After humble beginnings, the Sundance Film Festival has grown into the number one independent film festival in the United States – and is seen by many as a proving ground for the next year in cinema. Many Oscar-winning hits have premiered at Sundance over the years. As the first major film festival in the annual calendar, 2022’s festival looks set to premiere some films that you’ll be hearing about in the year to come.
Jeen-Yuhs: A Kanye Trilogy
The rise and rise of Kanye West – artist, fashion designer, provocateur – has been an inescapable part of the 21st century. From his beginnings producing beats for luminaries like Mos Def and Jay-Z, Kanye broke into the music scene with his own music, beginning with 2003’s The College Dropout – and monster hit Jesus Walks, featured in Sam Mendes’ film Jarhead. His career went from strength to strength, moving on to create one of the biggest American fashion labels as well as continued success in the music industry.
Famous as much for his creative output as his controversial behaviour (such as publicly supporting Donald Trump and his whirlwind, often rocky marriage to Kim Kardashian) Kanye is a larger than life figure. And through it all, film-maker Coodie Simmons has been by his side for 21 years, documenting the process. The resulting documentary is undoubtedly one of the most anticipated premieres at this year’s festival, and should provide a fascinating insight into one of the 21st century’s most influential and divisive voices.
The directorial debut of Abi Damaris Corbin, 892 recounts the story of Brian Easley, the American war veteran who made headlines in 2017 after walking into a bank, taking a teller hostage, and claiming he would detonate a bomb if she did not hand over cash. He was shot dead by police that same day. The story is often shortened to these two points but neglects to examine the harder questions surrounding it, like the circumstances that would lead someone to such extremes – poking at the treatment of veterans in America has been and remains a confronting subject for many. John Boyega plays Eastley, whose easy charm should lend itself well to the character, who by all accounts had a kind demeanour towards those he had taken hostage. This should be an interesting examination of a system that allows those who give the most of themselves to defend it to fall through its cracks.
Emily the Criminal
Aubrey Plaza stars as the titular Emily, a student saddled with debt but locked out of the job market because of a minor criminal record. A popular conceit in modern storytelling, the notion of the “ordinary person forced into a life of crime” has seen plenty of interpretations, from the dramatic (Breaking Bad, Ozark) to the more comedic (Pineapple Express, Weeds). However, they all have one thing in common: relatability. Add a likeable actress to this formula and Emily the Criminal looks like it will strike a chord, especially for fans of this set-up.
As the film progresses, we see Emily taking bigger risks in order to make ends meet, ultimately falling further into a life of crime. Like 892, Emily the Criminal is also a directorial debut, this time for John Patton Ford, who is already familiar to insiders as the scribe behind 2014’s 5th ranked Blacklist screenplay Rothschild. Given the pedigree in front of and behind the camera, this is another one to watch for.
Speak No Evil
Independent, low-budget cinema has long been a friend to up and coming filmmakers. From Sam Raimi to James Cameron to Peter Jackson, many blockbuster-level directors cut their teeth on these kinds of features. In more recent times Sundance has become a hotbed for these kinds of films, with past years featuring such future megahits as Get Out, Hereditary and Saw. After a successful career in Scandanavian film and television as an actor, Denmark’s Christian Tafdurp brings his feature debut as director to next year’s festival. After befriending a Dutch family on holiday, a Danish family accepts their seemingly gracious invitation to visit them at home. However the nice-seeming people they met on holiday turn out to be completely different, and what is supposed to be an idyllic weekend is quickly marred by the unpleasantness that unfolds. Scandinavian horror and thriller films are popular right now, and this should be an interesting one.
Another directorial debut, this time from Krystin Ver Linden, Alice has a fascinating plot description. The titular woman (played by Keke Palmer) appears to be a slave on a plantation in 19th century Georgia. However, after planning her escape, she manages to make it outside the confines of what had until that point in her life been her entire world. She stumbles onto a highway, only to discover that it is in fact 1973, and Black liberation is well and truly underway.
The film is based in part on real-life accounts of Black Americans who were kept in peonage more than one hundred years after the end of slavery. This conceit has a lot of story potential – exploring the journey of Alice through the lens of slavery and the Black liberation movement in the 1970s – as well as the modern climate with the recent events in America around George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter movement. This film feels relevant and timely and has the potential to be a very impactful and powerful story. After signing on to the project, Palmer said in a statement: “It tackles the harsh realities of slavery and white supremacy while also offering inspiration and vindication through the story of Alice’s journey,” she said. “I don’t want anyone to leave the theatre feeling debilitated, I want them to feel empowered.”
When You Finish Saving the World
Of all the directorial debuts at this year’s festival, perhaps the most anticipated comes from Jesse Eisenberg. When You Finish Saving the World starts Julianne Moore and Finn Wolfhard as mother and son, who have something of an estranged relationship. Ziggy (Wolfhard) performs original folk-rock songs for an adoring online fan base. This concept mystifies his uptight, formal mother, who runs a domestic abuse survivor’s shelter. Working from his successful 2020 audio drama of the same name, Eisenberg crafts a carefully observed, aesthetically pleasing debut, that examines the mechanics of a relationship between two individuals who fail to understand each other’s values. Eisenberg’s influences are fairly clear, having cut his teeth in indie fare. The above description could easily fit a Noah Baumbach film, who Eisenberg has worked with several times. But with Moore and Wolfhard anchoring proceedings, this looks like it will be a well-acted dramedy.
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