The 2023 Sundance Film Festival has hit its halfway mark, which means something different this year — it means many of the movies will be screening online.
With the festival going into a hybrid format for the first time, 74 of the festival’s 111 feature films — including all of the U.S. and World Cinema competition entries, dramatic and documentary — will be streaming on the festival’s dedicated online platform, starting Tuesday and through Sunday. Go to festival.sundance.org for details on accessing the platform.
The Slamdance Film Festival, Sundance’s upstart companion festival, also will be screening its titles on its own website, slamdancechannel.com, now through Sunday.
Now the question is: What’s worth watching?
The members of The Salt Lake Tribune’s culture desk — reporter Palak Jayswal and editor Sean P. Means — have been watching a lot of festival movies, and have some recommendations for what’s good and available to watch at home:
Aliens Abducted My Parents and Now I Feel Kinda Left Out • (Kids) The wonderful title is fitting for this lighthearted, empathetic movie from Utah-based director Jake Van Wagoner, about an aspiring journalist (Emma Tremblay) who meets a space-obsessed boy (Jacob Buster). It’s about the power of family, showing up for one another, and what it means to be a true friend. The aliens don’t hurt. Neither do the Utah filming locations. — Palak Jayswal
The Disappearance of Shere Hite • (U.S. Documentary) How did Shere Hite go from a college student, modeling to make ends meet, to a controversial sexologist whose 1976 best-selling “The Hite Report” opened conversations about women’s sexual desires? And how did this telegenic researcher anger the male status quo until she was essentially hounded out of America? Director Nicole Newnham explores those questions and more in this fascinating documentary profile of an intellectual who mainstreamed the sexual revolution and was forgotten. — Sean P. Means
Downwind • (Slamdance) This documentary about nuclear weapons testing in Nevada and the fallout in Utah and other states packs a statistical punch. Directors Mark Shapiro and Douglas Miller interweave numbers with archival footage, testimonials from downwinders, and a mapping of radioactive fallout into a stunning movie. The directors tally the human cost of that fallout, creating a movie that’s both hard to watch and a compelling, necessary watch. — Palak Jayswal
Fancy Dance • (U.S. Dramatic) Director Erica Tremblay, whose short “Little Chief” played Sundance in 2020, returns with a heartfelt and eye-opening story that illuminates the epidemic of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women — and how, for their loved ones, those women are never forgotten. Tremblay and co-writer Miciana Alise also touch on the complexities of being Indigenous, and the obstacles they have to dodge simply to exist. But it’s also a story of joy, family and culture. — Palak Jayswal
Little Richard: I Am Everything • (U.S. Documentary) After years of not getting his due, rock ‘n’ roll pioneer Richard Penniman — known to the world as Little Richard — is given proper homage. Director Lisa Cortés’ introspective film, despite some moments of cheesy editing and effects, covers Richard’s complexities, his exuberant personality and how he laid the foundation for all the rock stars who came after him. — Palak Jayswal
Murder in Big Horn • (Premieres) Where “Fancy Dance” takes a fictional route to tell the story of MMIW, “Murder in Big Horn” tells the story of three Indigenous women from the Crow and Northern Cheyenne Nations in Montana who have disappeared. The film traces the origins of the MMIW epidemic, taking a tough look at the lasting legacies of colonization on Indigenous people and those who live on reservations, in particular. It’s a holistic look from directors Razelle Benally (Oglala Lakote/Diné) and Matthew Galkin, with interviews from family members and experts in Big Horn — and leaves audiences wanting the same thing these communities do: More answers. — Palak Jayswal
Punk Rock Vegan Movie • (Slamdance) The directorial debut of music producer Moby, this documentary tells how punk rock’s rebelliousness lent itself to the vegan movement. Drawing on the history of punk bands worldwide, Moby and other musicians trace the genre’s anti-authoritarian foundations and punk’s reaction to the gruesome aspects of meat consumerism. With footage of animal cruelty and comments from stars about going vegan, the film is an eye-opener and moving. — Palak Jayswal
Shayda • (World Cinema Dramatic) Iranian-Australian writer-director Noora Niasari draws on her own experiences in her feature debut, about an Iranian mother (Zar Amir Ebrahimi), living in a women’s shelter with her 6-year-old daughter, trying to rebuild their lives as they flee domestic violence. The film shows all points of view — the mother, the daughter and the father — as it masterfully finds the delicate balance between tension and trauma, as it comments on feminism and coming into one’s own. — Palak Jayswal
Shortcomings • (U.S. Dramatic) Actor Randall Park makes a confident debut as director with this adaptation of Adrian Tomine’s graphic novel (with Tomine writing the script). It follows Ben (Justin H. Min), a misanthropic movie-theater operator in Berkeley, who might realize his girlfriend, Miko (Ally Maki), is sick of him — if he wasn’t so self-absorbed. Cutting through romantic-comedy cliches and the stereotypes of identity politics, Park and Tomine create a comedy that’s smart and funny. — Sean P. Means
Sign the Show • (Slamdance) What services are available for deaf and hard-of-hearing people going to live entertainment events? And are they enough? Those are the questions director Cat Brewer explores in this documentary, which features such big names as Waka Flocka Flame and Kelly Clarkson. The answers are jarring, as they show just how inaccessible some entertainment is. It’s also heartwarming, with comments from fans, and from performers dedicated to making everyone feel welcome. — Palak Jayswal
The Starling Girl • (U.S. Dramatic) Jem Starling (Eliza Scanlan) is a devout Christian teen in small-town Kentucky, who becomes enraptured by the returning youth minister, Owen Taylor (Lewis Pullman) — who’s married, 28, and the son of church’s preacher (Kyle Secor). Writer-director Laurel Parmet’s absorbing drama rides the line between a girl’s belief in God and a community’s obedience to patriarchy. — Sean P. Means
The Stroll • (U.S. Documentary) More and more, Sundance is a place where ostracized and underrepresented groups tell their own stories from the inside. That’s the case with “The Stroll,” in which first-time filmmaker Kristen Lovell (co-directing with Zackary Drucker) shows what life was like for her and other trans women of color who worked as sex workers in New York’s Meatpacking District, before policing policies and gentrification changed the neighborhood. Lovell talks about having control over one’s story, and delivers a commentary on how sex work saved her friends’ lives and allowed them to be who they are — as it shows how deep the roots of transphobia are. — Palak Jayswal
Theater Camp • (U.S. Dramatic) When the founder of a summer camp for theater kids slips into a coma, her crypto-bro son, Troy (Jimmy Tatro), takes over the floundering business. The teachers, led by dramaturg Amos (Ben Platt) and New Age-y music instructor Rebecca-Diane (Molly Gordon), are busy imparting their theatrical wisdom on the kid campers. This semi-improvised mock-documentary — directed by Gordon and Nick Lieberman, who wrote the script with Platt and Noah Galvin — spoofs the camp’s stage-struck vibe and still revels in its “let’s put on a show” enthusiasm. — Sean P. Means
20 Days in Mariupol • (World Cinema Documentary) This documentary is gut-wrenchingly difficult to watch, which is exactly why it needs to be watched. Video and photos from Ukrainian AP journalists who were in Mariupol at the start of the Russian invasion in 2022 are stitched together with a compelling and comprehensive narrative about the atrocities of war, why journalism is essential and the power of real footage. — Palak Jayswal