Sundance organizers say festival selections reflect turbulent times and important issues
theGrio sat down with Festival Director Tabitha Jackson and Director of Programming Kim Yutani to discuss some of the selections
The Sundance Institute has unveiled its official list of new independent work for the Feature Film, Indie Episodic, and New Frontier categories for the 2022 Sundance Film Festival showcase. There’s a lot to look forward to when the annual event returns to Utah in January.
After opting for a completely virtual event in 2021, this year’s festival will be a hybrid event from Jan. 20-30, with the in-person portion taking place in Park City, Salt Lake City and the Sundance Mountain Resort in Utah. The virtual portion will happen digitally via an enhanced online platform at Festival.Sundance.org; on The Spaceship, a bespoke immersive platform; and in person at seven Satellite Screen venues around the country during the festival’s second weekend.
Feature films will premiere in person in Utah before premiering online with a live Q&A and premiere party on The Spaceship. Subsequent screenings will take place in-person and in on-demand windows on the platform. The New Frontier program will be globally accessible online via The Spaceship platform from Jan. 20-28, with in-person augmentation and live performances at The Craft, a new artist-centered venue in Park City. Short films and Indie Episodic work will play in person in Utah and be available on the platform. All in-person attendees are required to be fully vaccinated and wear masks.
theGrio sat down with Festival Director Tabitha Jackson and Director of Programming Kim Yutani to discuss some of the exciting selections and unpack how organizers have pivoted during the pandemic.
“We feel that having the in-person and having the online, it’s just like we’ve expanded our festival community in a way that may have taken 10 years to do. The possibilities have been accelerated by the pandemic, as well as revealing and widening the social fractures that there were. So it’s a big moment,” Jackson explained.
The pandemic also influenced the kind of submissions that showed up this year, as well as the themes we will see throughout the festival.
“Because we’re living in such turbulent times, we weren’t totally sure of what we were going to get and to see filmmakers just really persevering and telling the stories that they want to tell during this challenging time was really inspiring to see,” Yutani said.
“I think it reflects the times we’ve been living in within the films that are in the program. You’ll see a lot of projects that are really like looking at the system, fighting the system and taking into account the kind of structures, institutions, corporations and really looking at those with a specific take,” she continued.
Yutani said this trend is especially true for this year’s U.S. Dramatic competition that is dominated by by female filmmakers and female filmmakers of color. It’s also a big year for first-time filmmakers who make up more than 40 percent of directors in the feature film program.
“There are all of these new voices about to explode onto the stage,” said Jackson, who believes 892, directed by Abi Damaris Corbin is definitely one to watch out for.
“It’s a compelling film about a man driven to the extremes fighting the system with an incredible performance by John Boyega in the in the lead; beautiful writing Kwame Kwei-Armah. That film does a lot for us and has a distinctive point of view and is so resonant with what’s going on today.”
Aside from Boyega, 892 also features Nicole Beharie, Connie Britton and the late Michael K. Williams — an impressive roster for a first-time filmmaker. “I think a script and a story in our world can go a very long way. It’s a privilege for us to be able to to introduce this filmmaker to the mountain,” Jackson added.
Reproductive rights and women’s health is another big theme for this year’s festival. Aftershock is a documentary directed by Tonya Lewis Lee and Paula Eiselt that examines the maternal health crisis in the U.S.
“I would say the the maternal mortality and morbidity rate, which on the face of it sounds like a dry subject, but it’s this the systemic forces behind it,” Jackson said. “Most notably, racism and sexism. Not taking women seriously about their own bodies is drawn very carefully in this film, and it’s incredibly moving when you encounter the cost of that; of those systemic forces and what they mean for individual families. And it’s also empowering because there are things to do about it. We can do something about it.”
theGrio also spoke to Lee and Eiselt about why Sundance is the right place to debut their film.
“After filming through a pandemic amid uncertainty about whether we would ever be able to return to theaters with live audiences, premiering Aftershock, our film exploring the U.S. maternal mortality crisis, at the Sundance Film Festival is very gratifying and exciting,” they said. “We are especially thrilled that the festival remains hybrid this year allowing us to share our film with audiences unable to travel to park city, providing more access to our work and this issue.”
After the tumultuous year we’ve all been through, there’s one more theme artists across several categories have tackled.
“Of course, racism is as old as the country and so is as old as cinema and so this is another theme that’s coming through, but in a way that’s being treated differently from the kind of usual genre tropes,” Jackson explained. “Racism is everywhere, and so pretty much any film in the program is dealing with it in some form like Emergency, which deals with these difficult subjects in a way that is a thrill ride of a film.”
Directed by Carey Williams and written by KD Davila, Emergency features a group of Black and Latino college students who are ready for a night of partying and must weigh the pros and cons of calling the police when faced with an unusual emergency.
“Much of the program is grappling, is socially engaged, is dealing with what it is to be alive today,” Jackson said. “There’s also a lot of fun as well as a lot of seriousness, and that’s what we need to to bring. We need to bring the real conversations and we also need to bring some joy. That’s what we’ve been being trying to do through these artists making this extraordinary work.”
Ticket packages for the Sundance Film Festival go on sale on Dec. 17 at 10 a.m. MST and single film tickets go on sale Jan. 6 at 10 a.m. MST. Go to Festival.Sundance.org for more information.
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