Last week, the Sundance Film Festival announced a large batch of titles going into its main competitions, national and international, while also revealing what would be playing in its NEXT and Midnight categories. Just yesterday, the Premieres sections (narrative and documentary) roster was revealed, completing the festival's lineup with a grab-bag of anticipated world premieres, and the return of a few festival favorites. Their curious non-competitive status notwithstanding, these narrative and documentary premieres read like a wanna-see list for major indie names, either behind the camera or in front of it: movies you’d see whether it was the world premiere or not, with auteurs/filmmakers whose surnames stand on their own, like Solondz, Lonergan, Reichardt, Lee, Herzog, and much more.
For starters, there’s “Ali & Nino” from “Amy” director Asif Kapadia, about a tragic love story between a Muslim prince and Georgian aristocrat during World War I (starring Adam Bakri, Maria Valverde, Mandy Patinkin, Connie Nielsen, Riccardo Scamarcio and Homayoun Ershadi).
“Night Moves” and “Meek’s Cutoff” director Kelly Reichardt will debut her latest project “Certain Women,” starring Laura Dern, Kristen Stewart, Michelle Williams, James Le Gros, Jared Harris and Lily Gladstone. Based on stories by Maile Meloy, the film is about how “the lives of three women intersect in small-town America, where each is imperfectly blazing a trail.”
Oddly enough, along with the two films about Christine Chubbuck in the narrative and documentary competition, respectively, there are two titles by directors named Matthew Ross. Thankfully, both of them pack bizarre synopses and casts to stand out. There’s writer/director Matt Ross’ “Captain Fantastic" (pictured above), about an eccentric father who raises his kids deep in the woods of the Pacific Northwest, and then has to re-enter society. It stars Viggo Mortensen, Frank Langella, George MacKay, Kathryn Hahn, Steve Zahn and Ann Dowd.
Then there’s writer/director Matthew Ross’ “Frank & Lola,” starring Michael Shannon, Imogen Poots, Michael Nyqvist, Justin Long, Emmanuelle Devos and Rosanna Arquette. This one sounds to be possibly even crazier, detailed as “a psychosexual noir love story set in Las Vegas and Paris.”
Director Whit Stillman will debut his first feature project since 2011’s “Damsels in Distress,” this one coming from Ireland, France and Netherlands. “Love & Friendship” takes Stillman in the 1790s, nonetheless adapting a Jane Austen novella (“Lady Susan”) with a supporting cast that includes Kate Beckinsale, Chloë Sevigny, Xavier Samuel, Emma Greenwell, Tom Bennet and Stephen Fry.
Fans of another 2011 film, “Margaret,” will also finally get to see the newest from its writer/director Kenneth Lonergan, “Manchester by the Sea.” Starring Casey Affleck, Michelle Williams, Lucas Hedges and Kyle Chandler, the film is about a man who has to take care of his 16-year-old nephew, and face tragedies of the past.
Sundance will debut the latest film from all-American filmmaker Todd Solondz, who hasn’t had a new film from 2011’s “Dark Horse.” Coming from producer Megan Ellison’s Annapurna Pictures (who has worked with Spike Jonze, David O. Russell, Paul Thomas Anderson), Solondz’s latest, "Weiner-Dog," tells of a dachshund that travels the country, “who seems to be spreading comfort and joy.” The cast includes Greta Gerwig, Kieran Culkin, Danny DeVito, Ellen Burstyn, Julie Delpy and Zosia Mamet.
Other premieres on the list include the latest from "What We Do in the Shadows" director Taika Waititi (a comedy called "Hunt for the Wilderpeople,") the newest film from "Love is Strange" director Ira Sachs ("Little Men,") and the next directorial project from actor John Krasinski, "The Hollars."
The Documentary Premieres section features the same lure of recognizable names, whether they’re a film’s focal subject, or the director assembling the piece. For example, Spike Lee will debut a new Michael Jackson documentary titled “Michael Jackson’s Journey from Motown to Off the Wall,” about the King of Pop’s first solo record. Liz Garbus, who previously directed last year’s opening night film “What Happened, Miss Simone?”, returns with “Nothing Left Unsaid: Gloria Vanderbilt & Anderson Cooper,” which finds the mother and son sharing their family stories and unexpected similarities. Frank Zappa will be the subject of a new documentary titled “Eat That Question—Frank Zappa in His Own Words,” from Thorsten Schütte. The actions of animal rights lawyer Steven Wise are documented in "
Along with world premieres, Sundance also offers the opportunity for film festival catch-up, for those who missed critical favorites at the likes of Telluride, Toronto, Venice, Cannes and more. Apichatpong Weerasethakull’s “Cemetery of Splendor” is featured in the fest’s “Spotlight” section, along with the likes of Jeremy Saulnier’s “Green Room,” Martin Zandvliet’s “Land of Mine,” Yorgo Lanthimos’ “The Lobster,” Don Cheadle’s “Miles Ahead,” Rebecca Miller’s “Maggie’s Plan” (pictured above), and much more.
In a smaller section of the festival, three titles are programmed under “Sundance Kids,” including “Snowtime!”, by directors Jean-François Pouliot and François Brisson from Canada, which is about a snowball fight that becomes a much more serious conflict. Another film, “The Eagle Huntress,” is a documentary about a “13-year-old nomadic Mongolian girl as she battles to become the first female to hunt with a golden eagle in 2,000 years of male-dominated history.”
Aside from film premieres, Sundance hosts numerous unique occasions via its fittingly titled “Special Events” section, which will provide viewers a firsthand look at some new series, and extended time talking with their respective talents. Kevin Macdonald’s JFK story “11.22.63,” which will come to Hulu on President’s Day 2016, will get a two-hour world premiere and Q&A, featuring the likes of cast members James Franco, Sarah Gadon, Daniel Webber, George MacKay, Josh Duhamel, Chris Cooper, and perhaps even executive producers J.J. Abrams and Stephen King.
Also set for a world premiere is the new series “The Girlfriend Experience" (pictured above), directed and written by Lodge Kerrigan and Amy Seimetz. Four episodes will be shown from the new series, which stars Riley Keough, Paul Sparks, Mary Lynn Rajskub, James Gilbert and Kate Lyn Sheil. The series is executive produced by Steven Soderbergh, who made the original film.
A four-part documentary series about comedian Chelsea Handler named “Chelsea Does” will premiere one of its installments at Sundance. An “extended Q&A” will follow with the likes of Handler, director Eddie Schmidt, and executive producer Morgan Neville.
And as a fitting choice for the Sundance crowd, there will be a full Q&A and behind-the-scenes session devoted to Duke Johnson & Charlie Kaufman’s upcoming 2015 release “Anomalisa,” which by the time of the fest will have gotten a relatively wide release. The stop-motion animation drama played to a clunky, awkward Q&A when I saw its North American premiere at Telluride, but now that people will have seen the film in droves by Sundance 2016, one can imagine this will be an indeed special event, the first big meeting of the cult following Johnson and Kaufman’s film so richly deserves.
To get a look at the films announced previously for Sundance 2016, click here. As for now, be sure to check in at RogerEbert.com for more Sundance 2016 coverage, as this thoroughly exciting, complete lineup provides a Herzog-ian ice mountain of which we are raring to climb like that penguin in Herzog's "Encounters at the End of the World."