What to Watch at the 2024 Sundance Film Festival: Films That Show the World Anew

By Vanessa Zimmer

If there’s one thing you can count on, it’s that the Sundance Film Festival will bring unique perspectives to the world year after year after year. 

Who can forget the found-footage style of 1999’s The Blair Witch Project? Or 2014’s Boyhood, filmmaker Richard Linklater’s 12-year project wherein, before our very eyes, a young actor grows from a boy to a young man heading off to college? Or Orlando (1993), Sally Potter’s exploration of gender roles over the course of 400 years through the personage of Tilda Swinton as both man and woman? 

How could we have survived, thrived even, without these films with innovative points of view?

The 2024 Festival continues that tradition. To start, veteran director Steven Soderbergh brings the point of view of a ghost to a haunted house film. And, with his debut feature, writer-director Chris Nash upends the horror genre by telling his story through the eyes of a slasher trudging through the wilderness.

Other Festival filmmakers focus their lenses on a community of satanists, of psychics, of bigfoots, and even on a buoy and a satellite who meet and fall in love. Have we piqued your interest? Pick your favorites and start building your Festival schedule; Single Film Tickets are on sale now. 

Presence (Premieres) — A family moves into a suburban home and begins sensing a presence there. Director Steven Soderbergh, whose debut (and breakout) feature film, sex, lies, and videotape, screened at the 1989 Festival, places a unique spin on David Koepp’s script by framing the story from the perspective of the home’s otherworldly resident. The cast features talented newcomers as well as Sundance alum Lucy Liu. Available in person.

In A Violent Nature (Midnight) — Filmmaker Chris Nash does something similar, and wholly unnerving, with his feature debut, placing the partying young people in the distance and following the killer through the forest as he stalks his victims. The technique brings a whole new vibe to the traditional slasher movie. Available in person.

Black Box Diaries (World Cinema Documentary Competition) — Journalist Shiori Ito directs a documentary on her investigation of her own sexual assault by a prominent, high-profile individual. Her legal case became a landmark one in Japan amid the #MeToo movement as Ito courageously exposed a powerful person and a broken judicial system. Time magazine named her one of the 100 most influential people in the world in 2020. Available in person and online.

Conbody VS Everybody (Episodic) — An ex-con named Coss Marte leads a group of former inmates in an enterprise to build ConBody, a business based on gym workouts he developed while in prison. Veteran Sundance director Debra Granik followed Marte for eight years to document the real-life story of a man determined to negotiate the barriers and ease his and fellow inmates’ transition into an often unforgiving and skeptical outside world. Available in person and online.

Daughters (U.S. Documentary Competition) — In this project, the daughters of incarcerated fathers are featured as they prepare for a father-daughter dance that is part of a Washington, D.C., jail program. The young girls experience all the emotions — the hopes and disappointments, healing and heartbreak, empathy and anger, forgiveness and skepticism. Angela Patton, an activist for Black girls, and filmmaker Natalie Rae co-direct. Available in person and online

Also offered is a January 23 Festival event at which the film team will discuss the documentary and the issues therein.

Look Into My Eyes (Premieres) — Director Lana Wilson has brought to the Festival such powerful documentaries as After Tiller (2013), Miss Americana (2020), and Pretty Baby: Brooke Shields (2023). Now she turns her attention to… New York City psychics. (You didn’t see that coming, did you?) Seriously, it is a rare and thoughtful look at the realities of being a psychic and a human, as well as a sensitive portrayal of their clients looking for clarity and closure. Available in person.

Love Me (U.S. Dramatic Competition) — A buoy and an orbiting satellite meet (online, of course) and fall in love, long after all humanity has perished from Earth. The film, by the obviously imaginative writing-directing team of Sam and Andy Zuchero, won the 2024 Alfred P. Sloan Feature Film Prize for presenting science or technology as a theme. Kristen Stewart and Steven Yeun are our metalloid companions maneuvering through romance… and reality? Available in person and online.

Out of My Mind (Family Matinee)  — Sixth grader Melody, a nonverbal wheelchair user with cerebral palsy — played by actor Phoebe-Rae Taylor, who also lives with cerebral palsy — endeavors to make friends, demonstrate her intelligence, and overcome preconceptions in this powerful story based on the novel of the same name by Sharon M. Draper. Amber Sealey directs. Available in person.

REALM OF SATAN (NEXT) — Director Scott Cummings takes a highly unusual look at the lifestyles and beliefs of satanists, including their everyday lives and their rituals, in this nonfiction feature-length film. Available in person and online.

Sasquatch Sunset (Premieres)— Yep, a sasquatch family gets their day in the sun, courtesy of the filmmaking brothers David and Nathan Zellner (Damsel, Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter). Sundance alums Riley Keough and Jesse Eisenberg are among the cast. Available in person.

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