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Celebrating its 40th year, the Sundance Film Festival attempts to regain its footing and retake its legacy in 2024 after a couple of Covid years and a sad sales market – especially for documentaries. However if you look back on last year’s Sundance crop, they make up a big chunk of the best films of the entire year, so the quality is clearly there. With a robust slate of 91 feature films, new festival director Eugene Hernandez adds a keen eye to the programming. One of the original founders of Indiewire, Eugene is one of the good guys, and knows how to connect critics and audiences alike with cinema’s most exciting offerings. He helped build the New York Film Festival into the preeminent showcase of world cinema, and teaming with Joanna Vicente (formerly head of the Toronto International Film Festival), there are at least two reasons to be hopeful. The snow is falling as filmmakers, fans, bloggers, buyers and sellers all pack into the small mountain town of Park City, Utah. Below five of our writers pick which films they are most excited to see (and some we already have).


Soundtrack to a Coup d’Etat (dir. Johan Grimonprez)

At the center of the narrative is the tragic series of events that unfolded when the Belgian Congo dared declare its independence from its European overlords in 1960. Initially led by the duly elected Patrice Lumumba, the new Republic of the Congo soon found itself caught in the crosshairs of geopolitical intrigue, courtesy of its vast uranium deposits (along with other minerals, including those which power today’s smartphones). Over the course of almost 150 gripping minutes, Grimonprez (Blue Orchids) explores the intersection of music, mercenaries, and murder, all the while pointing an accusatory finger at the West for its duplicitous treatment of Africa. The beat is infectious, but this imperialist virus can certainly kill. There is so much going on in Johan Grimonprez’s Soundtrack to a Coup d’Etat that one could be forgiven for initial confusion. Or not, as the snappy pace of the editing and jaunty look of the titles, not to mention the vibrant soundtrack, all combine to take the viewer on a highly engaging journey into the Cold War and colonial past. (Christopher Llewellyn Reed )

Exhibiting Forgiveness (dir. Titus Kaphar)

World premiering in the US Narrative Competition is the directorial debut of Titus Kaphar. If you’re unfamiliar with Kaphar’s work, his art explores erasure and absences. Kaphar’s work, Analogous Colors, was featured on the cover of the June 15, 2020 issue of TIME. His first foray into feature filmmaking is entitled Exhibiting Forgiveness and stars Andre Holland, Aunjanue Ellis-Taylor, John Earl Jelks, and Andra Day – all tremendous artists in their own right. The film explores the creative practice of a Black artist derailed by a visit from his estranged father while also examining how art can help the soul. (Melanie Addington)


Eternal You (dir. Hans Block and Moritz Riesewick)

If talking to a dead relative through artificial intelligence sounds comforting, you might be in trouble. As one subject of such an experiment in Hans Block and Moritz Riesewick’s fantastic doc Eternal You explains, the AI becomes extremely real because it is working off real recordings. But when the AI threatens to ‘haunt’ her, it induces a spine-chilling effect that is hard to recover from. Eternal You warns that technological marvels may become nightmares we can’t unsee. Intersplicing recent congressional testimony of Open AI’s Sam Altman, it’s also a current news story taking shape before our eyes. (Matt Delman)


Between the Temples (dir. Nathan Silver)

After making eight feature films, indie maestro Nathan Silver is finally coming to Sundance. The writer-director, who is known for his deadpan gems Thirst Street and The Great Pretender, brings his newest comedy to Park City, and it may be his most heartwarming yet. What I’m most excited about here is seeing the collaboration between the director and star Jason Schwartzman in a role that was likely written for him. Schwartzman plays a cantor who’s thrown for a loop when his newest Bat Mitzvah student just happens to be an old grade school teacher (Carol Kane). Bonus points for cinematographer Sean Price Williams in the mix, (whose directorial debut The Sweet East I just reviewed). (M.J. O’Toole)


Lolla: The Story of Lollapalooza (dir. Michael John Warren)

There’s no more defining event for generation X than Lollapalooza. Bursting onto the scene in 1991 as a traveling Woodstock organized by Perry Farrell of Jane’s Addiction, the carnival of rock brought together alternative, metal, rap, and circus acts for a counterculture hungry for the latest sounds. Redefining the summer concert in a way that would eventually bring us Coachella, Bonnaroo, Bumpershot, Outsidelands, and of course the poorly planned Woodstock 94. Now legendary acts such as Pearl Jam, Rage Against the Machine, Tool, Beck and Green Day played impossible to believe early afternoon sets and Nine Inch Nails and Ministry shared the stage with Ice Cube and Arrested Development and the world added the suffix ‘palooza’ that brought anything disparate together. This is its story. My one wish is that they covered the Tinley Park installment where I and a bunch of other people ripped up the lawn and had a sod fight. (Bears Rebecca Fonté)


The Mother of All Lies (dir. Asmae El Moudir)

Cruising along the festival circuit, Moroccan director Asmae El Moudir (The Postcard) brings her sophomore effort to Park City. Another personal documentary, The Mother of All Lies explores family and politics. Rooted in the trauma of her country’s 1981 crackdown on dissent, which saw government forces open fire on unarmed protesters, the film explores deep wounds and radical healing. El Moudir invites her grandmother, parents, and former neighbors into a warehouse space where all collaborate in the building of models and reenacting of past events, the better to practice performance art as therapy. Grandma mostly refuses to recognize how violence and oppression have taken their toll, while everyone else experiences genuine catharsis. And yet, by the end, El Moudir achieves some kind of generational reconciliation. Perhaps all families should try this at home. (CLR)


Sugarcane (dir. Julian Brave Noisecat and Emily Kassie)

Premiering in the U.S. Documentary competition, Sugarcane, from filmmakers Julian Brave NoiseCat and Emily Kassie investigates abuse and missing children at an Indian residential school. The film looks at morality, justice, and intergenerational legacy. NoiseCat has a personal connection to the story and the filmmakers’ background in activism and journalism ensures it will be an impactful film that will be a ‘can’t miss’. Sundance has had a strong legacy of supporting Indigenous stories and this one feels like an important addition. (MA)


Presence (dir. Steven Soderbergh)

The most hyped return to Park City this year is without a doubt Steven Soderbergh, who made his mark on the festival with Sex, Lies, & Videotape in 1989. Teaming up with the iconic Lucy Liu and Uncut Gems’ Queen Julia Fox for a paranormal thriller, what else could you want? The synopsis is mysterious, but the screenwriter is David Koepp who wrote Jurassic Park, so we’re in capable hands. I very much enjoyed the somewhat overlooked Kimi on a plane, which was Soderbergh’s recent film with Zoë Kravitz. Presence seems similarly contained, but the illustrious filmmaker always finds ways to step outside the box. (MD)


Sujo (dir. Fernanda Valdez and Astrid Rondero)

Directors Fernanda Valdez and Astrid Rondero both made a splash at Sundance 2020 with their visceral Mexican border thriller, Identifying Features. Now they return to the festival with another pulse-pounding drama about choosing destiny. The titular protagonist (Juan Jesús Varela) is the son of a sicario who has grown up under the shadow of the surrounding cartel mayhem and the legacy his father left behind. The empathetic portrayal of its characters and its exploration of the cycle of life make it a vital and gripping watch. (MJ)

A still from LOVE ME

Love Me (dir. Andy & Sam Zuchero)

Already awarded the prestigious Alfred P. Sloan feature film prize, given each year to the film that furthers the implementation of science and technology in its story, Love Me, stars Kristen Stewart and Steven Yeun as a smart buoy and an orbiting satellite in a romance that crosses eons and explores the boundaries of identity and consciousness. As they communicate through the stored data and our social media leftovers, the star-crossed lovers may help us discover something about love that we can’t see on our own. (BRF)


Realm of Satan (dir. Scott Cummings)

“A glow of new light is borne out of the night and Lucifer is risen, once more to proclaim: This is the Age of Satan! Satan rules the Earth.” So opens Scott Cummings’ feature-directorial debut, Realm of Satan, with a quote from Anton LaVey’s 1969 Satanic Bible. And certainly, were we to take all the footage we see at face value, then Satan has very much risen. Combining straightforward observational footage (sans editorial commentary or interviews) with cinematic magic of the highest order, Cummings (editor of such films as Never Rarely Sometimes Always and Menashe) leads us down a mesmerizing—if also disturbing—path towards the opposite of spiritual enlightenment. Be afraid, for the Prince of Darkness is omnipresent. (CLR)


Reinas (dir. Klaudia Reynicke)

World premiering in the world narrative cinema competition, Reinas is the third film from filmmaker Klaudia Reynicke. Following two sisters Lucia and Aurora and their mother Elena who try to leave Lima for the United States in 1992 due to political chaos. As the family makes its departure, the film takes on the emotional toll of becoming a refugee and leaving home; a universal subject that also reminds us of the current plights of similar souls in America and abroad. (MA)


Girls State (dir. Jesse Moss and Amanda McBaine)

After the success of Jesse Moss and Amanda McBaine’s doc Boys State, there was an outpouring from audiences eager for a Girls State follow-up. Four years later–about the time of an election cycle–they’ve delivered. It will be interesting to see which young personalities they latch onto during what’s bound to be a contentious week-long program. Hopefully, the inspiring participants will be there for the Q&A. (MD)


Desire Lines (dir. Jules Rosskam)

In architectural planning, the term ‘desire line’ refers to an unplanned trail created as a consequence of human instinct, ignoring the designed sidewalks and roads and crafting a new path, one which future traffic and engineering tends to follow, as it generates a visible indication of human preference. Like Lou Sullievan, possibly the first trans man to publicly identify as gay, and essentially responsible for our modern understanding of sexual orientation and gender identity as distinct, unrelated concepts, Jules Rosskam endeavors to bring the dialogue concerning trans masculine sexuality out into the public. Told through a mélange of traditional documentary style interviews, reenactments of hook-up app messages, and a time-travel narrative involving a trans man researching a bygone bathhouse, Desire Lines may be the first serious meditation on a topic both curious and taboo, at a time when we’re being told that everything trans is basically dangerous. (BRF)


Kneecap (dir. Rich Peppiatt)

It’s not often you stumble across a film that is not just based on real life, but also involves real-life figures playing fictional versions of themselves. That’s what director Rich Peppiatt has achieved with the story of the Belfast rap group, Kneecap. The self-titled film captures the trio’s rise to fame in 2017 and their chaotic, ketamine-fueled journey to becoming sensations in their home country. Michael Fassbender also winds up in the frey as a father figure to the group. Kneecap is also making Sundance history as the first Irish-language film to premiere at the festival. Get ready to make some noise, kids! (MJ)

– Christopher Llewellyn Reed (@ChrisReedFilm), Matthew Delman (@ItsTheRealDel),  Melanie Addington (@MelAddington), Bears Rebecca Fonté (@BearsFonte) and M.J. O’Toole (@mj_otoole93)

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