was forced to leave his family in Angola. Now he is picking up his wife, Esther, and daughter, Sylvia, from the airport to bring them home to his one-bedroom Brooklyn apartment. The reunion isn’t seamless. Walter cooks a welcome dinner, and Esther wonders who taught him how to cook. Before they eat, Esther says grace, revealing her thunderous new passion for Jesus. And later, Walter realizes that he has not moved on from Linda, his lover who moved out of his apartment to make way for the family. When young Sylvia starts to explore the city and takes part in a dance competition, she unexpectedly opens up a pathway of muscle memory for the family to rediscover one another.
Director Ekwa Msangi crafts a vibrant, eye-opening film full of music, atmosphere, and an emotional complexity that illuminates every character’s point of view. Farewell Amor is a human, intergenerational, and deeply personal look at an immigrant story—the type of story that has defined America since its inception.”
Never Rarely Sometimes Always
Advisor – NYWIFT Advisory Board Member Caren Spruch
Autumn, a stoic, quiet teenager, is a cashier in a rural Pennsylvania supermarket. Faced with an unintended pregnancy and without viable alternatives for termination in her home state, she and her cousin Skylar scrape up some cash, pack a suitcase, and board a bus to New York City. With only a clinic address in hand and nowhere to stay, the two girls bravely venture into the unfamiliar city.
Writer-director Eliza Hittman (It Felt Like Love, Beach Rats) masterfully creates a spartan cinematic language through gestures and details, where subtext is just as important as written dialogue. Cinematographer Hélène Louvart shoots on 16 mm film, evoking a grainy, bleak, and stark atmosphere, capturing the young actors, Sidney Flanigan and Talia Ryder (both discoveries), in intimate close-ups that accentuate the complexity of their natural, minimalist performances. With bracing clarity and understated emotion, Hittman fearlessly tells the story of a teenage girl making an arduous journey, through which a bigger statement emerges—that of reclaiming her body and her spirit.
“Jack (John Reynolds) and Su (Sunita Mani) are a hip Brooklyn couple who, like many of their friends, find themselves dependent on technology and unable to put down their phones. Fearing their mindless scrolling may impact their connection with each other, they seize the chance to head to an isolated cabin in the woods, vowing to unplug from the outside world for a week. Sheltered from texts and push notifications, they are blissfully unaware when aliens attack the earth. As strange events unfold, the couple must figure out a way back to civilization—or what’s left of it.
Writer-directors Eleanor Wilson and Alex Huston Fischer (Snowy Bing Bongs) have crafted a zany sci-fi comedy as hilarious as it is thrilling, taking a millennial worst-case scenario and lighting it on fire. Reynolds’s and Mani’s engaging performances bring to life razor-sharp writing that affectionately satirizes modern life and love. Ultimately, Save Yourselves! is an ode to an internet-savvy generation that has never known connection without autocorrection.”
“Radha, a once-promising playwright, is barreling toward the stigma of being single and a struggling artist at the age of 40. Facing nonstop rejections from the theatre community while teaching a motley group of teens, she becomes creatively re-invigorated when she returns to rapping, her long-forgotten passion. When her play finally gets going, however, she puts recording a rap demo on the back burner and must navigate the awful tension of compromising her voice for career success.
In her knockout feature debut, Radha Blank writes, directs, and delivers a devastatingly endearing onscreen performance. The quintessential plight of an artist selling out or being true to oneself has never felt so fresh. Shot on black-and-white film, Blank features New York City and in turn claims it all for her own. Blank’s Radha is a magnetic woman to root for, crackly knees and all. Baring a vulnerability that is inspiring, deliciously funny, and dripping with honesty, this comedic gem represents what 40 really looks like—no less scared, but irresistible and authentic as f*@k.”
“In the aftermath of a traumatic incident, Adrienne (Sienna Miller) finds herself in a disorienting state of limbo, unstuck in time and witnessing life from a distance. Forced to confront her troubled relationship with her longtime partner, Matteo (Diego Luna), and the future of their infant daughter, Adrienne must relive and renegotiate the events of the recent past—and solve the mystery of the accident. Stepping into the shadows with Matteo, Adrienne looks for clues about what went wrong between them.
Gently moving between the enigmatic and the romantic, Wander Darkly traverses genre borders, taking us on a journey that is both uncanny and emotionally resonant. Miller gives a wonderfully layered performance, navigating the film’s demanding tonal shifts. Luna is both elusive and engaged, walking the line between the film’s ethereal and earthly planes. Writer-director Tara Miele’s highly affecting existential drama deftly explores how we build narratives of love and loss from the fragmented memories of our lives.”
“In 2016, outsider candidate Rodrigo Duterte upset the political establishment in the Philippines by winning the presidency and promising vengeance and violence. Within hours of taking office, bodies piled up in the streets. Rappler, the country’s top online news site, investigated the murders and revealed a government-sanctioned drug war targeting poor addicts instead of lucrative dealers. In an attempt to suppress independent reporting, Duterte unleashed a powerful disinformation campaign that spread like wildfire throughout social media.
Filmmaker Ramona S. Diaz follows key players from two sides of an increasingly dangerous war between press and government. Representing the journalists is fearless Rappler CEO Maria Ressa, who, despite arrests and harassment, continues to publish articles holding a lawless regime accountable. On the other side, influencers such as pop-star-turned-government-secretary Mocha Uson start incendiary social media movements and General Ronald “Bato” Dela Rosa spearheads a public execution campaign against addicts. As each side digs in, we become witness to an epic and ongoing fight for the integrity of human life and truth itself—a conflict that extends beyond the Philippines into our own divisive backyard.”
“After a mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School claims 17 lives, a number of students rally themselves around the tragedy as an opportunity to speak out against the national gun-violence epidemic. As their adrenaline propels a dive into full-on activism, their movement catalyzes, and students impacted by gun violence nationwide join in, giving voice to a generation of traumatized but determined youth.
Director Kim A. Snyder (Newtown, 2016 Sundance Film Festival) returns to the Festival with a film that carefully chronicles 18 pivotal months in the development of the March For Our Lives movement through a deeply personal lens. With extended access to the young activists not only on stage but in their homes and among their friends, Us Kids allows us to see them through one another’s eyes—as “normal-ass kids” bravely dealing with the weight of their traumas. Snyder tells the touching coming-of-age story of this group of driven, resilient, empathetic individuals all navigating the personal consequences of their remarkable choice to dedicate their own lives to honor the fallen and take back democracy.”
“Brilliant, brooding inventor Nikola Tesla (Ethan Hawke) fights an uphill battle to bring his revolutionary electrical system to fruition. Increasingly displeased by the greed of fellow inventor Thomas Edison (Kyle MacLachlan), Tesla forges his own virtuous but arduous path toward creating the innovative alternate-current motor. His European nature is at odds with budding American industrialism, and the landscape of intellectual property is treacherous—and Tesla slowly becomes jailed in his overactive mind. His associate Anne Morgan (Eve Hewson) analyzes and presents his story as it unfolds, offering a distinctly modern voice in this scientific period drama.
Sundance Film Festival veteran Ethan Hawke returns in this informative and engaging historical piece directed by Michael Almereyda (A Hero of Our Time, Marjorie Prime). With Tesla’s controversies, legal battles, entrepreneurial clashes, and romantic interests, Almereyda weaves together a portrait of a man struggling against the interests of his time. The profundity of his electrical mind is unearthed through this rediscovery of the development of electricity in the United States, ultimately posing existential questions about invention, industry, greed, love, and lightning.”
“At a remote lake house in the Adirondack Mountains, a couple entertains an out-of-town guest looking for inspiration in her filmmaking. The group quickly falls into a calculated game of desire, manipulation, and jealousy, unaware of how dangerously convoluted their lives will soon become in the filmmaker’s pursuit of a work of art, which blurs the boundaries between autobiography and invention.
The lives and sentiments of three artists (played by Aubrey Plaza, Christopher Abbott, and Sarah Gadon) interlock and are pushed to provocative limits in this enthralling drama that rejoices in subverting expectations and exploring the layers of a fragmented world. Writer-director Lawrence Michael Levine lures us into a tense and intrepid tale of gender dynamics and temptation, using the complexity of relationships to detonate the thin line separating art from life. Gadon, Abbott, and Plaza star as ideal players in this dark game of deception, navigating self-awareness and vulnerability as stakes pile higher and the suspicion grows that victory may elude all of them.”
“As a young aspiring chef in Mexico, Iván works at a restaurant, hoping to land a spot in the kitchen while supporting the mother of his child. One night he meets Gerardo, a handsome teacher who, unlike Iván, is out as a gay man. Their chemistry is instant. The discovery of their romance, however, causes conflict, and he is told he can no longer see his son. In despair, Iván makes the arduous decision to cross the border to advance his culinary career, promising his son and newfound love he will return.
After co-directing many award-winning documentaries, many of which have screened at the Sundance Film Festival, Heidi Ewing returns with her solo directorial narrative debut. This bittersweet American Dream is based on an acclaimed New York City chef, whose cuisine pays homage to his beloved country. Lensed by the impressive and fast-rising Mexican cinematographer Juan Pablo Ramírez, Iván’s memory is rendered indelible, making Iván’s predicament of not being able to return to Mexico all the more heartrending. The film is a tender romance and a complicated journey beautifully captured.”
“Teenage Aleteia has just transferred to a new high school in Compton and struggles to make friends. As an El Salvadorian immigrant who has grown up in the United States, Aleteia has made underground activism her foundation for making her voice heard, but everything is thrown into jeopardy when her temporary protection status is compromised and her future becomes uncertain. She unexpectedly befriends Rosarito, a popular girl who is tired of her vapid clique and drawn to Aleteia’s resilience, much to queen bee Monica’s annoyance. As the girls grow closer, Aleteia becomes more determined than ever to fight for her right to stay in the home she has always known.
First-time feature filmmaker Patricia Vidal Delgado lovingly crafts a poignant and emotional coming-of-age story that unfolds against a tense and divided social backdrop. Equally capturing the political turbulence affecting communities and the prickliness of teenage dynamics, La Leyenda Negra examines the price of sacrifices and the rarity of true connection. Drawing on striking black-and-white photography and raw emotion, this quietly bold film marks Delgado as an exciting new cinematic voice.”
“Against the backdrop of Oakland, California, Iranian American medical student Kat tries to save her Iranian family by taking on a surprising side hustle. The show is a culturally diverse, quasi-surrealist dramedy that captures the ever-increasing need for human connection and the subsequent commodification of it.”
Shorts: Shorts Program 2
“A pregnant vegan struggles with her newfound craving for meat.”
“For the last twenty years, Richard Scott Smith’s wooing of women has followed a consistent path: romance, commitment, identity theft, fraud. Preying on unsuspecting women who yearned for connection and passion, Smith would lure them in with charm and promises before ultimately robbing them of both their money and their dignity—and then vanishing. As the women left in his wake find out about each other and discover strength in their growing numbers, they seek to bring the justice he continues to evade—aided by a chain-smoking, no-nonsense bounty hunter named Carla.
Crafting a story of redemption that tracks embattled victims as they become their own heroes, co-directors Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady present each woman’s pain as unique even though their stories may be similar. They deftly navigate intimate moments of recollection, the rage of powerlessness, and the singular focus of action. Hell has no fury like a woman scorned, and these women are ready to burn.”
Again, a special congratulations to all the members involved in this year’s Sundance Film Festival!
Sundance Film Festival 2020 will take place from January 23 – February 2, 2020. Buy your tickets now!