What to Watch at the 2024 Sundance Film Festival: Projects That Spotlight Technology

By Veronika Lee Claghorn

ChatGPT and AI art generators like Midjourney have emerged recently as prominent forces in writing and creative expression. The 40th edition of the Sundance Film Festival showcases films that delve into the intersection of humanity and various technologies, exploring the advancements in the digital realm and the intricate connection between nerve, gigabyte, and the sinew that binds humans with machines. As filmmakers embrace the ever-evolving landscape of technology, these cinematic works not only reflect the pulse of innovation but also serve as a lens through which to contemplate the profound impact of advancing technology on the human experience.

Below, discover projects from the 2024 Sundance Film Festival lineup that put artificial intelligence and technology in the spotlight. Can’t make it to Utah to explore these technological wonders? No problem. Lean into the evolving virtual landscape by experiencing the Festival online January 25–28.

Being (the Digital Griot) (New Frontier) — In Being (the Digital Griot), the New Frontier experience showcases interactive and augmented reality digital works. Stanford University’s Human-Centered Artificial Intelligence fellow Rashaad Newsome displays his Afro-futurist griot robot (a West African term for a kind of “healer”) in a cyber link that connects the land of the mortal with the paracosms of the digitally alive. Derived from complex algorithms that are based on interviews with over 20 Black Americans, including input from theorists, poets, and activists like bell hooks and Cornel West, Being (the Digital Griot) decolonizes the algorithmic territories mostly charted by white people. Available in person.  

Ibelin (World Cinema Documentary Competition) — Ibelin, the Norwegian documentary about the late Mats Steen — who lived with a form of muscular dystrophy — may initially seem like an examination of video game addiction. After the young gamer’s death, his grieving family learns that the international community Mats was connecting with would turn out to be their biggest support system. The mythical World of Warcraft character Mats created and used as his “cyberself,” a Viking type with a posh British accent named Ibelin, is brought back to life in this charming work from director Benjamin Ree. Available in person and online.

Love Machina (U.S. Documentary Competition) — “Death is optional,” says Bina Rothblatt, the cool and confident soul at the heart of humanoid robot Bina48. The discussion of robotics in the documentary Love Machina has a “San Junipero” Black Mirror vibe. Director Peter Sillen’s (Benjamin Smoke, 62,000:1 Three Teams One City One Year) work explores the bioethics of cyber-consciousness and nanotechnology: What is a soul? Can it be digitally replicated? If so, do race, socioeconomic standing, and gender inform the eternal consciousness of an individual? All this and more are explored in what is sure to be one of the year’s buzziest films about a couple who wants to take till-death-do-us-part one giant step beyond. Available in person and online.

Love Me (U.S. Dramatic Competition) — If Spike Jonze’s Her and Pixar’s WALL-E had a baby and added a splash of The Social Network and SPREE to its DNA, Love Me might be the outcome. Kristen Stewart breathlessly dictates the social narrative of an influencer who struts and frets, albeit self-consciously, upon social media’s stage. Echoing this Narcissus are an animated and romantic anthropomorphic buoy and satellite who ultimately fall for each other in a post-apocalyptic world. The two seemingly inanimate objects wonder what it is to animate a life and to be part of the world of the people they so faithfully reflect. Simultaneously cute and challenging and filmed sometimes through the lens of a smartphone, Love Me is the winner of this year’s Alfred P. Sloan Feature Film Prize and is not one to miss. Available in person and online.

Seeking Mavis Beacon (NEXT) — In the late ’80s and early ’90s, Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing was an educational software application designed to teach kids how to type. Notably, a powerful Black woman avatar inspired generations to participate in the rapidly advancing technological world. Written and directed by Brooklyn filmmaker Jazmin Renée Jones, this nonfiction film is Carmen Sandiego–esque investigation of where this unsung cultural icon, modeled after a Haitian woman, disappeared to. Jones’ Seeking Mavis Beacon grapples with the intersection of an early educational app and the portrayal of Black women. Available in person and online.

Eternal You (World Cinema Documentary Competition) — In Stephen King’s Pet Sematary, the ominous and recurring quote “Sometimes dead is better” serves as cautionary advice. Filmmakers Hans Block and Moritz Riesewieck (The Cleaners, 2018 Sundance Film Festival) explore similar hopes of resurrecting the dead as their latest documentary, Eternal You, takes viewers on a journey into the computerized realm of technology and its impact on people. This thought-provoking film explores the depths of artificial intelligence, simulating text-based conversations with anyone — whether living or deceased. Eternal You delves into the intersection of human vulnerability and digital resurrections, offering a fascinating exploration of our evolving relationship with technology. Available in person and online.

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