The Sundance Institute announced the initial wave of narrative films and documentaries for the 2014 Sundance Film Festival today and it features one of the more star-studded competition lineups in the film’s history.
The U.S. Dramatic Competition features new films starring Kristen Stewart (“Camp X-Ray”), Anne Hathaway (“Song One”), Kristen Wiig (“The Skeleton Twins”), Aaron Paul (“Hellion”), Mark Ruffalo (“Infinitely Polar Bear”), Michael C. Hall (“Cold in July”) and Peter Dinklage (“Low Down”), just to name a few. Traditionally, Sundance positions films with more popular talent in the U.S. Premieres selections. This may be a welcome change for what is arguably the second most prestigious film competition in the world or a random blip based on the quality of films.
In a statement released by the festival, Robert Redford, President and Founder of Sundance Institute, as well as potential best actor nominee at the upcoming Academy Awards, said, “That the Festival has evolved and grown as it has over the past 30 years is a credit to both our audiences and our artists, who continue to find ways to take risks and open our minds to the power of story. This year’s films and artists promise to do the same.”
John Cooper, Director of the Sundance Film Festival and the man responsible for the creative direction of the festival, noted, “The films selected for our 2014 Festival show that filmmakers are empowered and emboldened by the 30-year legacy of the independent film movement. The confidence to play with the medium and to surprise audiences indicates the vital role independent film has come to serve in the cultural landscape.”
Some of the more intriguing titles in the aforementioned U.S. Dramatic competition include John Slattery’s feature directing and screenwriting debut “God’s Pocket” and Joe Swanberg’s follow up to “Drinking Buddies,” “Happy Christmas,” which features Anna Kendrick and Lena Dunham in starring roles.
Stewart toplines Peter Sattler’s “Camp X-Ray” which is one of the first non-documentaries to focus on the controversial Guantanamo Bay prison. She is no stranger to Park City having appeared in six previous films that screened at Sundance including “The Runaways” and “Undertow.”
J.J. Abrams is quietly participating in the festival as an executive producer, along with longtime business partner Bryan Burk, of Maya Forbes’ drama “Infinitely Polar Bear.” The acquisition title is supposed to feature impressive performances by both Ruffalo and Zoe Saldana.
Another film many will be looking out for is Justin Simien’s “Dear White People.” Simien previously worked in the marketing departments of both Paramount Pictures and Participant Films, but partially got recognition form is project thanks to a very funny twitter account of the same name.
Jeff Baena, who co-wrote “I Heart Huckabees” with David O. Russell, makes his directorial debut with “Life After Beth.” The comedy finds Dane De Haan as a man whose girlfriend (Aubrey Plaza) mysteriously comes back from the dead with unexpected consequences. The cast includes John C. Reilly and Molly Shannon.
Jeff Preiss’s “Low Down” is a period piece based on Amy Jo Albany’s memoir of the same name and could be a premier acquisition title. The prestige worthy cast includes John Hawkes, Elle Fanning, Glenn Close, Peter Dinklage, Lena Headley and Flea. And yes, that’s two “Game of Thrones” stars in the same movie. You can bet “Low Down” will get a prime Eccles Theater debut thanks to that.
Wiig and former “Saturday Night Live” co-star Bill Hader are taking a dramatic turn in Craig Johnson’s “The Skeleton Twins.” The duo will play two twins who realize the only way to turn their individual lives around is to improve their relationship.
Last year’s best supporting actress winner, Hathaway, had a very small cameo in last year’s entry “Don Jon,” but effectively makes her Sundance debut with Kate Barker-Froyland’s “Song One.” The romantic drama finds her character unexpectedly falling for a Brooklyn musician played by up and comer Johnny Flynn.
The World Dramatic competition includes films from Australia, Norway, Ethiopia, Serbia, India, Argentina and Chile. It also puzzlingly features two features from the United Kingdom including the musical “God Help the Girl” featuring, we assume, a singing Emily Browning.
As for the NEXT competition, the intriguing titles include the lesbian hooker buddy comedy “The Foxy Merkins,” the Watts, Los Angeles set “Imperial Dreams,” the Icelandic road trip comedy “Land Ho!,” a Valentine’s Day set comedy “Obvious Child” starring Jenny Slate, ’80s coming of age flick “Ping Pong Summer” with Susan Sarandon, Lea Thompson and Amy Sedaris, “Listen Up Philip” with Jason Schwartzman and Elisabeth Moss and, finally, Catherine Keener as a war photographer suffering post traumatic disorder after being held captive in Libya in “War Story.”
The U.S. Documentary and World Documentary competitions include such films as “The Cast Against 8” and “Fed Up.” A complete rundown is available here.
While the festival will reveal its out of competition Premieres, Midnight, New Frontier and Documentary Premieres selections, it did note that a total 118 feature-length films have been chosen and they, representing 37 countries and 54 first-time filmmakers, including 34 in competition. Over 12,218 films were submitted for consideration (72 more than for 2013), including 4,057 feature-length films and 8,161 short films. Most intriguingly, of the feature film submissions, 2,014 were from the U.S. and 2,043 were international. That last statistic is a clear indicator of the growing international prestige of the festival. And, as expected, a majority (97) of the feature films at the Festival will be world premieres.
The festival will begin on Thursday, Jan. 16 and end on Saturday, Jan. 26th. Instead of one opening night film, the festival will continue its recent tradition of kicking off the event with multiple pictures. This year, a film from each competition category will screen on the festival’s first day. They include “Whiplash,” “Lilting,” “Dinosaur 13” and “The Green Prince.”
A complete list of the U.S. Dramatic, World Dramatic and Next competition films along with key filmmakers and cast, is listed below.
U.S. DRAMATIC COMPETITION
“Camp X-Ray” (U.S.A.)
Director and screenwriter: Peter Sattler
A young woman is stationed as a guard in Guantanamo Bay, where she forms an unlikely friendship with one of the detainees.
Cast: Kristen Stewart, Payman Maadi, Lane Garrison, J.J. Soria, John Carroll Lynch.
“Cold in July” (U.S.A.)
Director: Jim Mickle, Screenwriters: Jim Mickle, Nick Damici
After killing a home intruder, a small town Texas man’s life unravels into a dark underworld of corruption and violence. Cast: Michael C. Hall, Don Johnson, Sam Shepard, Vinessa Shaw, Nick Damici, Wyatt Russell.
“Dear White People” (U.S.A.)
Director and screenwriter: Justin Simien
Four black students attend an Ivy League college where a riot breaks out over an “African American” themed party thrown by white students. With tongue planted firmly in cheek, the film explores racial identity in postracial America while weaving a story about forging one’s unique path in the world.
Cast: Tyler Williams, Tessa Thompson, Teyonah Parris, Brandon Bell.
“Fishing Without Nets” (U.S.A., Somalia, Kenya)
Director: Cutter Hodierne, Screenwriters: Cutter Hodierne, John Hibey, David Burkman
A story of pirates in Somalia told from the perspective of a struggling, young Somali fisherman.
Cast: Abdikani Muktar, Abdi Siad, Abduwhali Faarah, Abdikhadir Hassan, Reda Kateb, Idil Ibrahim.
“God’s Pocket” (U.S.A.)
Director: John Slattery, Screenwriters: John Slattery, Alex Metcalf
When Mickey’s stepson Leon is killed in a construction “accident,” Mickey tries to bury the bad news with the body. But when the boy’s mother demands the truth, Mickey finds himself stuck between a body he can”t bury, a wife he can”t please, and a debt he can”t pay. Cast: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Richard Jenkins, Christina Hendricks, John Turturro.
“Happy Christmas” (U.S.A.)
Director and screenwriter: Joe Swanberg
After a breakup with her boyfriend, a young woman moves in with her older brother, his wife, and their 2-year-old son. Cast: Anna Kendrick, Melanie Lynskey, Mark Webber, Lena Dunham, Joe Swanberg.
Director and screenwriter: Kat Candler
When motocross and heavy metal obsessed, 13-year-old Jacob’s delinquent behavior forces CPS to place his little brother Wes with his aunt, Jacob and his emotionally absent father must finally take responsibility for their actions and each other in order to bring Wes home.
Cast: Aaron Paul, Juliette Lewis, Josh Wiggins, Deke Garner, Jonny Mars, Walt Roberts.
“Infinitely Polar Bear” (U.S.A.)
Director and screenwriter: Maya Forbes
A manic-depressive mess of a father tries to win back his wife by attempting to take full responsibility of their two young, spirited daughters, who don’t make the overwhelming task any easier.
Cast: Mark Ruffalo, Zoe Saldana, Imogene Wolodarsky, Ashley Aufderheide.
“Jamie Marks is Dead” (U.S.A.)
Director and screenwriter: Carter Smith
No one seemed to care about Jamie Marks until after his death. Hoping to find the love and friendship he never had in life, Jamie”s ghost visits former classmate Adam McCormick, drawing him into the bleak world between the living and the dead.
Cast: Cameron Monaghan, Noah Silver, Morgan Saylor, Judy Greer, Madisen Beaty, Liv Tyler.
“Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter” (U.S.A.)
Director: David Zellner, Screenwriters: David Zellner, Nathan Zellner
A lonely Japanese woman becomes convinced that a satchel of money buried in a fictional film is, in fact, real. Abandoning her structured life in Tokyo for the frozen Minnesota wilderness, she embarks on an impulsive quest to search for her lost mythical fortune.
Cast: Rinko Kikuchi.
“Life After Beth” (U.S.A.)
Director and screenwriter: Jeff Baena
Zach is devastated by the unexpected death of his girlfriend, Beth. When she mysteriously returns, he gets a second chance at love. Soon his whole world turns upside down…
Cast: Aubrey Plaza, Dane DeHaan, John C. Reilly, Molly Shannon, Cheryl Hines, Paul Reiser.
“Low Down” (U.S.A.)
Director: Jeff Preiss, Screenwriters: Amy Albany, Topper Lilien
Based on Amy Jo Albany’s memoir, Low Down explores her heart-wrenching journey to adulthood while being raised by her father, bebop pianist Joe Albany, as he teeters between incarceration and addiction in the urban decay and waning bohemia of Hollywood in the 1970s.
Cast: John Hawkes, Elle Fanning, Glenn Close, Lena Headey, Peter Dinklage, Flea.
“The Skeleton Twins” (U.S.A.)
Director: Craig Johnson, Screenwriters: Craig Johnson, Mark Heyman
Estranged twins Maggie and Milo coincidentally cheat death on the same day, prompting them to reunite and confront the reasons their lives went so wrong. As the twins’ reunion reinvigorates them, they realize the key to fixing their lives may just lie in repairing their relationship.
Cast: Bill Hader, Kristen Wiig, Luke Wilson, Ty Burrell, Boyd Holbrook, Joanna Gleason.
“The Sleepwalker” (U.S.A., Norway)
Director: Mona Fastvold, Screenwriters: Mona Fastvold, Brady Corbet) – A young couple, Kaia and Andrew, are renovating Kaia´s secluded family estate. Their lives are violently interrupted when unexpected guests arrive. The Sleepwalker chronicles the unraveling of the lives of four disparate characters as it transcends genre conventions and narrative contrivance to reveal something much more disturbing.
Cast: Gitte Witt, Christopher Abbott, Brady Corbet, Stephanie Ellis.
“Song One” (U.S.A.)
Director and screenwriter: Kate Barker-Froyland
Estranged from her family, Franny returns home when an accident leaves her brother comatose. Retracing his life as an aspiring musician, she tracks down his favorite musician, James Forester. Against the backdrop of Brooklyn”s music scene, Franny and James develop an unexpected relationship and face the realities of their lives.
Cast: Anne Hathaway, Johnny Flynn, Mary Steenburgen, Ben Rosenfield.
Director and screenwriter: Damien Chazelle
Under the direction of a ruthless instructor, a talented young drummer begins to pursue perfection at any cost, even his humanity.
Cast: Miles Teller, JK Simmons. DAY ONE FILM
WORLD CINEMA DRAMATIC COMPETITION
“52 Tuesdays” (Australia)
Director: Sophie Hyde, Screenplay and story by: Matthew Cormack, Story by: Sophie Hyde
Sixteen-year-old Billie”s reluctant path to independence is accelerated when her mother reveals plans for gender transition, and their time together becomes limited to Tuesdays. This emotionally charged story of desire, responsibility, and transformation was filmed over the course of a year-once a week, every week, only on Tuesdays.
Cast: Tilda Cobham-Hervey, Del Herbert-Jane, Imogen Archer, Mario Späte, Beau Williams, Sam Althuizen. International Premiere
“Blind” (Norway, Netherlands)
Director and screenwriter: Eskil Vogt
Having recently lost her sight, Ingrid retreats to the safety of her home-a place she can feel in control, alone with her husband and her thoughts. But Ingrid’s real problems lie within, not beyond the walls of her apartment, and her deepest fears and repressed fantasies soon take over.
Cast: Ellen Dorrit Petersen, Henrik Rafaelsen, Vera Vitali, Marius Kolbenstvedt. World Premiere
Director and screenwriter: Zeresenay Berhane Mehari
Meaza Ashenafi is a young lawyer who operates under the government’s radar helping women and children until one young girl’s legal case exposes everything, threatening not only her career but her survival.
Cast: Meron Getnet, Tizita Hagere. World Premiere
“The Disobedient” (Serbia)
Director and screenwriter: Mina Djukic
Leni anxiously waits for her childhood friend Lazar, who is coming back to their hometown after years of studying abroad. After they reunite, they embark on a random bicycle trip around their childhood haunts, which will either exhaust or reinvent their relationship.
Cast: Hana Selimovic, Mladen Sovilj, Minja Subota, Danijel Sike, Ivan Djordjevic. World Premiere
“God Help the Girl” (United Kingdom)
Director and screenwriter: Stuart Murdoch
This musical from Stuart Murdoch of Belle & Sebastian is about some messed up boys and girls and the music they made.
Cast: Emily Browning, Olly Alexander, Hannah Murray, Cora Bissett, Pierre Boulanger. World Premiere
“Liar’s Dice” (India)
Director and screenwriter: Geetu Mohandas
Kamala, a young woman from the village of Chitkul, leaves her native land with her daughter to search for her missing husband. Along the journey, they encounter Nawazudin, a free-spirited army deserter with his own selfish motives who helps them reach their destination.
Cast: Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Geetanjali Thapa, Manya Gupta. International Premiere
“Lilting” United Kingdom
Director and screenwriter: Hong Khaou
The world of a Chinese mother mourning the untimely death of her son is suddenly disrupted by the presence of a stranger who doesn’t speak her language. Lilting is a touching and intimate film about finding the things that bring us together. Cast: Ben Whishaw, Pei-Pei Cheng, Andrew Leung, Peter Bowles, Naomi Christie, Morven Christie. World Premiere. DAY ONE FILM
“Lock Charmer (El cerrajero)” (Argentina)
Director and screenwriter: Natalia Smirnoff
Upon learning that his girlfriend is pregnant, 33-year-old locksmith Sebastian begins to have strange visions about his clients. With the help of an unlikely assistant, he sets out to use his newfound talent for his own good.
Cast: Esteban Lamothe, Erica Rivas, Yosiria Huaripata. World Premiere
“To Kill a Man” (Chile, France)
Director and screenwriter: Alejandro Fernandez Almendras
When Jorge, a hardworking family man who’s barely making ends meet, gets mugged by Kalule, a neighborhood delinquent, Jorge’s son decides to confront the attacker, only to get himself shot. Even though Jorge’s son nearly dies, Kalule’s sentence is minimal, heightening the friction.
Cast: Daniel Candia, Daniel Antivilo, Alejandra Yañez, Ariel Mateluna. World Premiere
“Viktoria” (Bulgaria, Romania)
Director and screenwriter: Maya Vitkova
Although determined not to have a child in Communist Bulgaria, Boryana gives birth to Viktoria, who despite being born with no umbilical cord, is proclaimed to be the baby of the decade. But political collapse and the hardships of the new time bind mother and daughter together.
Cast: Irmena Chichikova, Daria Vitkova, Kalina Vitkova, Mariana Krumova, Dimo Dimov, Georgi Spassov. World Premiere
Director: David Wnendt, Screenwriters: Claus Falkenberg, David Wnendt, based on the novel by Charlotte Roche
Meet Helen Memel. She likes to experiment with vegetables while masturbating and thinks that bodily hygiene is greatly overrated. She shocks those around her by speaking her mind in a most unladylike manner on topics that many people would not even dare consider.
Cast: Carla Juri, Christoph Letkowski, Meret Becker, Axel Milberg, Marlen Kruse, Edgar Selge. North American Premiere
“White Shadow” (Italy, Germany, Tanzania)
Director: Noaz Deshe, Screenwriters: Noaz Deshe, James Masson
Alias is a young albino boy on the run. His mother has sent him away to find refuge in the city after witnessing his father’s murder. Over time, the city becomes no different than the bush: wherever Alias travels, the same rules of survival apply. Cast: Hamisi Bazili, James Gayo, Glory Mbayuwayu, Salum Abdallah. International Premiere
“Appropriate Behavior” (U.S.A., United Kingdom)
Director and screenwriter: Desiree Akhavan) – Shirin is struggling to become an ideal Persian daughter, a politically correct bisexual, and a hip, young Brooklynite, but fails miserably in her attempt at all identities. Being without a cliché to hold on to can be a lonely experience.
Cast: Desiree Akhavan, Rebecca Henderson, Halley Feiffer, Scott Adsit, Anh Duong, Arian Moayed. World Premiere
“Drunktown’s Finest” (U.S.A.)
Director and screenwriter: Sydney Freeland
Three young Native Americans-a rebellious father-to-be, a devout Christian woman, and a promiscuous transsexual-come of age on an Indian reservation.
Cast: Jeremiah Bitsui, Carmen Moore, Morningstar Angeline, Kiowa Gordon, Shauna Baker, Elizabeth Francis. World Premiere
“The Foxy Merkins” (U.S.A.)
Director: Madeleine Olnek, Screenwriters: Lisa Haas, Jackie Monahan, Madeleine Olnek
Two lesbian hookers work the streets of New York. One is a down-on-her-luck newbie; the other is a beautiful-and straight-grifter who’s an expert on picking up women. Together they face bargain-hunting housewives, double-dealing conservative women, and each other in this prostitute buddy comedy.
Cast: Lisa Haas, Jackie Monahan, Alex Karpovsky, Susan Ziegler, Sally Sockwell, Deb Margolin.
“A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night” (U.S.A.)
Director and screenwriter: Ana Lily Amirpour
In the Iranian ghost town Bad City, a place that reeks of death and loneliness, depraved denizens are unaware they are being stalked by a lonesome vampire.
Cast: Sheila Vand, Arash Marandi, Dominic Rains, Marshall Manesh, Mozhan Marnó, Milad Eghbali. World Premiere
“Imperial Dreams” (U.S.A.)
Director: Malik Vitthal, Screenwriters: Malik Vitthal, Ismet Prcic
A 21-year-old, reformed gangster’s devotion to his family and his future are put to the test when he is released from prison and returns to his old stomping grounds in Watts, Los Angeles.
Cast: John Boyega, Rotimi Akinosho, Glenn Plummer, Keke Palmer, De’aundre Bonds. World Premiere
“Land Ho!” (U.S.A., Iceland)
Directors and screenwriters: Martha Stephens, Aaron Katz
A pair of ex-brothers-in-law set off to Iceland in an attempt to reclaim their youth through Reykjavik nightclubs, trendy spas, and rugged campsites. This bawdy adventure is a throwback to 1980s road comedies, as well as a candid exploration of aging, loneliness, and friendship.
Cast: Paul Eenhoorn, Earl Nelson, Alice Olivia Clarke, Karrie Krouse, Elizabeth McKee, Emmsjé Gauti. World Premiere
“Listen Up Philip” (U.S.A.) Director and screenwriter: Alex Ross Perry
A story about changing seasons and changing attitudes, a newly accomplished writer faces mistakes and miseries affecting those around him, including his girlfriend, her sister, his idol, his idol’s daughter, and all the ex-girlfriends and enemies that lie in wait on the open streets of New York.
Cast: Jason Schwartzman, Elisabeth Moss, Jonathan Pryce, Krysten Ritter, Josephine de La Baume. World Premiere
“Memphis” (U.S.A.) Director and screenwriter: Tim Sutton
A strange singer drifts through the mythic city of Memphis, surrounded by beautiful women, legendary musicians, a stone-cold hustler, a righteous preacher, and a wolf pack of kids. Under a canopy of ancient oak trees and burning spirituality, his doomed journey breaks from conformity and reaches out for glory.
Cast: Willis Earl Beal, Lopaka Thomas, Constance Brantley, Devonte Hull, John Gary Williams, Larry Dodson. World Premiere
“Obvious Child” (U.S.A.)
Director and screenwriter: Gillian Robespierre
An honest comedy about what happens when Brooklyn comedian Donna Stern gets dumped, fired, and pregnant, just in time for the worst/best Valentine’s Day of her life.
Cast: Jenny Slate, Jake Lacy, Gaby Hoffmann, David Cross, Gabe Liedman, Richard Kind. World Premiere
“Ping Pong Summer” (U.S.A.)
Director and screenwriter: Michael Tully
1985. Ocean City, Maryland. Summer vacation. Rap music. Parachute pants. Ping pong. First crushes. Best friends. Mean bullies. Weird mentors. That awkward, momentous time in your life when you’re treated like an alien by everyone around you, even though you know deep down you’re as funky fresh as it gets.
Cast: Susan Sarandon, John Hannah, Lea Thompson, Amy Sedaris, Robert Longstreet, Marcello Conte. World Premiere
“War Story” (U.S.A.)
Director: Mark Jackson, Screenwriters: Kristin Gore, Mark Jackson
A war photographer retreats to a small town in Sicily after being held captive during the conflict in Libya.
Cast: Catherine Keener, Hafsia Herzi, Vincenzo Amato, Donatella Finocchiaro, Ben Kingsley. World Premiere