Sundance 2019 Is Over: These Are the Movies That Grabbed Everyone’s Attention

The Souvenir. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Agatha A. Nitecka

Sundance Film Festival — or the best week of the year for indie fans — has officially finished the 2019 edition and handed out its prestigious awards. As per usual, the event celebrated diversity, with women and minorities having a significant presence across the festival. “Supporting artists and their stories has been at the core of Sundance Institute’s mission from the very beginning,” said Sundance Institute President and Founder Robert Redford. “At this critical moment, it’s more necessary than ever to support independent voices, to watch and listen to the stories they tell,” he concluded.

More than a couple of exciting movies have embarked on a journey towards a very intense year. Based on the buzz from journalists and critics alike, we will definitely pay attention to these

The Souvenir

Director: Joanna Hogg, cast: Honor Swinton Byrne, Tom Burke, Tilda Swinton, awards: World Cinema Grand Jury Prize: Dramatic

The story: Joanna Hogg premiered a film rooted in her own life: more specifically, her first serious, rather destructive relationship. She gave the role of her younger self, Julie, to Tilda Swinton’s daughter Honor Swinton Byrne, who seems to have earned the title of this year’s breakout star. According to Sundance“Julie embodies the film’s core: a woman grappling with separating fact from fiction as her ambitions are jeopardized by her first real romance.” Her love interest Anthony, a heroin addict, is portrayed by Tom Burke who had plenty of material to draw his performance from. As he explained for the Los Angeles Times, Hogg let him see various recordings and notes from her youth: “I felt very full by the time I heard the word action,” he disclosed.

Honey Boy

Director: Alma Har’el, cast: Shia LaBeouf, Lucas Hedges, Noah Jupe, FKA Twigs, Martin Starr, Natasha Lyonne, awards: U.S. Dramatic Special Jury Award for Vision and Craft

The story: Honey Boy is another bold move by Shia LaBeouf, who came a long way since his Disney Channel days. He wrote the script about his strained relationship with his abusive father in rehab and during the screening at Sundance, he admitted that it was a harrowing experience.“It’s strange to fetishize your pain and make a product out of it. And you feel guilty about that. It felt very selfish,” he said. LaBeouf portrays his own father, while Noah Jupe and Lucas Hedges play the young and adult Shia respectively.

Clemency

Director: Chinonye Chukwu, cast: Alfre Woodard, Aldis Hodge, Richard Schiff, Danielle Brooks, award: The U.S. Grand Jury Prize: Dramatic

The story: Chukwu’s win is historic: she is the first black woman to take home one of the festival’s biggest awards. She impressed the jury with her film about a prison warden (Alfre Woodard) “navigating the emotional and psychological unraveling as she prepares to execute a man on a death row.” As the director explained to The Hollywood Reporter, she wanted to explore the mind of a person whose livelihood is tied to the taking of another human life. Chukwu has even arranged visits in prison to ensure the cast does justice to people with such an emotionally challenging job.

The Farewell

The story: Lulu Wang based The Farewell on her own experience: her grandmother was terminally ill, and the whole family decided not to tell her. Awkwafina stars as Billi, a young Chinese-American woman who visits her dying grandma in China and struggles with the ethical aspect of keeping this secret. “She is opposed to lying to somebody about their death. She wants a traditional goodbye,” Wang said to Sundance Institute. Moreover, it’s a story about cultural differences: both geographical and generational, as the family members visiting the grandma come from all sorts of backgrounds. As Wang explained to Variety, she wanted to “explore the nuances of those gaps between these different family members. One thing that unites them is the love of the grandmother.”

The Last Black Man in San Francisco

Director: Joe Talbot, cast: Jimmie Fails, Rob Morgan, Jonathan Majors, Danny Glover, awards: U.S. Dramatic Directing Award, U.S. Dramatic Special Jury Award for Creative Collaboration

The story: While Jimmie Fails (a fictionalized version of the eponymous actor) certainly isn’t the last black man in San Francisco, it sure feels like it in the city undergoing massive gentrification. His has a dream to live in an old Victorian house that once belonged to his family. When he manages to move into the abandoned building, he decides to recreate the interior he remembers from his childhood, nostalgically refusing to let go of the city that’s pushing him out. According to Vulture, “the house represents, perhaps, the long-gone warmth and unity of a family that has since fractured, casting its members to different corners of society.“

Honeyland

Directors: Ljubomir Stefanov, Tamara Kotevska, awards: World Cinema Documentary Special Jury Award for Impact for Change, World Cinema Documentary Grand Jury Prize, World Cinema Documentary Special Jury Award for Cinematography

The story: As Variety reports, Stefanov and Kotevska shot Honeyland over three years, with no voiceover or interviews to make a “visually poetic debut with this stark, wistful portrait of a lone rural beekeeper.” The hero of their documentary is Hatidze, a beekeeper living in a deserted Macedonian village in balance with the quietness, her bees, and the nature around her. The directors witnessed the moment when an itinerant family installs itself next door, and Hatidze’s peaceful kingdom gives way to roaring engines, seven shrieking children, and 150 cows.” She doesn’t fight the disruption — on the contrary, she welcomes it — even if it threatens her livelihood.

Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile

Director: Joe Berlinger, cast: Zac Efron, Lily Collins, Kaya Scodelario, Jim Parsons, John Malkovich

The story: Berlinger approached the story of a notorious serial killer Ted Bundy (Zac Efron) through the eyes of his girlfriend Liz (Lily Collins), who refuses to believe he would be capable of such heinous murders. “Everyone believed he was innocent and gave him a pass for a very long time, and I thought that was an interesting way to understand how we become victims of that kind of pathology,” Berlinger explained for The Hollywood Reporter. While the critics were not necessarily blown away, the unique perspective of a woman who loves and defends a monster certainly got people talking.

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