Sundance Film Festival Turns 35

This year is the 35th anniversary of one of the world’s most revered movie events: The Sundance Film Festival, which from Jan. 23 through Feb. 2, will bring the best and brightest independent storytellers to Park City, Salt Lake City and Sundance Mountain Resort, for 10 days of screenings, premieres and parties. For guests staying at Montage Deer Valley, individual tickets go on sale to the general public on January 21.

“At this year’s Festival, we’ll explore the theme of ‘imagined futures,’ inside the theaters and in the conversations sparked by the work we are presenting,” says Keri Putnam, Executive Director of Sundance Institute. “We believe diverse stories from independent artists around the world open us up to new perspectives and possibilities—at a time when fresh thinking and dialogue is urgently needed.”

This year, festivalgoers can choose from 118 feature-length films, representing 27 countries and 44 first-time feature filmmakers. These films were selected from a record high of 15,100 submissions, including 3,853 feature-length films. Of the feature film submissions, 1,698 were from the U.S. and 2,155 were international; 29% were directed by one or more women; 40% were directed by one or more filmmaker of color; 15% by one or more people who identify as LGBTQ+.

A showcase of world premieres of some of the most highly anticipated narrative films of the coming year include:

Downhill/ U.S.A. (Directors: Nat Faxon, Jim Rash, Screenwriters: Jesse Armstrong, Nat Faxon, Jim Rash, Producers: Anthony Bregman, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Stefanie Azpiazu, Erik Hemmendorff, Ruben Östlund) Barely escaping an avalanche during a family ski vacation in the Alps, a married couple is thrown into disarray as they are forced to reevaluate their lives and how they feel about each other. Cast: Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Will Ferrell, Zach Woods, Zoë Chao, Miranda Otto.

Dream Horse/ United Kingdom (Director: Euros Lyn, Screenwriter: Neil McKay, Producers: Katherine Butler, Tracy O’Riordan) — Jan, a cleaner and bartender, decides on a whim to breed a race horse in her Welsh village. As the horse rises through the ranks against all odds, Jan and the townspeople are pitted against the racing elite in a nail-biting race for the national championship. Cast: Toni Collette, Damian Lewis.

Falling/ Canada, United Kingdom, Denmark (Director and screenwriter: Viggo Mortensen, Producers: Viggo Mortensen, Daniel Bekerman, Chris Curling) — When 80-year-old independent farmer Willis travels to Los Angeles for an indefinite stay with son John and his family, two very different worlds collide. Mentally declining, Willis’ abrasiveness is both caustic and funny, bringing old wounds from the past and years of mutual mistrust to the surface. Cast: Lance Henriksen, Viggo Mortensen, Terry Chen, Sverrir Gudnason, Hannah Gross, Laura Linney.CLOSING NIGHT

The Father/ United Kingdom, France (Director: Florian Zeller, Screenwriters: Christopher Hampton, Florian Zeller, Producers: Philippe Carcassonne, Jean-Louis Livi, David Parfitt) — Anthony is 80 years old. He lives alone in London and refuses the nurses that his daughter tries to impose upon him. Yet help is becoming more pressing, as she has decided to move to Paris. At once comedic and profound, this is a moving story of our human condition.Cast: Anthony Hopkins, Olivia Colman, Mark Gatiss, Imogen Poots, Rufus Sewell, Olivia Williams.

Four Good Days/ U.S.A. (Director: Rodrigo Garcia, Screenwriters: Rodrigo Garcia, Eli Saslow, Producers: Jon Avnet, Marina Grasic, Jake Avnet, Jai Khanna, Rodrigo Garcia) — Ten years of opioids have left Molly’s life in shambles. A new drug may give her a chance to break free if she is able to stay clean for four days, with the help of her mother Deb, a tough, clear-eyed woman. Their love will be tested to the limits. Cast: Glenn Close, Mila Kunis, Stephen Root, Joshua Leonard.

The Glorias/ U.S.A. (Director: Julie Taymor, Screenwriters: Julie Taymor, Sarah Ruhl, Producers: Alex Saks, Lynn Hendee) — An equal rights crusader, journalist and activist: Gloria Steinem embodies these and more. From her role in the revolutionary women’s rights movement to her travels throughout the U.S. and around the world, Steinem has made an everlasting mark on modern history. A nontraditional chronicle of a trailblazing life. Cast: Julianne Moore, Alicia Vikander, Bette Midler, Janelle Monae, Timothy Hutton, Lorraine Toussaint.

Herself/ Ireland, United Kingdom (Director: Phyllida Lloyd, Screenwriters: Clare Dunne, Malcolm Campbell, Producers: Rory Gilmartin, Ed Guiney, Sharon Horgan) — Struggling to provide her daughters with a safe, happy home, Sandra decides to build one – from scratch. Using all her ingenuity to make her ambitious dream a reality, Sandra draws together a community to lend a helping hand to build her house and ultimately recover her own sense of self. Cast: Clare Dunne, Harriet Walter, Conleth Hill.

Horse Girl/ U.S.A. (Director: Jeff Baena, Screenwriters: Jeff Baena, Alison Brie, Producers: Mel Eslyn, Alana Carithers, Jeff Baena, Alison Brie) — A socially awkward woman with a fondness for arts and crafts, horses, and supernatural crime shows finds her increasingly lucid dreams trickling into her waking life. Cast: Alison Brie, Debby Ryan, John Reynolds, Molly Shannon, John Ortiz, Paul Reiser.

Ironbark/ United Kingdom (Director: Dominic Cooke, Screenwriter: Tom O’Connor, Producers: Adam Ackland, Ben Browning, Ben Pugh, Rory Aitken) — The true story of a British businessman unwittingly recruited into one of the greatest international conflicts in history. Forming an unlikely partnership with a Soviet officer hoping to prevent a nuclear confrontation, the two men work together to provide the crucial intelligence used to defuse the Cuban Missile Crisis. Cast: Benedict Cumberbatch, Merab Ninidze, Rachel Brosnahan, Jessie Buckley.

Kajillionaire/ U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Miranda July, Producers: Dede Gardner, Jeremy Kleiner) — Low-stakes grifters, Old Dolio and her parents invite a chipper young woman into their insular clan, only to have their entire world turned upside down. Cast: Evan Rachel Wood, Gina Rodriguez, Richard Jenkins, Debra Winger.

The Last Shift/ U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Andrew Cohn, Producers: Albert Berger, Ron Yerxa, Sam Bisbee, Alex Lipschultz, Bert Kern) — Stanley, an aging fast food worker, prepares to work his final graveyard shift after 38 years. When he’s asked to train his replacement, Jevon, Stanley’s weekend takes an unexpected turn. Cast: Richard Jenkins, Shane Paul McGhie, Da’Vine Joy Randolph, Birgundi Baker, Allison Tolman, Ed O’Neill.

Anne Hathaway appears in The Last Thing He Wanted by Dee Rees, an official selection of the Premieres program at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute.

The Last Thing He Wanted/ U.S.A. (Director: Dee Rees, Screenwriters: Marco Villalobos, Dee Rees, Producers: Cassian Elwes, Dee Rees) — A veteran D.C. journalist loses the thread of her own narrative when a guilt-propelled errand for her father thrusts her from byline to unwitting subject in the very story she’s trying to break. Adapted from the Joan Didion novel of the same title. Cast: Anne Hathaway, Ben Affleck, Willem Dafoe, Rosie Perez.

Lost Girls/ U.S.A. (Director: Liz Garbus, Screenwriter: Michael Werwie, Producers: Anne Carey, Kevin McCormick) — When Mari Gilbert’s daughter disappears, police inaction drives her own investigation into the gated Long Island community where Shannan was last seen. Committed to finding the truth, her search brings attention to over a dozen murdered sex workers Mari will not let the world forget. Inspired by true events. Cast: Amy Ryan, Thomasin McKenzie, Lola Kirke, Oona Laurence, Gabriel Byrne, Miriam Shor.

The Nest/ United Kingdom, Canada (Director and screenwriter: Sean Durkin, Producers: Ed Guiney, Derrin Schlesinger, Rose Garnett, Sean Durkin, Amy Jackson, Christina Piovesan) — Charismatic entrepreneur, Rory, relocates his family to England with dreams of profiting from booming 1980’s London. But as his wife, Allison, struggles to adapt, and the promise of a lucrative new beginning starts to unravel, the couple have to face the unwelcome truths lying beneath the surface of their marriage. Cast: Jude Law, Carrie Coon, Charlie Shotwell, Oona Roche.

Promising Young Woman/ U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Emerald Fennell, Producers: Margot Robbie, Tom Ackerly, Josey McNamara, Ben Browning, Ashley Fox, Emerald Fennell) — Everyone said Cassie was a promising young woman… until something abruptly derailed her future. Nothing in Cassie’s life is as it appears: she’s smart, cunning, and living a double life by night. Now, Cassie has a chance to right the wrongs of the past in this thrilling take on revenge. Cast: Carey Mulligan, Bo Burnham, Alison Brie, Jennifer Coolidge, Laverne Cox, Connie Britton.

Sergio/ U.S.A. (Director: Greg Barker, Screenwriter: Craig Borten, Producers: Brent Travers, Daniel Dreifuss, Wagner Moura) — A sweeping drama set in the chaotic aftermath of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, where the life of top UN diplomat Sergio Vieira de Mello hangs in the balance during the most treacherous mission of his career. Cast: Wagner Moura, Ana de Armas, Garret Dillahunt, Will Dalton, Bradley Whitford, Brían F. O’Byrne.

Ethan Hawke appears in Tesla by Michael Almereyda, an official selection of the Premieres program at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Cara Howe.

Tesla/ U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Michael Almereyda, Producers: Avi Lerner, Jeffery Greenstein, Uri Singer, Christa Campbell, Lati Grobman, Isen Robbins) — Highlighting the Promethean struggles of Nikola Tesla, as he attempts to transcend entrenched technology–including his own previous work–by pioneering a system of wireless energy that will change the world. Cast: Ethan Hawke, Kyle Maclachlan, Eve Hewson, Jim Gaffigan, Hannah Gross, Josh Hamilton. Alfred P. Sloan Feature Film Prize

Uncle Frank/ U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Alan Ball, Producers: Alan Ball, Peter Macdissi, Michael Costigan, Jay Van Hoy, Bill Block, Stephanie Meurer) — In 1973, when 18-year-old Beth and her uncle Frank take a road trip from Manhattan to Creekville, South Carolina for the family patriarch’s funeral, they’re unexpectedly joined by Frank’s lover Walid. A story about family, forgiveness, and our inherent power to choose who we want to be. Cast: Paul Bettany, Sophia Lillis, Peter Macdissi, Steve Zahn, Judy Greer, Margo Martindale.

Wendy/ U.S.A. (Director: Benh Zeitlin, Screenwriters: Benh Zeitlin, Eliza Zeitlin, Producers: Dan Janvey, Josh Penn, Paul Mezey, Becky Glupczynski) — Lost on a mysterious island where aging and time have come unglued, Wendy must fight to save her family, her freedom, and the joyous spirit of youth from the deadly peril of growing up. The classic story of Peter Pan is wildly reimagined in this ragtag epic. Cast: Devin France, Yashua Mack, Gage Naquin, Gavin Naquin, Ahmad Cage, Krzysztof Meyn. Dolby Institute Fellowship

Worth/ U.S.A. (Director: Sara Colangelo, Screenwriter: Max Borenstein) — Kenneth Feinberg, a powerful D.C. lawyer appointed Special Master of the 9/11 Fund, fights off the cynicism, bureaucracy, and politics associated with administering government funds and, in doing so, discovers what life is worth. Based on true events. Cast: Michael Keaton, Stanley Tucci, Amy Ryan, Tate Donovan, Talia Balsam, Laura Benanti.


Sundance Turns 35

From the very beginning, Sundance has played an important role in cinematic culture. Here are a few of its historical highlights:

1985: Sundance Institute assumes control of the U.S. Film Festival, later changing the name to Sundance Film Festival.

1989: Steven Soderbergh makes waves when his film “sex, lies, and videotape” wins the Dramatic Audience Award.

1991: The Park City at Midnight section is introduced at the festival and features a mix of horror, comedies and genre-defying films.

2004: New Zealand filmmaker Taika Waititi’s first professional filmmaking effort “Two Cars, One Night” is programmed in the Native Forum at the 2004 Sundance Film Festival.

2019: The most inclusive year yet, with 41 percent of films directed by people of color, 17 percent by people who identified as LGBTQ+, and 45 percent by women.

More a complete schedule, visit sundance.org/festival