Sundance is around the corner, opening in Park City, Utah at the top of next year! The Sundance Institute has announced its comprehensive slate of films set to screen across the feature film categories, including selections about and by Black people and creators.
The 2023 Sundance Film Festival marks a return to some normalcy, as the past two years the cinema staple has dealt with hurdles from the COVID-19 pandemic and the various variants that have followed since the virus first all but shut down multiple industries in 2020.
In terms of programming, this year in particular, Sundance features a fair number of Black stories that have caught the eyes of theGrio as the landscape of film and representation on screen continue to evolve and reflect audiences around the world.
In the U.S. Dramatic Competition category, “Magazine Dreams” from filmmaker Elijah Bynum stands out. It stars Jonathan Majors as an amateur bodybuilder who “struggles to find human connection as his relentless drive for recognition pushes him to the brink.” Another addition is A.V. Rockwell’s “A Thousand and One” starring Teyana Taylor in a unique mother-and-son story. Lena Waithe is the producer.
The U.S. documentary competition also highlights some must-see stories, including “Little Richard: I Am Everything” and “Going To Mars: The Nikki Giovanni Project,” examinations of the lives of the respective titular cultural icons. “Milisuthando” takes the World Cinema documentary competition to South Africa in a project described as “a poetic, memory-driven exploration of love, intimacy, race, and belonging by the filmmaker, who grew up during apartheid but didn’t know it was happening until it was over.”
Sundance is set to take place in-person Jan. 19–29. Some online selections will be available Jan. 24–29. Check out synopses of the Black stories and films from Black filmmakers in the competition below:
U.S. DRAMATIC COMPETITION
All Dirt Roads Taste of Salt / U.S.A. (Director and Screenwriter: Raven Jackson, Producers: Maria Altamirano, Barry Jenkins, Adele Romanski, Mark Ceryak) – A decades-spanning exploration of a woman’s life in Mississippi and an ode to the generations of people, places, and ineffable moments that shape us. Cast: Charleen McClure, Moses Ingram, Kaylee Nicole Johnson, Reginald Helms Jr., Sheila Atim, Chris Chalk. World Premiere.
Magazine Dreams / U.S.A. (Director and Screenwriter: Elijah Bynum, Producers: Jennifer Fox, Dan Gilroy, Jeffrey Soros, Simon Horsman) — An amateur bodybuilder struggles to find human connection as his relentless drive for recognition pushes him to the brink. Cast: Jonathan Majors, Haley Bennett, Taylour Paige, Mike O’Hearn, Harrison Page, Harriet Sansom Harris. World Premiere.
A Thousand and One / U.S.A. (Director and Screenwriter: A.V. Rockwell, Producers: Eddie Vaisman, Julia Lebedev, Lena Waithe, Rishi Rajani, Brad Weston) — Convinced it’s one last, necessary crime on the path to redemption, unapologetic and free-spirited Inez kidnaps 6-year-old Terry from the foster care system. Holding on to their secret and each other, mother and son set out to reclaim their sense of home, identity, and stability in New York City. Cast: Teyana Taylor, Will Catlett, Josiah Cross, Aven Courtney, Aaron Kingsley Adetola. World Premiere.
U.S. DOCUMENTARY COMPETITION
Going to Mars: The Nikki Giovanni Project / U.S.A. (Directors and Producers: Joe Brewster, Michèle Stephenson, Producer: Tommy Oliver) — Intimate vérité, archival footage, and visually innovative treatments of poetry take us on a journey through the dreamscape of legendary poet Nikki Giovanni as she reflects on her life and legacy. World Premiere.
Little Richard: I Am Everything / U.S.A. (Director and Producer: Lisa Cortés, Producers: Robert Friedman, Liz Yale Marsh, Caryn Capotosto) — This celebration of Little Richard reveals the Black queer origins of rock ’n’ roll, finally exploding the whitewashed canon of American pop music. Through archival and performance footage, the revolutionary icon’s life unspools with all of its switchbacks and contradictions. World Premiere.
The Stroll / U.S.A. (Directors: Kristen Lovell, Zackary Drucker, Producer: Matt Wolf) — The history of New York’s Meatpacking District, told from the perspective of transgender sex workers who lived and worked there. Filmmaker Kristen Lovell, who walked “The Stroll” for a decade, reunites her community to recount the violence, policing, homelessness, and gentrification they overcame to build a movement for transgender rights. World Premiere.
WORLD CINEMA DRAMATIC COMPETITION
Girl / U.K. (Director and Screenwriter: Adura Onashile, Producers: Rosie Crerar, Ciara Barry) — Eleven-year-old Ama and her mother, Grace, take solace in the gentle but isolated world they obsessively create. Ama’s growing up threatens the boundaries of their tenderness and forces Grace to reckon with a past she struggles to forget. Cast: Déborah Lukumuena, Danny Sapani, Le’Shantey Bonsu, Liana Turner. World Premiere.
Mami Wata / Nigeria (Director and Screenwriter: C.J. “Fiery” Obasi, Producer: Oge Obasi) — When the harmony in a village is threatened by outside elements, two sisters must fight to save their people and restore the glory of a mermaid goddess to the land. Cast: Evelyne Ily, Uzoamaka Aniunoh, Kelechi Udegbe, Emeka Amakeze, Rita Edochie, Tough Bone. World Premiere.
WORLD CINEMA DOCUMENTARY COMPETITION
Milisuthando / South Africa (Director and Screenwriter: Milisuthando Bongela, Producer: Marion Isaacs) — Set in past, present, and future South Africa — an invitation into a poetic, memory-driven exploration of love, intimacy, race, and belonging by the filmmaker, who grew up during apartheid but didn’t know it was happening until it was over. World Premiere.
Bravo, Burkina! / U.S.A. (Director, Screenwriter, and Producer: Walé Oyéjidé, Producers: Giulia Alagna, Heather Barnes) — A Burkinabé boy flees his village and migrates to Italy. When disillusioned by heartbreak and haunted by memories of home, he travels through time in hope of regaining all he has lost. Cast: Alain Tiendrebeogo, Mousty Mbaye, Noel Minougou, Aissata Deme, Afissatou Coulibaly. World Premiere. Fiction.
KOKOMO CITY / U.S.A. (Director and Producer: D. Smith, Producers: Harris Doran, Bill Butler) — Four Black transgender sex workers explore the dichotomy between the Black community and themselves, while confronting issues long avoided. World Premiere. Documentary.
To Live and Die and Live / U.S.A. (Director, Screenwriter, and Producer: Qasim Basir, Producers: Nina Yang Bongiovi, Forest Whitaker, Amin Joseph, Dana Offenbach, Samantha Basir) — Muhammad returns home to Detroit to bury his stepfather and is thrust into settling his accounts, but Muhammad’s struggles with depression and addiction may finish him before he finishes the task. Cast: Amin Joseph, Skye P. Marshall, Omari Hardwick, Cory Hardrict, Dana Gourrier, Maryam Basir. World Premiere. Fiction.
Young. Wild. Free. / U.S.A (Director: Thembi L. Banks, Screenwriters: Juel Taylor, Tony Rettenmaier, Producers: Charles D. King, James Lopez, Poppy Hanks, Tommy Oliver, Baron Davis, Tracy “Twinkie” Byrd) — High school senior Brandon is drowning in responsibilities when his world is turned upside down after being robbed at gunpoint by the girl of his dreams. Cast: Algee Smith, Sanaa Lathan, Sierra Capri, Mike Epps. World Premiere. Fiction.
Talk to Me / Australia (Director and Screenwriter: Danny Philippou, Director: Michael Philippou, Screenwriter: Bill Hinzman, Producers: Samantha Jennings, Kristina Ceyton) —When a group of friends discover how to conjure spirits using an ancient embalmed hand, they become hooked on the new thrill. Until one of them goes too far and opens the door to the spirit world. Cast: Sophie Wilde, Miranda Otto, Alexandra Jensen, Joe Bird, Zoe Terakes, Otis Dhanji. International Premiere. Fiction.
Drift / France, U.K, Greece (Director and Producer: Anthony Chen, Screenwriters: Susanne Farrell, Alexander Maksik, Producers: Peter Spears, Emilie Georges, Naima Abed, Cynthia Erivo, Solome Williams) — Jacqueline, a young refugee, lands alone and penniless on a Greek island where she tries to survive, then to cope with her past. While gathering her strength, she begins a friendship with a rootless tour guide and together they find the resilience to forge ahead. Cast: Cynthia Erivo, Alia Shawkat, Ibrahima Ba, Honor Swinton Byrne, Zainab Jah, Suzy Bemba. World Premiere. Fiction.
Landscape With Invisible Hand/ U.S.A (Director and Screenwriter: Cory Finley, Producers: Dede Gardner, Jeremy Kleiner) — When Earth is taken over by aliens who control the economy, a pair of teenagers come up with a plan to save their family. Cast: Tiffany Haddish, Asante Blackk, Kylie Rogers, Josh Hamilton, Michael Gandolfini, William Jackson Harper. World Premiere. Fiction.
Rye Lane / U.K (Director: Raine Allen-Miller, Screenwriters: Nathan Bryon, Tom Melia, Producers: Yvonne Isimeme Ibazebo, Damian Jones) — Two twenty-somethings reeling from bad breakups deal with their nightmare exes and connect over the course of an eventful day in South London. Cast: David Jonsson, Vivian Oparah. World Premiere. Fiction.
You can find the full list of the films screening at the festival, as well as ticketing information at the official site for Sundance, here.
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