Sundance 2021: debutants make the weather

Ranking All 30 Sundance 2021 Movies From WORST to BEST

Independent Film Festival Ends in Park City

The Sundance Festival in Park City, Utah is rightly considered an outpost of American independent cinema and a kind of antithesis to Hollywood commercialization. But as the business practice of recent years shows, you can make good money on a talented “non-commercial” product with proper marketing. Therefore, it is not surprising that the titans of new technologies Apple, Netflix and Amazon, actively exploring the niche of cinema, keep their finger on the pulse of the Sundance festival program..

Difficult choice

The first sensational deal was not long in coming. Shown on the opening day of the first virtual Sundance, the family drama Code (CODA) was acquired for worldwide distribution by Apple for a record-breaking amount of more than $ 25 million for the festival..

According to the knowledgeable movie website Deadline, the announced deal was preceded by a fierce battle between Apple and Amazon, and it did not take place on the scenic slopes of the mountain resort of Park City, but on online platforms, in email and by phone..

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the festival management transformed it into a hybrid format, when the vast majority of premieres and meetings with film authors take place in a virtual space, and only a small part of screenings and other events are held in the space of selected art-house cinema centers, drive-ins and museums in certain cities. USA.

The Coda is an intense drama from the life of a family of fishermen in the town of Gloucester, Massachusetts, where the father, mother and their adult son are deaf and their daughter, a high school graduate, is hearing normal. The girl faces a painful choice: to stay in the town to help her family communicate with the world, or to realize her innermost dream and go to the big city to study singing. The film is considered one of the top contenders for the festival’s American Fiction Awards..

“I am so touched by the flurry of audience reviews,” Codes director Sean Heder said in an interview, “and the fact that I found a partner in Apple who loved and appreciated our film. It is high time to place the deaf and other groups of people with disabilities in the center of attention of the cinema. Now is the time for that. And no excuses! “.

Musical greetings from the past

Another picture that is predicted to have a great future both in terms of box office and as a candidate for the most prestigious awards of the season is the graceful black and white retro drama Passing. Actress Rebecca Hall chose Nella Larsen’s novel for her directorial debut and invited Tessa Thompson and Ruth Negg to the main roles. These actresses brilliantly played African-American women, refined representatives of the wealthy class in the 20s of the last century. Due to their rather light skin, they can be mistaken for white. But if Irene, Thompson’s heroine, does not go to such dubious tricks, taking pride in her status as African-American, then Claire, Negg’s heroine, has built her entire life on “racial deception” (hence the name of the film), including marriage to a white rich man, notorious racist.

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The action takes place in New York, where friends meet by chance. It turns out they went to high school together. The unceremonious Claire imposes her friendship on the delicate Irene, they get closer, go out together, but this friendship will result in a dramatic collision. According to the festival annotation, this is “an elegant psychological thriller about obsession, suppressed passions and lies that people tell each other.”.

Whereas in Lichina, belonging to the African race has become an object of silence and deep complexes, in the concert film Summer of Soul it proudly manifests itself in every frame, every sound chord. This is a kind of musical greeting from the last century. In 1969, on summer days, when the famous Woodstock Rock Festival was held in New York State, 100 miles away, Harlem hosted the African American Culture Festival, which was attended by more than 300 thousand people..

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The event was filmed, but the footage was somehow lost. And half a century later, unique films were discovered in the basement of a residential building. Debutant director Amir “Questlove” Thompson gave new life to the musical legend by editing separate numbers of this concert series from ’69 with testimonies from participants and spectators and newsreels. Thompson is known as a musician, polymath, who is called the “walking encyclopedia of music.” His voice is spoken by a jazz player in the latest Pixar animated blockbuster “Soul”.

The concert series in Harlem, which became known as Black Woodstock, featured soul, blues, jazz and funk legends such as BB King, Mahalia Jackson, Max Roach, Stevie Wonder, The Fifth Dimension, Nina Simone and Sly and the Family Stone and many other music stars.

The unique “greetings from the past” is colored with nostalgic emotions and admiration of the filmmakers for the unfading talents of black America. Many of them are no longer alive.

Sundance 2021: debutants make the weather

Eternal lockdown

One can argue about the artistic merit of the dystopia “The Pink Cloud”, filmed by debutant Brazilian director Luli Gerbase, but hardly anyone would deny the striking relevance of the story it tells. The screenplay was written by Gerbase in 2017, and she directed the film in 2019. But what appears on the screen with surprising accuracy echoes the peculiarities of life and mass psychology in the context of the coronavirus pandemic..

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After their first romantic date, chiropractor Iago and website designer Giovanna wake up in her apartment and hear an emergency message. It turns out that their life and that of all mankind that morning changed dramatically. From now on, no one can go outside, as poisonous pink clouds have appeared in the sky. It is enough to stay in the open air for 10 seconds, and the person dies..

Iago and Giovanna, having become victims of what seems to be an eternal lockdown, go through all stages of the crisis of interpersonal relations. To say that they are tired of each other is to say nothing. But what to do? You can conditionally “divorce” for a while, since the apartment is spacious, two-story, you can immerse yourself in an imaginary beautiful fantasy with the help of virtual reality glasses. They order products online and receive them via

airtight vent in the window. They have a son who is doomed to live in complete isolation. The boy knows nothing but a computer and virtual games, and a pink cloud for him is something eternal, akin to the sun. Will the heroes of this sad drama come to realize the complete meaninglessness of a surrogate life??

On the evening of February 2, the winners of the competitive film screening programs will be announced. And the Sundance 2021 festival itself will end on February 3.

  • Oleg Sulkin

    Journalist, film critic, correspondent for the Russian Service «Voices of America» in New York.

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Sundance 2021: debutants make the weather

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