A curated list of films at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival by and about women.
It's December 1945, and the Second World War is finally over. Mathilde, a young French Red Cross doctor, finds herself in Warsaw treating the last of the French soldiers returning from the front. One night, a nun appears at the clinic, begging Mathilde to follow her back to the convent on urgent business. What Mathilde finds there is shocking: a holy sister about to give birth.
As Mathilde enters the sisters' fiercely private world, secrets rise to the surface, and modernism and science clash with faith and tradition. The nuns go about their strict daily rituals, but inside the convent's chilly stone walls, echoing with their melancholic chants, a dangerous revolution is taking place.
Based on true events, this thrilling drama will have you on the edge of your seat to see what happens. Superlative director Anne Fontaine, who brought us Adore (2013 Sundance Film Festival) and Coco Before Chanel, is at her best when transporting us to intimate worlds of women courageously crossing verboten boundaries.
Director: Anne Fontaine
Cast: Lou de Laage, Agata Kulesza, Agata Buzek, Vincent Macaigne, Joanna Kullig, Katarazyna Dabarowska
Certain Women drops us into a handful of intersecting lives across Montana. A lawyer (Laura Dern) tries to diffuse a hostage situation and calm her disgruntled client (Jared Harris), who feels slighted by a workers’ compensation settlement. A married couple (Michelle Williams and James Le Gros) breaks ground on a new home but exposes marital fissures when they try to persuade an elderly man to sell his stockpile of sandstone. A ranch hand (Lily Gladstone) forms an attachment to a young lawyer (Kristen Stewart), who inadvertently finds herself teaching a twice-weekly adult education class, four hours from her home.
Kelly Reichardt returns to the American West, by way of Maile Meloy’s short stories, but upends its traditional associations. Here, the rugged men of yesteryear struggle with age, injury, and indignation while the women imperfectly blaze trails. Reichardt’s unhurried, observational style resists judgment or sentimentality. The picturesque setting masks lives of quiet desperation and conflicting emotion. All three stories strain with longing, populated by flawed people wrestling with moral ambiguity and living between isolation and intimacy.
Director: Kelly Reichardt
Cast: Laura Dern, Kristen Stewart, Michelle Williams, James Le Gros, Jared Harris, Lily Gladstone
Set in the opulent drawing rooms of eighteenth-century English society, Love & Friendship focuses on the machinations of a beautiful widow, Lady Susan Vernon (Kate Beckinsale), who, while waiting for social chatter about a personal indiscretion to pass, takes up temporary residence at her in-laws’ estate. While there, the intelligent, flirtatious, and amusingly egotistical Lady Vernon is determined to be a matchmaker for her daughter Frederica—and herself too, naturally. She enlists the assistance of her old friend Alicia (Chloë Sevigny), but two particularly handsome suitors (Xavier Samuel and Tom Bennett) complicate her orchestrations.
Adapting Jane Austen’s unpublished early novella Lady Susan, Whit Stillman returns to the Sundance Film Festival (where his Metropolitan premiered in 1990) in top form with his latest comedy of manners. Kate Beckinsale excels in her role as the deliciously devious Lady Vernon and delivers each line with relish. With exquisite period detail and a script teeming with bon mots and witty dialogue, Love & Friendship is a rare—and rarified—treat.
Director: Whit Stillman
Cast: Kate Beckinsale, Chloe Sevigny, Xavier Samuel, Emma Greenwell, Tom Bennett, Stephen Fry
In the autumn of 1941, Grover Ohta, an educated and gentlemanly first-generation Japanese American, arrives in the small town of Salty Creek, South Carolina. The tight-knit, God-fearing community is unsettled by the “yellow foreigner” and looks upon him with disdain and suspicion. Iconoclastic Sophie, a lonely but comely spinster, is cautiously drawn to Ohta. Connected by their love of painting and each nursing painful memories, the two find themselves attracted to each other. While gossip about Ohta and Sophie’s relationship spreads through the disapproving town, news of the bombing of Pearl Harbor comes, and Ohta becomes even more of a target.
Director Maggie Greenwald returns to the Sundance Film Festival (Songcatcher) with an elegant historical drama and moving love story. Takashi Yamaguchi appealingly plays Ohta, while three strong female characters—and performances—create the driving force of the film: Sophie (Julianne Nicholson), Anne (Margo Martindale), the guarded but kind widow who takes Ohta in, and Salome (Lorraine Toussaint), Anne’s intelligent, all-seeing domestic help. As Southern women unwilling to accept their lot in society, they fight for their beliefs and dignity against an inescapable reality.
Director: Maggie Greenwald
Cast: Julianne Nicholson, Margo Martindale, Lorraine Toussaint, Takashi Yamaguchi, Diane Ladd, Joel Murray
Distinctly referred to as “a redwood tree, with deep deep roots in American culture,” icon Maya Angelou gives people the freedom to think about their history in a way they never had before. Dr. Angelou’s was a prolific life; as a singer, dancer, activist, poet, and writer she inspired generations with lyrical modern African American thought that pushed boundaries.
Bob Hercules and Rita Coburn’s unprecedented film celebrates Dr. Maya Angelou by weaving her words with rare and intimate archival photographs and videos, which paint hidden moments of her exuberant life during some of America’s most defining civil rights moments. From her upbringing in the Depression-era South to her swinging soirees with Malcolm X in Ghana to her inaugural speech for President Bill Clinton, we are given special access to interviews with Dr. Angelou whose indelible charm and quick wit make it easy to love her.
Skillfully crafted with heart and ease, this film reflects the vibrant spirit of an American legend who was determined to live her philosophies and fought for what she believed in her whole life.
Director: Bob Hercules, Rita Coburn Whack
Privilege, love, loss, and survival are all deftly examined in Nothing Left Unsaid, which turns a lens on the expansive life of Gloria Vanderbilt. At 91, Vanderbilt herself provides a rich living history on the experience of growing up within a storied American family. Her youngest son, Anderson Cooper, peppers his still-vibrant mother on camera with questions about her complex public and private personas.
Ms. Vanderbilt recounts how, as a young girl, she was raised by a nurse who she adored and was later involved in a highly publicized custody battle. While in prep school, she traveled to Hollywood and soon found herself married to an older man. From then on, her life revolved around a series of famous suitors, her children, an acting career, and eventually a successful fashion business. Yet all the while, she quietly created art that revealed themes most resonant to her. Veteran director Liz Garbus delicately weaves archival footage and home movies that supply the backdrop to Vanderbilt’s stories of a rich, yet complicated life.
Director: Liz Garbus
Cast: Gloria Vanderbilt, Anderson Cooper
U.S. Documentary Competition
Audrie and Daisy, two high school girls in different towns across America, were sexually assaulted by boys they thought were their friends. Both girls experienced social media bullying and were stigmatized—and both attempted suicide. Tragically, Audrie takes her own life, but Daisy survives, and her story becomes a journey to keep living. By juxtaposing their stories and drawing connections between the two teenage girls, bold filmmakers Bonni Cohen and Jon Shenk illuminate the larger societal epidemic of sexual assault that has been exacerbated by today’s technologies. And rather than paint a simple picture, they also give voice to the spectrum of male perspectives involved in Daisy’s case: her assailants, the small-town sheriff, and her brother, who now works to change the next generation of boys.
Through the specificity of Audrie and Daisy’s experiences, insights emerge that can be extrapolated to the larger landscape. As Daisy learns Audrie’s story and joins a community of survivors, Audrie & Daisy sparks a vital conversation around breaking these cycles of stigma and isolation for teenage rape victims that has blown up in the face of social media hysteria.
Director: Bonni Cohen, John Shenk
New York magazine’s October 2005 issue sent shockwaves through the literary world when it unmasked “it boy” wunderkind JT LeRoy, whose tough prose about his sordid childhood had captivated icons and luminaries internationally. It turned out LeRoy didn’t actually exist. He was dreamed up by 40-year-old San Francisco punk rocker and phone sex operator, Laura Albert.
Author: The JT LeRoy Story takes us down the infinitely fascinating rabbit hole of how Laura Albert—like a Cyrano de Bergerac on steroids—breathed not only words, but life, into her avatar for a decade. Albert’s epic and entertaining account, aided by a miraculous trove of recorded conversations and personal archives, plunges us into a glittery world of rock shows, fashion events, and the Cannes red carpet where LeRoy becomes a mysterious sensation. As she recounts this astonishing odyssey, Albert also reveals the intricate web spun by irrepressible creative forces within her. Her extended and layered JT LeRoy performance still infuriates many; but for Albert, channeling her brilliant fiction through another identity was the only possible path to self-expression.
Director: Jeff Feuerzeig
Cast: Laura Albert
In 1974, television host Christine Chubbuck committed suicide on air at a Sarasota, Florida, news station. This is considered the first televised suicide in history, and though it was the inspiration for the 1976 Best Picture nominee Network, the story and facts behind the event remain mostly unknown. Now in the present, actress Kate Lyn Sheil is cast in a “stylized cheap ‘70s soap opera” version of Christine’s story, and to prepare for the role, Kate travels to Sarasota to investigate the mysteries and meanings behind her tragic demise.
Filmmaker Robert Greene cleverly forgoes your standard talking-head-and-sound-bite approach to non-fiction storytelling, instead choosing to employ Kate Lyn Sheil as a conduit to understanding an impossibly complex issue. Committed to doing justice to Christine’s life, Kate not only candidly pulls back the curtain on her acting process, but she also reveals the biases and presumptions even supposed experts can provide in their diagnosis. Kate Plays Christine boldly challenges its subjects and audience alike to accept that answers from the past are never easy.
Director: Robert Greene
Cast: Kate Lyn Sheil, Stephanie Coatney, Marty Stonerock, Michael Ray Davis, Holland Hayes, Zachary Gossett
From 2011 to 2013, hundreds of regulations were passed restricting access to abortion in America. Reproductive rights advocates refer to these as “TRAP” laws, or Targeted Regulations of Abortion Providers. TRAP laws have swept across the country, especially the South, where most clinics are in a desperate battle for survival.
In the trenches of this war on women’s rights are the doctors, clinic owners, and resolute staff who refuse to give up. Trapped interweaves the personal stories of a fearless physician who crisscrosses the country assuring that medical services are available, the stalwart women and men who run the clinics, the lawyers leading the charge to eradicate these laws, and ultimately to the women they are all determined to help. Filmmaker Dawn Porter has crafted a powerful and comprehensive battle cry. Trapped puts the viewer on the front lines alongside a staunch cadre of warriors committed to preserving abortion rights in a country maintaining the mistaken belief that Roe v. Wade still fully protects a woman’s right to choose.
Director: Dawn Porter
Screenwriters: Sari Gilman, Dawn Porter
Cast: Marva Sadler, Willie Parker MD, Nancy Northup, Dalton Johnson, Gloria Gray, June Ayers
World Cinema Documentary Competition
The danger is palpable as intrepid young filmmaker Nanfu Wang follows maverick activist Ye Haiyan (a.k.a Hooligan Sparrow) and her band of colleagues to Hainan Province in southern China to protest the case of six elementary school girls who were sexually abused by their principal. Marked as enemies of the state, the activists are under constant government surveillance and face interrogation, harassment, and imprisonment. Sparrow, who gained notoriety with her advocacy work for sex workers’ rights, continues to champion girls’ and women’s rights and arms herself with the power and reach of social media.
Filmmaker Wang becomes a target along with Sparrow, as she faces destroyed cameras and intimidation. Yet she bravely and tenaciously keeps shooting, guerrilla-style, with secret recording devices and hidden-camera glasses, and in the process, she exposes a startling number of undercover security agents on the streets. Eventually, through smuggling footage out of the country, Wang is able tell the story of her journey with the extraordinary revolutionary Sparrow, her fellow activists, and their seemingly impossible battle for human rights.
Director: Nanfu Wang
Cast: Haiyan Ye, Yu Wang
Inviting us into a world we would otherwise never know, this richly textured portraiture jumps off the screen in vibrant, clarifying colors. Carmen, Letty, Raquel, and Esther, each ranging in age from 60 to 80 years old, work the streets of La Merced in Mexico City, where life revolves around a large town plaza. Age means nothing to these women, who still dance and seduce with the same energy they’ve held on to since youth. But with time comes a desire to seek out companionship and security, whether in the form of their fellow co-workers, older men, or their own deeply ingrained sense of self-reliance.
Photographer-turned-filmmaker Maya Goded refuses to shy away from the painful aspects of these women’s jobs—the abuse, fear, and discontent that come from years of selling intimacy. She leads us into their histories, families, superstitions, and hopes, while allowing the camera to hone in on the contours of their well-worn bodies—beautiful and real. Plaza de la Soledad is a sumptuous visual celebration and a refreshingly honest exploration of physical and emotional self-determination against difficult odds.
Director: Maya Goded
Cast: Carmen Munoz, Leticia Guzman, Epifania Ruiz Lucas, Angeles Alvarez Llorente, Raquel Lopez, Carlos Perez Ramirez
Sonita / Germany, Iran, Switzerland
As a female rapper in conservative Iran, Sonita’s talents are a liability. But Sonita insists on dreaming big. Her beats are as solid as stones, her rhymes are fierce, and her videos a piercing howl against the constant injustice, fear, and sexism women must endure. It was only a matter of time before her charismatic presence and spirited eyes changed her fortune, and with the help of acclaimed director Rokhsareh Ghaemmaghami, she is suddenly offered a scholarship that leads her on a dangerous trip back to Afghanistan and ultimately to Utah. All the while, Sonita’s conservative mother insists she must be married off soon, at a price, and threatens to derail Sonita’s life at its most critical juncture.
An intimate portrait of creativity and womanhood, Sonita highlights the rarely seen intricacies and shifting contrasts of Iranian society through the lens of an artist who is defining the next generation.
Director: Rokhsareh Ghaem Maghami
Cast: Sonita Alidazeh
U.S. Dramatic Competition
Based on true events, Christine tells the story of a career-driven 29-year-old news reporter at WXLT-TV in Sarasota, Florida, circa 1974. Striking and ambitious, Christine (Rebecca Hall) knows she has talent, but she’s held back by often-paralyzing self-doubt in her professional life, as well as the strong desire to meet someone and start a family. With ratings in the cellar, the station manager issues a new directive to give the people what they want—juicier and more exploitative stories, a mandate firmly at odds with her serious brand of issue-based journalism. When the station’s owner decides to transfer someone from WXLT to a larger-market station in Baltimore, Christine resorts to a more sensational style to land the coveted spot, even if it means adding a bit of color to her typical broadcast.
As made evident in his previous films Afterschool and Simon Killer, director Antonio Campos is well-versed in translating the damaged psyche to film. This latest effort elevates his style to the next level, delivering a hypnotic, emotionally arresting portrayal of a woman at a crossroads.
Director: Antonio Campos
Cast: Rebecca Hall, Michael C. Hall, Maria Dizia, Tracy Letts, J Smith-Cameron
Senior investment banker Naomi Bishop’s (Anna Gunn) world of high-power big money is brutal and fierce, and one she thrives in. When a controversial IPO threatens the fragile balance of power and confidentiality, Naomi finds herself entangled in a web of politics and deception. With an aggressive prosecutor (Alysia Reiner) from her past on her heels, and her junior, Erin (Sarah Megan Thomas), tempted to backstab Naomi for her own survival, she's forced to reexamine the world she loves and her own ambitions.
Meera Menon's suspenseful sophomore feature tackles head-on the power structure of Wall Street in the post-financial crisis through the female lens of women fighting for survival in the cutthroat race to the top. Ambitious and deftly directed, Menon gives us the first female-focused Wall Street drama and proves herself to be a director to watch. –
Director: Meera Menon
Cast: Anna Gunn, James Purefoy, Sarah Megan Thomas, Alysia Reiner
Control freak bride-to-be Annie gathers her group of thirtysomething friends at the picturesque Savannah family summer home of sisters Jessie (writer/director Clea Duvall) and Ruby to convince Ruby and her workaholic husband, Peter, that their relationship has turned irreparably toxic. Joined by Annie’s easygoing fiancé, Jessie’s partner (Sarah), as well as the reluctant Jack and his sprightly 22-year-old girlfriend, the group makes fumbling attempts to jump-start the intervention throughout the booze-fueled weekend, while resolutely avoiding dealing with their own vices and regrets.
The Intervention depicts an intensely relatable group of characters as they abandon the façade of being fine and embrace the reality of “fine-adjacent.” In her feature directorial debut, Duvall adeptly balances the performances of her talented ensemble cast, highlighted by complex work by Cobie Smulders as the deeply unhappy Ruby and an effervescent turn by Alia Shawkat as the “baby stranger” interloper, weaving them into a bittersweet dramedy acknowledging how difficult it can be to stop doing the things that hurt us.
Director: Clea DuVall
Cast: Melanie Lynskey, Cobie Smulders, Alia Shawkat, Clea DuVall, Natasha Lyonne, Ben Schwartz
Sarah (Riley Keough), a young mother, raises her precocious daughter in their country home while feeling abandoned by her husband, who perpetually travels for work. When Sarah’s old friend Mindy (Jena Malone) comes to visit, they decide to take a road trip, and after an alcohol-infused heart-to-heart, a long unspoken intimacy emerges between the longtime friends. Later Sarah is unable to articulate her thoughts about her husband or Mindy, and Mindy makes the decision to leave the trip and go home. Three years later, the two women are reunited for Mindy’s wedding, and Sarah is forced to reconcile the reality of her feelings.
Sundance Film Festival alumna So Yong Kim (In Between Days, For Ellen) delicately strips down the central relationship of Lovesong using the poetics of naturalism and minimalism, where silence and gazes tell a more complete story than explicit dialogue. Keough delivers a beautifully understated and interior performance as Sarah, a woman suffocating in her isolation. Quietly cinematic and picturesque, Lovesong is a bittersweet, elliptical love story about muted desire and the gray area that can define a relationship.
Director: So Young Kim
Cast: Jena Malone, Riley Keough, Brooklyn Decker, Amy Seimetz, Ryan Eggold, Rosanna Arquette
Young vagabond Lu lives in a van and is fiercely independent in her hand-to-mouth existence. This daily struggle has become tiresome for her privileged boyfriend, Nico, who unceremoniously leaves her one night. When a chance encounter incites her to impulsively “rescue” a baby from a negligent mother, Lu, at a loss for what to do, turns to the only responsible adult she knows: Nico’s unsmiling academic mother, Margo, who believes she’s the child’s grandmother. Thrown together despite differences in class and worldview, Margo and Lu make a lovable, if tense, odd couple. The two are bound to each other as they tentatively form a haphazard family, though Margo has no idea that the police are hot on Lu’s trail for absconding with a child.
In the winsome lead performances, Ellen Page plays the scrappy, free-spirited Lu while Allison Janney’s Margo is equal parts measured and bemused as their characters wrestle, and often clash, over responsibility, motherhood, and their uncertain futures. Writer/director Sian Heder combines warmth, madcap humor, and a deep understanding of human nature in this delightful dramatic comedy about the serendipitous unpredictability of life.
Director: Sian Heder
Cast:Ellen Page, Allison Janney, Tammy Blanchard, Evan Jonigkelt, Uzo Aduba
The cross section between New York’s mean streets and its gentrified alcoves makes for potent social satire in Elizabeth Wood’s tough and exhilarating debut. Equipped with platinum - blonde hair and a winning smile, college girl Leah (Morgan Saylor) seeks out pleasure in any form. She has two weeks before fall semester, and in between getting high with her roommate and snorting lines with her boss, she finds time to meet with a handsome, young Puerto Rican drug dealer named Blue. Within days, the two are selling dime bags to her affluent white colleagues, collecting fast cash, and living the high life. But their euphoria comes to a grinding halt once Blue’ is arrested and Leah’s left with a hefty amount of his coke. Does she spend it to save him or use herself?
Shot with a sharp eye for New York City, White Girl thrashes through an increasingly high-stakes game of hedonism where unspoken socio-economic tensions coupled with a blatant disregard for consequence converge into a shocking commentary on today's youth culture. Saylor and Wood are forces to be reckoned with, unleashing a torrent of vulnerability and confidence that will leave audiences enticed and unsettled.
Director: Elizabeth Wood
Cast: Morgan Saylor, Brian ‘Sene’ Mark, Justin Bartha, Chris Noth, India Menuez, Adrian Martinez
World Cinema Dramatic Competition
A Good Wife / Serbia - Bosnia - Croatia
Milena is a middle-aged wife and mother ensconced comfortably behind a gate in an upscale suburb of Belgrade. She quietly tends to her looks, dutifully cooks and entertains, and meets her friends for choir practice. She makes love with her husband and they socialize jauntily with a group of old friends. But unsettling realities are beginning to seep into Milena’s consciousness and disrupt her ordered world. One day while cleaning, she happens upon a videotape that incriminates her husband in horrific war crimes. A Good Wife is the story of how this secret reverberates in Milena’s life and eventually changes her.
Thanks to a superb performance by Serbian actress Mirjana Karanovic, who also wrote the layered script and directed with aplomb, Milena’s combination of cautious reticence and regal decorum is mesmerizing. The camera lingers close on her face, revealing an interior conflict that would be otherwise imperceptible. There’s a quiet intensity in every scene, where drama is unleashed in subtle looks and gestures, and the legacy of the Balkan War lives on in the most intimate places.
Director: Mirjana Karanovic
Cast: Mirjana Karanovic, Boris Isakovic, Jasna Djuricic, Bojan Navojec, Hristina Popovic, Ksenija Marinkovic
One dark night, at water’s edge, a family of musicians encounter aquatic sirens Silver and Golden. After assuring the family that they won’t eat them up, the winsome mermaids are recruited to join the Figs and Dates band at a neon-lit Warsaw dance club. When Silver becomes romantically entangled with beautiful blonde bassist Mietek, the more cunning Golden, who cannot escape her bloodthirsty nature and assimilate, worries that her sister’s relationship will doom their shared dream of swimming to a new life in America.
This weird, wild, 1980s-set musical horror film wittily plays with the lust and repulsion the bewitching sisters create with their combination of Barbie doll smooth bodies and impressively long glittering mermaid tails. With a knack for both burlesque and the grotesque, first-time feature director Agnieszka Smoczyńska creates a world saturated in color and Europop slickness that twists with absurdity and drips with blood.
Director: Agnieszka Smoczynska
Cast: Marta Mazurek, Michalina Olszanska, Jakub Gierszal, Kinga Preis, Andrzej Konopka, Zygmunt Malanowicz
Mammal / Ireland - Luxembourg - Netherlands
After Margaret learns that her 18-year-old son, who she abandoned as a baby, has been found dead, her simple, solitary routine is tragically disrupted. But when Joe, a homeless teen from her neighborhood, enters her life, Margaret offers him a room, and she soon embodies the mother she never was. As Margaret copes with the volatile grief of her ex-husband, her own lonely trauma seeps into her relationship with Joe, and begins to blur the line between motherly affection and a far more carnal nature of intimacy.
With a firm grasp on the devastating layers of grief, Rebecca Daly’s Mammal expertly guides us through the isolating depth into which Margaret is thrust. Rachel Grifith, Barry Keoghan and Michael McElhatton infuse the film with raw vulnerability that pulsates with the animalistic nature of trauma. This quiet portrait of anguish further establishes Daly’s position as a director with astonishing command.
Cast: Rachel Griffiths, Barry Keoghan, Michael McElhatton
While her filmmaker husband works in Chile, harried young mother Liz struggles to take care of her infant son. Feeling out of place amongst the tight-knit group of other parents at the park, doubted by her husband, and judged by her newly-hired nanny, Liz is drawn to factory worker Rosa, a plain-talking single mother she meets at the swings one day. Despite Liz’s liberation upon finding a bold new confidante, the friends’ increasingly apparent class differences, along with swirling rumors about Rosa’s motives and muddy family situation, feed Liz’s suspicions that her new pal might be a sinister influence on her already fragile life.
An honest appraisal of the public and private faces of motherhood, Mi Amiga del Parque casts the insecurities and exaltations of female friendship in equally sharp relief. In the role of Liz, Julieta Zylberberg fully embodies the anxieties and discomfort of a woman unraveling at the upheaval of her entire identity, while Ana Katz (who is also the film’s writer/director) plays the shrewd, fiery Rosa with a fierce sensitivity that earns both empathy and suspense.
Director: Ana Katz
Cast: Julieta Zylberberg, Ana Katz, Maricel Alvarez, Mirelal Pascual, Melena Figo, Daniel Hendler
As wedding festivities get underway in a Bedouin village in Israel, Jalila finds herself in the awkward position of hosting her husband Suliman’s marriage to a second, much younger wife. During the celebration, Jalila stumbles across her eldest daughter Layla’s involvement with a boy from her university—a strictly forbidden liaison that would shame the family. Burying the indignity of Suliman and his new bride living next door, Jalila also tries to contain Layla’s situation by clamping down on her. But younger and possessed of a boundless spirit, Layla sees a different life for herself.
A story of tradition, modernity and divided family, Sand Storm upends expectations. At its core, Elite Zexer’s mesmerizing debut feature portrays the emotionally layered relationship between mother and daughter, both bound by custom while struggling to adapt to a changing world. Zexer’s artful storytelling derives its authenticity—its complexity of character, rich detail, and subtle humor—from the ten years she’s spent interacting with Bedouin women. Her fidelity to their experience allows her to beautifully convey the spirit of profound ambivalence Jalila and Layla share.
Director: Elite Zexer
Cast:Lamis Ammar, Ruba Blal-Asfour, Haitham Omari, Khadija Alakel, Jalal Masarwa
Wild / Germany
A strange encounter with a wild wolf at the edge of Ania’s cold, mundane town sets off a deep-seated passion within her, shattering the drudgery of her dull days. Determined to hunt the untamed creature, she finds herself pulled to the natural world as a fearless lust for the wolf grows, eliciting a desire for her own sexuality and a disregard for social graces, repulsing yet attracting everyone around her. As the balance between the natural world and modern civilization begins to tip, so too do Ania's inhibitions, forcing her to question the glaring hypocrisies closing in on her.
Nicolette Krebitz's bold, anarchistic love story is a fairy tale for the ages. Along with Krebitz's sharp vision, Lilith Stangenberg's daring performance with her co-star, a wolf, takes us into the mind of a woman led by the deepest and wildest forces to break free of a world controlled by commodity, female dependence on male sexuality, and the mundane minutia of modern life. Visually poetic and sexually charged, Wild is a cinematic accomplishment of revolutionary fantasy.
Director: Nicolette Krebitz
Cast: Lilth Stangenberg, Georg Friedrich
Toni, an 11-year-old tomboy, trains as a boxer with her brother at a rec center in Cincinnati’s West End, but becomes fascinated by the dance drill team that also practices there. Drawn to their strength and confidence, Toni eventually joins the group, tirelessly rehearsing the routines, befriending some of the girls, and even piercing her ears to fit in. But when members of the tight-knit group start experiencing mysterious fits of shaking and fainting, Toni’s desire for acceptance becomes complicated.
The Fits brims with breakout talent, including Royalty Hightower’s captivating Toni. But filmmaker Anna Rose Holmer, in her feature debut, puts forth a striking and distinctive vision—a cinematic meditation on movement, the body, adolescence, and identity that eludes categorization. Working from real stories of mass hysteria, Holmer creates a subtle visual grammar to convey a coming-of-age story in terms of movement and choreography rather than conventional dramatics. Her atmospheric aesthetic, vivid acoustic landscape, and dissonant score establish an ambiguous psychological space through which Toni moves, as if her journey through The Fits is itself a dance.
Director: Anna Rose Holmer
Cast: Royalty Hightower, Alexis Neblett, Da’Sean Minor, Lauren Gibson, Makyla Burnam, Inayah Rodgers
A filmmaker introduces us to the subject of his documentary—the beautiful Jacqueline Dumont, a young Frenchwoman who claims to have uncovered a covert assassination conspiracy. While unsure of the eccentric Jacqueline’s veracity, the filmmaker nonetheless enlists a couple of interns and heads to the holistic retreat in Argentina where she’s hiding out, to explore her claims and film her story. Upon arrival, the filmmaker begins to doubt the worthwhileness of his venture, but finds reasons to hope that he might actually be capturing something big, something real, with his increasingly makeshift film.
Driven by Wyatt Cenac’s drily witty performance as the unnamed filmmaker, Jacqueline (Argentine) is a hilarious, low-key misadventure, that also insightfully explores a director’s ambiguous relationship to his craft and continually turns its political thriller underpinnings on their head. First-time feature director Bernardo Britto (a Jury Prize winner for the 2014 Sundance Film Festival short Yearbook) makes fresh use of the mockumentary format to create a film playful in both form and content that reflects the uncertainties and hopefulness inherent in every artistic endeavor.
Director: Bernardo Britto
Cast: Camille Rutherford, Wyatt Cenac, James Benson, Martin Anderson, Sarah Willis, Enrique Dura
Rebecca Miller’s first film, Angela, premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 1995, and her follow-up feature, Personal Velocity, won the Grand Jury Prize in 2002. This latest effort, Maggie’s Plan, premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in September.
Academic advisor Maggie (Greta Gerwig) is determined to have a baby, but she can’t seem to make any relationship last long enough to reach the precipice of familial bliss. Opting to fulfill her maternal dreams alone, she secures a sperm donation from a Brooklyn pickle entrepreneur named Guy. But before this process is complete, a budding romance springs up with John (Ethan Hawke), a new adjunct professor she meets at work. Mired in an unhappy marriage-with-children to Georgette (Julianne Moore), John leaps at the chance to end things with his eccentric and domineering wife. Once the new couple settles down and starts a family of their own, it becomes clear that this isn’t the storybook ending she had hoped for, and Maggie concocts a new plan to set things right.
Director: Rebecca Miller
Cast: Greta Gerwig, Ethan Hawke, Julianne Moore, Bill Hader, Maya Rudolph, Travis Fimmel
This four-part feature documentary series from Netflix features best-selling author, talk show host, and stand-up comedian Chelsea Handler as she explores topics of personal fascination: marriage, racism, drugs, and Silicon Valley. She’s no expert in these areas, but that won’t stop her from digging in. Bringing her signature brand of humor and unfiltered opinions with her—she challenges convention—she goes there. Chelsea Does is directed by Academy Award-nominated Eddie Schmidt and is executive produced by Chelsea Handler and Academy Award-winning director Morgan Neville.
The Festival will premiere “Chelsea Does Marriage,” with Chelsea Handler traveling to different places to get the best answers about everything that comes with marriage. Through conversations with her father, her ex-boyfriend, young children, and the former CEO of Ashley Madison CEO and his wife, among others. We see her open up and talk about her own relationships, calibrating who she is and where she falls on this topic along the way.
There will be a conversation and Q&A following the screening with Chelsea Handler, Eddie Schmidt and Morgan Neville.
Director: Eddie Schmidt
Cast: Chelsea Handler
This six-part web series follows feminist and wannabe YouTube star Jessie Kahnweiler as she struggles to live, love, and get over her bulimia. On a mission to save the world and get rid of her love handles, Jessie demands honesty from everyone but herself. The series is a new kind of dark comedy for those who know that the most beautiful moments in life ain’t always so pretty.
Co-writer, director and star Jessie Kahnweiler is a force to be reckoned with. Mining dark terrain for hilarity is a treacherous game that she plays masterfully. The series doesn’t shy away from heavy issues but rather embraces them head-on—and in doing so opens up a completely fresh and funny perspective.
The Festival will premiere six 10-minute episodes. After the screening join creator Jessie Kahnweiler, executive producer Jill Soloway (Wifey.tv), Andrea Sperling, and Rebecca Odes; executive producer Illeana Douglas, and Refinery29's chief content officer Amy Emmerich for a juicy discussion about the creative process, innovations in distribution, the future of feminist media, and whether Jessie will ever get properly laid.
Director: Jessie Kahnweiler
Cast: Jessie Kahnweiler, Illeana Douglas, Spencer Hill, Ryan Pinkston, Megan Ferguson, Sadie Calvano
Recommended for ages 12 and over
Step aside, Katniss! Make room for Aisholpan, the 13-year-old eagle huntress from Mongolia.
For 2,000 years, the Kazakh people of the Altai region in western Mongolia have practiced a tradition of hunting with golden eagles, whose wingspan can reach up to 7.5 feet wide. Though this practice has traditionally been the domain of men, Aisholpan decides that she wants to become an apprentice hunter after spending her childhood helping her father, a renowned eagle hunter, care for his birds. Under the tutelage and support of her father and grandfather—and very few others—Aisholpan learns all aspects of falconry, from taming her very own eagle to training for an annual competition, where she will compete against 70 eagle hunters on her quest to gain acceptance.
Featuring breathtaking cinematography and intimate footage, this film not only explores the life of a young girl striving to pursue her passion and break down gender barriers in a very traditional culture but also provides an engaging glimpse into the lives of this remote community, as they balance their traditional lifestyle with the modern world.
Director: Otto Bell
Cast: Alsholpan Nurgaiv, Nurgaiv Rys, Alma Dalaykhan
In 1988 Tehran, Shideh’s attempts to rejoin medical school after getting married and having daughter Dorsa are thwarted as a consequence of her politically active history. Her husband is sent off to serve in the Iran-Iraq War while Iraqi air raids draw perilously close to their own apartment. As she is left alone with Dorsa after neighbors and friends flee from a city in chaos, her daughter becomes increasingly ill and seemingly disturbed. Shideh initially dismisses Dorsa’s tantrums over a missing doll, but she reluctantly comes to suspect that they’ve been targeted by djinn—malevolent spirits that steal from those they seek to possess.
Babak Anvari’s ambitious feature debut blends period detail and social critique with a good old-fashioned horror story, crafting a film that is as smart as it is scary. Anchored by Narges Rashidi’s stellar performance, Under the Shadow presents Shideh’s experience as a strong, defiant woman—frustrated by a society that has consistently admonished her for her independence—as she single-handedly battles a multitude of dangers from both the physical and supernatural worlds in order to save herself and her child.
Director: Babak Anvari
Cast: Narges Rashidi, Avin Manshadi, Bobby Naderi, Ray Haratian, Arash Marendi
Lead Artist: Nonny de la Pena
Key Collaborator: Emblematic Group
Cast: Lee Sherman, Toyin Moses, Tripp Pickell, Diana Toshiko
In this harrowing virtual reality story of a real-life domestic violence homicide, two sisters engage in a doomed struggle to save the third from being shot and killed by her ex-boyfriend. Utilizing audio and imagery captured at the real event, this piece transforms the audience from viewers to active witnesses.
Sequenced / USA, Switzerland
Lead Artists: Emilie Joly, Sylvain Joly, Michael Martin
Key Collaborators: Maria Beltran reyes, John Howe, Richard Johnson
Cast: Peter Coyote, Morgan Burch
A teenage girl becomes guardian of the last city on Earth to change its fate by fusing her instinctive knowledge of nature with an Al’s benevolence, analysis, and foresight. This interactive animated series made for virtual reality relies on your focus for the story to evolve.
Lead Artist: Nonny de la Pena
Key Collaborators: Emblematic Group, 371 Productions
Cast: Samantha Collier, Kristina Nailen, Raegan McDonald-Mosley MD, Charles Gilbert, Lee Sherman, Joe Spence
This immersive VR experience puts the audience on the scene with anti-abortion extremists trying to intimidate patients seeking sexual and reproductive health care at Planned Parenthood. Using documentary footage and a montage of real audio, viewers gain intimate knowledge of the harassment outside and compassion inside health centers across the country.
Lead Artists: Gingger Shankar, Dave Liang, Sun Yunfan
The unsung story of Lakshmi Shankar and her daughter, Viji-two extraordinary artists who helped bring Indian music to the West in the 1970’s through their close collaboration with Ravi Shankar and George Harrison. This arresting, multi-generational, multimedia mash-up features animation, family archives, and a live performance.
Off Screen Events
Cinema Cafe: A Conversation with Norman Lear and Lena Dunham
Friday, January 22nd, 11:30am - 12:30pm
LGBTQ Cinema Panel
Saturday, January 23rd, 2:30pm - 4:00pm, Filmmaker Lodge
Women in Film Los Angeles Panel
Sunday, January 24th, 12:00pm - 2:00pm, 350 Main Restaurant
Women at Sundance Brunch
Monday, January 25th, 10:30am-12:30pm, The Shop