Cole at Sundance

Arts Criticism Editor Cole Fowler spent 10 days in Park City, Utah, at the Sundance Film Festival.

PARK CITY, UTAH — This past week, I was given the special opportunity to attend the pinnacle of the American independent film circuit, the 2020 Sundance Film Festival. Since 1985, the Sundance Film Festival has represented diversity in American filmmaking and serves as the heartbeat of American Independent Cinema.

This year, the lineup was full of unique voices bringing their creative visions to the festival for the first time, as well as established writers and directors continuing to share their art with audiences from around the world.

As thousands of festival-goers crammed into the small ski-town of Park City for a few weeks, true American spirit could be felt in the air. I couldn’t help but feel I was watching the boundary of cinema moving forward in front of my eyes. The work of these exceptional artists will no doubt have a great influence on film making in the coming year.

Of the 20 films I viewed at Sundance this year, I have selected five of my favorites:

Shirley” written by Sarah Gubbins, directed by Josephine Decker

Although it was surprising to learn the exceptional Josephine Decker was following up her deconstructive 2018 film “Madeline’s Madeline” with a biopic of horror writer Shirley Jackson, her style shines through the otherwise lackluster genre. Decker brings her voice into a space which rarely deviates from the standard formula and revitalizes the dying biopic genre. The film also features a stellar cast with great performances from Elisabeth Moss, Michael Stuhlbarg, Logan Lerman and Odessa Young.

Zola” written by Janicza Bravo, Jeremy O. Harris, David Kushner and A’Ziah King, directed by Janicza Bravo

Possibly the most anticipated film in the lineup – and the only film based on a viral Twitter thread – Janicza Bravo delivers on recreating the wild saga of a weekend trip to Florida gone awry. Originally, this film was announced with James Franco as the director, but Bravo’s vision and unique style, which works perfectly with the tone of the source material, brought the film to levels Franco would not have achieved. Equal parts “Spring Breakers” and “The Bling Ring,” the A24-backed feature will certainly be one of the most talked about films of the year.

Possessor” written and directed by Brandon Cronenberg

Eager to shake off the overwhelming expectations and flee his father’s shadow, Brandon Cronenberg, son of iconic horror filmmaker David Cronenberg, is finally beginning to find his cinematic voice. Although Brandon’s work exists within the same genre as his father’s films, he is able to reach a deeper psychological level than most of David’s work. However, the film won’t receive distribution in the United States without an NC-17 rating, so Brandon will have to wait a bit longer to achieve the same status as his father.

Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets” directed by Turner Ross and Bill Ross IV

One of the most unique American films in recent memory, the Ross Brothers’ narrative-documentary hybrid paints a beautiful portrait of the American Southwest. Set at a bar on its final night of business, the regulars unite for one final moment together. The Rosses’ simplistic approach thrusts their actors, who play a messy combination of themselves and their self-appointed roles, into the centerpiece of the film, allowing the audience to connect with each of them deeply.

Mignonnes (Cuties)” written and directed by Maïmouna Doucouré

Based on her short film of a similar concept, Maïmouna Doucouré’s feature film debut is a poignant, coming-of-age story of young girls in Paris. Doucouré explores the complicated process of respecting one’s family traditions and religion while trying to make sense of the complex world for oneself. Unfortunately, this film was picked up by N*tfl*x, and they have a terrible track record of giving foreign films adequate releases on their site. Hopefully, Doucouré’s film will break this trend.

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