Five favorite films from Sundance (so far)

'Honk for Jesus, Save Your Soul,' 'Aftershock' and more are some of our top picks from this year's festival

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The Sundance Film Festival is currently underway, and this year’s lineup features exciting films ranging from stirring dramas to urgent documentaries. TheGrio got a chance to view several films and is here with our favorites from this year’s festival!

Honk for Jesus, Save Your Soul
(Courtesy of Sundance Institute)

Honk for Jesus. Save Your Soul.

Sterling K. Brown and Regina Hall have an undeniable chemistry that works throughout this kooky mockumentary about some super messy,= mega-church leaders who might seem familiar. Directed by Adamma Ebo and produced by her twin sister Adanne Ebo, the film was inspired by their own experiences in the Black church and aim to point out some of the long-standing hypocrisies that will inevitably be confronted on the path to righteousness. The comedic timing between the two leads serve up tons of laughs and the performances are almost too good when it’s time for what might be the most cringe-worthy sex scene we’ve ever seen. It walks a tightrope between comedy and drama and delivers both adequately, featuring equally enjoyable performances from Nicole Beharie and Conphidance, who play rival church leaders to perfection. 

Director and Screenwriter: Adamma Ebo, Producers: Daniel Kaluuya, Adanne Ebo, Rowan Riley, Amandla Crichlow, Jesse Burgum, Matthew Cooper

Cast: Regina Hall, Sterling K. Brown

Aftershock

Aftershock
(Courtesy of Sundance Institute)

Aftershock conveys the intensity and the impact of the maternal health crisis in the United States with the urgency it deserves. The heart-breaking, infuriating truths examined in the film from Tonya Lewis Lee and Paula Eiselt are too grave to look away from and are backed by shocking statistics and historical background that shows just how deep the problem goes. It’s a damning indictment of our healthcare system and the entire notion of “delivering” babies that begs us all to recognize we’ve been duped for the longest time. It also offers glimpses of hope and presents one of the most beautiful births ever captured onscreen — one that will hopefully point women to resources that can impact their own childbirth experiences. 

Tabitha Jackson, director of the Sundance Film Festival, told us on a recent episode of Acting Up that she was forever changed after watching the film. “I won’t ever see the world in the same way because I know this thing,” she explained. “Aftershock should be mandatory viewing.”

Directors and Producers: Paula Eiselt, Tonya Lewis Lee

Descendant

Descendant
(Courtesy of Sundance Institute)

This breathtaking documentary directed by Margaret Brown follows the descendants of the Clotilda, the last known slave ship to arrive in the United States in 1860. Its living “cargo” inhabited the surrounding area and established Africatown, a community in Mobile, Alabama that helped inspire some of Zora Neale Hurston’s prolific works. Cudjo Lewis dictated his life story to Hurston in 1928 for a project that was finally published as her book Barracoon in 2018. The ongoing plight of the descendants of the 110 Africans is equally awe-inspiring and alarming considering their rights are long from over now that the wreckage from the ship that lived so long as a legend was finally discovered in 2019. 

One of the film’s producers is Ahmir ‘Questlove’ Thompson. “I have a personal connection to these events through my family history, but what happened in 1860 and the reverberating effects on the community of Africatown is part of our collective history,” he said in a statement to theGrio. “I am hopeful that this film can be a starting point for some important conversations about the past.”

Director: Margaret Brown, Producers: Essie Chambers, Kyle Martin

Sub Eleven Seconds

Sub Eleven Seconds
(Courtesy of Sundance Institute)

This short film about Sha’Carri Richardson was executive produced by the late Virgil Abloh, who died of cancer in November at the age of 41. The trailblazing designer collaborated with the film’s director, Bafic whose pacing really serves the story they’re telling. This moving offering is about the record-breaking runner who rose to national recognition when she was declared ineligible to compete at the Tokyo Olympics because she tested positive for marijuana. We get to know a lot about this polarizing figure and come to understand just how huge Richardson’s accomplishments are and how fast they were overshadowed by a moment that pales in comparison to the moments she spends most of her time outrunning.

Director: Bafic Producers: Chloe Sultan, Mahfuz Sultan, Virgil Abloh

Master (World Premiere)

Master
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Sundance Institute

Mariama Diallo solidifies her spot as a creative force to watch with her debut feature, Master, an insightful and awe-inspiring horror/social commentary hybrid whose fictional Ancaster College feels a little too realistic to shrug off as sheer camp. It’s smart, daring and incessantly accurate in its representations of racism and should satisfy an audience primed by some of its more innovative predecessors like Get Out. The exaggerated realities hammer in the points this story is determined to make with sometimes-clunky dialogue that requires viewers to lean in and listen up.

Zoe Renee stars as Jasmine Moore, a Black, incoming student at the PWI who’s met with so many, spot-on aggressions (micro and macro), it’s clear this project will serve up as much food for thought as gasp-inducing thrills. Regina Hall showcases her impressive range as Gail Bishop, a longtime faculty member of the school whose interactions with her white counterparts as just as jolting as the moments of literal gore that are tastefully executed over a remarkably impactful score by Robert Aiki Aubrey Lowe.

Director and Screenwriter: Mariama Diallo, Producers: Joshua Astrachan, Brad Becker-Parton, Andrea Roa

Cast: Regina Hall, Zoe Renee, Talia Ryder, Talia Balsam, Amber Gray.

For more on The Sundance Film Festival, head to the official site here.

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