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Sundance Wish List: 70 Films We Hope Will Head to Park City in 2019

With new programming leadership, next year's Sundance lineup may be full of surprises, but these films all stand a good chance.

The Egyptian Theatre on Main Street during the 2018 Sundance Film Festival, in Park City, Utah2018 Sundance Film Festival - Day 5, Park City, USA - 22 Jan 2018

The Egyptian Theatre on Main Street during the 2018 Sundance Film Festival

Danny Moloshok/Invision/AP/REX/Shutterstock

The Sundance Film Festival has gone through many changes in its 35 years, evolving from Robert Redford’s experimental incubator for independent filmmaking to the most influential festival event in the country. The 2019 edition is no exception: With Kim Yutani taking over as director of programming following the departure of longtime programming head Trevor Groth, much of the independent film community expects a lineup that reflects the shift in vision. Of course, Yutani still reports to Sundance veteran John Cooper, the festival’s director, and some Sundance movies will always be safe bets.

IndieWire’s annual Sundance wish list reflects much of the intel making the rounds, as well as some educated guesswork, based on various projects that have been submitted or seem likely to submit ahead of the festival’s deadlines. Last year’s hefty wish list included many films that make the cut, so take this overview seriously — but also with a grain of salt. Programmers can be fickle, movies aren’t always ready, and sometimes things just don’t work out. Nevertheless, the following rundown provides a complex breakdown of the many different movies that stand leave an impact in the next calendar year. It’s also notable for the movies that don’t show up.

These include “Beasts of the Southern Wild” director Benh Zeitlin’s “Wendy,” “It Comes at Night” director Trey Shults’ much-anticipated Florida-centric project “Waves,” “The Witch” director Robert Eggers’ “The Lighthouse,” Benedict Andrews’ Kristen Stewart vehicle “Against All Enemies,” Marielle Hellers untitled Mr. Rogers movie starring Tom Hanks, and Josephine Deckers’ “Shirley,” all of which are reportedly not ready for Sundance or have set their sights on other festivals. Nevertheless, there are plenty of other movies poised to leave an impact this coming January in Park City. The announcement of all feature films goes out on November 28.

Here are some promising possibilities.

“18 to Party”
Director: Jeffrey Roda
Why We Hope It Heads to Park City: The premise of “Love Liza” producer Roda’s first feature suggests “Superbad” by way of “Eighth Grade,” with its 1984-set story unfolding in an upstate New York suburb where a bunch of middle-schoolers attempt to sneak into a nightclub over the course of a single loopy night. The ensemble cast has “Freaks and Geeks”-level potential to unleash a whole bunch of newcomers, as well as some familiar faces in Park City, including “Cop Car” breakout James Freedson-Jackson. —EK

“After the Wedding”
Director: Director Bart Freundlich
Why We Hope It Heads to Park City: Freundlich first made waves at Sundance with his award-winning “The Myth of Fingerprints” in 1994, but it’s been a number of years since he directed a critically acclaimed movie. “After the Wedding” could do the trick: This English-language remake of Oscar-winning Danish filmmaker Susanne Bier’s 2006 film stars Michelle Williams as a woman who runs an orphanage in India and travels to New York City to secure financing from an enigmatic businesswoman — played by the director’s wife, Julianne Moore. The actress already found some acclaim in a recent English-language remake of a beloved foreign film with “Gloria,” so her decision to tackle this one suggests another compelling actors’ showcase. —EK

“Always in Season”
Director: Jacqueline Olive
Why We Hope It Heads to Park City: The timely documentary centers on the case of Lennon Lacy, a 17-year-old who was found hanging from a swing set in Bladenboro, North Carolina, on August 29, 2014. The African-American teenager was dating a 31-year old white woman in a town with profound racial divisions. Despite inconsistencies in the case, local officials quickly ruled Lennon’s death a suicide, but his mother, Claudia, believes Lennon was lynched, and leads the fight for justice. Made with the financial support of notable institutions like ITVS and the Sundance Institute, “Always in Season” will explore the lingering impact of lynching African-Americans and connects this form of historic racial terrorism to racial violence today, especially in Trump’s America. —TO

"Apollo 11"

“Apollo 11”

“Apollo 11”
Director: Todd Douglas Miller
Why We Hope It Heads to Park City: “First Man” may have reignited enthusiasm for the landmark mission to the moon, but 2019 marks the 50th anniversary of that achievement, so it’s about time somebody put that real-world adventure in its proper non-fiction context. Miller previously brought a thrilling science-based story to Sundance with the archeological drama “Dinosaur 13” in 2014, when it opened the festival; “Apollo 11,” which has already secured distribution with Neon, is poised to clarify the historical significance of the first moon landing when interest in the future of space travel is at an all-time high. —EK

“At the Heart of Gold: Inside the USA Gymnastics Scandal”
Director: Erin Lee Carr
Why We Hope It Heads to Park City: HBO has already picked up what looks to be the definitive look at the scandal that rocked the sports world — when it was revealed that osteopathic physician Dr. Larry Nassar had been sexually abusing young athletes for the U.S. women’s Olympic gymnastics team for years. Director Carr has exclusive interviews with survivors in a film that, per the official synopsis, “depicts a landscape in which women spend their youth seeking victory on a world stage, juxtaposed against a culture where abuse prevails and lives are damaged forever.” —CO

Justin Simien "Dear White People" Netflix

Director Justin Simien

Rick Proctor/Netflix

“Bad Hair”
Director: Justin Simien
Why We Hope It Heads to Park City: Simien is already a Sundance darling thanks to his critically acclaimed feature debut (and eventual Netflix series) “Dear White People,” which premiered at the festival in 2014. Look for him to bring a similar incisiveness to his follow-up, “Bad Hair,” a horror-satire that follows an ambitious young woman who gets a weave with a mind of its own, in order to survive the image-obsessed world of music television. Promising a work that both entertains and holds a mirror up to society, Simien has called the project “a love letter to black women and a critique of the cultural forces our society puts them through.” —TO

“Belly of the Beast”
Director: Erika Cohn
Why We Hope It Heads to Park City: This timely documentary comes from veteran filmmaker Cohn, whose “The Judge” depicted the first woman judge appointed to the Middle East’s Shar’ia courts. Her new project brings the subject of women’s rights to the homefront, exploring a variety of characters coping with reproductive injustices in their communities. With Supreme Court anxieties stronger than ever and the nation’s divided governance putting the issue front and center, “Belly of the Beast” is poised to be a valuable voice in the national conversation. —EK

“Blinded By Light”
Director: Gurinder Chadha
Why We Hope It Heads to Park City: “Bend It Like Beckham” director Chadha’s latest potential crowdpleaser is reportedly a British musical-comedy based on journalist Sarfraz Manzoor’s memoirs about growing up in Luton in the ‘80s and being impacted by Bruce Springsteen’s music. The iconic singer has reportedly given his blessing for the project, and as the Boss just wrapped a popular Broadway show, enthusiasm for his work remains stronger than ever. This may be one of the most endearing higher-profile titles at the festival, with genuine commercial potential. —EK

“Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets”
Directors: Bill and Turner Ross
Why We Hope It Heads to Park City: The Ross brothers have long been favorites of anyone who loves cinematic nonfiction, thanks to films like “45365,” “Tchoupitoulas,” “Western,” and “Contemporary Color.” Little is known about their latest, which they’ve been kicking around for at least two years (when it received an Art of Nonfiction grant from Sundance), except that it “is a portrait of the lives of a disparate group of patrons and employees at an American watering hole today…” That’s enough to make it worthy of anticipation. —CO

“Blow the Man Down”
Director: Bridget Savage Cole and Danielle Krudy
Why We Hope It Heads to Park City: Co-directors Cole and Krudy’s first feature takes its title from a Woody Guthrie song, and promises a playful, noir-like premise about an accidental murder in small-town Maine, as well as the efforts of two foul-mouthed sisters to get to the bottom of it. The filmmakers have already generated some positive attention for their Refinery29-produced shorts, and this oddball feature could be their ticket to a wider audience. —EK

“The Book of Vision”
Director: Carlo Hintermann
Cast: Vera Graziadei, Lotte Verbeek, Sverrir Gudnason
Why We Hope It Heads to Park City: Hintermann has been in Terrence Malick’s orbit in one way or another for better part of a decade, having made a documentary and a written book about the great director; he also received a production credit on “The Tree of Life.” Now Malick is producing the nonfiction filmmakers long-gestating first step into scripted narrative, a story about an Italian doctor who unravels the secrets of 18th century physician Dr. Anmuth and his patients through studying his Book of Vision. Back in 2014, Hintermann compared the narrative structure of the film to “Cloud Atlas,” where “some characters from the past also reverberate in the present, and are played by the same actors.” —CO

“Born in China”
Directors: Nanfu Wang, Zhang Lynn
Why We Hope It Heads to Park City: When Wang returned to China, after she completed her American film education, she uncovered the frightening side of the her homeland’s police state. All this happened while she was trailing human rights activist Ye Haiyan in “Hooligan Sparrow”; now, as a new mom herself, Wang returns to China with filmmaker Zhang Lynn for what promises to be an even more explosive exploration of the untold history of China’s one-child policy and the generations of parents and children forever shaped by this social experiment. —CO

“Circus of Books”
Director: Rachel Mason
Why We Hope It Heads to Park City: It’s no secret that the internet has wreaked havoc on bookstores — even your average, run-of-the-mill, mom-and-pop, hardcore gay porn bookstore. Run by kindly straight couple, Karen and Barry Mason’s West Hollywood bookstore, Circus of Books became the epicenter of L.A.’s cruising scene. Capitalizing on their location on what was known as “Vaseline Alley,” the Masons served their lustful clientele by stocking porn and looking the other way from the alley behind the store. With Queer/Art/Film’s Adam Baran as producer, their daughter Rachel brings this unlikely story to the screen, and it’s sure to be a crowdpleaser. —JD

Director: Chinonye Chukwu
Why We Hope It Heads to Park City: Nigerian-born and Alaskan-raised filmmaker Chukwu has been hard at work for several years on her follow-up to her 2012 feature debut “alaskaLand,” and this sensitive (and seemingly harrowing) prison drama is poised to be the project that makes her a familiar name in the indie film world. The story of a female prison warden (Alfre Woodard) who is forced to confront her own dark past when she strikes up a unique friendship with a male prisoner she’s scheduled to execute (Aldis Hodge), “Clemency” is familiar and meaningful ground for Chukwu, who worked to help exonerate a wrongfully incarcerated woman named Tyra Patterson, and created Ohio’s Pens to Pictures program. Sundance would be a natural launching pad for her second feature, which also stars Richard Schiff, Wendell Pierce, and Mr. Belding himself, Dennis Haskins. —DE

Director: Tom Quinn
Why We Hope It Heads to Park City: Writer-director Quinn, who won Slamdance back in 2008 with “The New Year Parade,” is likely to graduate to the major leagues with his long-awaited second feature, which was recently invited into Sundance’s Sound Design Lab (last year, four of the six films that participated in the program went on to screen at the festival). “Colewell” certainly sounds promising, and appears to boast a rich starring role for the great Karen Allen. The “Indiana Jones” actress plays Nora, a woman who’s run the Colewell, PA community post office from her home for more than 35 years. After learning that the state is shutting down her office, Nora has to decide if she wants to surrender or start over somewhere else. Offering a rare perspective at the identity of small-town America, “Colewell” finished post-production over the summer, and has the potential to be the “Columbus” of 2019. —DE

Karen Allen'A Tree A Rock A Cloud' screening, Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival, USA - 18 Nov 2017

Karen Allen

Larry Marano/REX/Shutterstock

“Corporate Animals”
Director: Patrick Brice
Why We Hope It Heads to Park City: Patrick Brice has established himself as both an unnerving and resourceful horror director (“Creep,” “Creep 2”), and someone who’s capable of handling extreme modern comedy with a straight face (to see “The Overnight” is to be scarred by it forever). With “Corporate Animals,” Brice will try to find the sweet spot between his two favorite genres. If the premise sounds benign, the details hint at stomach-churning hilarity: Demi Moore stars as Lucy, the tyrannical CEO of a company that makes edible cutlery. And while that alone could be the basis of a horror movie, things get even more ominous when she leads her staff (Karan Soni, Jessica Williams) on a team-building retreat in the caves of New Mexico. Naturally, the team gets trapped when the caves implode, and their hired guide (Ed Helms) doesn’t seem like he’s going to be much help. Are they going to eat their knives, or use them on each other? The answer to that question will determine if “Corporate Animals” premieres in NEXT or the midnight section, but Sundance seems like a safe bet no matter how you slice it. —DE

“Daniel Isn’t Real”
Director: Adam Egypt Mortimer
Why We Hope It Heads to Park City: “Some Kind of Hate” director Mortimer’s second feature, an adaptation of Brian DeLeeuw’s novel, stars Miles Robbins, Sasha Lane, and Patrick Schwarzeneeger in the eerie story of a college freshman who conjures his imaginary friend from childhood to cope with a sudden traumatic experience. The movie is produced by Elijah Wood’s Spectrevision company, which has found much success with Sundance audiences excited by original genre efforts, from “The Greasy Strangler” to last year’s “Mandy.” —EK

“Dog Doc”
Director: Cindy Meehl
Why We Hope It Heads to Park City: After winning a rare Sundance two-fer in 2011 with her feature debut “Buck” (to wit, that’s both the Audience Prize and the Grand Jury Prize), Meehl turned her attentions to the producing side of things, while also further helping the cause of compassionate horsemanship reflected in her beloved film. Now Meehl is shining a light on another important animal-centric story, as her “Dog Doc” will follow “a maverick veterinarian and his dedicated team of doctors create a mecca for pets and their owners looking for hope and a last chance for animal healing.” Sounds like a very worthy followup to “Buck.” —KE

Director: Andrew Ahn
Why We Hope It Heads to Park City: Not much is known about “Driveways,” but — after the breakout success that director Ahn enjoyed at Sundance with his beloved 2016 debut, “Spa Night” — it’s likely that his follow-up will premiere at the festival if it’s finished in time. Produced by “Hulk” writer James Schamus (to single out the most…important of the former studio head’s many credits), “Driveways” is a coming-of-age story about an unusually mature nine-year-old kid who forms a friendship with his octogenarian neighbor. The premise may sound a bit precious on paper, but it’s safe to assume that Ahn — whose tender rookie feature had a knack for defying expectations — will sift through the usual quirk and find something more ineffably human underneath. —DE

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