Ten months after the Sundance Film Festival debut of Jordan Peele’s “Get Out” — which terrified and delighted festgoers at a secret screening last January, en route to a $250- million worldwide box office and growing award season haul — festival director John Cooper and head programmer Trevor Groth talked to IndieWire about their process for finding films for Sundance’s 39th installment (January 18-28) with similar breakout potential, even if the 2018 Sundance slate is less sprawling than its predecessor (104 films vs. 113, culled from 29 countries).
Here’s our breakdown of this year’s thematic trends and hot buys.
Courtesy of Sundance Institute
“We saw a real increase in [stories told from] the unique perspective and experience of African-American males in American society right now,” said Cooper, citing four of the 16 films in 2018’s U.S. Dramatic Competition alone: “Monster,” the tale of a teenager falsely accused of murder; “Monsters and Men,” offering three perspectives on the death of a black man at the hands of police; “Blindspotting,” a buddy comedy starring “Hamilton” and “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” alum Daveed Diggs; and Sebastian Silva-directed “TYREL,” boasting a familiar premise to Peele fans: a man (“Mudbound” star Jason Mitchell) grapples with being the lone black person at a birthday party, set in a cabin miles from civilization.
Courtesy of Sundance Institute
Peele arrived at Sundance last year after establishing himself as a performer in Comedy Central’s “Key and Peele”; this year a trio of well-known actors make their Sundance feature directing debuts. In Competition, Paul Dano premieres “Wildlife,” a script he adapted with fiancée Zoe Kazan from a book by Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Richard Ford. “Wildlife” features potential award-worthy turns from Carey Mulligan as a member of a fractured family in 60s Montana as well as Jake Gyllenhaal, one of the film’s producers.
Courtesy of Sundance Institute, photo by Alex Bailey
The World Cinema Competition unveils British star Idris Elba’s “Yardie,” about a Jamaican boy who immigrates to London after watching his brother’s assassination. Meanwhile, out of competition, Rupert Everett will show “The Happy Prince” for the first time, playing Oscar Wilde yet again (BAM’s “The Judas Kiss”). “We stepped up our outreach for world cinema,” said Cooper.
Also in Competition, Oscar-nominated actor-writer Ethan Hawke will vie for dramatic honors with his third film as a director, “BLAZE,” a look at the short life of country musician Blaze Foley (Benjamin Dickey), who was murdered in Austin, Texas at age 39.
Courtesy of Sundance Institute, photo by Josh Hamilton
Another film that could boast staying power is “Eighth Grade,” the first film from comedian and YouTube sensation Bo Burnham, produced by Scott Rudin, which already has distribution through A24 (“Lady Bird,” “The Florida Project”).
Landing an opening night berth signals how tempting the Sundance programmers consider a title to be for distributors in the hunt for buys on the jam-packed opening weekend.
Nabbing enviable Day One slots at the ten-day fest are U.S. Dramatic Competition buddy comedy “Blindspotting”; NEXT’s magic-realist “306 Hollywood,” in which a two siblings rummage through their late grandmother’s house to learn about her past life; and Brazilian World Dramatic Competition feature “Loveling,” a look at parental angst. (The programmers were also upbeat about “Rust,” a second Brazilian title.)
Day One documentaries include U.S. Competition title “Kailash,” about Kailash Satyarth, a crusader against child slavery; World Competition feature “Our New President,” examining Donald Trump’s ascension through the eyes of Russian propagandists; and Premiere “Generation Wealth,” Lauren Greenfield’s continued exploration into the privileged classes.
Other possible big buys include “Monsters and Men,” social-media mystery “Search,” and NEXT’s “We the Animals,” director Jeremiah Zagar’s coming-of-age story about three brothers, which the programmers compared to a quieter “Beasts of the Southern Wild.” (The 2012 Sundance premiere earned four Academy Award nominations including the youngest-ever Best Actress Quvenzhané Wallis.) “This is equally beautifully made,” said Groth, “and the kids in it are just incredible.”
Courtesy of Sundance Institute, photo by Zak Mulliga
Also in the mix as a potential Oscar contender is Jesse Peretz’s “Juliet, Naked,” starring Rose Byrne and Chris O’Dowd as a couple who encounter an obscure rocker making a comeback (Hawke). Adapted from the Nick Hornby classic by writer all-stars Tamara Jenkins, Jim Taylor, Phil Alden Robinson, and Evgenia Peretz, the movie is financed by producer Jeffrey Soros and produced by Judd Apatow, Barry Mendel, Albert Berger and Ron Yerxa — who are no strangers to awards contention.
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