After two virtual editions, 2023 sees the Sundance Film Festival return full force to its Park City home with a hybrid format of in-person and online programming. And following the announcement of the lineup, it’s clear that this could be one for the history books. Indeed, from groundbreaking documentaries to fresh new voices in independent cinema, there are many exciting prospects on offer during the fest’s jam-packed, 11-day schedule (January 19 to 29). Here’s a look at the 20 films we’re looking forward to the most.
Many of the biggest names in American cinema first made their mark at Sundance, including Ryan Coogler, Quentin Tarantino and Darren Aronofksy. This year, a new crop of young filmmakers hope to stand out and eventually emulate their success. One of the hottest titles this year is undoubtedly Elijah Bynum’s sophomore Magazine Dreams, boasting an actor – Jonathan Majors – whose star has been rising steadily since his own Sundance debut (2019’s The Last Black Man in San Francisco). Majors plays a troubled amateur bodybuilder in what is sure to be another inspired performance.
Another promising actor headlines A.V. Rockwell’s debut feature A Thousand and One in the form of multi-hyphenate Teyana Taylor. She stars as a woman who kidnaps a six-year old from the foster care system. Joining these two films in the U.S. Dramatic Competition is the evocatively titled All Dirt Roads Taste of Salt, directed by Raven Jackson. This saga follows the life of a Black woman in Mississippi and has already secured distribution from the ever popular A24.
Sundance will also unveil new work from established names in independent film in the fest’s Premieres section. Oscar-nominated writer-director Nicole Holofcener reteams with Julia Louis-Dreyfus for You Hurt My Feelings, about a novelist whose marriage is threatened by her husband’s opinion of her latest book. Meanwhile, Sundance stalwart Ira Sachs brings his 8th film to the festival with Passages, a romance drama featuring Adèle Exarchopoulos and Franz Rogowski.
Sundance’s increasingly notable World Cinema Dramatic Competition will once again showcase some of the best international filmmakers. A year after Nanny won big among the U.S. Dramatic slate, the festival once again dives into African folklore with C.J. “Fiery” Obasi’s Mami Wata, the first Nigerian film to premiere in Park City, after being workshopped at the Venice Film Festival’s Final Cut initiative. Hispanic filmmaking will also be in the spotlight through Patricia Ortega’s MAMACRUZ and Heroic from Mexico’s David Zonana. Both films challenge societal traditions with regards to religion and the military respectively.
From Europe, a pair of actresses-turned-directors will also premiere their latest work. Alice Englert follows in the footsteps of her Oscar-winning mother Jane Campion with Bad Behaviour. Englert plays a supporting role in this dark comedy about spiritual enlightenment starring Jennifer Connelly and Ben Whishaw. Meanwhile, Belgian Veerle Baetens makes her directorial debut with When It Melts, centering themes surrounding adolescent trauma.
Arguably the most significant stop for documentaries on the festival circuit, Sundance is where many of the most acclaimed documentaries were first seen. Vying for attention this year is another strong slate of non-fiction filmmaking, spanning various sections of the festival programme. Revisiting one of the most prominent topics in recent years, 5 Seasons of Revolution investigates the civil unrest in Syria from a firsthand perspective. Further south, Milisuthando Bongela reflects on another conflict era with Milisuthando, which explores the director’s own experiences of growing up in a middle-class Black family during apartheid South Africa.
Black lives also take center stage from a trans perspective at Sundance, with a pair of documentaries from trans women. With The Stroll, Kristen Lovell and Zackary Drucker use the titular epicenter of trans sex work to explore the history of the trans community in New York City. Similarly, trans sex workers are the focus in D. Smith’s exceptionally frank Kokomo City, in which various trans sex workers openly discuss their experiences with Black men who approach them with a complicated dichotomy of shame and desire. Meanwhile, one of the most distinctive films at Sundance this year is Elaine McMillion Sheldon’s King Coal, a poetic meditation on Appalachia and the near-religious culture surrounding coal.
For genre fare and more experimental filmmaking, look no further than Sundance’s NEXT and Midnight sections. Among these lineups are some enticing films like Infinity Pool, Brandon Cronenberg’s anticipated follow-up to his beloved 2020 Sundance entry Possessor. This satirical horror stars breakout scream queen Mia Goth opposite Alexander Skarsgård as a couple who become embroiled in nefarious activities while on vacation. Another horror to watch is Talk to Me, from Australian directors Danny Philippou and Michael Philippou. And for something on the lighter side in the Midnight section, there’s Nida Mazoor’s Polite Society, described as a Jane Austen-esque action comedy about a woman trying to stop her sister from getting married.
From the NEXT section, we’d also like to highlight two films from up-and-coming Black directors. One is Qasim Bashir and his new drama To Live and Die and Live, which explores a filmmaker’s emotional return to his hometown of Detroit in the wake of his stepfather’s death. And finally, romance lovers could find a new fave in Thembi Banks’ Young.Wild.Free.
Stay tuned for Awards Radar’s daily coverage of the 2023 Sundance Film Festival from January 19th to 29th.