Rebecca-Diane (Molly Gordon) and Amos (Ben Platt) are dedicated employees at AdirondACTS in “Theater Camp.”
By Lucy Spicer
It’s summertime! Sun and surf are divine for some, but for those who prefer pastimes of the indoor kind, head to an air-conditioned theater (or fire up a streaming service at home) to sample the varied selection of Sundance-supported films opening to wider audiences in July.
Documentaries are at the forefront of the July releases, with films exploring such topics as the ongoing war in Ukraine, the lives of Black trans sex workers, and the extreme sport of freediving. Fictional offerings from the 2023 Sundance Film Festival include a laugh-out-loud theater camp mockumentary, an intimate drama about motherhood, and a horror film featuring an embalmed hand.
So get comfortable, and prepare to be entertained and enlightened in equal measure by these 11 Sundance-supported films.
Earth Mama — Gia (Tia Nomore) is a young pregnant mother with two children already in foster care. She attends her court-mandated classes and works at a portrait studio, struggling to make ends meet but remaining dedicated to her children, determined that they (and the foster system) should see her unconditional love for them. “Savanah Leaf’s directorial feature debut is an intimate depiction of a mother’s fear and love,” reads the Festival Program Guide. “Leaf’s elegant visual language interjects lush visions of hope and visceral manifestations of Gia’s deepest fears into her everyday life.” Coming to theaters July 7.
Liquor Store Dreams — Filmmaker So Yun Um and her friend Danny Park have something in common: They’re Korean Americans whose immigrant parents owned liquor stores. This feature-length expansion of Um’s short documentary Liquor Store Babies examines the intersection of familial duty and personal dreams, tracing Um’s and Park’s parents’ livelihoods from the 1992 Los Angeles Riots through the events of the ongoing Black Lives Matter movement. The film received support from a 2021 Sundance Documentary Film Grant. Making its broadcast premiere on PBS’ POV July 10.
20 Days in Mariupol — Just before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, a team of Ukrainian journalists — including director Mstyslav Chernov — moved into the city of Mariupol to capture video evidence of the atrocities that would entail as the war began. “Their footage, widely disseminated through news media, not only documents the death and destruction — corpses in the streets and mass graves, the bombing of apartment buildings and a maternity ward, doctors despairing children they couldn’t save — but directly refutes Russian misinformation,” according to the Festival Program Guide. Winner of the World Cinema Documentary Audience Award at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival. Coming to theaters July 14.
Lakota Nation vs. United States — Co-directed by Jesse Short Bull and Laura Tomaselli, this powerful documentary chronicles the Lakota people’s fight to reclaim sacred land that was stolen from them: the Black Hills. Co-written and narrated by acclaimed Oglala poet Layli Long Soldier, this film received support from a 2022 Sundance Documentary Film Grant. Coming to theaters July 14.
Theater Camp — School’s out, summer is here, and the theater kids are flocking back to AdirondACTS, a scrappy camp in upstate New York. Only this year, there’s a change in management: “Crypto-bro” and wannabe influencer Troy (Jimmy Tatro) has taken the reins after his mother (Amy Sedaris) — the camp’s founder — falls into a coma, much to the dismay of seasoned counselors Rebecca-Diane (Molly Gordon) and Amos (Ben Platt). Co-directed by Gordon and Nick Lieberman in their feature debut, this hilarious mockumentary “wears its cult-following potential squarely on its sequined shoulders, gifting us with instantly quotable lines and zany, lovable characters,” reads the Festival Program Guide. Winner of the U.S. Dramatic Special Jury Award: Ensemble at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival. Coming to theaters July 14.
A House Made of Splinters — In the middle of a war zone in Ukraine is a run-down shelter where children from broken homes await their fate at the hands of the foster system. This particular shelter is cold and indistinguishable from others like it on the outside, but inside is a remarkable warmth created by caregivers whose sincere goal is to give these children a loving home for as long as they’re with them. In his Oscar-nominated documentary, director Simon Lereng Wilmont “listens carefully and achieves a striking level of intimacy and urgency that exposes the cycle of dysfunction and systemic failure,” reads the Festival Program Guide. Winner of the World Cinema Documentary Directing Award at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival. Making its broadcast premiere on PBS’ POV July 17.
The Deepest Breath — Writer-director Laura McGann shines a light on the world of competitive freediving in this heart-stopping documentary that weaves together the stories of Alessia Zecchini, an Italian champion in freediving, and Stephen Keenan, an Irish adventurer who becomes a safety diver in Dahab, Egypt. The two form a special bond as they train together for Alessia’s attempt at diving through Dahab’s Blue Hole — a perilous 85-foot-long tunnel located 184 feet below the Red Sea. Featuring home movies, iPhone videos, and archival footage, the film captures the pair’s “preternatural diving ability and their nascent relationship against a stunning underwater backdrop,” reads the Festival Program Guide. Coming to Netflix July 19.
Stephen Curry: Underrated — Award-winning Sundance alum Peter Nicks directs this documentary that follows the rise of NBA superstar Stephen Curry through a combination of archival footage, interviews, and intimate vérité. “Nicks successfully weaves the parallels he finds in video footage of Curry, as an aspiring athlete and as a professional basketball star, to tell the remarkable story of a kid who rose from an undersized and inconspicuous high school basketball player to an NBA icon,” according to the Festival Program Guide. Coming to AppleTV+ July 21.
Kokomo City — Filmed in striking black and white, D. Smith’s directorial debut hands the microphone to four Black transgender sex workers in New York and Georgia: Daniella, Liyah, Dominique, and Koko Da Doll. Amusing anecdotes, devastating truths, and cutting social commentary follow in this uniquely revelatory documentary. “A veteran of the music industry and a Grammy-nominated producer, singer, and songwriter, Smith brings her sonic skills into stunning harmony with a visual style whose grit and brassiness match the energy and spirit she elicits from her participants,” according to the Festival Program Guide. Winner of the Audience Award: NEXT and the NEXT Innovator Award at the 2023 Festival. Coming to theaters July 28.
Talk to Me — Séances are the local party trick of the moment, and teenage Mia (Sophie Wilde) decides to indulge one night to distract herself from the anniversary of her mother’s death. Surrounded by her friends, she takes hold of a mysterious embalmed hand to open the door to the spirit world. When disturbing visions begin to haunt her in the days that follow, Mia discovers the horrifying consequences of keeping that supernatural door open a little too long. “Filmmaking duo (and twin brothers) Danny and Michael Philippou of @RackaRacka YouTube channel fame suspend us in the foreboding and nightmarish realm of their debut feature, making the most of their twisted propensity for the surreal and grotesque,” reads the Festival Program Guide. Releases wide in theaters July 28.
Children of the Mist — Hà Lệ Diễm’s feature directorial debut follows Di, a 13-year-old girl who is part of an Indigenous Hmong community that lives in the misty mountains of Northwest Vietnam. As Di comes of age, she is subjected to the tradition of “bride kidnapping,” a practice that forces young girls into marriage. The film received support from a 2020 Sundance Documentary Film Grant. Making its broadcast premiere on PBS’ POV July 31.
The 2023 Sundance Film Festival Short Film Tour is underway! Traveling to all corners of the United States and beyond in the following months, the 90-minute program features seven short films selected from the 2023 Festival. Check here for dates and venues; see below for dates in July.