Everybody should have a good time, but it’s the filmmakers and how we program for them that matters. We program for diversity, not commerciality.
—Robert Redford, 2003
Running from January 19 – January 29, The 2017 Sundance Film Festival is just around the corner! We are happy to present this list of over eighty films written and/or directed by women at this year’s festival. Descriptions from Sundance.org.
Written & Directed by Annie Clark, Karyn Kusama, Roxanne Benjamin, Jovanka Vuckovic
“Gather round if you dare for four murderous tales of supernatural frights, predatory thrills, profound anxiety, and Gothic decay in the first all-female-driven horror anthology film. Audacious new works from some of the genre’s most promising voices—Annie Clark (better known to fans as St. Vincent), Karyn Kusama (The Invitation, Girlfight), Roxanne Benjamin (Southbound), and Jovanka Vuckovic (former editor of Rue Morgue magazine)—bring forth a study in the proper unspooling of dread for your viewing pleasure.
Framed around innovative animator Sofia Carrillo’s haunting tableaus, these modern myths range from Vuckovic’s reverent control of grotesque elegance to Clark’s deliciously macabre sense of comic timing, Benjamin’s skillful powers of tonal transformation, and Kusama’s authorial grasp of simmering psychological fear. Vigorously challenging a stagnant status quo within the industry, this collection of tightly coiled short films by some of horror’s most influential women offers a refreshing jolt to the senses.”
Directed by Pascale Lamche
World Documentary Competition
“Supremely controversial, Winnie Mandela has been labeled a woman condemned for her radical role in the liberation of her South African people under apartheid. While her husband, Nelson Mandela, remained securely jailed for 27 years, Winnie brushed the patriarchy aside to fight on the front line and take uncompromising steps to inspire an uprising. While Nelson was remembered as a hero, Winnie was demonized in the global media.
Filmmaker Pascale Lamche paints a complex portrait of Winnie Mandela: the woman, the paradox, both exalted and villainized in the eyes of history. Using rich, unseen archival footage and interviews with intimate comrades, Lamche unravels the tale of cause and effect by which Winnie was taken down.
Loved by South African people for her grace and unflinching leadership, Winnie Mandela is situated at the center of her own narrative by Lamche in this groundbreaking film which asks us to question how—and why—history has intimidated and silenced women because of their political power.”
By Sabaah Folayan
U.S. Documentary Competition
“Told by the activists and leaders who live and breathe this movement for justice, Whose Streets? is an unflinching look at the Ferguson uprising. When unarmed teenager Michael Brown is killed by police and left lying in the street for hours, it marks a breaking point for the residents of St. Louis, Missouri. Grief, long-standing racial tensions and renewed anger bring residents together to hold vigil and protest this latest tragedy.
Empowered parents, artists, and teachers from around the country come together as freedom fighters. As the national guard descends on Ferguson with military grade weaponry, these young community members become the torchbearers of a new resistance.
Filmmakers Sabaah Folayan and Damon Davis know this story because they are the story. Whose Streets? is a powerful battle cry from a generation fighting, not for their civil rights, but for the right to live.”
Written by Darci Picoult
“Mild-mannered, sheltered Kyra, played with intensity by Michelle Pfeiffer, begins to spiral after the death of her mother. Long out of work, the deep-in-debt Kyra struggles to support herself. As she becomes increasingly desperate and isolated, longing for her mother, she launches a cryptic, last-ditch scheme to keep from being evicted. She also finds solace in another lonely soul, Doug (Kiefer Sutherland), from whom she initially tries to hide her plight, but Kyra slowly ropes him into her deception.
Writer/director Andrew Dosunmu returns to the Festival with his evocative and stylish third feature. Using impeccably composed frames and guided by sharp art direction, Dosunmu and two-time Sundance Film Festival Cinematography Award winner Bradford Young situate the fragile Kyra in a dark, antagonistic NYC. The intensely warm glow of an illuminated palette married to the cold negative space reflects the stark tension with this enigmatic character, who feels out of place in this world.”
By Marina Zenovich
U.S. Documentary Competition
“This thrilling investigation uncovers the high-level corruption behind California’s long-standing water crisis. Sweeping cinematography of California’s harsh, dry landscape asks us to visualize a fight for water in what feels like a modern day Chinatown. Filmmaker Marina Zenovich peels back the layers of California’s convoluted water structure—wealthy water barons show their guilty hand in exploiting the state’s resource, while small farmers and neighboring towns endure debilitating drought. We see luxury crops, like almonds, on the rise and groundwater contamination increasing tenfold, pitting backroom business dealings against human and environmental costs.
Zenovich returns to the Sundance Film Festival with this cleverly orchestrated exposé. She takes us into the stark realities of small California towns, where paying for showers is the norm—bringing light to the growing divide between water haves and have nots.
This natural resource is only growing more valuable as the new war for water is already upon us. This daring and extremely timely documentary asks us to question who has control of our access to our water.”
Directed by Mary Robertson
In a behind-the-scenes look at the biggest political upset in recent history, Mark Halperin, John Heilemann, and Mark McKinnon offer unprecedented access and never-before-seen footage of candidate Trump, from the primaries through the debates to the dawning realization that the controversial businessman will become the 45th President of the United States.
Written & Directed by Christina Clusiau
U.S. Documentary Competition
“Endangered African species like elephants, rhinos, and lions march closer to extinction each year. Their devastating decline is fueled by a global desire to consume and collect these majestic animals. Trophy investigates the powerhouse businesses of big game hunting, breeding, and wildlife conservation. Through the eyes of impassioned individuals who drive these industries, filmmakers Shaul Schwarz and Christina Clusiau grapple with the complex consequences of imposing economic value on animals. What are the ethical implications of treating animals as commodities? Do breeding, farming, and hunting offer some of the few remaining options to conserve these species before it’s too late?
Shaul Schwarz (Narco Cultura, 2013 Sundance Film Festival) has never been a filmmaker who sees the world in black and white. Embracing the gray areas that make for a multifaceted assessment of big game hunting and the industries that support it, Trophy will spark fierce debate as it digs deeper to examine the state of our planet and the conscience of humanity.
Directed by Kyoko Miyake
World Documentary Competition
“Girl bands and pop music permeate Japanese life. Tokyo Idols gets at the heart of a cultural phenomenon driven by an obsession with young female sexuality and internet popularity.
Meet Ri Ri: a bona fide Tokyo Idol who takes us on her journey toward fame. Now meet her “brothers”: a group of adult male superfans who devote their lives to following her—in the virtual world and in real life. Once considered to be on the fringes of society, the brothers who gave up salaried jobs to pursue an interest in female idol culture have since become mainstream via the internet, illuminating the growing disconnect between men and women in hypermodern societies.
With her provocative look into the Japanese pop music industry and its focus on traditional beauty ideals, filmmaker Kyoko Miyake confronts the nature of gender power dynamics at work. As the female idols become younger and younger, Miyake offers a critique on the veil of internet fame and the new terms of engagement that are playing out IRL around the globe.”
Directed by Barbara Kopple
“In 2008, Gregory Lazzarato, a young, nationally ranked Canadian diver, walked away from the pool and began a YouTube channel focused on makeup tutorials. Unwilling to be intimidated by bullies either online or in high school, Lazzarato became the fierce, outspoken Gregory Gorgeous, amassing a loyal following who found strength and inspiration from his public coming out as a gay male.
Despite this success, the internet personality harbored a secret—one that was revealed in a December 2013 video titled “”I Am Transgender.”” Motivated by the death of her mother, the YouTube star took on the new name Gigi Gorgeous. Gigi, supported by her loving father and brothers, offers a candid look at her transition, sharing its hallmarks online with her legion of fans as she embraces a new world of possibilities.
In capturing Gigi’s moving transformation, two-time Academy Award–winning director Barbara Kopple (Harlan County U.S.A., 1976; American Dream, 1990) puts a spotlight on her subject’s uplifting, empowering message of self-acceptance, as Gigi blossoms into a self-assured, happy—and, yes, gorgeous—young woman.”
Directed by Lone Scherfig ; Written by Gaby Chiappe
“Director Lone Scherfig (whose An Education won the World Cinema Audience Award: Dramatic at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival) premiered her new period romantic comedy, Their Finest, to grateful crowds in Toronto. We are proud to welcome her back to the Festival with this utterly winning film.
Catrin lives with her struggling artist husband in WWII-era London. Assuming she is applying for a secretarial post at the Ministry of Information, she is hired to write women’s dialogue—the “slop”—for wartime propaganda shorts. Jaded veteran screenwriter Tom reluctantly acknowledges Catrin’s value, and enlists her help in writing an inspirational film about the war effort.
Endearing performances by Gemma Arterton and Sam Claflin as the contentious collaborators, and a delightful comic turn by Bill Nighy as an arrogant actor forced to accept that he’s past his prime, make Their Finest a total charmer. Setting the filmmaking crew’s witty banter and comic foibles against a realistic, harrowing depiction of wartime London imbues their efforts with urgency, as Scherfig creates a stealthily moving portrait of the power of cinema.”
Written & Directed by Maya Forbes
“This exuberant tragicomedy recounts the remarkable but true story of the rise and fall of Polish émigré Jan Lewan (Jack Black), from striving tchotchke shop owner in the ’70s to the undisputed “King of Pennsylvania Polka” in the early ’90s. Lewan pursued the American Dream by any means necessary, fleecing investors and bribing officials to build a personal musical empire in what became the world’s only known Polka Ponzi scheme. Swept up by Lewan’s charismatic charm are his devoted wife, Marla (Jenny Slate), and his neurotic sidekick, Mickey (Jason Schwartzman).
Co-writers and directors Maya Forbes and Wallace Wolodarsky, who previously teamed up for Infinitely Polar Bear (2014 Sundance Film Festival), infuse The Polka King with an infectious energy and fill the frame with kitschy period detail, taking us through two accordion-fueled decades of grift and glory. Throughout, producer/star Black breathes life into the eccentric Lewan, finding pathos beneath his cockeyed optimism and showbiz hustle.”
Written by Emily V. Gordon
“Based on the true story of the film’s writers (and real-life couple), Emily V. Gordon and Kumail Nanjiani, this modern culture clash shows how Pakistan-born Kumail and his American girlfriend, Emily, have to overcome the expectations of his family and their 1,400-year-old traditions. As his parents relentlessly set him up with potential brides for an arranged marriage, Kumail navigates treacherous waters in the worlds of both dating and stand-up comedy.
Produced by Judd Apatow, The Big Sick features a sterling collection of comedy talent in front of and behind the camera. Having acted in numerous previous Sundance Film Festival selections, Michael Showalter returns this time as a director with a hilariously insightful film that shrewdly puts the spotlight on its writer/star Kumail Nanjiani (HBO’s Silicon Valley). A revered comedian, Nanjiani shines in the lead role, bringing his singular voice to center stage. Mining his personal stories for comedy gold, he shares his experiences that are uniquely Pakistani but will resonate for everyone who has ever fallen in love.”
Written by Marcia Smith
“Veteran documentarian Stanley Nelson (Freedom Riders, 2010; The Black Panthers, 2015) returns to the Festival to deliver yet another essential chapter of American history with his latest film, Tell Them We Are Rising, the first-ever project of its kind on Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs).
African Americans who would not be denied a higher education played an enormous part in propelling the epic journey toward liberation for Black people in the United States. Though much of their history was eclipsed by the explosiveness of the 1960s, HBCUs played a central role in the shaping of Black life, creating a Black middle class and dismantling segregation. Through this rich tapestry of archival photos, letters, diaries, home movies, a variety of never before seen or heard media, and memorable testimonials with key students, staff, faculty, and alumni, Nelson brings into sharp focus the pivotal role the 150-year history of HBCUs has played in American history, culture, and national identity.”
Directed by Rory Kennedy
““It was the unrideable wave and we rode it.” Rory Kennedy’s TAKE EVERY WAVE captures the remarkable and unconventional life of legendary big wave surfer Laird Hamilton. Sweeping cinematography positions us in the lineup with a master playing the sea.
Laird’s incredible story began in 1960s Hawaii. Finding solace from an abusive home, he rebelled and funneled his energy into big wave Pipeline surfing, awakening a natural talent. More than an athlete with Hollywood good looks, Hamilton proved himself a true innovator, pushing conventions to the extreme and reinventing surfing throughout his career. A pioneer in both tow-in surfing and foil boarding, he distinguished himself from surfing legends of the time who wanted to maintain the purity of the sport.
Mixing evocative, unseen archival footage with intimate access into Laird’s current adventures, distinguished filmmaker Rory Kennedy celebrates Hamilton’s lifelong desire to charge new frontiers and his intense commitment to conquering the next wave at all costs.”
Directed by Amanda Lipitz
U.S. Documentary Competition
“The Baltimore Leadership School for Young Women opened in 2009 with a mandate to send every student to college, despite the barriers that their home lives and community might present. Now, as the first class enters its senior year, the stakes are high to achieve that purpose. The film follows three irrepressible seniors and their “Lethal Ladies” step dance team as they navigate a nerve-wracking college application process and strive to elevate the creative outlet that keeps them united and fighting to reach their goals.
STEP hones in on the trials and triumphs of these tenacious young women, as well as their relationships with the women who champion and challenge them: their mothers, an unstoppable college counselor, and a no-nonsense step coach. These mentors are never far, doing all that they can to enable achievement, often with the odds stacked against them. This founding class is wrestling with life at the brink of their independence, always to a contagious beat that is haunting and universal.”
Written & Directed by Amanda Kernell
“Since its award-winning premiere at the Venice International Film Festival, Sami Blood has played to acclaim at festivals around the world. We are happy to welcome Amanda Kernell back with this feature expansion of her short film Northern Great Mountain, which played at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival.
In 1930s Sweden, Elle-Marja and her sister Njenna are taken from their indigenous reindeer-breeding family and sent to a Sámi-only boarding school where they are subjected to locals’ taunts and the indignities of race-based physical examinations. While Njenna clings to her cultural traditions, Elle-Marja urges her to speak Swedish and try harder to assimilate. As she realizes how deeply she is judged as inferior, the bright, curious Elle-Marja feels driven to reject her Sámi heritage and stake out a future of her own.
In her feature debut, Kernell depicts a little-known piece of Swedish history with tenderness, melancholy, and intimacy. Young actress Lene Cecilia Sparrok heartbreakingly embodies the quiet devastation that fuels Elle-Marja’s steely determination to forge a different path after being confronted with her own otherness.”
Directed by Catherine Bainbridge
World Documentary Competition
“When recalling Link Wray’s shivering guitar classic, “Rumble,” Martin Scorsese marvels, “It is the sound of that guitar . . . the aggression.” Wray was the first to deploy thumping power chords and hone distortion, carving out a new guitar sound that influenced rock and roll forever. But as a Native American, Wray’s music was a threat—and it was treated as such.
Blues pioneer Charlie Patton, cherished jazz singer Mildred Bailey, and metaphysical wizard Jimi Hendrix are among the many music greats who have Native American heritage and have created their distinctive music amid the attempted cleansing of indigenous culture from the country. Their music was not even meant to exist.
Using playful re-creations and little-known stories, alongside concert footage, audio archives, and interviews with living legends, this deeply insightful film cements how some of our most treasured artists and songs found their inspiration in ancient, native melodies and harmonies that were infused with a desire to resist. You’ll never listen to your favorite rock and roll classics the same way again.”
Written & Directed by Julia Ducournau
“An electrifying film that took Cannes by storm upon its premiere in the Critics’ Week section this past May, Julia Ducournau’s wild, primal, flesh-eating marvel, Raw, boldly introduces a major new French talent to the world stage.
Brilliant, shy 16-year-old Justine heads to the same veterinary college her parents attended, and where her older sister, Alexia, is also a student. Along with the other newbies, Justine is subjected to a series of bizarre initiations, including a hazing ritual that forces her to eat a raw rabbit liver. Although she’s a committed vegetarian, Justine is desperate to fit in and ultimately caves to the peer pressure. Afterward, she grows a voracious appetite for meat, which starts branching out to other forms of flesh. At the same time, the young virgin’s new carnivorous tendency coincides with a burgeoning sexual desire.
A grisly, viscerally charged experience, Raw is art-house horror of the highest order. A darkly funny coming-of-age story at its bloody heart, it unpeels the complex layers of the sisters’ not-always-nurturing bond as it hurtles toward a climactic, bloody showdown.”
Directed by Susan Froemke
“Montana rancher Dusty Crary works to preserve pristine, neighboring wilderness, championing efforts to prevent commercial development. Kansas farmer Justin Knopf defies conventional wisdom and implements controversial new practices to combat soil degradation and erosion. And Louisiana commercial fisherman Wayne Werner partners with fisheries regulators to help ensure a future for the red snapper upon which his business depends.
Based on The New York Times best-selling author Miriam Horn’s recent book of the same name, Susan Froemke and John Hoffman’s illuminating film spotlights these unlikely conservationists, stewards of the land and sea who don’t fit preconceptions of environmentalists. Willing to face hostility from within their own communities by forging unexpected alliances with longtime enemies, these individuals show a commitment to work with—rather than against—nature. Driven by core American values of self-sufficiency, independence, and perseverance, they represent a largely unsung, yet passionate, movement of heartland conservationists committed to preserving the future of their livelihoods. In turn, their vital work safeguards the nation’s wealth of natural resources for us all.”
Written & Directed by Kirsten Tan
World Dramatic Competition
“Thana, a once-illustrious architect, drifts ever further into existential crisis, propelled by the impending demolition of his proudest work and his wife’s waning romantic interest. Unexpectedly running into his long-lost childhood “pet” elephant Popeye, performing in the streets of Bangkok, spurs Thana on a quest across Thailand to return his displaced friend to rural Loei, the small village where they grew up. As the unlikely travelers saunter at elephant speed, they encounter fellow lost souls, like a gas station vagabond yearning for his first love and a lonely karaoke singer aching for a friend, who encourage them as a series of unfortunate mishaps impede their journey.
Pop Aye is a humane ode to the power of simple acts of kindness in a world of lost innocence and missed opportunities, punctuated by well-timed bursts of deadpan absurdity. Director Kirsten Tan, in her impressive feature debut, deftly weaves the poignance and humor of Popeye and Thana’s journey with a series of indelibly beautiful cinematic images of the film’s gigantic star in this lyrical road-trip dramedy.”
Written & Directed by Maggie Betts
U.S. Dramatic Competition
“Spanning the early 1950s through the mid-’60s, this coming-of-age story is about a young girl’s first love. In this case, her first love is God. Raised by a deeply caring, non-religious mother, Cathleen is drawn to the heady mysticism of the lives of Catholic nuns and their undying romantic devotion to their chosen husband, Jesus Christ. She enrolls in a training program with The Sisters of Blessed Rose, a cloistered convent. As Cathleen progresses from the postulant to the novitiate levels of her tutelage, her faith is challenged by the harsh, often inhumane realities of being a nun, just as Pope John XXIII’s announcement of the Second Vatican Council threatens to alter the course of nuns’ lives forever.Writer/director Maggie Betts is a filmmaker to watch. Propelled by exceptional performances from Margaret Qualley as Cathleen, Julianne Nicholson as her mother, and Melissa Leo as the Reverend Mother, Betts has crafted an uncanny journey of a young woman in a rarefied world on the brink of extinction.
Writer/director Maggie Betts is a filmmaker to watch. Propelled by exceptional performances from Margaret Qualley as Cathleen, Julianne Nicholson as her mother, and Melissa Leo as the Reverend Mother, Betts has crafted an uncanny journey of a young woman in a rarefied world on the brink of extinction.”
Written & Directed by Nana Ekvtimishvili
World Dramatic Competition
“As family and friends gather in a Tbilisi apartment to celebrate her 52nd birthday, Manana calmly packs a suitcase and, to her guests’ bewilderment, announces she’s leaving. A literature professor and wife of 30 years, she’s shared a three-bedroom flat with her husband, Soso; her parents; two grown children; and son-in-law. And she’s had enough. Moving to a new apartment, she starts afresh, and has never been happier. Attempting to avoid the family drama that follows her, she nonetheless forms a surprising new attachment to a man she meets in secret—Soso.
My Happy Family is simply a gem. Quietly funny, profoundly observant, and possessed of a compassionate spirit, it plunges into the chaos of three generations coexisting beneath one roof, vividly drawing out distinctive characters. Directing duo Nana & Simon gracefully avoid melodrama and find the sublime soul of the film in Manana. Enduring the petty oppressions of family and a patriarchal society for decades, she is born of a willful expression of personal freedom. A figure of serene self-assurance, she’s an unforgettable character.”
Directed by Ramona S. Diaz
World Documentary Competition
“This stirring vérité portrait takes us into the heart of the planet’s busiest maternity hospital—a world unto itself in the Philippines. Unseen observers in this frenetic and understaffed landscape, we enter hectic birthing rooms and pass through overcrowded hallways bursting with life. Babies are lost and found, and multiple mothers share a single bed.
The camera glides intimately and effortlessly around the hospital, unlocking nuances of this intricate ecosystem. There is a remarkably calm air of acceptance to this tumultuous scene, that can only be understood by a mother on her seventh child. Despite the harsh, unsanitary circumstances a supportive community of women—from doctors and nurses to social workers—makes this world thrive. Imbued with optimism, humor, and a specific type of strength, mothers exit the doors of the hospital and return to the bustling street outside. Through her sensitive documentation of these personal journeys to motherhood, filmmaker Ramona S. Diaz reveals larger truths about the lack of reproductive health care policy in one of the most populous countries in the world.”
Directed by Laura Dunn
“Director Laura Dunn returns to the Festival with this fitting follow-up to her acclaimed documentary, The Unforeseen (2007 Sundance Film Festival). Her latest film, Look and See: A Portrait of Wendell Berry, premiered at the SXSW Film Festival, where it received a Special Jury Award for visual design.
This gorgeously realized look at the decline of modern U.S. agrarian culture is highlighted through the writings and reflections of author Wendell Berry, who embedded himself in rural life upon returning home to Kentucky in 1965. Writing from a long wooden desk overlooking the landscape, Berry used that vantage point to eloquently praise the benefits of a life deeply connected to the land. Since then, society has shifted dramatically, with mass development of rural areas and corporate farming practices replacing the roles of small family farms.
In this visually stunning ode to a changing cultural landscape, rare photographs blend with farmers and family members expressing their own stories. Using original wood engravings to frame chapters, Look And See explores the graceful intersection between art, life, and the natural world.
Screens with My Father’s Tools
Stephen continues producing traditional baskets to honor his father and thus finds peace in his studio as he connects with the man who taught him the craft.”
Written & Directed by Janicza Bravo
“Isaac Lachmann has seen better days. His acting career is tanking, while his colleagues succeed; his blind girlfriend of 10 years plans to leave him; and his own family singles him out as a constant disappointment at their latest reunion. Even as he takes a chance on new romance, Isaac struggles to define his place in a world that has seemingly turned against him.
Director Janicza Bravo (Gregory Go Boom, 2014 Sundance Film Festival Short Film Jury Award winner) returns to the Festival with her description-defying debut feature that promises to delight and unsettle audiences in equal measure with its unique brand of discomforting humor. Bravo unflinchingly strips down her stellar lead and co-writer, Brett Gelman, to appalling levels of vulnerability, emphasized by idiosyncratic supporting turns from Michael Cera, Judy Greer, Nia Long, Martin Starr, and Gillian Jacobs. Bursting with meticulous unease and loving contempt, Bravo questions what it means to truly unravel.”
Directed by Gillian Robespierre ; Written by Gillian Robespierre and Elisabeth Holm
U.S. Dramatic Competition
“The Manhattan of 1995: a land without cell phones, but abundant in CD listening stations, bar smoke, and family dysfunction. Enter the Jacobs. Eldest daughter Dana’s looming marriage to straight-laced Ben prompts a willful dive into her wild side, while her younger sister, Ali, is still in high school but leads a covert life of sex, drugs, and clubbing. After discovering love letters penned by their father, the sisters try to expose his apparent affair while keeping it from their all-too-composed mother.
Gillian Robespierre’s follow-up to Obvious Child reprises her talent for subversive comedy and explores how family bonds grow sturdier through lying, cheating, and strife. Compelled by the emotional snarl of people’s poor choices, Landline relishes in the dark humor of life’s low points while basking in ’90s nostalgia. An honest, observant portrait of sibling rivalry stumbling awkwardly toward friendship, and of children realizing that parents are people too, there’s no attempt at concealing the indulgences and insecurities of its characters—all of which make them endearing and human.”
Written by Alice Birch
“Swiftly emerging from the pack as a true breakout discovery of the Toronto International Film Festival, the stunning feature debut from theater director William Oldroyd (whose short film Best played at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival) firmly declares the presence of a singular filmmaking voice.
Strictly confined to her absentee husband’s gothic estate in 1865 England’s countryside, young Lady Katherine has been trapped in a loveless marriage of convenience. Imprisoned by the harsh tongue and severe scrutiny of her father-in-law, a steely fire of determination burns within her. When a brutish new servant ensnares her interest, their lascivious affair tears down the status quo, awakening a murderous desire to break free of her chains and inflict vengeance, no matter the price.
Swirling around the absolutely mesmerizing performance of the steely-eyed Florence Pugh in the title role, this fiery adaptation by Oldroyd and screenwriter Alice Birch (based on Nikolai Leskov’s novel) invokes a masterful command of tonal control and breathtaking beauty, whose every frame feels utterly alive.”
Written & Directed by Michelle Morgan
“Annette might be judgmental, critical, and a total perfectionist—but only of the most charming variety. When she suddenly perceives that her relationship with her boyfriend, Elliot, is inferior to all the happy coupledom she sees among her friends, she decides they need to break up. Launched into the LA dating scene, where film industry jobs, old school bars, and elitist consumerism are the norm, Annette begins to realize that maybe meeting some cool new guy isn’t going to lead her to personal fulfillment. When unsettling revelations about her friends and their “ideal” relationships surface, Annette is further forced to reexamine her theories.
In this aesthetically pleasing world created by writer/director/lead actor Michelle Morgan (whose short film K.I.T. played at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival), L.A. Times is a contemporary comedy of manners where West Coast meets Whit Stillman, and sweetness rules over cynicism. Morgan delights in language—witticisms and pithy observations roll off the tongues of her endearing characters who, despite their seemingly perfectly curated lives, manage to complicate things in the most human of ways.”
Directed by Neasa Ní Chianáin
World Documentary Competition
“In the verdant village of Kells, Ireland, there’s an antidote to the dark times we live in—a worn and weathered boarding school with a special magic. At the heart of the school is a bemused elderly couple, John and Amanda Leyden, who have taught with equal parts seriousness and silliness for more than 40 years. The delight of In Loco Parentis is watching the pair undertake beloved pedagogical rituals, from performing the writings of great authors to coaching a fledgling rock band, like donning a favorite sweater.
The couple’s kindness and inventiveness usher elementary school–age children, hailing from around the world, through patches of loneliness and angst. Although the Leydens pretend to dread loud, screaming kids, the truth is they cannot go a day without them. But even the most beautiful traditions wane. As John and Amanda ponder retirement, unapologetically chain-smoking in their ivy-covered cottage, the film poses a quietly profound question: Will their intimate and caring cultivation of future generations live on, or will it vanish like so many community-centered practices?”
Directed by Alethea Jones ; Written by Julie Rudd
“At some point, Emily stopped being “Emily”—high-powered lawyer, strong woman, sexual being—and became, simply, “Mom.” It’s like, her kids and husband are great, but there’s got to be more to life than diapers, playdates, and fingerpaint, right? RIGHT?!?
When some of the other moms at school propose a Chardonnay-soaked night out, Emily is IN. She even drags her reluctant friend Kate along for the ride. But what starts as gossip and tapas quickly turns into a night that these ladies will never forget (even though they’re all super duper high).
Deftly infusing zany hijinks with real feeling, director Alethea Jones and writer Julie Rudd deliver a riotous comedy that spares no rods and spoils no children. The titular moms (Katie Aselton, Toni Collette, Molly Shannon, and Bridget Everett) make a truly formidable ensemble, dispensing dick jokes and tearful revelations with equal aplomb. Together, they prove that “mom” is more than a dirty word—it’s a badge of honor.”
Directed by Alicia Scherson
World Dramatic Competition
“A young family temporarily relocates for the father’s professorship, and an estranged cousin is recruited to house-sit. Martin, the cousin, is a peculiar, brooding, scruffy man. Eager to go, the family dismisses any doubts they have and leave the house in Martin’s care. Left to his own devices, Martin listlessly chain-smokes and goes through Bruno’s personal things. When Martin wanders out, he encounters an attractive single mother. He brings her to the house where he poses as a divorcee who doesn’t get to see his daughter. They get hot and heavy, and soon Martin starts to play father figure to her son, turning their casual fling into domestic bliss, all while seemingly oblivious to the family’s imminent return.
Family Life intrepidly weaves together the perspectives of a couple nobly navigating their family doldrums, and Martin, a drifter seizing a short-term lease on family life. Chile’s most original filmmakers, director Alicia Scherson and co-director Christián Jiménez, team up to knock out an unconventional and profound study of living vicariously in this aloof, melancholy comedy.
Screens with How’s your prostate ?
One friend tells the other about the very strange time when, beside a swimming pool, she learned about her father’s prostate, his erectile function, and his nighttime fantasies.”
Directed by Sydney Freeland ; Written by Shelby Farrell
“Deidra Tanner is a whip-smart high school senior who sells answers to chemistry tests to save up for college, all the while helping her mother raise her stubborn little sister, Laney, and her brother, Jet. It’s more than your average teenager can handle, but Deidra runs a tight ship—that is, until Mom blows a mental gasket at her retail job and throws a high-end TV on the pavement. When Deidra realizes that jail time is ironically proving to be a healthy and therapeutic break from single parent life for her mom, her life is derailed. When she conjures up the will to face her new circumstances, Deidra focuses her talents on the train tracks in her own backyard.
Returning director, Sydney Freeland (Drunktown’s Finest, 2014 Sundance Film Festival) creates comedic alchemy with rising stars Ashleigh Murray (Deidra) and Rachel Crow (Laney) in this zany lemons-to-lemonade romp through kids facing tough times. Fiercely spirited, Deidra & Laney Rob a Train buoyantly flips the script on a world that keeps kids living across the tracks down on their luck.
Screens with Deer Squad: The Movie
Kelvin Peña, a charismatic 17-year-old from rural Pennsylvania, shares his story of going viral after befriending a group of wild deer in his backyard.”
Written & Directed by Marianna Palka
“Jill, a lonely, distraught housewife with four unruly children, paces on her dining room table with a belt around her neck, contemplating a desperate end to her wretchedness. Her husband, Bill, focused on his identity as breadwinner and an affair with a lusty co-worker, is as oblivious to Jill’s growing terror that she will do something destructive as he is to the panic at his unraveling company. Meanwhile, dogs bark and howl through the night, as one persistent mutt continually stalks the family’s yard. When Jill’s psyche finally breaks, she takes on a vicious new canine persona.
Marianna Palka (returning to the Festival after 2008’s Good Dick) writes, directs, and stars in this provocative film. She balances a whip-smart, deeply unsettling take on the horrors of a crumbling nuclear family with a palpable sensitivity for her character’s plight and perfectly timed comedic flourishes. Jason Ritter delivers a beautifully tragicomic performance as Bill, who’s transformed by bizarre crisis from an indifferent hound of a man entirely untethered from his family to their unexpected emotional anchor.”
Directed by Cate Shortland
World Dramatic Competition
“Australian tourist Clare (Teresa Palmer) travels to Berlin to photograph East German architecture and meets Andi (Max Riemelt), a handsome but brooding schoolteacher. After a brief erotic fling, Clare tries to leave, but Andi isn’t ready to let go. She soon finds herself held prisoner in his locked apartment, cut off from the outside world. As her ordeal unfolds, Clare cycles between reasoning with her captor, surrendering to his obsessions, and plotting her escape.
Acclaimed Australian director Cate Shortland’s (Lore and Somersault) potent thriller unfolds with a slow-burn intensity as Clare’s growing dread becomes your own. Adapted by Shaun Grant (The Snowtown Murders) from Melanie Joosten’s 2011 novel, Berlin Syndrome is psychologically acute and uncommonly observant to the shifting power dynamics between captor and prisoner. Palmer’s empathetic and courageous performance keeps us rooting for Clare, while Riemelt brings terrifying depth to the disturbed Andi.”
Written by Cory Sheperd Stern
“As the poorest nations battled intractable diseases, a fledgling group of unstoppable health advocates took on a seemingly impossible mission: global health equity. In 1980s Haiti, in a remote region devastated first by tuberculosis and later by AIDS, Harvard medical student Paul Farmer, idealistic physician Jim Yong Kim, and activist Ophelia Dahl successfully raised funding and opened a clinic—but their patients weren’t surviving after returning home from treatment. The team eventually realized that clinical treatment wasn’t enough; they needed to radically change the way they interacted with the community. Through dramatically increased cultural sensitivity, pointed listening skills, local partnerships, and home visits, prognoses improved mightily, and the revolutionary Partners In Health was born.
Kief Davidson and Pedro Kos’s revelatory, vigorously researched documentary follows the dramatic success of a hands-on community health model that has, since its first project, rescued millions of lives. From a deadly multidrug-resistant TB epidemic in 1990s Peru to the first Ebola cases in Rwanda, this approach, and the intrepid team that envisioned it, transformed global health.”
Directed by Ry Russo
“Sam is one lucky teenager. She’s beautiful, rich, and popular, with the hottest boyfriend and the most loyal friends. But she and her posse can be cruel and heartless; since elementary school they’ve relentlessly bullied one of their classmates. On Friday, February 12th, driving home from a party, Sam is in a dramatic car crash. She should be dead, but wakes the next morning to find the date hasn’t changed. In a Groundhog Day–like time loop, Sam must unravel the mystery of why the last day of her life keeps repeating again and again. Along the way she realizes that every little deed has a consequence, and every action can change another person’s future.
Based on the bestselling young adult novel, Before I Fall features a fluid, riveting performance by Zoey Deutsch as Sam—a girl learning to disentangle her values from high school’s rigid social strictures to discover her true self. Director Ry Russo-Young smartly and lushly layers high school drama with chilly noir and suspense genres to deliver a thrilling, profoundly moving ride.”
Written & Directed by Eliza Hittman
U.S. Dramatic Competition
“Frankie, an aimless teenager on the outer edges of Brooklyn, is having a miserable summer. With his father dying and his mother wanting him to find a girlfriend, Frankie escapes the bleakness of his home life by causing trouble with his delinquent friends and flirting with older men online. When his chatting and webcamming intensify, he finally starts hooking up with guys at a nearby cruising beach while simultaneously entering into a cautious relationship with a young woman. As Frankie struggles to reconcile his competing desires, his decisions leave him hurtling toward irreparable consequences.
Writer/director Eliza Hittman’s short film Forever’s Gonna Start Tonight played the Festival in 2011. Her first feature, It Felt Like Love, premiered at the 2013 Festival and put her on the map as someone to watch. Beach Rats fulfills the promise of her previous films and takes Hittman’s career to a whole new level. With a smoldering lead performance from newcomer Harris Dickinson, this exquisitely crafted, scrupulously authentic, dark, and dangerous film propels Eliza Hittman into a league with the greats.”
Written & Directed by Helene Hegemann
World Dramatic Competition
“Mifti is a beautiful and reckless 16-year-old girl. Her mother is dead, and her wealthy, eccentric father is too self-absorbed to be responsible for her. Mifti has no use for peers her own age, and being aware of the sexual power she wields with her looks and youth, she immerses herself in a world of adults of questionable character. Lovesick over an elusive older woman, she strikes up a friendship with Ophelia, an actress, and together they test the limits through Berlin nightlife and extreme partying.
Writer/director Helene Hegemann, whose novel Axolotl Roadkill was a controversial best seller in Germany, makes an astonishingly accomplished and stylish debut feature. With its soul and R & B soundtrack, this tightly and kinetically edited tale of youthful excess and exuberance is a trippy, picaresque ride through adolescent impulses and desires. Jasna Fritzi Bauer makes an indelible impression as she balances toughness and vulnerability, perfectly capturing a girl’s search for love and her ultimate realization of needing to free herself in order to move forward.”
Directed by Bonni Cohen
“A decade after An Inconvenient Truth brought climate change into the heart of popular culture comes the riveting and rousing follow-up that shows just how close we are to a real energy revolution. Vice President Al Gore continues his tireless fight, traveling around the world training an army of climate champions and influencing international climate policy. Cameras follow him behind the scenes—in moments private and public, funny and poignant—as he pursues the empowering notion that while the stakes have never been higher, the perils of climate change can be overcome with human ingenuity and passion.
Renowned filmmakers Bonni Cohen and Jon Shenk (Audrie & Daisy, 2016 Sundance Film Festival) have taken the baton from 2006 Academy Award–winner Davis Guggenheim. What started then as a profound PowerPoint lecture has become a gorgeously cinematic excursion. Our extraordinary former vice president invites us along on an inspirational journey across the globe that delivers the tools to heal our planet. The question is: Will WE choose to take the baton?”
Directed by Pamela Yates
“The third film in a trilogy about Guatemala, this installment explores the sweeping historical significance of the war crimes trial of General Ríos Montt and the toppling of corrupt president Otto Pérez Molina. Sundance Film Festival veteran Pamela Yates gracefully engages the indigenous Mayan population who experienced genocide at the hands of a long-standing repressive government. Silenced family members and eyewitnesses come forward to share their individual stories with the desire that their underreported, horrific treatment receive the attention it deserves.
Spoken in Spanish and native Mayan languages, 500 YEARS delicately weaves archival footage with new interviews and emotional courtroom scenes to shine light on a growing movement to fend off the systematic aggression toward an underrepresented people. Focusing on the recent events of a country that has suffered for generations at the hands of a ruling elite, the film hails the nation’s citizens banding together on a quest for justice—and emerging as a beacon of hope.”
More Shorts by Female Filmmakers
Cecile on the Phone / U.S.A. (Director: Annabelle Dexter-Jones, Screenwriters: Annabelle Dexter-Jones, Ellen Greenberg) — Overwhelmed by doubt and confusion after her ex-boyfriend’s return to New York, Cecile embarks on a series of telephone conversations that serve only to distract her from the one conversation she really needs to have.
Come Swim / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Kristen Stewart) — This is a diptych of one man’s day, half impressionist and half realist portraits.
GOOD CRAZY / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Rosa Salazar) — A complex chick deals with a vanilla beau, a shitty brunch and a dead coyote all in a Los Angeles day. There’s batshit crazy and then there’s good crazy—she fits somewhere in between.
Hardware / U.S.A. (Director: Stephen Jacobson, Screenwriters: Ellen Stringer, Stephen Jacobson) — An amateur electronic-drum enthusiast travels to a housewares trade show looking to strike up the perfect business partnership. When things don’t go as planned, he finds himself at the mercy of the electronic drumbeat playing in his head.
Hot Seat / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Anna Kerrigan) — Teenaged Andrea uses a male stripper to gain the respect and admiration of cool girl Daphne in this exploration of coming-of-age sexuality and teen girls’ complex relationships, based on a true story.
Kaiju Bunraku / U.S.A. (Directors: Lucas Leyva, Jillian Mayer, Screenwriter: Lucas Leyva) — Here’s a day in the life of a husband and wife living in a world of giant monsters.
Laps / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Charlotte Wells) — On a routine morning, a woman on a crowded New York City subway is sexually assaulted in plain sight.
LostFound / U.S.A. (Director: Shakti Bhagchandani, Screenwriters: Shakti Bhagchandani, Emre Gulcan) — This story portrays a day in the life of a woman in the Nation of Islam.
Lucia, Before and After / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Anu Valia) — After traveling 200 miles, a young woman waits out Texas’s state-mandated 24-hour waiting period before her abortion can proceed.
Rubber Heart / U.S.A. (Director: Lizzy Sanford, Screenwriters: Lizzy Sanford, Anna Cordell) — After a painful dry spell, a woman attempts to have a one-night stand.
And The Whole Sky Fit In The Dead Cow’s Eye / Chile, U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Francisca Alegría) — Emeteria is visited by the ghost of her patrón, Teodoro. She believes he has come to take her to the afterlife—but he has more devastating news.
Dadyaa — The Woodpeckers of Rotha / Nepal, France (Directors and screenwriters: Pooja Gurung, Bibhusan Basnet) — Atimaley and Devi’s village is haunted by memories. When a dear friend leaves the village without saying goodbye, the old couple faces a dilemma: keep living with the memories or leave the village for good?
Dear Mr. Shakespeare / United Kingdom (Director: Shola Amoo, Screenwriter: Phoebe Boswell) — An exploration of Shakespeare’s intentions when writing Othello explores the play’s racial themes in historical and contemporary settings, and draws wider parallels between immigration and blackness in the UK today.
HEAT / Poland (Directors and screenwriters: Agata Trzebuchowska, Mateusz Pacewicz) — A young boy does an unusual favor for a friend, assuming his identity to visit his senile grandmother. The woman takes him for a walk, and tells him about the biggest mystery of her life.
MappaMundi / Luxembourg, Austria (Director and screenwriter: Bady Minck) — Through the eyes of cosmic cartographers, the viewer takes a voyage through 950 million years of Earth history and 15,000 years of cartography. This accelerated journey visualizes the change in our world—a change unnoticeable in a single lifetime.
Mare Nostrum / France, Syrian Arab Republic (Directors: Rana Kazkaz, Anas Khalaf, Screenwriter: Rana Kazkaz) — On a Mediterranean shore, a Syrian father makes a decision that puts his daughter’s life at risk.
Slapper / Australia (Director: Luci Schroder, Screenwriters: Luci Schroder, Sam West) — A broke and rebellious teen navigates a suburban wasteland, hustling money for the morning-after pill—before it’s too late.
Close Ties / Poland (Director: Zofia Kowalewska) — Barbara and Zdzislaw will soon celebrate their 45th anniversary—despite their constant bickering, and the fact that Zdzislaw spent eight of those years living with another woman. This is a portrait of a relationship that, somewhat inexplicably, perseveres.
Hairat / Ethiopia (Director: Jessica Beshir) — One man’s nightly ritual brings solace to the lovelorn of Harar.
My Father’s Tools / Canada (Director: Heather Condo) — Stephen continues producing traditional baskets to honor his father and thus finds peace in his studio as he connects with the man who taught him the craft.
Project X / U.S.A. (Directors: Laura Poitras, Henrik Moltke) — A top secret handbook takes viewers on an undercover journey to the site of a hidden partnership. Based on NSA documents, this film reveals the inner workings of a windowless skyscraper in Manhattan.
Tough / United Kingdom (Director: Jennifer Zheng) — New light is shed on childhood cultural misunderstandings when a Chinese mother and her British-born daughter speak as adults for the first time. Some things can only be understood with maturity.
Waiting for Hassana / Nigeria (Director: Ifunanya Maduka) — In 2014, 276 teenage girls came together for exams in Chibok, Nigeria—by dawn, nearly all had disappeared, and their school was burned to the ground. Jessica, an escapee, shares her haunting account of a friendship violently interrupted by Boko Haram.
White Riot: London / United Kingdom (Director: Rubika Shah) — In 1977, immigration divides Britain. What happens when a punk fanzine challenges the status quo?
Do No Harm / New Zealand (Director and screenwriter: Roseanne Liang) — 3:00 a.m., 1980s Hongjing: In an aging private hospital, a single-minded surgeon is forced to break her physician’s oath when violent gangsters storm in to stop a crucial operation.
Pussy / Poland (Director and screenwriter: Renata Gasiorowska) — Alone at home one evening, a young girl decides to have a solo pleasure session—but not everything goes according to plan.
Summer’s Puke Is Winter’s Delight / Japan (Director and screenwriter: Sawako Kabuki) — Painful events become memories over time. Still, we vomit and eat again. Life is eco.
How’s your prostate? / France (Directors: Jeanne Paturle, Cécile Rousset, Screenwriters: Jeanne Paturle, Cécile Rousset, Cécile Mille) — One friend tells the other about the very strange time when, beside a swimming pool, she learned about her father’s prostate, his erectile function and his nighttime fantasies.
Nighthawk / Slovenia, Croatia (Director: Špela Čadež, Screenwriters: Gregor Zorc, Špela Čadež) — Attempting to remove an unresponsive badger from a dark road, a police patrol soon realizes that the animal is not dead but rather dead drunk. Things take an even stranger turn when the creature wakes up.
Nutag — Homeland / Canada (Director and screenwriter: Alisi Telengut) — This hand-painted visual poem explores the ideas of diaspora, homeland and the mass deportations of the Kalmyk people during World War II.
Summer Camp Island / U.S.A., South Korea (Director and screenwriter: Julia Pott) — Oscar and his best friend, Hedgehog, just got dropped off at summer camp. Once the parents leave the island, the strangeness lurking beneath the surface is revealed—aliens exist, horses become unicorns and there are monsters under the bed.
Trumpet Man / Hong Kong (Director and screenwriter: Emily Wong) — A turntable springs out a woman named Avocado; her instinct creates a man called Soul. Passion swings both, and an uncertain madness strikes Soul heavily. Seeds of passion breed conflict among five men, eventually leading Soul to a deeper understanding of life.