Release Rundown: What to Watch in February, From “Drift” to “God Save Texas”

Cynthia Erivo is mesmerizing as Jacqueline, the lead character in Anthony Chen’s film Drift.

By Lucy Spicer

Are you feeling post-Festival withdrawal yet? It’s difficult to come down from those magical days in January when you could fill your schedule with screenings of exciting new work from independent artists, either in person in Utah or from the comfort of home. But despair not — now comes the beautiful period where we watch these projects go out into the world to surprise, enlighten, thrill, and inspire new audiences. 

This month’s group of releases includes features and episodic series from the 2023 Sundance Film Festival and the just-finished 2024 Fest. From this year, we have two vastly different coming-of-age stories and a documentary about the criminalization of rap lyrics, as well as a nonfiction series that highlights the many facets of the Lone Star State. From 2023, a novel-to-screen adaptation focusing on a refugee’s trauma and a crime series that unravels the tangled web of India’s illegal ivory trade.

As releases continue to roll out over the coming months, the Festival lineup and projects supported by Sundance Institute’s artist programs are gifts that keep on giving. Sundance is more than a Festival — it’s a mindset, and one that keeps us excited year-round.

How to Have Sex — On the Greek island of Crete, three British teenage girls are ready to have the best holiday of their lives. The agenda includes drinking, clubbing, and hooking up with fellow partiers, but Tara (Mia McKenna-Bruce), the least experienced among her friends, harbors some anxiety. After the lines of consent are blurred during a late-night encounter, Tara is forced to reexamine her friendships and the intersection of sexuality and party culture. Written and directed by Molly Manning Walker, How to Have Sex premiered at the 2023 Cannes Film Festival, where it won the Un Certain Regard prize, before screening in the Spotlight section of the 2024 Sundance Film Festival. Arriving in select theaters February 2.

Suncoast — Set in Florida in 2005, writer-director Laura Chinn’s semi-autobiographical directorial debut centers on Doris (Nico Parker), a withdrawn teenager whose lonely life revolves around care for her brother, who is noncommunicative and slowly dying of cancer. When Doris’ mother (played by Laura Linney) moves her brother into hospice care — and starts spending all her time there — Doris opens herself up to a world of new experiences in this emotional coming-of-age film. Parker’s nuanced portrayal of Doris earned her the U.S. Dramatic Special Jury Award for Breakthrough Performance at the 2024 Sundance Film Festival. Arriving in select theaters February 2; streaming on Hulu February 9.

Drift — Cynthia Erivo gives a performance of astounding depth as Jacqueline, a refugee from Liberia who once was wealthy but now must steal food and rely on tips from resort guests on a Greek island in order to survive. Haunted by the unspeakable violence she witnessed before she fled her home, Jacqueline leads a solitary, fearful existence. When an American tour guide named Callie (Alia Shawkat) extends an offer of friendship, Jacqueline must decide how much of her past she can bear to revisit in order to form a real human connection. Directed by Anthony Chen, Drift is based on Alexander Maksik’s novel A Marker to Measure Drift, adapted for the screen by Maksik and Susanne Farrell. The film screened in the Premieres section of the 2023 Sundance Film Festival. Arriving in select theaters February 9.

Poacher — An unexpected confession at a Forest Department outpost reveals a complicated web of corruption and conspiracy, and at the center of it all is India’s illegal ivory trade. Facing danger at every turn, a group of NGO workers, officers, and volunteers endeavor to bring the wildlife poachers to justice. Writer-director Richie Mehta was inspired to make this limited series after watching footage of a recent ivory raid — the largest ivory raid in India’s history. Insight from an actual wildlife crime fighter lends singular authenticity to this gripping episodic. The first three episodes of the series screened at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival. Streaming on Amazon Prime Video February 23.

As We Speak: Rap Music on Trial — In his directorial debut, J.M. Harper examines how the criminal justice system — both in the U.S. and abroad — has been weaponizing rap lyrics for decades by claiming them as “character evidence.” Harper’s film, which premiered in the U.S. Documentary Competition at the 2024 Sundance Film Festival, follows Bronx rapper Kemba as he travels across the U.S. and the U.K., conducting interviews with artists and legal experts who illuminate the historical threats to free speech that specifically target Black musicians. In addition to interviews, Harper’s innovative documentary features artful reenactments and animated sequences. Streaming on Paramount+ February 27.

God Save Texas — In 2018, journalist Lawrence Wright’s God Save Texas: A Journey into the Soul of the Lone Star State was published to acclaim, with reviewers praising the nonfiction book’s ability to embrace the state’s unique culture while refusing to shy away from its problematic history and politics. The book would go on to inspire God Save Texas, a three-part nonsequential anthology series whose executive producers include Wright and Alex Gibney.

All three episodes premiered in the Episodic section of the 2024 Sundance Film Festival. Richard Linklater’s “Hometown Prison” episode sees the director revisit his hometown of Huntsville to examine a community built around the prison-industrial complex. Alex Stapleton’s “The Price of Oil” reckons with Houston’s past, present, and future as an energy capital. Iliana Sosa’s “La Frontera” turns to El Paso, a border city characterized by its distinct mix of Mexican and American cultures. Making its broadcast premiere on HBO February 27.

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 February.

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