What to Watch at the 2024 Sundance Film Festival: 10 Projects Exploring Family Dynamics

Exhibiting Forgiveness- Still, Man and woman sitting in front of painting

By Gabriela Tijerina

The 2024 Sundance Film Festival’s projects exploring family dynamics examine a diverse range of emotions. Some narratives weave humor into the intricate fabric of familial relationships, delivering moments of lightness and laughter, while other stories delve into the more challenging and painful parts of family life. 

The diverse lineup showcased at the Festival ensures a cinematic experience that captures the many dimensions of family dynamics and provides audiences with a well-rounded exploration of the multifaceted natures of familial relationships across different countries, cultures, and eras.

Read on to discover 10 titles that explore the myriad nuances built into families and create an empathetic lens into the human condition.

Brief History of a Family (World Cinema Dramatic Competition) This film is a riveting examination of family dynamics and concealed emotions in post one-child policy China. Wei, the only son in a middle-class family, and his mysterious new friend, Shuo, form a connection that unravels unspoken secrets and unmet expectations simmering beneath the surface of their lives. Writer-director Jianjie Lin’s feature debut skillfully reveals a narrative that explores the intricacies of family relationships and societal pressures. Available in person and online

Dìdi (弟弟) (U.S. Dramatic Competition) — Set during the summer of 2008, Sean Wang’s directorial debut captures the experiences of a 13-year-old Taiwanese American boy in that crucial summer before high school. Drawing from personal experiences to craft a joyful, humorous, and deeply moving tribute to first-generation teenagers navigating the complexities of cultural heritage amid societal conformity, Dìdi (弟弟) is a sincere homage to immigrant parents and a playful exploration of the path to adulthood. Winner of the U.S. Special Jury Award for Best Ensemble and the Audience Award: U.S. Dramatic. Available in person and online

Exhibiting Forgiveness- Still, Man and woman sitting in front of painting

Exhibiting Forgiveness (U.S. Dramatic Competition) Titus Kaphar’s debut feature draws inspiration from his own life to tell the story of Tarrell (André Holland), a renowned Black artist who utilizes his paintings to find freedom from his difficult past. An unexpected reunion with his estranged father triggers a gripping exploration of redemption, forgiveness, and the struggle to heal past wounds. Available in person and online

Ghostlight (Premieres) After a family tragedy, Dan (Keith Kupferer), a middle-aged construction worker, unexpectedly joins a local theater’s production of Romeo and Juliet. Emotionally distant from his wife and daughter, Dan finds a sense of belonging and community within an unconventional group of amateur actors. Directors Alex Thompson and Kelly O’Sullivan cast a real-life family to beautifully convey the transformative power of live theater that forces Dan to confront buried emotions as the play mirrors the drama of his own life. Available in person

In The Summers- Two girls and dad laughing

In The Summers (U.S. Dramatic Competition) Debut feature director Alessandra Lacorazza takes us on the journey of sisters Violeta and Eva, who spend their summers with their father (played by René pérez Joglar, aka Residente) in Las Cruces, New Mexico. Inspired by her own childhood, Lacorazza paints a portrait of the joyous, painful, and complex experiences that come with growing up with a loving but volatile father struggling with addiction and the lasting wounds that come along with it. Winner of the U.S. Grand Jury Prize Dramatic and the Directing Award: U.S. Dramatic. Available in person and online

La Mesías (Episodic Pilot Showcase) Siblings Enric and Irene have a dark upbringing, traumatic memories, and a toxic relationship with their mother. They live apart from their family sect — and out of their mother’s reach — but true freedom feels elusive. The premier episode of the Spanish series from showrunners Javier Ambrossi and Javier Calvo screens as part of the Festival’s Episodic Pilot Showcase. Available in person

Malu (World Cinema Dramatic Competition) Malu (Yara de Novaes) is an unemployed, emotionally unstable, middle-aged actor living in the slums of Rio de Janeiro with her conservative mother. While clinging to her past glory days and yearning for another shot at stardom, she attempts to deal with the strained relationship she has with her adult daughter. Writer-director Pedro Freire’s debut feature skillfully illuminates the dysfunctional relationship between three generations of outspoken women whose dynamics oscillate between causing harm, providing protection, offending, and caring for one another. Available in person and online

The Mother of All Lies (Spotlight) The absence of childhood photographs causes Moroccan filmmaker Asmae El Moudir to question the truth about her family’s history. Using figurines and a detailed model of her former Casablanca neighborhood, El Moudir enlists the help of family and friends to uncover the lies of her childhood. The filmmaker provides us with a captivating and unique method for uncovering layers of deception and buried truths that connect her family’s past to the suppressed history of Casablanca’s 1981 bread riots. This quest for truth forces everyone, even her intentionally forgetful grandmother, to confront the realities of the past. Available in person and online

A Real Pain (U.S. Dramatic Competition) Writer-director Jesse Eisenberg (When You Finish Saving the World, 2022 Sundance Film Festival) returns to the Festival with a humorous and heartbreaking film about two cousins who reunite for a tour through Poland after their grandmother’s death. Their journey takes a turn as past tensions between the mismatched pair resurface. With hilarious and touching performances by Eisenberg and Kieran Culkin, this film explores the beautiful, and oftentimes complex, relationship between cousins trying to reconnect with each other and their family’s history. Winner of the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award: U.S. Dramatic. Available in person and online

Reinas- Two girls stand over their sleeping father

Reinas (World Cinema Dramatic Competition) Amid social and political turmoil in Lima during the summer of 1992, Lucia, Aurora, and their mother, Elena, plan to leave for the United States for a better life. Their departure prompts a reunion with their estranged father, Carlos, adding more difficulty to their emotional journey. Director Klaudia Reynicke intricately crafts a narrative of transformations and sacrifices, illustrating that strength and loss are integral aspects of growth. Reinas transports viewers to 1990s Lima, immersing them in the heart of a family confronting the challenge of finding a safer place. Available in person and online

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