ENTERTAINMENT

At 40, the Sundance Film Festival celebrates its past while it looks to future

Jan 18, 2024, 5:13 PM | Updated: Jan 25, 2024, 7:45 pm

four people sit in chairs...

The opening press conference of the 2024 Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah. Left to right, Jason Blum interviews Joana Vicente, Sundance Institute CEO, Eugene Hernandez, Sundance Film Festival Director and Kim Yutani, the festival's Director of Programming, on Jan. 18, 2024, the opening morning of the 40th festival. (Larry D. Curtis, KSL TV)

(Larry D. Curtis, KSL TV)

NOTE: The 2024 Sundance Film Festival takes place Jan. 18–28, in person in Park City and Salt Lake City, with a selection of titles available online nationwide from Jan. 25–28. Tickets are on sale now at festival.sundance.org. The 2024 film program is available at festival.sundance.org/program/films/.

The festival has a “how to fest” guide.


Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck remember the feeling of being the new kids at the Sundance Film Festival. In 2004, they’d come to Park City, Utah, armed with a short film “Gowanus, Brooklyn,” some homemade promotional postcards and dreams of breaking through. Their short not only won a prize that year but also enough support to make the feature version, “Half Nelson,” which would later earn Ryan Gosling his first Oscar nomination.

“I remember being like, oh my God, this festival has been around 20 years, it’s such an old festival,” Boden said in a recent interview with The Associated Press. “Now it’s 20 years later and we’re the old people.”

Of course, “old” is relative when it comes to a discovery festival like Sundance, where directors fresh out of film school can get a shot at a breakthrough. Remember, Kevin Smith was just 23 when he brough “Clerks” to Park City. Like many of their contemporaries that started at Sundance — including Steven Soderbergh, who is also coming with a new film, “Presence” — Boden and Fleck have gone on to bigger projects, including “Captain Marvel.”

Local student featured in Sundance film ‘Winding Path’ during next week’s festival

But the Sundance romance hasn’t dulled.

Their new film debuts Thursday, opening night of the 40th edition of the festival, at the storied Eccles Theater. “Freaky Tales” is a love letter to Fleck’s hometown, Oakland, in the 1980s — its sports, music, history and the movies of the time — featuring Pedro Pascal, Jay Ellis, Dominique Thorne and Ben Mendelsohn.

“It’s a movie lover’s movie,” Boden teased. “It has one foot in reality and then one foot just launches off into fantasy.”

The first day also boasts the world premieres of several high-profile documentaries, including Jesse Moss and Amanda McBaine’s “Girls State,” Yance Ford’s “Power” and “Frida,” directed by Emmy-nominated editor Carla Gutiérrez, and playing in the U.S. documentary competition.

As an immigrant and a former art student, Gutiérrez has long admired Frida Kahlo. In “Frida,” she uses Kahlo’s words from her diary, letters and essays to let the artist tell her own story.

“Uncovering her own words and her own voice, I think what we’re presenting is a new way of getting into her world and in her mind and her heart and really understanding the art in a more intimate, raw way,” Gutiérrez said.

Sundance Film Festival names top 10 films from its 40-year Utah history

Other anticipated documentaries playing across various sections include “Daughters,” about four young girls reuniting with their incarcerated fathers at a dance, “Gaucho Gaucho,” from “The Truffle Hunters” filmmakers, “Sue Bird: In the Clutch,” “DEVO,” “Super/Man: The Christopher Reeve Story,” “Seeking Mavis Beacon,” and “The Greatest Night in Pop,” featuring never-before-seen footage about the making of “We Are The World.” The programmers are also predicting that “Will & Harper,” about a road trip Will Ferrell takes with his friend of 30 years who has come out as a trans woman, will be a big crowd pleaser.

As always, an army of celebrities are expected to descend on Park City, including Kristen Stewart, with two buzzy films (“Love Me” and “Love Lies Bleeding”), Saoirse Ronan, Kieran Culkin, Sebastian Stan, Glen Powell, Woody Harrelson, Steven Yeun, Lucy Liu, Danielle Deadwyler, Aubrey Plaza, Melissa Barrera and Laura Linney.

Chiwetel Ejiofor is also bringing his sophomore feature, “Rob Peace,” a biographical drama about the tragically short life of a brilliant kid from East Orange, New Jersey, which he wrote, directed and co-stars in alongside Jay Will, Mary J. Blige and Camila Cabello.

“I’ve been fortunate to be there many times as an actor and a director as well,” Ejiofor said. “It’s a dream to take this film there as well. It’s an American story, it’s an independent film and it wants to sit in that world.”

Sundance programmers culled through 17,435 submissions to arrive at the 83 feature films playing across the 10 days, featuring a diverse mix of behind-the-camera talent. There are new episodic projects from Debra Granik and Richard Linklater, as well as 31 feature debuts.

Gutiérrez is one of those first-time directors, as is Titus Kaphar, an acclaimed contemporary artist and MacArthur Fellow who is making his narrative debut with the competition title “Exhibiting Forgiveness.” Featuring André Holland and Aunjanue Ellis-Taylor, Kaphar uses his own paintings to tell this very personal story of an artist who is visited by his estranged father (John Earl Jelks). He wanted to find a way to talk to his children about his life experience and examine generational trauma in a new medium, and he’s honored to have the festival’s support.

“My favorite films are Sundance films,” Kaphar said. “To be allowed into this new community of artists, a community of directors and filmmakers … it’s pretty extraordinary.”

A week before Sundance begins in Park City and Salt Lake, individual tickets now on sale

The excitement isn’t lost on Sundance mainstays like Jesse Eisenberg, who has been going to the festival since “The Squid and the Whale.” This year, he’s bringing a film that he’s been wanting to make for almost as long. In “A Real Pain,” which he wrote and directed, he plays an American who travels to Poland with his cousin (Culkin) to see where their late grandmother, a Holocaust survivor, was from.

“It’s about how we kind of view modern pain versus historical pain, but not in a didactic way. I didn’t want the movie to feel like homework,” Eisenberg said. “I wanted it to feel funny and light and only contemplative like that in retrospect.”

And everyone has different ways of experiencing their films at Sundance. Boden and Fleck are especially looking forward to a “raucous” crowd at the Eccles. Eisenberg will probably step out when the lights go down — he knows from experience that it makes him too anxious.

“My nerves are a little redirected towards hoping people like it in a kind of holistic way, rather than just my acting,” said Eisenberg. He also appears in another highly anticipated film: “Sasquatch Sunset,” from David and Nathan Zellner, in which he and Riley Keough are unrecognizable as a family of, yes, sasquatches.

The Robert Redford-founded festival is, mostly, forward thinking — but they are taking some time to appreciate the art that has come out of Sundance over four decades. Just take a look at the “all-time top 10” released Tuesday, voted on by more than 500 filmmakers, critics, and industry members. The list of classics includes: Joel and Ethan Coen’s “Blood Simple” (10th), Soderbergh’s “sex, lies and videotape” (sixth), Jordan Peele’s “Get Out” (third) and Damien Chazelle’s “Whiplash” (first).

The question now is what will pop from the 2024 festival. Will audiences see the next “Before Sunrise,” “Memento,” “Y tu mamá también,” “Little Miss Sunshine,” or “Reservoir Dogs,” and other films that have transcended their humble indie roots to become all-time classics? Will there be another Oscar nominee, or winner?

Festival director Eugene Hernandez noted a vibrancy in the lineup that reminded him of his earliest days going to the festival, in the 1990s.

“It’s such a rich, rich combination of films that I that I think exhibit some really wild and adventurous creativity,” Hernandez said. “That is really nourishing in a year when we’re acknowledging and marking this 40th edition of Sundance.”

The Sundance Film Festival runs from Jan. 18 through Jan. 28.

KSL 5 TV Live

Entertainment

Oprah Winfrey...

Jordan Valinsky, CNN

Oprah is leaving WeightWatchers, sending stock tumbling

Oprah Winfrey is leaving the board of WeightWatchers, ending a nearly decade-long stint as a director of the beleaguered company that has faced sudden competition from Ozempic.

1 day ago

FILE - Comedian Richard Lewis attends an NBA basketball game in Los Angeles on Dec. 25, 2012. Lewis...

Mark Kennedy, The Associated Press

Comedian Richard Lewis dies after suffering a heart attack

Richard Lewis, an acclaimed comedian known for exploring his neuroses in frantic, stream-of-consciousness diatribes while dressed in all-black, leading to his nickname “The Prince of Pain,” has died. He was 76.

2 days ago

The stage of the Tabernacle Choir as they perform in Manila. (Dan Rascon, KSL News)...

Dan Rascon

Tabernacle Choir performs unforgettable concert in Manila

It was a night not to be forgotten in the Philippines as the Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square performed  its first major concert before thousands of Filipinos at the Mall of Asia’s 9,000 set arena.

3 days ago

students look at a screen...

Sam Herrera, KSLNewsRadio and Mike Anderson, KSL TV

Weber State offers new elective class all about Taylor Swift

Weber State University is offering a new course all about Taylor Swift, and students wasted no time signing up.

3 days ago

Taylor Swift is pictured at the Chiefs-Dolphins playoff game in Kansas City in January. (Ed Zurga, ...

Alli Rosenbloom, CNN

Taylor Swift baked ‘homemade Pop-Tarts’ for Travis Kelce’s teammates, says coach Andy Reid

Thanks to her well-known love of baking, Taylor Swift won over her boyfriend Travis Kelce’s Kansas City Chiefs teammates the old-fashioned way: by baking them “homemade Pop-Tarts,” according to the team’s coach Andy Reid.

3 days ago

Jam-Master Jay...

Eric Levenson and Jeff Winter, CNN

2 men found guilty of murder in 2002 killing of Run-DMC’s Jam Master Jay

Two men were found guilty of murder Tuesday in the 2002 killing of Jam Master Jay, the pioneering DJ of the groundbreaking hip hop trio Run-DMC, in a case that for decades frustrated detectives and music fans alike.

3 days ago

Sponsored Articles

Modern chandelier hanging from a white slanted ceiling with windows in the backgruond...

Lighting Design

Light Up Your Home With These Top Lighting Trends for 2024

Check out the latest lighting design trends for 2024 and tips on how you can incorporate them into your home.

Technician woman fixing hardware of desktop computer. Close up....

PC Laptops

Tips for Hassle-Free Computer Repairs

Experiencing a glitch in your computer can be frustrating, but with these tips you can have your computer repaired without the stress.

Close up of finger on keyboard button with number 11 logo...

PC Laptops

7 Reasons Why You Should Upgrade Your Laptop to Windows 11

Explore the benefits of upgrading to Windows 11 for a smoother, more secure, and feature-packed computing experience.

Stylish room interior with beautiful Christmas tree and decorative fireplace...

Lighting Design

Create a Festive Home with Our Easy-to-Follow Holiday Prep Guide

Get ready for festive celebrations! Discover expert tips to prepare your home for the holidays, creating a warm and welcoming atmosphere for unforgettable moments.

Battery low message on mobile device screen. Internet and technology concept...

PC Laptops

9 Tips to Get More Power Out of Your Laptop Battery

Get more power out of your laptop battery and help it last longer by implementing some of these tips from our guide.

Users display warnings about the use of artificial intelligence (AI), access to malicious software ...

Les Olson

How to Stay Safe from Cybersecurity Threats

Read our tips for reading for how to respond to rising cybersecurity threats in 2023 and beyond to keep yourself and your company safe.

At 40, the Sundance Film Festival celebrates its past while it looks to future