Sundance Wish List: 50 Films We Hope Will Premiere at the Festival in 2021

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Every November, as families gather for Thanksgiving and look ahead to the end of the year, the film industry starts to dream about Sundance. Well, 2020 may have challenged a lot of annual traditions, but the Sundance one lives on: Yes, the 2021 edition has shrunk to seven days, and most audiences will experience it far from Park City. The festival is being planned as a mostly virtual affair (with some drive-ins in the Los Angeles area), which means that there won’t be the usual buzz on Main Street driving audiences to discover new movies.

Thankfully, there won’t be a shortage of movies. In the process of researching our annual Sundance wish list, IndieWire had no trouble finding 50 movies that we hope make the cut in this year’s lineup. Filmmakers have started to hear back from the festival and the full selection is expected to go public next month, but in the meantime, here’s a look at several strong contenders for a most unusual edition of America’s most prominent festival.

We’ve included a few bigger titles, but tried to be realistic about which ones make sense (if Netflix decides to take advantage of a Sundance slot for “Malcolm and Marie,” we’re all for it, but so far the streamer hasn’t been keen on virtual festival premieres). More than that, this list provides an initial glimpse of many debuts and possible breakout stories that could continue to resonate for audiences throughout next year and beyond.

The 2021 edition of the Sundance Film Festival runs January 28 — February 3.

“All Light Everywhere”
Director: Theo Anthony
Theo Anthony’s innovative 2016 debut “Rat Film” was one of the most original movies of that year — a haunting and unpredictable meditation on Baltimore’s rat problem that used it as a canny metaphor for gentrification. Now he’s back with a promising Cinereach-supported project on surveillance, a timely issue that more and more people worldwide are coming to grips with each day. The movie promises to cast a wide net, exploring issues as wide ranging as virtual reality technology and police body cameras as it shows “how the reality of what we see is constructed through the tools that we use to see.” Critics covering Sundance will be keen on finding this year’s boundary-pushing documentary and this one’s a strong candidate. —EK

“A Mouthful of Air”
Director: Amy Koppelman
Sarah Silverman earned rave reviews and breakout Oscar buzz for her performance in “I Smile Back,” which author Amy Koppelman adapted for her own book. Now, Koppelman steps into the director’s chair for her feature directorial debut “A Mouthful of Air,” featuring a Sundance-ready ensemble cast that includes Amanda Seyfried, Finn Wittrock, Amy Irving, Jennifer Carpenter, Paul Giamatti, and Britt Robertson. The film follows a new mom and children’s book author who overcomes her postpartum depression by escaping into the world of her latest literary creation. Think “I Smile Back” meets “Adaptation.” —ZS

“After a Revolution”
Director: Giovanni Buccomino
Ten years ago, Giovanni Buccomino’s first feature, “The Valley of the Moon,” captured an old commune against the lavish backdrop of the Sardinian sea. For “After a Revolution,” the documentarian cobbles together six years of footage to tell the story of siblings who fight for opposing sides of the Libyan revolution as the civil war reaches a pivotal turning point that determines the future of the country. That premise suggests a dramatic personal window into a vast national struggle. Sundance is often a welcome to documentaries that peer beyond the headlines to tell more intimate stories, and “After a Revolution” promises just that. —EK

“After Yang”
Director: Kogonada
Cast: Colin Farrell, Golshifteh Farahani, Haley Lu Richardson, Jodie Turner-Smith
Elusive video-essayist-turned-filmmaker Kogonada wowed Sundance audiences with 2017’s gently crushing “Columbus,” which went on to become a small word-of-mouth sensation later that year even though the Sundance Institute had to help distribute the drama itself. By the time “Columbus” wrapped up its lengthy theatrical run, the film industry was finally ready to pay attention in a big way. Adapted from Alexander Weinstein’s short story “Saying Goodbye to Yang,” produced by indie mainstays A24 and Cinereach, and boasting an incredible cast that includes Colin Farrell, Golshifteh Farahani, “Queen & Slim” breakout Jodie Turner-Smith, and “Columbus” knockout Haley Lu Richardson, “After Yang” is a slice of contemplative science-fiction set in a future where a father and daughter attempt to save the life of a robot family member after it stops functioning.

The “A.I.” vibes are strong with this one, but Kogonada has a rare knack for putting his own spin on familiar masterpieces. Production wrapped well before the pandemic — super-attentive readers might remember this movie being on our Sundance 2020 wishlist as well — but the film’s intensive post-production process puts the movie on an unpredictable time-line. If Kogonada does (virtually) return to Sundance, it’s safe to assume that he won’t be flying under the radar this time. —DE

Director: Mickey Reece
Cast: Rachel True, Molly C. Quinn, Sean Gunn
Oklahoma-based filmmaker Mickey Reece has been churning out dozens innovative lo-fi movies for over a decade, with everything from “T. Rex” to “Climate of the Hunter” proving his penchant for strange and intimate character studies was worth the effort. For the most part, however, he’s been a secret of the festival circuit. This year’s Sundance could be the moment to change that: Buzz for “Agnes” is strong: The horror effort revolves around a rumored demonic possession at a convent, a priest undergoing a crisis of faith, and potentially a whole lot of blood. Co-produced by TIFF midnight madness programmer Peter Kuplowsky and Jacob Snovel, this one stands a good shot at breakout status in Sundance’s own midnight section. —EK

Director: Jamila Wignot
Before Barry Jenkins takes on the life of Alvin Ailey for a Searchlight-backed biopic, the famed dancer and choreographer is getting the documentary treatment courtesy of Emmy and Peabody Award winner Jamila Wignot (“The African Americans, Many Rivers to Cross”). Variety reported in June that 20 minutes of Wignot’s “Ailey” screened for buyers at the Cannes market, which means the film should be ready for Sundance 2021, should programmers take a liking to it. “Ailey’s work is very meaningful to me,” Wignot said, noting the documentary has been in the works since mid-2017. “In college, the Black student group on campus offered free tickets [to see his dance company], and I was blown away by the beauty, energy and joy you experience in their performances.” —ZS

“Billie Eilish: The World’s a Little Blurry”
Director: RJ Cutler
The 2020 Sundance Film Festival kicked off with strong buzz thanks to Lana Wilson’s well-reviewed Taylor Swift documentary “Miss Americana,” so there’s no reason Park City shouldn’t fully embrace RJ Cutler’s Billie Eilish documentary should it be done in time for the 2021 festival. The doc chronicles the Grammy-winning superstar in the months following the release of her 2019 breakout album “When We Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?” and has already been acquired by Apple, which is planning a February 2021 streaming and theatrical rollout just after Sundance. —ZS

“Catch the Fair One”
Director: Josef Kubota Wladyka
Cast: Kali “K.O.” Reis, Daniel Henshall, Tiffany Chu, Michael Drayer
After an acclaimed debut feature, “Dirty Hands,” and TV credits that include “Narcos,” Josef Kubota Wladyka’s second movie assembles a dream team that includes Darren Aronofksy’s Protozoa Pictures as executive producer and Mollye Asher (“Nomadland”) and Kimberly Parker (“The Last Black Man in San Francisco”) producing. Professional boxer Reis gets a “story by” credit while making her acting debut as a boxer who plans her own abduction in order to find her missing sister. —CL

Director: Prano Bailey-Bond
Cast: Niamh Algar, Clare Holman, Michael Smiley
From hyper-stylized gore to capitalist satire, Welsh director Prano Bailey-Bond’s shorts have earned her acclaim on the festival circuit. Now, she’s taking on psychological horror in her debut feature, “Censor.” The movie takes place in 1985 and involves the video nasty phenomenon of exploitation films, with the main character attempting to solve the mystery of her sister’s disappearance. The movie’s pitch got early attention from the Cannes Marche du Film, BFI, Sundance, and Film4, further suggesting Bailey-Bond is a genre filmmaker to watch. —CL

“Chasing Chaplin”
Directors: Peter Middleton and James Spinney
With the blessing of Charlie Chaplin’s family and a cache of archival footage, Peter Middleton and James Spinney (“Notes on Blindness”) start with unparalleled access into Chaplin’s life in their quest to show the personal side of the legend. Chaplin’s legacy is often taken for granted. But while the Tramp may be world-famous, much about Chaplin’s biography remains unexplored. The investigations of the new doc, coupled with a reenacted four-day interview Chaplin gave to Life magazine, should bring a fresh perspective to one of the world’s all-time most famous movie stars. —CL

“Civil War”
Director: Rachel Boynton
After exploring American political manipulation in Bolivia with “Our Brand is Crisis” and American exploitation of natural recourses in Ghana with “Big Men,” Rachel Boynton’s third feature, “Civil War” considers how the U.S. deals with its domestic sins. Her latest work examines the differing ways the Civil War is taught in classrooms and how that informs our current, conflict-ridden society. As the last four years have shattered the myth of a universal, agreed-upon reality, the movie should resonate with an audience seeking answers about our division, while EP backing from heavyweights Sam Pollard, Henry Louis Gates Jr., and Brad Pitt suggest Boynton’s will be positioned to spark civic discourse. —CL

“C’mon C’mon”
Director: Mike Mills
Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Gaby Hoffmann, Jaboukie Young-White, Woody Norman
The prospect of “20th Century Women” filmmaker Mike Mills re-teaming with A24 for an intimate road trip movie anchored by Joaquin Phoenix’s first performance since “Joker” may not mean all that much to the masses, but it’s hard to overstate the level of excitement that “C’mon C’mon” will generate on the indie scene if it premieres in January — in terms of stars aligning, this is basically the Sundance equivalent of “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.”

An intimate road trip story about a man (Phoenix) bonding with the young nephew (Norman) who’s been unexpectedly left in his care, Mills’ latest promises to bring his signature wit and wistfulness to another beautiful tale of family in motion. Shot by the great Robbie Ryan, “C’mon C’mon” wrapped a cross-country shoot just before the pandemic shut everything down, so a Sundance premiere seems inevitable (unless A24 feels the film is too big for a virtual premiere and saves it for Cannes instead). —DE

Director: Sian Heder
“Orange is the New Black” story editor and “Tallulah” director Sian Heder moves into her next feature with this intriguing ensemble piece about a hearing child in a deaf family who wants to sing. Following 2020’s “Sound of Metal,” the movie is poised to kick up further discussion about the uneasy relationship between deaf and hearing communities. It’s also reportedly a showcase for breakout Emilia Jones (“Locke & Key”) alongside Oscar-winner Marlee Matlin, to date the only deaf actress in history to win an Academy Award. It’s the ultimate combo of promising filmmaker, tantalizing subject, and underrepresented character that often makes waves for Sundance audiences. —EK

Director: Dash Shaw
Cast: Jason Schwartzman
Cartoonist Dash Shaw’s mesmerizing animated first feature, 2016’s “My Entire High School Sinking Into the Sea,” suggested what might happen if a John Hughes movie were stuffed into the confines of Zap Comix. Its blend of visual innovation and emotional storytelling was unmistakable, and he’s overdue for a follow-up. Enter “Cryptozoo,” which combines ‘60s psychedelia with fantastical storytelling in very promising fashion: The story takes place at a mythological zoo in ‘60s-era San Francisco, where a Japanese creature with the power to eat dreams escapes and finds itself wrecking havoc against the backdrop of American counterculture. Sold! —EK

Directors: Parker Hill and Isabel Bethencourt
Just a few years into their careers, Parker Hill boasts a 2016 Tribeca-premiered thesis film and national ads, while Isabel Bethencourt’s work has included video for the Wall Street Journal and GQ. For their feature debut, “Cusp,” the pair track four wild-spirited Texas girls as they navigate the transition into adulthood. It’s a familiar topic that’s sure to get a fresh treatment at the hands of these two rising stars. —CL

“El Planeta”
Director: Amalia Ulman
Cast: Saoirse Bertram, Zhou Chen, Ale Urman
Argentinean filmmaker Amalia Unman has been churning out an array of innovative installation art over the past decade, much of which deals with class struggles and sexuality. For her first feature, she has made a promising dark comedy about a mother and her daughter in Spain who adopt a life of grifting to avoid eviction. With echoes of last year’s Sundance hit “Kajillionaire” and the potential of a rising artistic voice to make a significant filmmaking debut, this one sounds like a terrific entry for Sundance’s international offerings. —EK

Director: Drew Xanthopoulos
“Fathom” is a documentary that follows the world’s most dedicated whale researchers, exploring both their groundbreaking work and how a life at sea has shaped them. Director Drew Xanthopoulos, an established filmmaker and trained cinematographer, drew acclaim at the 2017 Tribeca Film Festival for his feature documentary debut “The Sensitives,” a sort of nonfiction spin on Todd Haynes’ “Safe” that examined the lives of three families with sensitivities to everyday elements. “Fathom” was funded last year as part of the Science Sandbox Nonfiction Initiative, an initiative of Simons Foundation in collaboration with the Sundance Institute and Sandbox Films, making it a strong candidate to land at the festival. —RL

Director: Jonas Poher Rasmussen
Originally set to premiere at the since-canceled Cannes Film Festival, Danish director Jonas Poher Rasmussen’s ambitious animated documentary revolves around an Afghan boy recalling his daring escape to Denmark. Now in his thirties and living as an openly gay man, the movie’s subject looks back on his two-decade struggle to escape his old world and find his way in a new world. Rasmussen’s second feature suggests aspects of “Waltz with Bashir” for the way it reportedly uses animation to recreate its central narrative even as the voiceover roots in the drama in authenticity. It’s a potent combo sure to renew conversations about the ongoing immigration crisis, so Sundance would be an ideal way to start that off at the beginning of the year. —EK

Director: Amanda Lipitz
At the 2017 Sundance Film Festival, nonfiction filmmaker Amanda Lipitz won the Special Jury Prize, among many other down the line, for her portrait of a Baltimore high-school dance team, “Step.” A celebrated documentary and episodic producer, Lipitz returns to directing with “Found,” which — as her production house’s website details — “tells a unifying, human story about identity, family and the lengths we go to in order to find ourselves.” Lipitz’s eye for dynamic drama was also established in her work on Broadway productions, including “Legally Blonde: The Musical,” and on the Tony-winning shows “A View from the Bridge” and “The Humans” (which is on track for a feature-length adaptation in 2021, and one that just might find its own home at Sundance). —RL

“A Glitch in the Matrix”
Director: Rodney Ascher
“Room 237” and “The Nightmare” director Rodney Ascher returns to the realm of paranoia with his latest documentary that asks the question: Are we living in the real world, or a simulation? In his exploration of Simulation Theory, Ascher weaves testimonies from real people who came up against the contours of their existence at various moments of metaphysical crises. Ascher brought both IFC pickup “Room 237,” a deep dive into the crazy close readings of Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining,” and “The Nightmare,” about the terrors of sleep paralysis, to Park City. “Glitch in the Matrix” was slated to premiere at the canceled 2020 Tribeca Film Festival, so Sundance feels like a natural resettlement for the Gotham-nominated director. —RL

“God Said Give ‘Em Drum Machines”
Director: Kristian R. Hill
Typically associated with EDM and predominately white acts like Underworld, Orbital, and The Prodigy before that, techno — like so many of the modern world’s musical traditions — can actually be traced back to a certain pocket of Black culture. It’s something that even the genre’s fans might be surprised to learn, as its roots have been hard to see through the ecstasy-fueled trance of generic club beats that followed. But Kristian R. Hill, whose previous feature “Electric Roots” was also about the Detroit music scene, is hoping to change all of that with his latest documentary. “God Said Give ‘Em Drum Machines” tells the story of how a group of Motor City DJs like Ken Collier, Juan Atkins, and Derrick May merged late ’70s motown and disco sounds with digital ‘80s technology to invent a new kind of music; one they named and deserved credit for even after it caught fire around the globe. Sure to find a certain harmony between the character of Detroit and the sound that its survivors created from it, Hill’s doc is in the can and a worthy contender to bow on the American film industry’s biggest stage. —DE

“The Green Knight”
Director: David Lowery
Cast: Dev Patel, Alicia Vikander, Joel Edgerton, Barry Keoghan
Originally slated to premiere at SXSW last March and then hit theaters over the summer, David Lowery’s dark and totally metal-looking take on the legend of Sir Gawain should’ve been out on Blu-ray by now and — fingers crossed — slashing its way up top 10 lists and such. Alas, 2020 had other plans, and so the world is still waiting to see Dev Patel slink across 14th century England in a suit of chainmail as he embarks on a quest to behead the Ent-like giant (“The Witch” star Ralph Ineson) mentioned in the film’s title. After nine months of being tormented by the awesome teaser that A24 released in February, the wait for Lowery’s medieval epic should be coming to an end, as the only thing that could hold up a Sundance premiere at this point is the chance to double back and debut at SXSW. —DE

“Harry Haft”
Director: Barry Levinson
Cast: Ben Foster, John Leguizamo, Peter Sarsgaard, Danny DeVito, Vicky Krieps
After spending the last few years working in the television realm on fact-based features like “Paterno” and “The Wizard of Lies,” Barry Levinson is bellying back up to the big screen with another biographical drama begging to be told. The filmmaker reunites with his “Liberty Heights” star Ben Foster, a former child star who has steadily become one of cinema’s most reliably immersive performers, to tell the story of Haft, a survivor of Auschwitz who made a name for himself by boxing his fellow inmates to survive. Levinson’s film will follow Foster’s character after all that, as he attempts to use his boxing chops to literally fight his way out of memories he can’t escape, the kind of deeply human drama that Foster excels at embodying. —KE

Director: Pete Nicks
Documentarian Pete Nicks’ last two features, hospital-focused “The Waiting Room” and Oakland police force exposé “The Force,” presented shocking evidence of foundational American systems that seemed to be broken at their core. “Homeroom” promises to complete that trilogy by delving into the realm of education, once against using Oakland as a tantalizing case study. In a city that struggles with rising crime and health care woes, its public school systems aren’t exactly equipped to prepare youth for the travails of young adulthood. Expect this one to kickstart some serious conversations about the country’s education shortcomings — and what it might take to fix them. —EK

“The Humans”
Director: Stephen Karam
Cast: Beanie Feldstein, June Squibb, Steven Yeun, Richard Jenkins, Jayne Houdyshell, Amy Schumer
Lauded playwright Stephen Karam makes the jump to the big screen with his own adaptation of his Tony-winning play, which follows the Blake family as they celebrate Thanksgiving inside the increasingly claustrophobic confines of their pre-war NYC duplex. As the Blakes come together, bickering about the usual stuff turns into something much bigger (like, bickering about unusual stuff), and revelations unfurl, alliances are shattered, and expectations are wildly flipped. Armed with a star-studded cast, Karam’s move into filmmaking seems like an obvious fit for Sundance, which never met a fucked up family dramedy it didn’t love. —KE

“Italian Studies”
Director: Adam Leon
If there is one performer likely to break out this winter, it’s Vanessa Kirby, whose turn opposite Shia LaBeouf in Netflix’s “Pieces of a Woman” is poised to magnify the actress’ incredible talents and catapult her career with an awards campaign. Kirby’s magic has not been a secret to many filmmakers, including Adam Leon, who worked closely with the actress in developing “Italian Studies,” which wrapped back in March 2019. There’s zero details available about the New York-set film, but playful naturalism of Leon’s “Gimme the Loot” and “Tramps” gives us plenty to anticipate about the long-overdue third feature from a filmmaker with such an appealing aesthetic. —CO

“I Was A Simple Man”
Director: Chris Makoto Yogi
Hawaiian director Chris Makoto Yogi’s 2018 debut “August at Akiko’s” was a sleeper hit on the festival circuit and marked him as a talent to watch. He’s already followed that up with a very promising sophomore effort. “I Was a Simple Man” unfolds in a time-shifting quartet of chapters and tells the quiet story of an Hawaiian man at the end of his life, revisiting several phases of the island’s history and his own life. The movie promises a blend of Ozu and “A Ghost Story” as it tracks an aging character’s encounters with the phantoms of his past while coming to grips with the encroachment of gentrification and urban development on modern-day Honolulu. Lots of potential for breakout status here. —EK

“John and the Hole”
Director: Pascual Sisto
Cast: Charlie Shotwell, Jennifer Ehle, Michael C. Hall, Taissa Farmiga
Originally slated for the Cannes Film Festival 2020 official selection, Pascual Sisto’s directorial debut is a psychological thriller centered on a 13-year-old boy (Charlie Shotwell, “Captain Fantastic”), who holds his family captive in a pit in the ground. It’s written by “Birdman” Oscar-winning scribe Nicolás Giacobone, who drew from his own short story “El Pozo” in crafting this unsettling tale. Giacobone told Screen Daily earlier this year: “It’s not unusual to dream of throwing someone in a hole. Most times that hole ends up being metaphorical, the dream almost never becomes reality. But what if we could actually throw that someone in a hole and keep him/her there. What if that someone was our whole family?” —RL

Director: Robin Wright
Cast: Robin Wright, Kim Dickens, Warren Christie, Demián Bichir
After directing 10 episodes of Netflix’s hit series “House of Cards” — including the political show’s 2018 series finale — actress and director Robin Wright finally lined up her feature directorial debut back in 2019. The material, written by “The Post” and “Long Shot” screenwriter and Golden Globe nominee Liz Hannah, along with newcomer Jesse Chatham, is demanding enough for any filmmaker, following a woman who leaves her life behind to live off the grid, and Wright’s not shying away: she’s also starring in the drama. Filmed on location in Canada, “Land” will reportedly follow her character over the course of four transformative seasons, a film about a woman daring to imagine a new life for herself, made by one doing the same thing. —KE

Director: Fran Kranz
Cast: Reed Birney, Ann Dowd, Jason Isaacs, Martha Plimpton
A genuine discovery with Sundance breakout potential written all over it, Fran Kranz’s first feature is a real-time drama about a pair of parents who meet in the aftermath of a violent tragedy (you can probably figure out what kind based on that disturbing title). With a cast of first-rate performers and a cinematic approach that promises to energize its unnerving scenario, “Mass” is poised to provide a fresh and essential new perspective on the nature of national tragedy and the grieving process. In a weird year for Sundance, it could also provide some heat for the acquisitions market. —EK

“Mona Lisa and the Blood Moon”
Director: Ana Lily Amirpour
The third feature from the director behind “A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night” and “The Bad Batch” is a fantasy-adventure about girl with dangerous powers who escapes from a mental asylum. Penned-by Ana Lily Amirpour herself, the New Orleans-based film will feature her first collaboration with Ari Aster’s go-to cinematographer Pawel Pogorzelski (“Hereditary,” “Midsommar”), and will feature “Burning” star Jun Jong-Seo’s English language debut, with a cast that also includes Kate Hudson, Craig Robinson, and Ed Skrein. The film went into production two summers ago, so it is likely ready for Sundance should the producers decide to go that route, and it would be a fitting return for a director who launched her career there. —CO

In this image from video, former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg speaks during the fourth night of the Democratic National Convention on Thursday, Aug. 20, 2020. (Democratic National Convention via AP)
Pete Buttigieg speaks at the 2020 DNC


“Mayor Pete”
Director: Jesse Moss
Throughout the 2019-20 Democratic presidential primary, it became clear to many political reporters that Pete Buttigieg — the then-37-year old mayor of South Bend, Indiana — was the next rising star of the Democratic Party, following in the footsteps of Corey Booker (“Street Fight”) and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (“Knock Down the House”) to document his run for office. When it was revealed the documentary was being produced by heavyweights Liz Garbus and Dan Cogan, eyes really started to open. It’s now rumored that Jesse Moss, co-director of Oscar documentary frontrunner and extraordinary political drama “Boys State,” is the filmmaker behind the project, making this a potential Sundance must-see as the Biden Administration takes over the country. —CO

“Next Goal Wins”
Director: Taika Waititi
Cast: Michael Fassbender, Elisabeth Moss, Armie Hammer
While the rest of the world was busy arguing the merits of “Jojo Rabbit,” Oscar-winner-to-be Taika Waititi spent the fall of 2019 hard at work on his next movie, a shift back towards more grounded (and less controversial) turf. The true story of what happened when Dutch-American football coach Thomas Rongen (Michael Fassbender) was tasked with transforming American Samoa’s woeful national team into a respectable squad — no walk in the park, considering they had literally never won a single match — “Next Goal Wins” should play right into Waititi’s silly/sweet wheelhouse. If Waititi’s version is anything like Mike Brett and Steve Jamison’s 2014 documentary of the same name, it should be a major crowdpleaser that appeals to international soccer fanatics and Americans alike. Best of all, its Sundance premiere would help fill the “Ted Lasso”-sized hole in our hearts during the long wait for season two of Apple’s Rongen-inspired hit show. —DE

“Philly D.A.”
Director: Yoni Brook and Ted Passon
“Menashe” cinematographer Yoni Brook, who has directed several documentaries that have aired on PBS, joins 2016 Sundance Lab Creative Summit Fellow Ted Passon to document the real-life struggle of Larry Krasner. The Philadelphia-based civil rights attorney had a radical idea: the only way to reform the city’s mass incarceration is to run for District Attorney and make substantive reform from the inside. On paper, this documentary sounds like “13th” meets “Primary.” —CB

“Raising Khan”
Director: Melissa Lesh and Trevor Frost
The experiences of orphaned ocelots may sound foreign to anyone who hasn’t spent time in the Peruvian Amazon, but for the PTSD-rattled Harry Turner, they were a source of salvation. Directors Melissa Lesh and Trevor Frost make their feature-length debut with this seemingly emotional look at Turner’s experiences after he got back from Afghanistan and escaped his depression by working with conservationist Samantha Zwicker to help ocelots survive against dire conditions. The result promises both an entrancing wildlife film and a profound look at people finding second chances through the wonders of the natural world. It’s exactly the sort of intimate view of international issues — in this case, extinction and the war overseas — that Sundance often celebrates. —EK

“Rebel Hearts”
Director: Pedro Kos
Brazilian director Pedro Kos cut his teeth editing acclaimed documentaries, such as “Waste Land,” “The Island President,” and Jehane Noujaim’s “The Square.” In 2017, he brought the first documentary feature he directed himself, “Bending the Arc,” to Sundance. That film was about the global right-to-healthcare movement initially spearheaded by doctors in Haiti. Now he could be back with this documentary look at Los Angeles’s Sisters of the Immaculate Heart, nuns who challenged the patriarchal conventions of the Catholic Church 50 years ago and are still taking a stand today. —CB

“Strawberry Mansion”
Directors: Kentucker Audley and Albert Birney
Cast: Penny Fuller, Reed Birney
Perennial DIY filmmaker and actor Kentucker Audley last teamed up with co-director Albert Birney in their delightful SXSW premiere “Sylvio,” the unexpectedly poignant story of a gorilla with an internet talk show. “Strawberry Mansion” seems to have a somewhat more ambitious scale, as it unfolds in a dystopian setting where the government imposes taxes on dreams. Audley stars in the innovative role of “dream auditor,” and his oddball career takes an even stranger turn when he’s consumed by the dreams of a strange old woman. She’s played by Penny Fuller, the Tony- and Emmy-winning actress who has been performing on the stage and screen for 50 years. The idiosyncratic comedy sounds like the ultimate pick for Sundance’s ever-surprising NEXT section. —EK

“Street Gang”
Director: Marilyn Agrelo
Who doesn’t want to see “Sesame Street” get the “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” treatment? And with Marilyn Agrelo, who brought such energy to 2005’s “Mad Hot Ballroom,” as director, this documentary seems likely to be much more than a clips package. —CB

Director: Erin Vassilopoulos
Cast: Alessandra Mesa, Anamari Mesa
In 2015, New York-based director Erin Vassilopoulos brought a uniquely unsettling short to Sundance: “Superior,” about twins played Alessandra and Anamari Mesa and the disruption that follows on account of an intriguing stranger. She’s made a couple shorts since, but for her first feature she returned to “Superior,” with the Mesa twins back as their characters in a story set six years after the original short. Expect a chilling exploration of identity. Maybe one readymade for Sundance’s “Midnight” section. —CB

“Ted K”
Director: Tony Stone
“Peter and the Farm” director and cinematographer Tony Stone takes a leap into narrative filmmaking with an ambitious biopic about Unabomber Ted Kaczysnki, focusing on his years living off the grid in Lincoln, Montana preceding his 1996 arrest. “District 9” and “Oldboy” star Sharlto Copley grew a grizzly beard to play the infamous anarcho-terrorist, and it will be intriguing to see the eccentric character actor sink his teeth into a dark role. If Stone brings even half the humanity and vision to “Ted K” as he did to the critically revered “Peter and the Farm,” this will prove a highly compelling narrative debut. —JD

“Tina Turner”
Director: Dan Lindsay and T.J. Martin
Big wheels keep on turnin’ in the cutthroat world of music biopics, and no one is a worthier subject than that ball of energy with legs for days and a powerhouse belt — the inimitable Tina Turner. The legend deserves the best cinematic treatment, and she’s in good hands with the directing duo behind 2012’s Oscar winner “Undefeated” and “LA 92,” the 2017 archive of the Los Angeles riots. Of course, fans will not soon forget Angela Bassett’s turn in the 1993 blockbuster “What’s Love Got to Do With It,” which dramatized the singer’s struggle with domestic abuse at the hands of her husband and collaborator Ike Turner, played by Laurence Fishburne. Directors Dan Lindsay and T.J. Martin will have to dispel the myths wrought from that cultural landmark, and with any luck it will be as gripping and well-researched as their previous award-winning work. —JD

“Three for Eternity”
Director: Rami Yasin
Director and producer Rami Yasin (“Syriana”) has cooked up a domestic horror thriller by means of a vampire movie set in Cairo. The film follows parents who conceive of an unorthodox plan to bring one of their twin sons back to life after he falls into a coma. The plan seems to work at first, until the young boy starts adopting sinister and disturbing behaviors. Bolstered by the recent “Hereditary” premiere in Park City and decades’ worth of chilling horror picks at the festival, unconventional genre films that deal with familial grief continue to be catnip for Sundance audiences. Coming from a fresh international voice, “Three for Eternity” could make for an exciting breakout. —JD

“United States Vs Reality Winner”
Director: Sonia Kennebeck
Twenty-five-year-old NSA contractor Reality Winner became a target of the Trump administration’s ire when she leaked official documents about Russian election interference to the media. After three features, Sonia Kennebeck is by now an expert on whistleblowers, having visited the subject in her 2016 film “National Bird” as well as this year’s “Enemies of the State.” The latest from the former investigative reporter counts Errol Morris as an executive producer. Kennebeck is an expert at proving truth is stranger than fiction, and the story of Reality Winner is as strange as her unusual name. —JD

Untitled Bing Liu Documentary
Director: Bing Liu
“Minding the Gap” fans have been waiting for the return of Oscar-nominated filmmaker Bing Liu, who was the talk of the 2018 Sundance Film Festival with his aforementioned coming-of-age documentary. Liu announced in 2019 he was working on two nonfiction follow-up projects: a documentary about millennial relationships and another doc about gun violence and the prison system in Chicago. The latter project has been in development for quite some time and even made IndieWire’s 2020 Sundance wish list. Liu described the project to THR in 2019 as “an emotional take on the gun violence in Chicago that I think a lot of people just read about and maybe think it’s senseless, but this story makes sense of why this gun violence is happening.” —ZS

Untitled David Dobrik Documentary
Director: Casey Neistat
One film that could pop at Sundance 2021 is a meeting of the minds of two vlogging sensations: Slovak YouTube personality David Dobrik and internet tycoon Casey Neistat. Dobrik’s had a meteoric rise dating back to the early 2010s, becoming an online comedy sensation using Vine (RIP) and eventually YouTube through posted pranks, inside jokes, recurring characters, impressions and impersonations, and more. Back in 2019, Dobrik teamed with Neistat on the latter’s 368 initiative, a New York-based space for creative collaborators and influencers. The rise and fall of YouTubers has been a hot topic in this pandemic year (see one Jake Paul for a cautionary tale of vlogging), but Dobrik has mostly skirted controversy, amassing something of a mini empire that has led to work in Hollywood, including voice roles in family films and TV series. Neistat has been rumored to be working on a Dobrik documentary for some time and Sundance is certainly the ideal place to launch it. —RL

Untitled Lizzo Documentary
Director: Doug Pray
Details are scarce — OK, they’re non-existent — but that the dynamic, refreshingly honest (her “My Next Guest” interview on David Letterman’s Netflix show is a treasure), 32-year old musical talent and flutist extraordinaire known as Lizzo has opened her world to cameras is certainly a reason for excitement. That director Doug Pray, who made one of the seminal music scene docs (“Hype”) and has proven a master of capturing cultural mavericks, only lends hope that a Lizzo doc could transcend the icon-image-controlled music doc factory that has become a genre norm. —CO

Untitled Nanfu Wang documentary
Director: Nanfu Wang
The China-born, New Jersey-based documentarian Nanfu Wang’s career is largely tied to Sundance: she premiered her debut film “Hooligan Sparrow” at the festival in 2016, then won the 2019 Grand Jury Prize for Documentary Feature there with “One Child Nation.” That film examined the multi-generational impact of China’s one-child policy, resulting in production hurdles from the authoritarian government. That this new documentary is about the COVID-19 pandemic means she likely faced the same level of scrutiny — whether in China or the U.S. —CB

Untitled PRC Documentary
Director: Jessica Kingdon
Rising filmmaker Jessica Kingdon has dominated the shorts world with both narrative and documentary titles (including her award-winning Vimeo Staff Pick short “Commodity City”) that landed her a spot on Filmmaker Magazine’s 25 New Faces of Independent Filmlist in 2017. Now Kingdon graduates to feature filmmaker with an untitled nonfiction project that was a participant of the 2019 (Egg)celerator Lab. The film digs into the flow of labor, fortune, and waste in China to create an “impressionistic understanding of how that is the nominally communist yet hyper-capitalist People’s Republic of China.” Read more about the project here courtesy of Chicken and Egg Pictures. —ZS

Untitled We Work Documentary
Director: Jed Rothstein
It was hard not to look on in fascination at the dramatic rise and fall of office sharing company WeWork, helmed by controversial founder and former CEO Adam Neumann. The outlandish story of the hard-partying founder who raised $12 billion in capital only to have it all come crashing down unsurprisingly became instant fodder for a feature-length study. The film will rely on archival research and in person interviews and is partnering with Forbes, which has been covering the company for over a decade. If the end results grasps even half of the wildest twists and turns int he WeWork saga, it’s sure to be a wild ride. —JD

Director: Natalia Almada
Natalia Almada, who received the 2012 MacArthur Genius grant, has been developing innovative documentary projects for 20 years, including the 2011 Cannes Directors’ Fortnight selection “The Night Watchman,” which explored the mysteries of a Mexican cemetery. Her latest feature boasts Josh Penn and Elizabeth Lodge Stepp as producers, one year after they helped bring “Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets” to Sundance. “Users” is a meditative look at the way technology governs everyday life and its gradual impact on the human condition. With a score by Kronos Quartet, this poetic film is bound to stir up conversations while enthralling audiences with its cinematic depth, making it an ideal fit for critics digging through Sundance for hidden gems. —EK

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