At the 2018 Sundance Film Festival, TV is invading the schedule in a whole new way. The Park City film fest has previously dabbled in what’s possible on the small screen, but this year marks the launch of the Indie Episodics section — which will spotlight TV pilots that mostly lack mainstream distribution.
The selections include “America to Me,” a new docu-series by “Hoop Dreams” director Steve James; as well as “The Mortified Guide,” a screen adaptation of the popular stage show “Mortified,” spotlighting the most embarrassing true stories of adolescence. There’s also “This Close,” showcasing star/creators Josh Feldman and Shoshannah Stern (both of whom are deaf), and “Franchesca,” featuring digital star and “The Nightly Show” writer/contributor Franchesca Ramsey.
This marks a major change for Sundance, and a renewed commitment to independent television. While Sundance has featured TV programming since the premiere of “Top of the Lake” in 2013, those events have mostly been TV shows that already have a network home, and have always been a part of the Special Events line-up.
In 2018, only two episodic series will be included as be Special Events: “Cartel Land” director Matthew Heineman’s Showtime documentary series “The Trade,” which focuses on the opioid epidemic devastating America (and is executive produced by Morgan Spurlock), and “Wild Wild Country,” directed by Chapman Way and Maclain Way, which pits a mysterious guru against ranchers in rural Oregon.
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Otherwise, TV at Sundance will live in the Indie Episodics section, screening from Monday, January 22 to Wednesday, January 24, and many of those shows will be available for acquisition. Check out the full line-up below, and read IndieWire’s interview with programmer Charlie Sextro for more details on how the Indie Episodics section came to be.
“America To Me” / U.S.A. (Director: Steve James, Segment Directors: Bing Liu, Rebecca Parrish, Kevin Shaw) — This limited series captures a year-long look at one of Chicago’s most progressive and diverse public schools, located in suburban Oak Park. Unprecedented in scope, the series is both intimate and epic in its storytelling as it explores America’s charged state of race, culture and education today. World Premiere
“The Adulterers” / U.S.A. (Creators and screenwriters: Tonya Glanz, Chris Roberti) — Two co-workers engaged in an extramarital affair discover an unexpected but limited intimacy which unlocks a secret world of creativity and freedom. Cast: Tonya Glanz, Chris Roberti. World Premiere
“Cherries” / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Diaz Jacobs) — After a long separation, two sisters are forced to come together. When the man that once got between them reappears, a triangle emerges and they find themselves in a similar place after many years: suffocating, infuriating and incredibly familiar. Home. Cast: Shannon Plumb, Melora Walters, Robert Maffia, Lora Witty. World Premiere
“Franchesca” / U.S.A. (Executive Producers: Topic Studios, Franchesca Ramsey, Kara Welker, Director: Kaitlin Fontana) — Comedian Franchesca Ramsey finds communion and culture in this digital series which explores beauty and fashion. The pilot episode finds Franchesca escaping ubiquitous internet trolls as she spends the day with friend Michelle Buteau getting an ornate Japanese gel manicure. Cast: Franchesca Ramsey. World Premiere
“Halfway There” / U.S.A. (Director: Rick Rosenthal, Screenwriter: Nick Morton) — When recovering addict Jimmy Bishop finds his sober living facility teetering on the edge of bankruptcy, he is forced to take in his wealthy alcoholic mother as a client. Her arrival solves his immediate financial crisis but also unleashes every other problem he has struggled his whole life to contain. Cast: Matthew Lillard, Blythe Danner, Esai Morales, Sarah Shahi, Nishi Munshi, Paige Hurd. World Premiere
“High & Mighty” / U.S.A. (Director: Carlos Lopez Estrada, Screenwriter: Cesar Mazariegos) — After getting shot multiple times by a mysterious flower delivery man and surviving without a scratch, Chelo discovers he has superhuman powers. But only when he’s drunk or high. With the help of his homies, Chelo will decide whether to use his powers for good…or social media. Cast: Jorge Diaz, J.R. Villarreal, Adam Zastrow, James Eckhouse, Shakira Barrera, Chelsea Rendon.
“I’m Poppy” / U.S.A. (Director and writer: Titanic Sinclair) — Join Internet sensation Poppy as she enters the real world for the very first time and quickly realizes that fame and fortune comes at a price, with secret societies, dangerous fanatics and a very envious mannequin named Charlotte. Cast: Poppy Chan, Samm Levine, Dan Hildebrand, Brad Carter, Kofi Boakye, Madison Lawlor. World Premiere
“Leimert Park” / U.S.A. (Director: Mel Jones, Screenwriters: Davita Scarlett, Mel Jones, Kady Kamakate) — Things get complicated when three friends share a house in South LA’s Leimert Park. Despite being married, beats- maker Mickey hasn’t had an orgasm in three months, Bridget mistakes sex for love while assisting a visiting artist and Kendra shoots videos of her numerous sexual encounters, hoping for her own art show. Cast: Ashley Blaine Featherson, Ashlí Haynes, Asia’h Epperson, Wade Allain-Marcus, Franz Latten, Ikenna Okoye. World Premiere
“The Mortified Guide” / U.S.A. (Director: Michael Mayer, Executive Producers: David Nadelberg, Neil Katcher) — A comedic look at the biggest issues of adolescence – from first loves to fitting in – as adults share their childhood writings and art in front of total strangers. Based on the Mortified stage shows, books, podcast and film, this docuseries celebrates the awkward insecurities that shaped us all. Cast: Robert Woo, Katie Westerfield, Adam Ruben. World Premiere
“Mr. Inbetween” / Australia (Director: Nash Edgerton, Screenwriter: Scott Ryan) — Father, ex-husband, boyfriend: tough roles to juggle in the modern age. Even harder when you’re a hitman. Cast: Scott Ryan, Justin Rosniak, Brooke Satchwell, Damon Herriman, Jackson Tozer, Chika Yasumura. World Premiere
“Paint” / U.S.A. (Creator and director: Michael Walker) — A 30 minute comedy/drama about three young artists, living in Brooklyn, and their adventures trying to make it in the art world and in life. Cast: Joshua Caras, Olivia Luccardi, Paul Cooper, Amy Hargreaves, David Patrick Kelley. World Premiere
“The Passage” / U.S.A. (Director: Kitao Sakurai, Writers: Phillip Burgers, Kitao Sakurai) — Phil, wide-eyed and mute, is on the run from a pagan cult. Phil’s scatterbrained ineptitude keeps getting him into trouble, however, and agents who’ve been hired to recapture him are always one step behind. The result is a series of misadventures that take the trio around the globe. Cast: Philip Burgers, Chad Damiani, Krystel Roche, Juzo Yoshida. World Premiere
“The Show About The Show” (Season 2) / U.S.A. (Director: Caveh Zahedi, Producer: Aziz Isham) — In Season 2, Caveh and Mandy break up over the Show. Caveh gets involved with a fan but the pressure of having every aspect of their relationship made public begins to erode that relationship as well. The Show becomes a runaway train that Caveh struggles to keep from being derailed. Cast: Amanda Field, Ashley Foy, Emmy Harrington, Peter Rinaldi, Karley Sciortino, Caveh Zahedi. World Premiere
“susaneLand” / U.S.A. (Creators: Susane Lee and Andrew Olsen, Director: Andrew Olsen) — Dark, comedic vignettes from one young woman’s life. Cast: Susane Lee, Robert David Hall, Ken Takemoto, Mimi Cozzens, Travis Coles, Caitlin Kim. World Premiere
“Tammy’s Tiny Tea Time” / U.S.A. (Creator: Peter Gulsvig, Screenwriters: Daniel Shepard, Diana McCorry) — An animated comedy about a maladjusted 42-year-old woman with the emotional capacity of a child who shrinks to the size of her toys and forces them to entertain her before introducing several unrelated animated shorts. Cast: Rachel Butera, Nate Corddry, Peter Gulsvig, Jeremy Bent, Diana McCorry. World Premiere
“This Close” / U.S.A. (Director: Andrew Ahn, Creators: Josh Feldman, Shoshannah Stern) — Best friends Kate and Michael, who are deaf, try to balance their personal and professional lives. She’s newly engaged and struggles to grow at work, while he battles self-destructive writer’s block after having his heart broken. As they tackle their own issues, their friendship is put to the test. Cast: Shoshannah Stern, Josh Feldman, Zach Gilford, Colt Prattes, Marlee Matlin, Cheryl Hines. World Premiere
“Tropical Cop Tales” / U.S.A (Director: Jim Hosking, Screenwriter: Toby Harvard) — Two burned-out city cops — Keymarion “Primetime” Weeyums and Demetrius “Meechie” Franks — relocate to a tropical paradise for a relaxing twilight to their careers. It ends up being the most vicious, menacing place on earth, not even slightly relaxing. Cast: Wayne DeHart, Charles Noland, Carl Solomon, Nicole Crump, Brian Russell. World Premiere
“THE KING” / U.S.A., Germany, France (Director: Eugene Jarecki, Executive Producer: Steven Soderbergh) — Forty years after the death of Elvis Presley, a musical road trip across America in his 1963 Rolls Royce explores how a country boy lost his authenticity and became a king while his country lost her democracy and became an empire. Cast: Alec Baldwin, Chuck D, Emmylou Harris, Ethan Hawke, Van Jones, Mike Myers. North American Premiere
“Pass Over” / U.S.A (Director: Spike Lee, Playwright/Screenwriter: Antoinette Nwandu) — A provocative riff on Waiting for Godot, capturing the poetry, humor, and humanity of this urgent and timely play about two young black men talking shit, passing the time and dreaming of the promised land. Cast: Jon Michael Hill, Julian Parker, Ryan Hallahan, Blake Delong. World Premiere
“The Trade” / U.S.A. (Director: Matthew Heineman, Executive Producers: Morgan Spurlock, Jeremy Chilnick, Pagan Harleman, Matthew Galkin) — A character-driven vérité docu-series that explores the opioid epidemic from the intimate perspectives of growers, addicts and law enforcement on both sides of the border. This interwoven narrative transcends the headlines to convey, with humanity and nuance, the scope and gravity of the crisis. World Premiere
“Wild Wild Country” / U.S.A. (Directors: Chapman Way, Maclain Way, Producer: Juliana Lembi) — When a mysterious guru and his disciples purchase a 64,000 acre ranch in desolate, rural Oregon – and build a $125 million utopian society – a war erupts with neighboring ranchers, pitting one way of life against the other and forcing both sides to take actions neither thought imaginable. Cast: Ma Anand Sheela, Jane Stork, Swami Prem Niren, John Silvertooth. World Premiere