Big names are all the rage in this year’s batch of Sundance premieres, a two-pronged assortment of both narrative and documentary films that first bow at the annual January festival before — hopefully — going on to greater glory in the movie world. This year’s list includes such heavy-hitters as Gus Van Sant, Debra Granik, and Morgan Neville, along with new picks from festival favorites likes Ben Lewin, the Zellner brothers, David Wain, Jesse Peretz, and Brett Haley.
The narrative section boasts an impressive array of storylines — not just the expected “Sundance drama” types — including films about U.S. diplomats, sports stars turned spies, the beloved author Colette, a new spin on “Hamlet,” and even a character study that spins around a love for jigsaw puzzles. Talk about something for everyone.
The documentary slate includes a number of films dedicated to detailing the lives of huge personalities, from Joan Jett to Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Robin Williams to Fred Rogers, along with titles dedicated to timely explorations of topics as diverse as women in Hollywood, how the Mormon Church treats its LGBTQ members, and the cost of the American Dream. The Spotlight section pays tribute to films that have screened elsewhere but that Sundance can’t help but love, and includes titles like “The Rider,” “I Am Not a Witch,” and “The Death of Stalin.”
For the 2018 Festival, 110 feature-length films were selected, representing 29 countries and 47 first-time filmmakers, including 30 in competition.These films were selected from 13,468 submissions including 3,901 feature-length films and 8,740 short films. Of the feature film submissions, 1,799 were from the U.S. and 2,102 were international. One-hundred feature films at the Festival will be world premieres.
Keri Putnam, Executive Director of Sundance Institute, said in an official statement, “We’re proud of the diversity of this year’s lineup; emboldening broader, more inclusive independent voices is a crucial part of our work at the Festival and throughout the year. These stories might inspire or move us, even occasionally make us uncomfortable – but they can shift our perspectives, spark conversation and create change.”
Other sections announced today including the full competition lineup, Midnight, NEXT, and Kids, which you can read up on right here. More lineup announcements, including Shorts, new-this-year Indie Episodic, and New Frontier, will arrive next week.
This year’s festival runs from January 18 – 28 in Park City, Utah. Check out the full list of just-announced Premiere and Spotlight titles, with all synopses provided by Sundance, below.
A showcase of world premieres of some of the most highly anticipated narrative films of the coming year.
“A Kid Like Jake” / United States (Director: Silas Howard, Screenwriter: Daniel Pearle, Producers: Jim Parsons, Todd Spiewak, Eric Norsoph, Paul Bernon, Rachel Song) — As married couple Alex and Greg navigate their roles as parents to a young son who prefers Cinderella to G.I. Joe, a rift grows between them, one that forces them to confront their own concerns about what‘s best for their child, and each other. Cast: Claire Danes, Jim Parsons, Octavia Spencer, Priyanka Chopra, Ann Dowd, Amy Landecker. World Premiere
“Beirut” / U.S.A. (Director: Brad Anderson, Screenwriter: Tony Gilroy, Producers: Mike Weber, Tony Gilroy, Shivani Rawat and Monica Levinson) — A U.S. diplomat flees Lebanon in 1972 after a tragic incident at his home. Ten years later, he is called back to war-torn Beirut by CIA operatives to negotiate for the life of a friend he left behind. Cast: Jon Hamm, Rosamund Pike, Shea Whigham, Dean Norris. World Premiere
“The Catcher Was a Spy” / U.S.A. (Director: Ben Lewin, Screenwriter: Robert Rodat, Producers: Kevin Frakes, Tatiana Kelly, Buddy Patrick, Jim Young) — The true story of Moe Berg – professional baseball player, Ivy League graduate, attorney who spoke nine languages – and a top-secret spy for the OSS who helped the U.S. win the race against Germany to build the atomic bomb. Cast: Paul Rudd, Mark Strong, Sienna Miller, Jeff Daniels, Guy Pearce, Paul Giamatti. World Premiere
“Colette” / United Kingdom (Director: Wash Westmoreland, Screenwriters: Wash Westmoreland, Richard Glatzer, Producers: Pamela Koffler, Christine Vachon, Elizabeth Karlsen, Stephen Woolley) — A young country woman marries a famous literary entrepreneur in turn-of-the-century Paris: At her husband’s request, Colette pens a series of bestselling novels published under his name. But as her confidence grows, she transforms not only herself and her marriage, but the world around her. Cast: Keira Knightley, Dominic West, Fiona Shaw, Denise Gough, Elinor Tomlinson, Aiysha Hart. World Premiere
“Come Sunday” / U.S.A. (Director: Joshua Marston, Screenwriter: Marcus Hinchey, Producers:Ira Glass, Alissa Shipp, Julie Goldstein, James Stern, Lucas Smith, Cindy Kirven) — Internationally-renowned pastor Carlton Pearson — experiencing a crisis of faith — risks his church, family and future when he questions church doctrine and finds himself branded a modern-day heretic. Based on actual events. Cast: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Danny Glover, Condola Rashad, Jason Segel, Lakeith Stanfield, Martin Sheen. World Premiere
“Damsel” / U.S.A. (Directors and screenwriters: David Zellner, Nathan Zellner, Producers: Nathan Zellner, Chris Ohlson, David Zellner) — Samuel Alabaster, an affluent pioneer, ventures across the American Frontier to marry the love of his life, Penelope. As Samuel, a drunkard named Parson Henry and a miniature horse called Butterscotch traverse the Wild West, their once-simple journey grows treacherous, blurring the lines between hero, villain and damsel. Cast: Robert Pattinson, Mia Wasikowska, David Zellner, Robert Forster, Nathan Zellner, Joe Billingiere. World Premiere
“Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far On Foot” / U.S.A. (Director: Gus Van Sant, Screenwriters: Gus Van Sant (screenplay), John Callahan (biography), Producers: Charles-Marie Anthonioz, Mourad Belkeddar, Steve Golin, Nicolas Lhermitte) — John Callahan has a talent for off-color jokes…and a drinking problem. When a bender ends in a car accident, Callahan wakes permanently confined to a wheelchair. In his journey back from rock bottom, Callahan finds beauty and comedy in the absurdity of human experience. Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Jonah Hill, Rooney Mara, Jack Black. World Premiere
“Futile and Stupid Gesture” / U.S.A. (Director: David Wain, Screenwriters: John Aboud, Michael Colton, Producers: Peter Principato, Jonathan Stern) — The story of comedy wunderkind Doug Kenney, who co-created the National Lampoon, Caddyshack, and Animal House. Kenney was at the center of the 70‘s comedy counter- culture which gave birth to Saturday Night Live and a whole generation’s way of looking at the world. Cast: Will Forte, Martin Mull, Domhnall Gleeson, Matt Walsh, Joel McHale, Emmy Rossum . World Premiere
“The Happy Prince” / Germany, Belgium, Italy (Director and screenwriter: Rupert Everett) — The last days of Oscar Wilde—and the ghosts haunting them—are brought to vivid life. His body ailing, Wilde lives in exile, surviving on the flamboyant irony and brilliant wit that defined him as the transience of lust is laid bare and the true riches of love are revealed. Cast: Colin Firth, Emily Watson, Colin Morgan, Edwin Thomas, Rupert Everett. World Premiere
“Hearts Beat Loud” / U.S.A. (Director: Brett Haley, Screenwriters: Brett Haley, Marc Basch, Producers: Houston King, Sam Bisbee, Sam Slater) — In Red Hook, Brooklyn, a father and daughter become an unlikely songwriting duo in the last summer before she leaves for college. Cast: Nick Offerman, Kiersey Clemons, Ted Danson, Sasha Lane, Blythe Danner, Toni Collette. World Premiere
Gunpowder & Sky
“Juliet, Naked” / United Kingdom (Director: Jesse Peretz, Screenwriters: Tamara Jenkins, Jim Taylor, Phil Alden Robinson, Evgenia Peretz, Producers: Judd Apatow, Barry Mendel, Albert Berger, Ron Yerxa) — Annie is the long-suffering girlfriend of Duncan, an obsessive fan of obscure rocker Tucker Crowe. When the acoustic demo of Tucker’s celebrated record from 25 years ago surfaces, its release leads to an encounter with the elusive rocker himself. Based on the novel by Nick Hornby. Cast: Rose Byrne, Ethan Hawke, Chris O’Dowd. World Premiere
“Ophelia” / United Kingdom (Director: Claire McCarthy, Screenwriter: Semi Chellas, Producers: Daniel Bobker, Sarah Curtis, Ehren Kruger, Paul Hanson) — A mythic spin on Hamlet through a lens of female empowerment: Ophelia comes of age as lady-in-waiting for Queen Gertrude, and her singular spirit captures Hamlet’s affections. As lust and betrayal threaten the kingdom, Ophelia finds herself trapped between true love and controlling her own destiny. Cast: Daisy Ridley, Naomi Watts, Clive Owen, George MacKay, Tom Felton, Devon Terrell. World Premiere
“Puzzle” / U.S.A. (Director: Marc Turtletaub, Screenwriter: Oren Moverman, Producers: Peter Saraf, Wren Arthur, Guy Stodel) — Agnes, taken for granted as a suburban mother, discovers a passion for solving jigsaw puzzles which unexpectedly draws her into a new world – where her life unfolds in ways she could never have imagined. Cast: Kelly Macdonald, Irrfan Khan, David Denman, Bubba Weiler, Austin Abrams, Liv Hewson. World Premiere
Untitled Debra Granik Project / U.S.A. (Director: Debra Granik, Screenwriters: Debra Granik, Anne Rosellini, Producers: Anne Harrison, Linda Reisman, Anne Rosellini) — A father and daughter live a perfect but mysterious existence in Forest Park, a beautiful nature reserve near Portland, Oregon, rarely making contact with the world. A small mistake tips them off to authorities sending them on an increasingly erratic journey in search of a place to call their own. Cast: Ben Foster, Thomasin Harcourt McKenzie, Jeff Korber, Dale Dickey. World Premiere
“What They Had” / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Elizabeth Chomko, Producers: Keith Kjarval, Bill Holderman, Albert Berger, Ron Yerxa, Alex Saks and Andrew Duncan) — Bridget returns home to Chicago at her brother‘s urging to deal with her mother‘s Alzheimer‘s and her father‘s reluctance to let go of their life together. Cast: Hilary Swank, Michael Shannon, Blythe Danner, Robert Forster. World Premiere
Renowned filmmakers and films about far-reaching subjects comprise this section highlighting our ongoing commitment to documentaries.
“Bad Reputation” / U.S.A. (Director: Kevin Kerslake, Screenwriter: Joel Marcus, Producers: Peter Afterman, Carianne Brinkman) — A look at the life of Joan Jett, from her early years as the founder of The Runaways and first meeting collaborator Kenny Laguna in 1980 to her enduring presence in pop culture as a rock ̳n‘ roll pioneer . World Premiere
“Believer” / U.S.A. (Director: Don Argott, Producers: Heather Parry, Sheena M. Joyce, Robert Reynolds) — Imagine Dragons‘ Mormon frontman Dan Reynolds is taking on a new mission to explore how the church treats its LGBTQ members. With the rising suicide rate amongst teens in the state of Utah, his concern with the church‘s policies sends him on an unexpected path for acceptance and change. World Premiere
“Chef Flynn” / U.S.A. (Director: Cameron Yates, Producer: Laura Coxson) Ten-year-old Flynn transforms his living room into a supper club, using his classmates as line cooks and serving a tasting menu foraged from his neighbors‘ backyards. With sudden fame, Flynn outgrows his bedroom kitchen and mother’s camera, and sets out to challenge the hierarchy of the culinary world. World Premiere
“The Game Changers” / U.S.A. (Director: Louie Psihoyos, Screenwriters: Mark Monroe, Joseph Pace, Producers: Joseph Pace, James Wilks) — James Wilks, an elite special forces trainer and winner of The Ultimate Fighter, embarks on a quest for the truth in nutrition and uncovers the world’s most dangerous myth. World Premiere
“Generation Wealth” / U.S.A. (Director: Lauren Greenfield, Producers: Lauren Greenfield, Frank Evers) — Lauren Greenfield‘s postcard from the edge of the American Empire captures a portrait of a materialistic, image-obsessed culture. Simultaneously personal journey and historical essay, the film bears witness to the global boom–bust economy, the corrupted American Dream and the human costs of late stage capitalism, narcissism and greed. World Premiere. DAY ONE
“Half The Picture” / U.S.A. (Director: Amy Adrion, Producers: Amy Adrion, David Harris) — At a pivotal moment for gender equality in Hollywood, successful women directors tell the stories of their art, lives and careers. Having endured a long history of systemic discrimination, women filmmakers may be getting the first glimpse of a future that values their voices equally. World Premiere
“Jane Fonda in Five Acts” / U.S.A. (Director: Susan Lacy, Producers: Susan Lacy, Jessica Levin, Emma Pildes) — Girl next door, activist, so-called traitor, fitness tycoon, Oscar winner: Jane Fonda has lived a life of controversy, tragedy and transformation – and she’s done it all in the public eye. An intimate look at one woman’s singular journey. World Premiere
“King In The Wilderness” / U.S.A. (Director: Peter Kunhardt, Producers: George Kunhardt, Teddy Kunhardt) From the passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965 to his assassination in 1968, Martin Luther King, Jr. remained a man with an unshakeable commitment to nonviolence in the face of an increasingly unstable country. A portrait of the last years of his life. World Premiere
“Quiet Heroes” / U.S.A. (Director: Jenny Mackenzie, Co-Directors: Jared Ruga, Amanda Stoddard, Producers: Jenny Mackenzie, Jared Ruga, Amanda Stoddard) — In Salt Lake City, Utah, the socially conservative religious monoculture complicated the AIDS crisis, where patients in the entire state and intermountain region relied on only one doctor. This is the story of her fight to save a maligned population everyone else seemed willing to just let die. World Premiere
“RBG” / U.S.A. (Directors and producers: Betsy West, Julie Cohen) — An intimate portrait of an unlikely rock star: Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. With unprecedented access, the filmmakers show how her early legal battles changed the world for women. Now this 84-year-old does push-ups as easily as she writes blistering dissents that have earned her the title ―Notorious RBG.‖ World Premiere
“Robin Williams: Come Inside My Mind” / U.S.A. (Director: Marina Zenovich, Producers: Alex Gibney, Shirel Kozak) — This intimate portrait examines one of the world‘s most beloved and inventive comedians. Told largely through Robin‘s own voice and using a wealth of never-before-seen archive, the film takes us through his extraordinary life and career and reveals the spark of madness that drove him. World Premiere
“STUDIO 54” / U.S.A. (Director: Matt Tyrnauer, Producers: Matt Tyrnauer, John Battsek, Corey Reeser) — Studio 54 was the pulsating epicenter of 1970s hedonism: a disco hothouse of beautiful people, drugs, and sex. The journeys of Ian Schrager and Steve Rubell — two best friends from Brooklyn who conquered New York City — frame this history of the “greatest club of all time.” World Premiere
“Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” / U.S.A. (Director: Morgan Neville, Producers: Caryn Capotosto, Nicholas Ma) — Fred Rogers used puppets and play to explore complex social issues: race, disability, equality and tragedy, helping form the American concept of childhood. He spoke directly to children and they responded enthusiastically. Yet today, his impact is unclear. Have we lived up to Fred’s ideal of good neighbors? World Premiere SALT LAKE CITY OPENING NIGHT FILM
The Spotlight program is a tribute to the cinema we love from throughout the past year.
“BEAST” / United Kingdom (Director and screenwriter: Michael Pearce, Producers: Ivana MacKinnon, Lauren Dark, Kristian Brodie ) — In a small island community, a troubled young woman falls for a mysterious outsider who empowers her to escape from her oppressive family. When he comes under suspicion for a series of brutal murders, she learns what she‘s capable of as she defends him at all costs. Cast: Jessie Buckley, Johnny Flynn, Trystan Gravelle, Geraldine James, Charley Palmer Rothwell. U.S. Premiere
“The Death of Stalin” / France, United Kingdom, Belgium (Director: Armando Iannucci, Screenwriters: Armando Iannucci, David Schneider, Ian Martin, Producers: Yann Zenou, Laurent Zeitoun, Nicolas Duval Adassovsky, Kevin Loader) — The internal political landscape of 1950‘s Soviet Russia through a darkly comic lens. In the days following Stalin‘s collapse, his core ministers tussle for control; some want positive change, others have more sinister motives. Their one common trait? They‘re all just desperately trying to remain alive. Cast: Steve Buscemi, Jeffrey Tambor, Andrea Riseborough, Rupert Friend, Olga Kurylenko, Jason Isaacs. U.S. Premiere
“The Rider” / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Chloé Zhao, Producers: Chloé Zhao, Bert Hamelinck, Sacha Ben Harroche, Mollye Asher) — After a tragic riding accident, young cowboy and rising rodeo circuit star Brady Jandreau is told that his competition days are over. In an attempt to regain control of his fate, Brady undertakes a search for new identity and tries to redefine his idea of manhood in America’s heartland. Cast: Brady Jandreau, Tim Jandreau, Lily Jandreau, Lane Scott, Cat Clifford. Utah Premiere
“Super Size Me 2: Holy Chicken!” / U.S.A. (Director: Morgan Spurlock, Screenwriters: Jeremy Chilnick, Morgan Spurlock, Producers: Keith Calder, Jessica Calder, Spencer Silna, Nicole Barton, Jeremy Chilnick, Matthew Galkin) — Muckraking filmmaker Morgan Spurlock reignites his battle with the food industry – this time from behind the register – as he opens his own fast food restaurant. U.S. Premiere
“Foxtrot” / Israel (Director and screenwriter: Samuel Maoz, Producers: Michael Weber, Viola Fügen, Eitan Mansuri, Cedomir Kolar, Marc Baschet, Michel Merkt) — Michael and Dafna are devastated when army officials show up at their home, announcing the death of their son Jonathan. While his sedated wife rests, Michael spirals into a whirlwind of anger only to experience one of life’s unfathomable twists, which rivals his son’s surreal military experiences. Cast: Lior Ashkenazi, Sarah Adler, Yonatan Shiray.
“I Am Not a Witch” / United Kingdom (Director and screenwriter: Rungano Nyoni, Producers: Juliette Grandmont, Emily Morgan) — After a minor incident, nine-year old Shula is exiled to a witch camp where she is told that if she escapes, she’ll be transformed into a goat. As she navigates through her new life, she must decide whether to accept her fate or risk the consequences of seeking freedom. Cast: Margaret Mulubwa, Henry B.J. Phiri, Nancy Mulilo, Margaret Sipaneia. U.S. Premiere