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Sundance 2017: 13 Talents Poised to Break Out At This Year’s Festival

There may be a familiar face or two among their ranks, but we're betting that, post-Sundance, they're going to be just about everywhere from now on.

The Sundance Film Festival has long been a proving ground for brand new talents and stars-in-the-making looking to catapult their career into the big leagues, and this year’s edition of the lauded fest looks to be no different. From actors to filmmakers, we’ve targeted a batch of up-and-coming talents who are set to make it big at this year’s festival. There may be a familiar face or two among their ranks, but we’re betting that, post-Sundance, they’re going to be just about everywhere from now on.

READ MORE: Sundance 2017: Check Out the Full Lineup, Including Competition Titles, Premieres and Shorts

Ahead, check out 13 talents we’re excited to see break out at this year’s festival.

Margaret Qualley, actor, “Novitiate”


Over the past few years, Margaret Qualley has amassed a notable screen career, between “The Leftovers” and last year’s hypnotic Spike Jonze-directed Kenzo short. But Maggie Betts’ debut “Novitiate” should be a prime platform for Qualley to prove herself as a lead actress. While many of her “Leftovers” co-stars have been afforded the chance to wrestle with issues of faith, belief and a changing world, this film might be Qualley’s best opportunity to do the same. A coming of age story in the Church of the 1960s? Sounds like the ideal material to make a splash at American indies’ biggest proving ground. -SG

Nnamdi Asomugha, actor, “Crown Heights”

Nnamdi Asomugha has been on American screens for the better part of the last two decades. But a few years removed from an 11-season NFL career, Asomugha has chosen a distinct venue for launching a film career. Asomugha has popped up in a few places (a guest spot on “Friday Night Lights” here, a small role in “Hello, My Name is Doris” there), even playing himself in an extra-surreal “Kroll Show” segment. As both producer and co-star of Matt Ruskin’s “Crown Heights,” the 35-year-old Asomugha will play Carl King, who investigated the conviction of his childhood friend, despite having no formal legal training. With much of the heavy lifting of the film (one based on a true story, no less), it’s an audacious move for a first-time film star. -SG

Geremy Jasper, filmmaker, “Patti Cake$”

“Patti Cake$”

From indie rocker to Benh Zeitlin leading man (“Glory at Sea”) to innovative music video and commercial director, Jasper’s career path might not scream Sundance breakout director. So how did he land on last year’s Variety Directors To Watch List (which included Barry Jenkins and Maren Ade)? The simple answer is “Patti Cake$,” a script about a 23-year -old white girl from New Jersey with big dreams of rap stardom. The beloved project, with an incredibly unique voice and original songs written by Jasper, has been a movie many have been wanting to see get made for years. After 10 drafts, two Sundance Labs and a talent search that unearthed Australian Danielle MacDonald, “Patti Cake$” enters the festival as easily one the most buzzed about premieres. -CO

Kitty Green, filmmaker, “Casting JonBenet”

Casting JonBenet

“Casting JonBenet”


Do we really need or want another documentary about JonBenet Ramsey? The same thing was said about O.J. Simpson before Ezra Edelman turned the tabloid tragedy into a masterpiece about America and race. The feeling in the doc community is that Kitty Green is a director with the type of unique voice and point of view who can do the same with the infamous story of the unsolved murder of the six-year-old beauty queen. Building off the approach she used in her 2014 Jury Award-winning short, “The Face Of Ukraine: Casting Oksana Baiul,” Green mixes fiction filmmaking with nonfiction, for a result that (according to Sundance) “scrutinizes the court of public opinion by inciting responses, reflections, and even performance from members of the Ramseys’ own Colorado community.” Certainly Netflix breaking out the checkbook to scoop it up (and add their “Netflix Originals” logo to the opening credits) prior to Sundance has done little to subdue expectations of Green’s breakout. -CO

Abby Quinn, actor, “Landline”

Acting in just her fourth feature film, Abby Quinn is sure to make a name for herself with filmmaker Gillian Robespierre’s “Landline.” The 20-year-old Michigan native landed her first film acting gig in the 2014, starring in the mystery-thriller “The Sisterhood of Night” alongside Kara Hayward (“Manchester by the Sea,” ‘Moonrise Kingdom”). Her other film credits include filmmaker Bronwen Hughes’ 2016 drama “The Journey Is the Destination” and the upcoming drama “Radium Girls.” Quinn began acting in theater productions at a very young age and is also a talented singer and musician. -GW

Matt Spicer, filmmaker, “Ingrid Goes West”

“Ingrid Goes West”

“Ingrid Goes West” co-writer and director Matt Spicer got his start writing for David Wain’s award-winning series “Wainy Days” back in 2007. He later served as a producer on Max Winkler’s debut film “Ceremony” in 2010 and co-wrote and directed the short film “It’s Not You It’s Me” starring Gillian Jacobs in 2012. Spicer’s other writing credits include the recently wrapped “Flower,” starring Zoey Deutch, Kathryn Hahn, Tim Heidecker and Adam Scott; and director Matt Waters’ “Magic Camp,” which stars Adam Devine and Jacobs and is currently in production. Spicer is currently writing “The Rocketeers,” the reboot sequel to Disney’s 1991 film, “The Rocketeer.” “Ingrid Goes West” is his feature film directing debut. -GW

Timothée Chalamet, actor, “Call Me By Your Name”

If you’ve seen Timothée Chalamet’s work, then you’ve probably already wondered why he hasn’t broken through by now. Almost a decade into his acting career already, the preternaturally expressive 21-year-old has been compulsively watchable in all of his roles, finding rich inner lives for small characters in big movies (e.g. “Interstellar”) and finding bottomless reservoirs of feelings for big characters in small movies (e.g. “Miss Stevens,” in which he “rivetingly channeled a pubescent Casey Affleck”). Now at Sundance for the first time with a lead role in Luca Guadagnino’s queer coming of age story “Call Me By Your Name,” in which he plays an Italian-American teenage boy who finds himself drawn to his father’s strapping summer intern (Armie Hammer), Chalamet is finally poised to receive the buzz he’s always deserved. -DE

Tavi Gevinson, actor, “Person to Person”

“Person to Person”

Okay, yes, Tevi Gevinson has already broken through, and in tremendous style. The 20-year-old “Rookie Magazine” founder has already accomplished more than most people do in a lifetime, acting for Nicole Holofcener on screen and Kenneth Lonergan on stage (Broadway, in fact) in addition to her writing and her work in creating a vibrant media space for young women. Now joining Abbi Jacobson, Philip Baker Hall, George Sample III, and the rest awesomely dynamic cast that Dustin Guy Defa has assembled for “Person to Person,” Gevinson plays a New York City teen who’s struggling to reconcile her feminist ideals with everything else that life is throwing her way. Memorably grounded and empathetic in Holofcener’s “Enough Said,” it’s hard to predict what Gevinson will do next, to what medium she’ll devote the brunt of her time, but the movies could use her, and it’s good to have her back. -DE

Danielle Macdonald, actor, “Patti Cake$”

There needs to be at least one totally infectious, feel-good discovery at every Sundance Film Festival, and it’s looking likely that Geremy Jasper’s “Patti Cake$” will fit the bill this year. When the film blows up, everyone will be talking about Danielle Macdonald, the Australian newcomer who plays a wannabe rap star in the suburbs of New Jersey. Her comedic timing and fresh fearlessness is set to turn heads and leave Park City audiences in a state of Sundance bliss. -ZS

Marti Noxon, filmmaker, “To the Bone”

“To the Bone”

Courtesy of Sundance

Best known for her prodigious contributions to the modern television show — think “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” “Mad Men” and “unREAL,” to name just a few — famed writer and showrunner Marti Noxon goes behind the camera for her feature directorial debut, a long-in-the-works passion project about a subject close to her heart. The film stars Lily Collins as Ellen, a young anorexic who undergoes some out of the box healing in an attempt to final get a hold on the disease that’s killing her. Noxon knows more than a thing or two about how the women operate — and how they feel — so “To the Bone” should allow her the chance to show off those talents in a brand new setting. -KE

Eliza Hittman, filmmaker, “Beach Rats”

Buzz has been building around Sundance Screenwriters Lab alum Eliza Hittman since her first trip to the festival in 2013 with “It Felt Like Love,” a delicate portrait of a young girl exploring her burgeoning sexuality, or lack thereof. In her sophomore feature, “Beach Rats,” playing this year’s festival, she applies the same urgent intimacy to a teenage boy’s bodily yearnings. Hailing from Brooklyn, Hittman is known for casting a wide net when searching for actors, imbuing her films with the kind of bristling authenticity for which her hometown is known. With a star-turn performance by newcomer Harris Dickinson, “Beach Rats” fulfills the promise of “It Felt Like Love,” and then some. -JD

Harris Dickinson, actor, “Beach Rats”

“Beach Rats”

Filmmaker Eliza Hittman has proven herself proficient at casting emerging young talent in big, beefy, honest roles and getting huge performances out of them. Billed as a spiritual sequel to her previous Sundance feature, “It Felt Like Love,” Hittman’s “Beach Rats” turns a keen on an burgeoning male sexuality, fixing itself on newbie actor Harris Dickinson. The British actor stars in the film as Brooklyn teen Frankie, who is floating through a particularly miserable summer, unmoored by both tragedy and just plain old annoyance at home. When Frankie starts cruising older guys online — and then in person — his life takes an unexpected turn, one made all the more strange by his sudden attraction to a girl his own age. -KE

Dee Rees, filmmaker, “Mudbound”

With the kind of sweeping American tale that Oscar voters go nuts for, Dee Rees’ “Mudbound” promises to announce her as the next great black director, joining the ranks of Ava DuVernay and Barry Jenkins. Her first feature, “Pariah,” played Sundance in 2011, and mirrored Rees’ personal experiences coming of age as a black queer woman. The raw but not overwrought portrayal earned the film multiple awards. Rees inched closer to commercial territory with HBO’s award-winning Queen Latifah vehicle, “Bessie.” With “Mudbound,” Rees applies her refined eye to racism in the post-WWII South, interracial friendship, the bonds of war, and patriotism. Tackling such strong American themes will surely break Rees free of any pigeonholing, though her roots remain firmly planted. -JD

READ MORE: Sundance 2017: 20 Must-See Films At This Year’s Festival

The Sundance Film Festival runs from January 19 – 29, 2017 in Park City, Utah.

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