This week’s most recent and presumably final announcements of the 2016 Sundance Film Festival lineup, a hefty list of titles that included narrative and documentary premieres as well as 72 short films, provided a lot to sift through.
As usual, several names familiar to anyone keeping tabs on contemporary American cinema stand out. New movies from Ira Sachs (“Little Men”), Kelly Reichardt (“Certain Women”) and Todd Solondz (“Wiener-Dog”) are both expected and welcome reminders that some of this country’s best working filmmakers show no signs of giving up.
But they’re only one part of the story. Dig deeper into these latest lists and a lot of other promising variables stand out. Here’s a look at a few of them.
“Bob Dylan Hates Me”
Filmmaker Caveh Zahedi tends to push buttons in his work (most memorably in recent years with “The Sheik and I”) but more than that, his diary-like approach to filmmaking casts the Iranian-American filmmaker as the bumbling star of an ongoing awkward comedy. This short, billed as Zahedi’s experience meeting the titular pop star, suggests another bizarre entry in the director’s fascinatingly irreverent chronicle of his life. Zahedi’s new meta web series “The Show About the Show” is one of the internet’s best-kept secrets, so there’s reason to believe he’s hitting his stride with short-form material. —EK
Darius Clark Monroe’s Spike Lee-produced documentary “Evolution of a Criminal” was a sleeper hit on the festival circuit last year and tracked his journey from bank robber to filmmaker. Here, he shifts back to the narrative arena he explored in previous short films with a project described simply as, “Some things must die to live.” Aided by cinematography by Daniel Patterson (who shot Lee’s “Da Sweet Blood of Jesus” as well as Monroe’s documentary), this curiosity is worth anticipating for the talent behind the camera alone. —EK
Sebastian Silva tends to make waves at Sundance: His prize-winning “The Maid” was a highlight one year; more recently, he premiered both the opening night comedy “Crystal Fairy” and the eerie thriller “Magic Magic” in the same year, following it up with “Nasty Baby,” an memorable hybrid of both genres. Now he’s surfacing in the short film lineup with a beguiling project in which he stars as himself in a trip to Florida to realize his dream of swimming with a dolphin. “Nasty Baby” proved that Silva can be as surprising and funny in front of the camera as he is behind it, and this peculiar-sounding followup is poised to follow suit. —EK
“Hunt for the Wilderpeople”
Before he was set to direct the next “Thor” movie, New Zealand funnyman Taika Waititi was already a Sundance character, having premiered his deadpan comedy “Eagle Versus Shark,” at the festival in 2007. He followed that up in Park City with the sweet-natured “Boy,” and last year’s hilarious mockumentary “What We Do in the Shadows.” Now he’s back, on the brink of his big studio debut, with this homegrown effort about an urban kid who flees from his uncle by hiding out in the New Zealand bush. Billed as a kind of bittersweet comedic adventure, it comes from a master of that tone, which is reason enough to get excited. —EK
This year’s Special Events section is heavy with television-centric picks and out-of-the-box offerings, but as our own Liz Shannon Miller previously noted, YouTube filmmaker Jessie Kahnweiler’s “The Skinny” is the most truly independent of the bunch. The dark comedy was crowdfunded before being picked up by Refinery29 and Wifey.TV, original programming upstarts in an increasingly varied landscape. Kahnweiler’s humor is unique, biting and damn funny, and that she managed to wrangle Illeana Douglas to co-star in the project is just a further testament to the potential power of her new series. —KE
“The Leviathan Project”
Sundance’s New Frontiers section has whole-heartedly embraced VR in recent years, and the 2016 lineup continues to reflect the festival’s interest in exploring new ways of storytelling through different mediums. As part of its tenth anniversary, the section will feature an installation of Alex McDowell and Bradley Newman’s “The Leviathan Project,” based on Scott Westerfeld’s book trilogy of the same name. A blend of experience and narrative, the ambitious project appears to be just the ticket for VR virgins wondering when (and if) they should dip their toe into an increasingly deep pool. —KE
“The Unknown Photographer”
An immersive documentary that promises to present new information about World War I through a series of newly unearthed photographs, this New Frontiers Virtual Reality offering should be able to marry together both fascinating storytelling and a uniquely engaging method of delivery. —KE
“Verbatim: The Ferguson Case”
The New York Times perviously shared Brett Weiner’s “op-doc” earlier this year, but it should find new life with a fresh push at Sundance. Combining canny recreation and actual line-by-line testimony from the case of Ferguson, Missouri cop Darren Wilson, the short film gives a shocking context to the shooting of Michael Brown and the rage it sparked in a community. —KE
“It’s Not You”
Beloved Canadian filmmaker Don McKellar appears to be back in his rom-com wheelhouse with a new short that promises to deliver insight into how “relationships can be an endless cycle of breakups.” It sounds like peak McKellar, but if you’re familiar with his earlier films, especially the deeply charming “Last Night,” you know that’s a very good thing. —KE
“Speaking is Difficult”
With former Hot Docs programmer Charlotte Cook, documentarian AJ Schnack has been at the forefront of the documentary community’s most exciting new project, the online documentary series Field of Vision. Founded by “Citizenfour” director Laura Poitras and hosted by The Intercept, the series provides an alternative perspective on real world issues that breaks away from traditional media narratives. This latest installment also marks Schnack’s debut in the Sundance lineup (and he’s long overdue). Cryptically billed as a portrait of a tragedy followed by a flashback to the moments leading up to it, the film promises a topical hook from a skilled filmmaker working in the classic cinema verite tradition. —EK