All of the film trailers and some of the feature films have been viewed—the top entertainment film websites have been scoured—here are 35 Sundance 2019 films that garner attention. Congratulations to all Sundance Festival winners!
“Honeyland” – There’s plenty of buzzing in “Honeyland” the observational documentary from Macedonia that chronicles nomadic mountainside beekeepers daily routine. When the basic rule (take half of the honey, but leave half to the bees), is broken—the last female beekeeper in Europe, the middle-aged Hatidze Muratova is compelled to not only save the bees but to repair nature’s balance.
Winning three prizes including the prestigious World Cinema Documentary Grand Jury Prize, in addition to, the World Cinema Documentary Special Jury Award for Impact for Change, and the World Cinema Documentary Special Jury Award for Cinematography. Studio: Institute of Documentary Film, producer Atanas Georgiev. Neon (NEON) has purchased distribution rights.
“One Child Nation” – From 1979 until 2015 China controlled its population through its villainous one-child policy. The reality of the law was far more devastating—women were subjected to forced abortions and sterilized against their will—all while children were taken from families and sold to orphanages. Director Nanfu Wang and Jialing Zhang’s personal documentary retraces the law and its effect on China. Winner of the U.S. Grand Jury Prize and picked up by Amazon.
“Clemency” – Alfre Woodard stars as death row prison warden in a feature film that probes the effects upon not only the subject but all who are a part of the ideology. Anthony Woods portrays a warden who’s previously botched execution clouds inmate Aldis Hodge’s impending death sentence.
Written and directed by Chinonye Chukwu it was a big winner of the festival, receiving the U.S. Grand Jury Prize for a Dramatic Film. Ace Pictures Entertainment, distribution rights, NEON.
“The Souvenir” – American-British film, stars, Honor Swinton Byrne, Tom Burke, Tilda Swinton. Swinton’s daughter Honor gives a riveting performance as a shy film student who starts to blossom as an artist while dating an alluring, yet devious man. Cinematographer Paul Thomas Anderson of “Phantom Thread” and British director and screenwriter Joanna Hogg. It has awarded the World Cinema Grand Jury Prize: Dramatic. It is scheduled to be released on May 17, 2019, by A24.
“Knock Down the House” – A documentary winner of the Audience Award, U.S. Documentary, also received a standing ovation. Director Rachel Lears sets her lens to feature a young bartender in the Bronx, a coal miner’s daughter in West Virginia, a grieving mother in Nevada and a registered nurse in Missouri who ban together to challenge incumbents in Congress. One of their races will become the most shocking political upset in recent American history. The campaign of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York is highlighted. Netflix announced that it had finalized a deal to acquire worldwide distribution rights.
“Sea of Shadows” – The Audience Award: World Cinema Documentary winner. Austria director: Richard Ladkani, producers: Walter Koehler, Wolfgang Knoepfler report the crisis story of the vaquita, (means ‘little cow’ in Spanish) is a species of porpoise and the world’s smallest whale. The vaquita is near extinction due to its habit that’s being destroyed by Mexican cartels and Chinese mafia. They harvest the swim bladder of the totoaba fish, known as the “cocaine of the sea” due to its high price. The battle is between the illegal harvesters and the groups that are trying to save the porpoise—the environmental activists, Mexican navy and undercover investigators. National Geographic Documentary Films has secured worldwide rights, while the executive producer is Leonardo DiCaprio.
“Brittany Runs A Marathon” – Winner of the Audience Award: U.S. Dramatic, director and screenwriter, Paul Downs Colaizzo. Based on the actual experiences of the writer/director’s best friend, also named Brittany, it’s the inspirational story of an overweight New York woman’s long hard road to self-improvement. Cast: Jillian Bell, Michaela Watkins, Utkarsh Ambudkar, Lil Rel Howery, Micah Stock, Alice Lee. By Amazon studio set for summer release.
“The Infiltrators”– Taking home two awards, the husband-and-wife co-directors Alex Rivera (“Sleep Dealer”) and Cristina Ibarra (“Las Marthas”) were given The NEXT innovator prize and the Audience Award: NEXT, U.S.A. Their film toggles real-life accounts of Dreamer activists going undercover in detentionfacilities to help reunite immigrants with their families, and fictional reenactments of their situations from the inside.
Screenwriters: Alex Rivera, Aldo Velasco, Producers: Cristina Ibarra, Alex Rivera, Darren Dean) Cast: Maynor Alvarado, Manuel Uriza, Chelsea Rendon, Juan Gabriel Pareja, Vik Sahay. Producers: Cristina Ibarra, Alex Rivera, Darren Dean).
“American Factory”– Directors Steven Bognar and Julia Reichert, follow-up their previously directed Oscar-nominated short film “The Last Truck: Closing of a GM Plant,”(2009), which chronicled the last days of Dayton, Ohio plant. They received the Directing Award: U.S. Documentary.
A Chinese billionaire, Cao Dewang reopened the space as Fuyao Glass America, with the promise of giving work to thousands of local residents, while working alongside hundreds of transplanted Chinese workers. Quickly exuberance becomes deflated as the American workers begin to clash with the demands of a Chinese business model. Netflix secured the rights.
“The Last Black Man in San Francisco” – Received two awards, The Directing Award: U.S. Dramatic and the U.S. Dramatic Special Jury Award for Creative Collaboration. Director and screenwriter Joe Talbot tells the personal story of Jimmie Fails, the determined native San Francisco adult grandson who has his sights on reclaiming the beautiful Victorian home built by his grandfather.
Jimmie Fails stars as himself; he travels every day to the beloved house in the city to simply, take care of it. Poetic in tone, at times a quirky buddy film, we view the heartache of gentrification. The cast includes Jonathan Majors, Danny Glover, Tichina Arnold, Rob Morgan, Mike Epps, Finn Wittrock, and Thora Birch. Opening later this spring, A24 Pictures.
“Midnight Traveler”– Awarded the World Cinema Documentary Special Jury Award for No Borders. Director, Hassan Fazili, weaves the true personal family plight chronicling his harrowing journey to flee Afghanistan in 2015 when the Taliban placed a bounty on his head. Escaping with his wife and two young daughters he captures the journey using cell phones. Provides an intimate look at the uncertainty that refugees endure. Screenwriter Emelie Mahdavian, producers, Emelie Mahdavian, Su Kim.
“Share”– Winner of two awards, The U.S. Dramatic Special Jury Award for Achievement in Acting presented to Rhianne Barreto, and the Screenwriting Award: U.S. Dramatic to Pippa Bianco. Director Pippa Bianco crafts a story of sixteen-year-old basketball player Mandy (Rhianne Barreto) as she awakens at sunrise bruised from a drunken evening on the front lawn of her home. Jenna, (Lovie Simone) her best friend sends her a hazy video of the night before; Mandy is passed out drunk on a tile floor, several boys are in the frames, she’s assaulted, but doesn’t know who the culprits are. Themes of shame, parent conflict, depression, and isolation abound in this high school living nightmare. Cast: Rhianne Barreto, Charlie Plummer, Poorna Jagannathan, J.C. MacKenzie, Nick Galitzine, Lovie Simone Producers: Carly Hugo, Tyler Byrne, Matt Parker.
“Cold Case Hammarskjöld” – The Directing Award: World Cinema Documentary was presented to Danish director Mads Brügger. This Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Belgium film sets its lens on Brügger and Swedish private investigator Göran Bjorkdahl as they attempt to find answers in the mysterious1961 plane crash death of UN secretary-general Dag Hammarskjöld. Their investigation takes us to a field in Zambia, eight miles from the Ndola airport where the crash took place. Locals speak of asecond plane and a flash seen during the crash. Another discovery is all made known. Producers: Peter Engel, Andreas Rocksén, Bjarte M. Tveit.
“Always in Season” – Award-winning, U.S. Documentary Special Jury Award for Moral Urgency was presented to director Jacqueline Olive. In 2014 in rural North Carolina, 17-year-old Lennon Lacy was found hanging from a swing set. Director Olive asks the question, is lynching still occurring in America? Certainly, Lacy’s mother is looking for justice, as she doesn’t believe her star football player son committed suicide. The lynching of both Claude Neal and the two couples at the Moore’s Ford Bridge in Georgia, 1946 are studied as examples. Producers, Jacqueline Olive, Jessica Devaney.
“Queen of Hearts” – The Audience Award: World Cinema Dramatic was awarded. Denmark director, May el-Toukhy, and screenwriters, Maren Louise Käehne and May el-Toukhy weave a tale of a woman who risks it all as she seduces her teenage stepson and is forced to make a permanent choice with lethal results. Producers, Caroline Blanco, and René Ezra.
“Honey Boy” – Winner of the U.S. Dramatic Special Jury Award for Vision and Craft. Director by Alma Har’el shines a light on child actor Shia LaBeouf’s family dynamic of his stage dad’s struggles with alcohol, abusive tendencies, and Vietnam nightmares. In this drama, LaBeouf courageously plays his father. LaBeouf remarked at Sundance that “Honey Boy” was like an act of therapy for him. Cast includes Lucas Hedges as Otis Lort, Noah Jupe as Young Otis Lort, Shia LaBeouf as James Lort, FKA Twigs as Little Q, Maika Monroe as Sandra. Amazon Studios has acquired the film.
“Jawline” – Winner of the U.S. Dramatic Special Jury Award for Vision and Craft. In Kingsport, Tenn.,16-year-old Austyn Tester is online giving selfie video inspirational advice to teens, mainly girls. The documentary shows his rise to fame and the pitfalls of actually meeting fans. Director, Liza Mandelup, with Austyn Tester, Donovan Tester, Michael Weist, Bryce Hall, Mikey Barone, Julian Jara, and Jovani Jara.
“Apollo 11”– Winner of the U.S. Documentary Special Jury Award for Editing. Here’s part of my review posted to this website: “Apollo 11” is a visual delicacy to be savored long after the extensive credits roll—unlike most documentaries where talking head interviews and newspaper clippings are the primary source—director/editor Todd Douglas Miller choose 50-year-old footage to tell the historical tale, along with original audio. And yes, the iconic flag-planting scene plays out in full detail.
Refreshing, exhilarating and mind-blowing are words that have semblance while viewing the tightly edited historically accurate film. Yet, this is the ‘real deal’ the July 16, 1969 moon launch through landing, and welcome back home on July 24—not a fantasy or a science fiction tale, and the best part, it’s astonishing! I’m here to tell you; I had chills while watching at my local IMAX theater, by using solely 70mm film footage that imprints details and light on a grander scale, it’s as if you see a new account like no other. Yes, it’s familiar to us all, in pieces, here you have the entire account that includes all three of the astronauts; Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins. NEON and CNN Films, in theaters now.
“Monos”– The winner of World Cinema Dramatic Special Jury Award given to director by Alejandro Landes. On a faraway mountaintop, eight kids watch over a hostage and a cow. With names such Was, Rambo (Sofia Buenaventura), Lobo (Julian Giraldo), Bum Bum (Sneider Castro) and Patagrande (“Hannah Montana” alum Moises Arias). The violent youth rebels are known as ‘The Organization,’ conduct terrorist strikes against forces in South America under the harsh guidance of Mensajero (an actual ex-guerrilla Wilson Salazar).
Unfolding through the eyes of the imprisoned Doctora (Julianne Nicholson), a “Lord of the Flies” scenario ensues, and Doctora sees a chance for escape. Screenwriters, Alejandro Landes, Alexis Dos Santos.
“We Are Little Zombies” –World Cinema Dramatic Special Jury Award for Originality was awarded to Japanese director/writer Makoto Nagahisa. It’s the offbeat tale of four newly orphaned children who find each other at a funeral room after bonding over their inability to cry after losing their parents.
The kids form a band while embarking on a colorful, artistic, creative journey in which grieving brings them closer together. Their heartbreak becomes a zany comedy as the group becomes more vocal. It’s been called a video-game on steroids, with lots of quirky music. The cast includes Keita Ninomiya, Satoshi Mizuno, Mondo Okumura, Sena Nakajima.
“Dolce Fine Giornata”– The World Cinema Dramatic Special Jury Award for Acting was presented to Krystyna Janda in the role of Maria an aging Polish Nobel Prize winner for literature, whose semi-retired life in a small town in Italy suddenly begins to fall apart. The Nobel-winning poet hastily inserts herself into immigration and terrorism debates. A lonely Maria becomes disenchanted, despite her husband, daughter and close friends, and pursues a romance with a younger hardworking immigrant.
Polish director Jacek Borcuch’s satisfyingly complex drama appears to weave an intriguing tale. Cast includes Vincent Riotta, Antonio Catania, Lorenzo de Moor, Robin Renucci. (Italian, Polish, French dialogue)
Sundance Buzz Worthy Films
“After the Wedding” – A remake of the 2006 Danish Oscar nominee, writer-director Bart Freundlich flips the two lead gender roles, Michelle Williams and Julianne Moore are the lead actresses. In the original, by director Susanne Bier, Mads Mikkelsen plays a Danish man who runs an orphanage in India who is called back to Denmark by a wealthy potential donor. During his stay, family secrets are divulged, creating an opportunity for superb emotional performances. The film premiered opening night of the festival.
“Big Time Adolescence” – “Saturday Night Live” cast member Pete Davidson stars in a high-school comedy in which he plays the much older slacker friend of a 16-year-old boy, Griffin Gluck of “American Vandal.” Jason Orley makes his directorial debut; he’s also written the screenplay.
“Blinded By the Light” – Director Gurinder Chadha brings a romantic rock ‘n’ roll drama of a Pakistani British teenager, Javed (Viveik Kalra), who lives in a drab London suburb in 1987, upon discovering the music of Bruce Springsteen, he kicks into high gear. He becomes fixated on the songs “Dancer in the Dark” and “Prove It All Night.” Based on a memoir by Sarfraz Manzoor, this is a coming-of-age tale.
“David Crosby: Remember My Name” – In A.J. Eaton’s rock-nostalgia documentary, David Crosby appears before us as an older and wiser hippie, his long hair and mustache are now white, he talks about regrets and candidly talks about his drug use along with other remembrances.
“The Farewell” – Awkwafina stars in a dramatic role as she struggles with the Chinese custom of hiding terminal medical diagnoses from elderly relatives. She plays a version of the filmmaker, writer-director Lulu Wang who’s woven tragedy and humor into a certain loss.
“The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley” – Alex Gibney is known for his tough-minded documentary portraits from Lance Armstrong, and Julian Assange. In his latest film, Gibney records the rise-and-fall of America’s youngest female billionaire, Elizabeth Holmes, and her blood-testing company, Theranos. Currently, Holmes is accused of raising more than $700 million from investors through an elaborate, years-long fraud in which they exaggerated or made false statements about the company’s technology, business, and financial performance.
“Hala” – Geraldine Viswanathan the star of “Blockers” premiered in April ’18 at SXSW, therefore, anticipation for “Hala” meet with high expectations. Director Minhal Bing’s debut film “Hala,” is the intimate story of a teenage girl who is struggling to find balance as a Pakistani teen living in America raised in a strict Muslim household. Noted as refreshing, to view the portrayal of a teen struggling with her disapproving mother, from a Muslim teenager’s perspective. Bing’s semi-autobiographical script comes to life and provides insight.
“Late Night” – Mindy Kaling’s new film in which she stars as Molly, a “diversity hire” in the position of a talk show writer. Emma Thompson is Katherine, an out-of-touch, long-standing late-night talk show host who may soon be replaced by a younger, more hip male host Ike Berinholtz. Directed by Nisha Ganatra, the comedy takes a look at today’s feminist environment, racism, sexism, and equality. Amazon has acquired the rights.
“Leaving Neverland” – This 4-Hour documentary is based on two men’s testimony, Wade Robson and James Safechuck, who allege they were sexually abused as children by singer Michael Jackson. It also examines the effects on their families and their mental health. Exhausting to view, however important as first-hand information is presented that is difficult to ignore.
“Luce” – A former African child soldier turned model U.S. student is cast in an entirely new light when he submits a disturbing essay for a school project and his teacher, played by Octavia Spencer, wants to know the truth. Fireworks are discovered in a black student’s locker, and the fact that the student is an adopted African immigrant and former child soldier complicates the speculation and response to what could be more than just innocent fun. Nigerian-born director JuliusOnah presents an insight into the tricky material, which is told through the eyes of the young man’s supportive, liberal-minded parents Naomi Watts and Tim Roth.
“Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool” – Miles Davis was an American jazz trumpeter, bandleader, and composer. He is among the most influential musician in the history of jazz and 20th-century music. Stanley Nelson’s documentary film presents a rich and probing portrait of Davis’s story to his racial despair, to heroin addiction and to the drama of his love affairs, not to mention the six-year break he took from picking up his horn, during which time he holed himself up in his townhouse. The movie is filled with interviews and archival facts that surprisingly cast new light on its subject.
“The Mustang” – Matthias Schoenaerts gives a riveting performance as a hardened and angry prisoner, through an actual horse training rehabilitation program finds solace in the wild mustang he trains. Writer and director Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre’s beautifully shot film examines the harsh conditions of our penal system yet focuses on the comfort and hope that can be found in animals. Co-stars Connie Britton as the prison psychologist and Bruce Dern as the head of the Mustang training program.
“The Report” – Similar in tone to “Spotlight,” this political film tells the true story of Daniel Jones (Adam Driver), a Senate staffer who led the investigation into the CIA’s use of “enhanced interrogation techniques” after 9/11. Annette Bening co-stars as Sen. Dianne Feinstein. Scott Z. Burns, a screenwriter, in his directorial debut presents a docudrama about the U. S. Senate report on the George W. Bush-era CIA torture.
“Top End Wedding” – Reunites “The Sapphires” director Wayne Blair with actor-turned-writer Miranda Tapsell, a romantic comedy co-written by Miranda Tapsell and Joshua Tyler with a setting of the Northern Territory of Australia and the indigenous people of the Tiwi Islands. Tapsell stars in this comedy about two young lawyers Lauren (Tapsell) and Ned (Gwilym Lee) who must find Lauren’s missing mother before their wedding just days away.
Sarah Knight Adamson© April 2, 2019