UPDATED BELOW. The Sundance Film Festival has announced two final additions to this year’s program, including the world premiere of Dan Reed’s four-hour-long “Leaving Neverland,” which focuses on the continued claims of sexual abuse and child molestation against Michael Jackson, told through the stories of a pair of alleged victims. Per the documentary’s official synopsis, “At the height of his stardom Michael Jackson began long-running relationships with two boys, aged 7 and 10, and their families. Now in their 30s, they tell the story of how they were sexually abused by Jackson, and how they came to terms with it years later.”
While the official synopses do not list the names of the participants, an official statement from the Estate of Michael Jackson (available below) claims that they are Wade Robson and James Safechuck, both of whom have spoken out against the deceased performer in the past.
Sundance’s official program offers an even deeper dive into what the project, which has been divided in two two-hour-long episodes, from “Terror” and “The Valley” filmmaker, will chronicle:
“As one of the world’s most celebrated icons, Michael Jackson represents many things to many people—a pop star, a humanitarian, a beloved idol. When allegations of sexual abuse by Jackson involving young boys surfaced in 1993, many found it hard to believe that the King of Pop could be guilty of such unspeakable acts. In separate but parallel stories that echo one another, two boys were each befriended by Jackson, who invited them into his singular and wondrous world. Seduced by the singer’s fairy-tale existence and enthralled by their relationship with him, both boys’ families were blind to the manipulation and abuse that he would ultimately subject them to. Through gut-wrenching interviews with the now-adult men and their families, ‘Leaving Neverland’ crafts a portrait of sustained exploitation and deception, documenting the power of celebrity that allowed a revered figure to infiltrate the lives of starstruck children and their parents.”
The doc will debut in the Special Events category and its premiere will be followed by a Q&A with the filmmakers.
Sundance will also play home to world premiere of Alison Klayman’s “The Brink,” which chronicles the current life of Steve Bannon. Per that film’s official synopsis, “Now unconstrained by an official White House post, Steve Bannon is free to peddle influence as a perceived kingmaker with a direct line to the President. After anointing himself leader of the ‘populist movement,’ he travels around the U.S. and the world spreading his hard-line anti-immigration message.” Klayman’s film will screen in the Documentary Premieres category.
Klayman most recently directed the prescription drug doc, “Take Your Pills,” which was released by Netflix early last year. She’s best known for her 2012 Sundance premiere “Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry,” which won a special jury prize at the festival.
This year’s festival runs from January 24 – February 3 in Park City, Utah. Check out other lineup announcements and related festival news right here.
The 2019 Sundance Film Festival has selected a total of 241 projects, from 49 countries. Of these, 47%, or 113, of all films and projects were directed or created by one or more women; 41%, or 100, were directed or created by one or more filmmaker of color; 17% or 41 by one or more people who identify as LGBTQ+. 169 works in the Festival’s program, or 70% of the program lineup, will be World Premieres.
UPDATED, January 10, 2019, 8:07AM ET:
The Estate of Michael Jackson has released the following statement regarding “Leaving Neverland”:
“This is yet another lurid production in an outrageous and pathetic attempt to exploit and cash in on Michael Jackson.
Wade Robson and James Safechuck have both testified under oath that Michael never did anything inappropriate toward them.
Safechuck and Robson, the latter a self-proclaimed ‘master of deception’, filed lawsuits against Michael’s Estate, asking for millions of dollars. Both lawsuits were dismissed.
This so called ‘documentary’ is just another rehash of dated and discredited allegations. It’s baffling why any credible filmmaker would involve himself with this project.”