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Sundance 2015: The Films We Can’t Wait to See

Sundance 2015: The Films We Can't Wait to See

As we reported back in December, nine
women-directed narrative and documentary features (out of a total of 29
premieres) will make their debuts at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. 36%, or more than a third, of the films in competition will be helmed or co-helmed by female
filmmakers. Throughout this week, we at Women and Hollywood have been posting interviews with female
directors and producers showcasing their films at the festival, and this
spotlight on the women of Sundance will continue into next week.

But we’d like to highlight 8 titles by and about women
premiering at Sundance that we’re most looking forward to. Whether you’re
interested in legendary songstresses, raunchy comedies, futuristic sci-fi, or the
pernicious effect that rape culture has on college and university campuses
across the U.S., there’s something in this list for you.

Film descriptions are courtesy of Sundance.

Advantageous – Directed by Jennifer Phang; Co-Written by Jacqueline Kim and Jennifer Phang 

What it’s about: In a metropolis in the near future, Gwen Koh, a beautiful woman full of poise and grace, works as the spokesperson for the Center for Advanced Health and Living, a company that offers a radical new technology allowing people to overcome their natural disadvantages and begin life anew. But when a shift in company priorities threatens her job and her family, will Gwen undergo the procedure herself?

Why we’re looking forward to itAdvantageous is getting great buzz, and understandably so: the plot sounds equally fascinating and terrifying. What is the Center for Advanced Health and Living? An institution that sounds so positive (and GOOP-y) has got to have a dark underbelly. In an upcoming interview with Women and Hollywood, Advantageous director and co-writer Jennifer Phang described what her film aspires to do: “I originally wanted to create a classic, intimate story about how we all deal with each other as we try to survive, but I wanted to set it in a different time and to explore how we have and have not changed at all. What excited me most was the opportunity to tell a story about women and men’s place in society, and class struggle.” We are eager to see how this ambitious sci-fi tale unfolds. 

Sleeping
with Other People
 – Directed and
Written by Leslye Headland

What it’s about:  Jake (Jason Sudeikis) and Lainey (Alison Brie) impulsively lose their
virginity to each other in college. When their paths cross twelve years later
in NYC, they realize they both have become serial cheaters. Bonding over their
chronic infidelity, they form a platonic friendship to support each other in
their quests for healthy romantic relationships.

Why we’re looking forward to it: We were
big fans of writer-director Leslye Headland’s underrated and self-assured 2012 directorial
debut Bachelorette. How funny — and frightening —  was Kirsten Dunst as the best/worst
maid of honor ever? Headland went on to pen the script for About Last Night,
which grossed nearly $50 million in theaters last year. While the plot to
Sleeping With Other People may sound frustratingly familiar, we are betting
that Headland takes this conventional story into unexpected directions.

What
Happened, Miss Simone?
(doc) – Directed
by Liz Garbus

What it’s about:  Classically trained pianist, dive-bar
chanteuse, black-power icon, and legendary recording artist Nina Simone lived a
life of brutal honesty, musical genius, and tortured melancholy. This
astonishing epic interweaves never-before-heard recordings and rare footage,
creating an unforgettable portrait of one of our least understood, most beloved
artists.

Why we’re looking forward to it: In an interview
with Women and Hollywood,
Oscar-nominated director Liz Garbus described the
subject of her new documentary, Nina Simone, as “a musical genius who never
fully got her due, with a little-understood path to fame, and a personal life
strained by the exigencies of extraordinary times and her own nascent mental
illness.” We can’t wait to see Garbus shine a light on the misunderstood and monumentally talented Simone.

The
Hunting Ground
(doc)

What it’s about: The statistics are
staggering. One in five women in college are sexually assaulted, yet only a
fraction of these crimes are reported, and even fewer result in punishment for
the perpetrators. From the intrepid team behind The Invisible War comes The
Hunting Ground
, a piercing, monumental exposé of rape culture on campuses,
poised to light a fire under a national debate.

Why we’re looking forward to it: The
Invisible War
was as difficult to watch as it was important to watch. The
documentary, focusing on the horrifying prevalence of sexual assault in the
U.S. military and its mishandling in the so-called “justice” system, premiered
at Sundance in 2012 and received the U.S. Documentary Audience Award that year. Director Kirby Dick’s follow-up to The
Invisible War
, which will examine the ubiquity of rape culture across U.S.
campuses and its grotesque consequences, promises to be both horrifying and
enlightening. We’re predicting The Hunting Ground becomes essential
viewing.

Grandma

What it’s about: Elle (Lily Tomlin), a
onetime successful poet, abruptly breaks up with Olive, her girlfriend of four
months. But before she gets a chance to get overly sentimental, her
granddaughter, Sage (Julia Garner), unexpectedly shows up with an emergency
that requires money. With the clock ticking, the two set out in a vintage Dodge
and drop in on Elle’s old friends and flames, asking for help but ending up rattling skeletons and digging up secrets. As they kick up a storm
all over town, Elle’s tough front reveals she is still reeling over the loss of
her longtime partner, Vi, who recently passed away.

Why we’re looking forward to it: A
female lead over 50! A female lead over 50 who happens to be Lily Tomlin, no
less! Besides our excitement about an older female protagonist, we are keen to
see this interesting spin on the Ghost of Girlfriends Past-type premise — a grandma
revisiting her old flames with her granddaughter in tow? Count us in — especially because Laverne Cox (Orange is the New Black) appears in the film.

H.
– Co-Directed and Co-Written by Rania Attieh

What it’s about: In Troy, New York, two
women, both named Helen, carry on seemingly complacent existences with their
respective partners. Middle-aged Helen lives with husband Roy and finds comfort
from a “reborn” baby doll. Meanwhile, successful young artist Helen
is expecting a child with her noncommittal partner. Foreboding signs begin to
appear: a meteor reportedly crashes nearby; people go missing; and
inexplicable, life-altering changes spiral the Helens’ inert realities into a
terrifying journey through unknown terrain.

Why we’re looking forward to it: We’re
as confused by this description of the plot as you are – but in a good way. H.
just sounds so imaginative and, for lack of a better word, cool. A “reborn”
baby doll and strange meteor activity that thrust two women named Helen into “a
terrifying journey through unknown terrain”? We’re ready to take this wild ride
with the Helens.

Unexpected
– Directed by Kris Swanberg; Co-Written by Kris Swanberg and Megan Mercier

What it’s about: Samantha (Colbie
Smulders) is a high-school science teacher at a low-income school about to
close, and she has just found out she’s pregnant. Though her boyfriend, John,
proposes and is thrilled to begin a new life together, Sam struggles with the
idea of halting her career to be a full-time mother. Meanwhile, one of
Sam’s brightest students, Jasmine (Gail Bean), has also become pregnant. Sam
makes it her mission to get Jasmine into college and bonds with her over their
impending motherhood. Unbeknownst to Sam, Jasmine is wiser than the older woman gives her
credit for, and when things don’t go exactly according to Sam’s plan, she must
reexamine what is best for herself and for the people she loves.

Why we’re looking forward to it
: This is
giving us Afternoon Delight-esque vibes. Whereas Afternoon Delight writer-director Jill
Soloway explored the inappropriately intense and misguided bond that a
stay-at-home Mom (Kathryn Hahn) forms with a young stripper (Juno Temple), Kris
Swanberg’s Unexpected has a pregnant teacher developing a comparable dynamic
with her student, who is also “expecting.” This is an interesting relationship
to explore; the only student-teacher pairings we typically get to see portray
teachers as sexual predators or wholly inspirational and benevolent figures.

How
to Dance in Ohio
(doc) – Directed by Alexandra Shiva

What it’s about: In Columbus, Ohio, a
group of teenagers and young adults on the autism spectrum prepare for an
iconic American rite of passage — a spring formal. They spend 12 weeks
practicing their social skills at a local nightclub in preparation for the
dance.

Why we’re looking forward to it: Alexandra
Shiva’s doc will premiere at Sundance on January 25, but HBO has already
acquired all TV rights
 to the film. In HBO we trust. We’re unsurprised that the prestige
cable network saw something they liked in How to Dance in Ohio – and that they
were quick to secure the rights to the real-life coming-of-age tale. We’re also relieved to
know that How to Dance in Ohio is pretty much guaranteed a sizable viewership
at this point. While autism affects the lives of countless Americans, we rarely
get the chance to see autism represented onscreen. On a lighter note, we’re
suckers for all the drama surrounding dances – is any other social event more
fraught?

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