Sundance 2023 lineup: ‘Cat Person,’ Judy Blume, more to watch

The path that led CODA and Summer of Soul to Oscars this year began when they both won awards at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival.

A new series of films began their own march on Wednesday, when Sundance announced the program for the 2023 festival – the first in-person meeting for the event since the days before the pandemic in January 2020.

Organizers had planned to return to in-person screenings at last year’s festival, but switched to an online-only event a few weeks before it started due to a COVID surge. This year the festival, which runs from January 19th to 29th, seems to be a mixture of a strong return and something new.

“The organization and the festival are a living organism. We have to adapt and adapt,” Joana Vicente said on the occasion of her second festival as CEO of the Sundance Institute.

This year’s titles include both new discoveries and new works by established talent. The stars of new films at Sundance 2023 are Anne Hathaway, Tiffany Haddish, Gael Garcia Bernal, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Julia Louis-Dreyfus.

Randall Park makes his directorial debut in the US Drama Competition with Shortcomings, an adaptation of Adrian Tomine’s graphic novel. Alice Englert, daughter of Jane Campion, makes her feature film directing debut in the Global Drama Competition with Bad Behavior, starring Jennifer Connelly and Ben Whishaw. Filmmaker Brandon Cronenberg, son of David Cronenberg, returns to the festival with Infinity Pool, starring Alexander Skarsgård and Mia Goth as part of the midnight section.

Two people go out in a scene "Fancy dance."

A still from Erica Tremblay’s Fancy Dance.

(Courtesy of the Sundance Institute)

Other titles in the US Drama Competition, the festival’s signature section, include Raven Jackson’s All Dirt Roads Taste of Salt, produced by the Moonlight team of Barry Jenkins and Adele Romanski; Chloe Domont’s “Fair Play” with Phoebe Dynevor and Alden Ehrenreich; Erica Tremblay’s “Fancy Dance” with Lily Gladstone; Elijah Bynum’s Magazine Dreams with Jonathan Majors; “The Persian Version” by Maryam Keshavarz with Layla Mohammadi; and Rachel Lambert’s “Sometimes I Think About Dying” with Daisy Ridley.

US Documentary Competition titles include Nicole Newnham’s The Disappearance of Shere Hite, Alejandra Vasquez’s Going Varsity in Mariachi, Sierra Urich’s Joonam, Kristen Lovell and Zackary Drucker’s The Stroll, and Nancy Schwartzman’s Victim/Suspect .”

A woman sings in a scene "Going college in mariachi."

A scene from the documentary Going Varsity in Mariachi directed by Alejandra Vasquez and Sam Osborn.

(Courtesy of the Sundance Institute)

The premieres section usually features some of the festival’s most well-known tracks and biggest breakouts. This year’s selections include Oscar-winning Roger Ross Williams’ first screenplay, Cassandro, starring Gael Garcia Bernal; Susanna Fogel’s Cat Person, starring Emilia Jones and Nicolas Braun, based on the viral New York short story; Anthony Chen’s “Drift” with Cynthia Erivo; and William Oldroyd’s Eileen, starring Thomasin McKenzie and Anne Hathaway.

Emilia Jones and Nicolas Braun in "cat lover."

Emilia Jones and Nicolas Braun in Cat Person, an adaptation of the viral New York short story directed by Susanna Fogel.

(Courtesy of the Sundance Institute)

Other titles in the Premieres section include Andrew Durham’s Fairyland, produced by Sofia Coppola; Cory Finley’s “Landscape with Invisible Hand” with Tiffany Haddish; Sophie Barthes’ The Pod Generation, starring Emilia Clarke and Chiwetel Ejiofor; and Nicole Holofcener’s You Hurt My Feelings, starring Julia Louis-Dreyfus.

The midnight section includes Laura Moss’ Birth/Rebirth with Marin Ireland; Jacqueline Castel’s “My Animal,” starring Bobbi Salvör Menuez and Amandla Stenberg; Nida Manzoor’s “Polite Society,” starring Priya Kansara; and Diana Reid’s Run Rabbit Run, starring Sarah Snook.

The NEXT section includes Eddie Alcazar’s “Divinity” produced by Steven Soderbergh; David Redmon and Ashley Sabin’s documentary Kim’s Video about the legendary New York City video store; and Babak Jalali’s “Fremont,” starring Anaita Wali Zada ​​and Jeremy Allen White.

Celebrity portraits have been a key part of recent documentary programming, and this year’s offerings include Lisa Cortés’ Little Richard: I Am Everything; Amanda Kim’s “Nam June Paik: Moon is the Oldest TV”; Alexandria Bombach’s “It’s Only Life After All” about the music group Indigo Girls; “Judy Blume Forever” by Davina Pardo and Leah Wolchok; Lana Wilson’s Pretty Baby: Brooke Shields; and Davis Guggenheim’s Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie.

Little Richard in "Little Richard: I am everything."

Little Richard: I Am Everything, directed by Lisa Cortes, is one of a series of celebrity documentaries at this year’s Sundance.

(Courtesy of the Sundance Institute)

According to festival statistics, of the 101 feature films announced so far, 53% were shot by filmmaker(s) who identify as women, 5% by filmmaker(s) who identify as non-binary, 45% by filmmaker(s) who identify as non-binary identify as People of Color, 20% by one or more filmmakers who identify as LGBTQ+, and 3% by one or more filmmakers who identify as disabled.

These numbers exceed those of the past three years. According to Kim Yutani, the festival’s program director, this is a natural result of the way the program team works.

“I think that speaks to how organic the process is,” Yutani said. Yutani noted that the 14 members of the year-round features programming team come from diverse backgrounds, adding, “Having this diversity of experiences in space as we speak through each film influences what we program.

“We are also people who have seen thousands of films over the years. And so we know what’s out there and what’s different and what’s special about a film and how it can perform at Sundance,” Yutani said. “Over the years we’ve become a place for non-mainstream filmmakers. They’re indie filmmakers who tell stories in a different way, and they know Sundance is the place for them because everyone knows this is where you go to discover work that’s not from the more typical angles.”

For Vicente, these upward stats on diversity and inclusion in the program point to something else.

“I think it speaks to where the most exciting films come from, from underrepresented areas,” said Vicente. “And those are the voices and stories that resonate within the team.”

The films in the four main competition lists will all be available online in the second half of the festival, along with a selection of other films from the programme. This follows the tremendous success the festival has had over the past two pandemic-hit years in building an audience beyond those able to travel to Utah.

“We believe it gave us a great platform that gave us the opportunity to reach an audience that might not have believed Sundance was for them, or that couldn’t afford to come to Sundance,” said Vicente. “It allows us to reach a more diverse, younger audience, from film students in the US to independent film lovers, and also gives us a platform for industry and international press who might not be able to afford to travel to Sundance.”

Despite the success of CODA and Summer of Soul, as well as festival 2022 breakout titles including Fire of Love, Watcher and Nanny, the Sundance programming team can only select a selection from the films submitted to them, which can make it difficult to lean into one pattern or another.

“We’re aware of how movies are received, but in many cases we’re just as surprised as other people,” said Senior Programmer John Nein. “Certainly it can validate decisions we make because the films speak to us. But even for us it is often surprising.”

“We don’t come with preconceived notions, but we look at how the films we see speak to the moment — and how those films fit together as a series of films,” Yutani said. “And I think this year it’s not obvious how we chose those films. They are films that are a product of what concerns the artists at that moment.” Sundance 2023 lineup: ‘Cat Person,’ Judy Blume, more to watch

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