At this year’s Sundance Film Festival, the IndieWire team is endeavoring to take you (yes, you!) into the heart of the festival experience, thanks to a series of rolling roundups that aim to synthesize each day, all the action, most of the drama, and the stuff everyone is talking about, in Park City and beyond.
We’ll admit it: Day 5 at Sundance started on a bit of a slower note, at least over at IndieWire Editorial Condo No. 2, whose inhabitants were still processing both our (In)Famous Chili Party and/or Aaron Schimberg’s wild “A Different Man.” The first day after the festival’s opening weekend tends to spell a slower vibe, with many leaving after the first flush of premieres and parties, and Park City easing, ever so slowly, back into a more normal pace.
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Though I’d already seen Richard Linklater’s sexy action comedy “Hit Man” — at a relatively small but still warmly received screening at NYFF — I opted to check it out again, this time at the Eccles, Sundance’s marquee premiere theater. After all, at Sunday’s small cocktail gathering for the film, I had promised both star and co-writer Glen Powell and his parents (Powell’s very charming mother told me he’s her favorite actor, “Hit Man” seems poised to make him her favorite writer too) that I thought it would be fun to see it with a much bigger crowd. I don’t break promises to parents!
While 2024 marks the first year rising star Powell (and parents!) have been to the festival, Linklater is Sundance vet, and he was greeted in kind: the film’s afternoon screening boasted one of the longest ticket lines I’ve seen yet at the fest. And the film was introduced by festival head Eugene Hernandez who, in pre-show comments, mused that “you can’t talk about the history of Sundance without mentioning Rick Linklater.” When he took stage, Linklater reflected on his journey with annual event, reminiscing about opening the festival 29 years ago with his “Before Sunrise” (the lady next to me whispered to her friend, “The best”). “We’re all Robert Redford’s Sundance Kids,” he added.
The film was met with a very warm response indeed, as the packed audience laughed and cheered (actually cheered! in the middle!) their way through the experience. Seems like the kind of thing that, yeah, people want to see in theaters. Hopefully, that message isn’t lost on distributor Netflix, who had to contend with the “Hit Man” screening in the middle of a very busy afternoon. Linklater’s premiere unspooled about two hours after the streamer made a big, big buy for “It’s What’s Inside” and 45 minutes after film head Scott Stuber announced he is leaving the company in March. Big day, guys, huh?
At least “Hit Man” went over well — complete with a standing ovation for Linklater and Powell, who took the stage afterwards (and after some mild technical difficulties with the mics) to chat it up with Hernandez and an amenable audience.
A big night at Eccles closed out with the premiere of Josh Greenbaum’s documentary “Will & Harper,” which follows Will Ferrell and his longtime friend Harper Steele on a hell of a journey of discovery, a road trip the pair take on after Steele announces her transition.
I met Greenbaum on the first day of the festival — his brother, David Greenbaum, is the co-president of Searchlight Pictures, and was eager to introduce me to his sibling — and while I assured him that the premiere was very much on my dance card, I couldn’t help but take a moment to tell him how much I loved his “Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar.” Talk about a filmmaker with range. His documentary was very warmly received by the Sundance crowd, many of whom literally leapt to their feet at its conclusion for a standing ovation.
And, as is only tradition on the first Monday of Sundance, I trekked from my Eccles double feature back to Main St. to hit the annual Cinetic party at High West Distillery, a gathering arguably even more infamous that our chili party, and with significantly less edible foodstuffs to line the stomachs of thirsty festival-goers. What happens at Cinetic stays at Cinetic, but I will say this: a lot of people have to get up very early indeed tomorrow, and a lot of people are going to be feeling some serious pain when that alarm goes off. Godspeed!
Some recommendations from my end: India Donaldson’s “Good One” and Anirban Dutta and Anupama Srinivasan’s “Nocturnes,” both of which I caught in New York City before heading to Utah, and have been happily chatting up since. (Want to catch up on all our Sundance content? Why wouldn’t you? Head here for everything.)
Monday also spelled the final day at our interview studio, sponsored by our friends at Dropbox, and IndieWire staffers Chris O’Falt and Brian Welk spent the day chatting with talents like Mark Duplass, Jay Duplass, Mel Eslyn, Will Ferrell, Harper Steele, Megan Stott, Austin Abrams, Jesse Moss, Tony Gerber, Janessa Goldbeck, Steve Bullock, Heidi Heitkamp, Warren Littlefield, Bao Nguyen, Greg Jardin, James Morosini, David Thompson, and many more. As ever, those interviews have been rolling out during the festival and will continue in the coming days.
And, just before the studio closed up shop for the year, our own Christian Blauvelt welcomed some very special guests. More from Blauvelt:
For the last day of the studio, IndieWire welcomed three aspiring filmmakers from Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, Florida and their professor Christina Petersen, who also founded the liberal arts college’s film program.
Jackson Willhoit, Alexis “Lexi” Lariviere, and Ryan McCormick were part of a 10-student delegation from Eckerd College who received Sundance Ignite passes, a program established in 2015 with founding support from Adobe that offers discount passes to those ages 18-25.
The group explored activations from Dropbox and Cotopaxi, and spoke at length with representatives from ACLU who plied them with ACLU-branded hats, bookmarks, and pens. At Dropbox, each student held up a sign with the title of one of their favorite movies showing at Sundance this year: Willhoit picked “The Greatest Night in Pop,” Lariviere “Exhibiting Forgiveness,” and McCormick “Krazy House.”
Tomorrow at Sundance? A morning surely dedicated to the announcement of the 2024 Oscar nominations, and then back out into the snow and cinema. —Kate Erbland
Day Four of Sundance finally, finally brought a sizable sale of the ilk we’re used to seeing out of the festival: Searchlight scooped up Jesse Eisenberg’s sophomore feature “A Real Pain” for a cool $10 million. As Awards Editor Marcus Jones mentioned on Day Three, the Jewish-centered road movie starring Eisenberg and recent “Succession” Emmy winner Kieran Culkin played well in the 2,500-seat Eccles in Park City on its world premiere. “A Real Pain” should factor into the awards conversation later this year should Searchlight choose to go that route. Obviously the distributor is serious about it.
A24 has seen a great reception to three of the films the studio has brought to Sundance — beyond “I Saw the TV Glow,” there was Kristen Stewart-starrer “Love Lies Bleeding,” but also on Sunday night Aaron Schimberg’s “A Different Man,” a movie that seemed to rile, repel, and enchant the wall-to-wall packed audience at the Eccles. This Charlie Kaufman-esque dark existential comedy about performance and disfigurement stars Sebastian Stan, in extensive makeup, as a middling actor with neurofibromatosis who undergoes an experimental facial reconstruction surgery. He’s eventually cast in an Off-Broadway play by a vapid writer played by “The Worst Person in the World” breakout Renate Reinsve as the movie turns itself inside out. The British actor Adam Pearson (“Under the Skin”), whom Stan’s character is modeled after physically, eventually appears in a film that’s dry as a bone, sick in the head, and reassuringly hopeless.
The audience in the theater seemed unsure whether to laugh at moments of cringe comedy, body horror, discomfort, and a weird sex scene. A24 hasn’t announced when they’ll release “A Different Man” in 2024 just yet. This feels like a movie that could ride the wave of offbeat festival appeal into the fall.
Also rebuilding buzz that started back at the Venice Film Festival and continued at the New York Film Festival was Richard Linklater’s sexy action comedy “Hit Man,” starring Glen Powell. Powell, after stopping through the IndieWire Studio with the filmmaker, held court at an intimate press drinks at Alpine Distilling (and with his parents!) to bask in the warm enthusiasm for the movie, which plays Park City and Salt Lake City over the next few days before Netflix releases the film later this year.
Elsewhere, India Donaldson’s directorial debut, the touching “Good One” set over a weekend camping trip, played well to packed houses over the weekend, including a sold-out screening at The Ray in which many buyers were in attendance. IndieWire buzzed about this one during our live “Screen Talk” podcast on Saturday.
Speaking of IndieWire, we also hosted our annual infamous chili party at the South Asian Lodge at The Shop yoga studio on Sunday night. The evening was hosted by performance artist ALOK and featured chili, drinks, dancing, and plenty of movie talk as festival attendees gathered to download on the past week’s biggest movies. —Ryan Lattanzio
Not that standing ovation talk has been much of a thing at Sundance, but the third day of the 2024 festival finally brought films that seemed to win over the full crowd.
Filed in with our fellow diarists to the “A Real Pain” screening, after a live taping of “Screen Talk” at the 1497 space, it became clear to everyone that the sophomore effort from writer-director Jesse Eisenberg would be an audience favorite after Kieran Culkin, fresh off a major Emmy win, shows up early to play lovably fast and loose like his “Succession” character. In the film, he and Eisenberg star as two Jewish cousins on a heritage tour of Poland guided by “The White Lotus” breakout Will Sharpe (getting to use something close to his native British accent).
The film might not have been the first at this year’s festival to receive a standing ovation, but it definitely had the one that was most talked about by the end of the day. Also notable were the plethora of studio heads, from Searchlight Pictures to A24 to IFC, in the audience for its premiere.
Though they both deal with loss and learning how to forgive a family member’s transgressions, “Exhibiting Forgiveness,” from acclaimed painter turned writer-director Titus Kaphar, is more likely to tug on viewers’ heartstrings. In it, André Holland plays a fictionalized version of his director, who begins to unravel once his addict father returns to his life desperate to make amends.
While the film does showcase Golden Globe winner Andra Day and Oscar nominee Aunjanue Ellis-Taylor’s full talents (the latter even pulls off playing Holland’s onscreen mother, despite being only 10 years his senior), it’s breakout John Earl Jelks that has already been generating awards buzz for his frustrating, intense performance. In addition to having the cast and crew in attendance, the afternoon Eccles Theater premiere hosted stars like Dominique Thorne (“Freaky Tales”) and Chris Sullivan (“Presence”), who had already had their turn on the Sundance stage on behalf of buzzy premieres, plus Emmy winner Lena Waithe, all there to support their peers.
Press and industry screenings often go unremarked upon, but it was surprising to hear what’s usually a tough crowd react to the first Sundance screening of “Hit Man” with applause. Given that the Richard Linklater movie, co-written with star Glen Powell, premiered at the Venice Film Festival last year, and played at even more festivals like TIFF and NYFF, one would think the romantic dramedy had already reached enough people for its momentum to slow down, but the crowd full of journalists and industry workers watching it with fresh eyes confirmed with their exuberant reactions that the Netflix project most certainly has broad appeal.
The primary film to close everyone’s day was “Love Lies Bleeding,” an upcoming A24 release directed by Rose Glass and programmed in the Midnight bloc. The Kristen Stewart-starrer arguably takes bigger swings than the actress and Sundance Award honoree does in the “Wall-E”-esque “Love Me.” The gonzo hairstyle Ed Harris rocks here as a Southwestern crime lord, out to get Stewart and her bodybuilder girlfriend, is reason enough to give it a try.
Its 10 p.m. start time and near two-hour running time eliminated the chance for most “Love Lies Bleeding” screening attendees to make it to many of the Day 3 after-parties, but the one major party on Main Street to keep its doors open past midnight was the UTA House, where there was more talk of what the top films of the festival will be. Oftentimes, we worry we’re going to all the wrong screenings, especially since none of us have seen anything that’s wowed us the way previous Sundance standouts “Past Lives” or “A Thousand and One” have done. So in the coming days, expect us to hit on titles like “The Outrun,” “Didi,” and “Between the Temples.”
Day Four at the IndieWire Studio on Main Street (presented by our pals at Dropbox), which hosts the festival talent for intimate interviews and portraits from morning to the late afternoon, will feature guests like Chiwetel Ejiofor, Camila Cabello, Susanna Fogel, Emilia Jones, Zach Galifianakis, Connie Britton, Kathryn Newton, Danny Ramirez, Glen Powell, Richard Linklater, Bella Heathcote, and many more. Expect a roll out of those interviews to go live soon. —Marcus Jones
As temperatures rose and the snow started to melt, the first Friday of Sundance brought a raft of high-profile premieres and talent to Park City. The first, and on the early side at noon: “Love Me,” directed by Sam & Andy and starring Kristen Stewart and Steven Yeun. In this animated/live-action hybrid, they voice respectively an AI-powered buoy and a satellite that grow increasingly sentient and fall in love. If that sounds twee, well sure it is, but the bar (at least for me) after last night’s premiere of “Freaky Tales” (my D+ review here) was so low that anything could have cleared it, and “Love Me” operates on the strong chemistry of its leads. Stewart and Yeun were joined by the filmmakers onstage at the Eccles, where they held a post-screening Q&A for the full house at the Eccles.
And packed houses have been the theme this year. In fact, I haven’t attended a screening that wasn’t at capacity. That included the festival’s second screening of Jane Schoenbrun’s mesmerizing ambient horror film “I Saw the TV Glow” (A24), about a teen’s (Justice Smith) waking up to his transness vicariously through an all-consuming, Nickelodeon-type teen sci-fi TV series, though the “We’re All Going to the World’s Fair” director’s latest owes much more to “Twin Peaks: The Return.” The Lynch series is proving to be hugely influential for rising filmmakers. The screening took place at the Holiday Village Cinemas to a rapt audience after world-premiering on Day One.
It’s still early days, but one takeaway suggested by fervor (or lack of) around films so far: the days of the overnight bidding war seem to be not upon this year’s edition. That’s been the case in festivals past, where even it took Netflix a couple of days to buy “Fair Play” for $20 million last year. Acquisitions so far have been muted. But Day Two provided buyers (I’ve seen reps for Netflix in every screening for acquisition titles) with a number of promising titles, also including Nathan Silver’s “Between the Temples” and Nora Fingscheidt’s “The Outrun.”
Taking a break between screenings, some folks attended a “Girls State” mixer at the posh Apple House, where Apple Studios invites press and other industry guests to take a load off and maybe not talk about movies or work for a few minutes while made-to-order food by the folks behind LA’s Elephante is served, and drinks flow.
Meanwhile, the Zellners’ “Sasquatch Sunset” also descended upon the Eccles, bringing Jesse Eisenberg and Riley Keough to the screen as the matriarch and paterfamilias of a family of sasquatch, the actors disappearing into creature makeup that took hours of prep each day. These Sasquatch grunt, fuck, shit, and love each other in this earnest conservationist metaphor that charmed the audiences who then made their way over to the Chase Sapphire Lounge on Main Street, a long line of attendees eager for food and bevs and warmth wending down the street.
Steven Soderbergh, meanwhile, brought his first film to the festival since his 1989 debut “sex, lies, and videotape” won the audience award. “Presence,” screening in a wall-to-wall packed house at the Library on Park Ave, remote from the din and flurry of Main Street, delivered thrills and chills in a haunted house story told (and shot) from the perspective of the ghost. Soderbergh, working from a made-to-order script by David Koepp, again challenges himself with innovative, subjective camerawork in a constricted setting, limited budget, and tight shoot, even if the film’s paranormal elements take back burner to a psychological family portrait (Lucy Liu stars).
Day Three at the IndieWire Studio, which hosts the festival talent for intimate interviews and portraits from morning to the late afternoon, will feature guests like Saoirse Ronan (whose film “The Outrun” premiered Friday), Dylan O’Brien, Indya Moore, Alicia Silverstone, Rose Glass, Dave Franco, Katy O’Brian, Ed Harris, Jena Malone, Laura Linney, Justice Smith, and Renate Reinsve. Day Three will also feature the live recording of IndieWire’s “Screen Talk” podcast, which you can attend. —Ryan Lattanzio
Day one! This year, Sundance kicked off in rare form, which is to say, early. While the festival has steadily ratcheted up its day one programming over the years, moving from a single opening night pick, to a curated program of four features in the evenings, this year’s current lineup is its beefiest yet. That frenetic schedule seemed to spell one thing: well, freneticism, and all on day one of the ten-day event.
Newly installed Sundance director (and IndieWire founder!) Eugene Hernandez was seemingly everywhere all at once, but IndieWire first spotted him at the Prospector Square Theater, where he introduced the premiere screening of Kelly O’Sullivan and Alex Thompson’s charming “Ghostlight.” (Check out our Critic’s Pick review right here.)
Elsewhere, it seemed that the biggest topic of early buzz was Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck’s “Freaky Tales,” which nabbed a plum opening night premiere slot at the Eccles. Even before the red carpet rolled out, everyone I talked to was pumped to see the film and anticipating long lines at the marquee venue (fans and cinephiles weren’t alone: brass from Netflix and Searchlight Pictures were spotted, scoping out the acquisition title).
A return to the very festival that introduced them to the filmmaking world way back in 2004 with their short “Gowanus, Brooklyn,” Fleck and Boden introduced the film to a packed theater, with Boden joking that, had this filmmaking thing not worked out, she might have become an accountant, her back-up plan when she was just 24-years-old (as for Fleck, his filmmaking partner cracked that he would have been unemployed after the closure of the last video store). It might have been a stacked audience, though, as Boden also noted that so many people who made the film (and starred in it, including Pedro Pascal, Normani, and Jay Ellis) were in attendance that they couldn’t all hit the stage for a post-screening Q&A, as it would have been a fire hazard.
Despite some frequent cheers during the raucous, 1987-set Bay Area spectacle, which weaves together various tales that are less freaky than viciously, bloodily anti-Nazi (a good thing!), reaction afterward in the press scrum was mixed. (Our own review is, indeed, more than just mixed: check it out here.)
Another popular in-line-killing-time talking point: how this festival, the second in-person Sundance since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, was already feeling more energetic (and well-attended) than last year’s (which, coming out of two years of no in-person Sundance, sure felt energetic and well-attended to this writer, though I do have to admit, there’s a touch more excitement in the air this go-round). A few chats with Park City residents, however, revealed a different take on the annual event: it’s changed, one New York transplant bemoaned to me in the “Freaky Tales” line, and this is going to be her last Sundance.
While “Freaky Tales” was unspooling, the festival’s opening night gala/fundraiser honored everyone from Christopher Nolan to Maite Alberdi, Celine Song and Kristen Stewart. If you weren’t at a screening, it seems, at least from IndieWire’s red carpet coverage, you were at the gala. Our own Brian Welk was also in attendance, and his report from the evening paid special attention to Nolan’s award, the inaugural Trailblazer Award, handed to him by his own “Oppenheimer” star Robert Downey, Jr.
Over on Main Street: parties. I could barely make it all the way up to the street to hit the premiere of Caroline Lindy’s Melissa Barrera-starring Beauty and the Beast-ish rom-com revenge thriller (with musical sequences!) without running into packs of good-time-seeking denizens, cramming into various pop-up clubs, lounges, and what-have-yous.
Even in New York City, our own David Ehrlich was checking out a concurrent premiere of Jane Schoenbrun’s “I Saw the TV Glow,” the filmmaker’s followup to “We’re All Going to the World’s Fair” (a personal fave). His review is to come, but we’re guessing from his gushing tweet, we’ll have another Critic’s Pick incoming imminently.
Other IndieWire reviews to check out now: June Squibb gets a starring role in “Thelma,” Yance Ford returns with a new documentary with “Power,” John Early shining in Theda Hammel’s very funny COVID dramedy “Stress Positions,” a girl-centric followup to “Boys State” in “Girls State,” the raw documentary “Frida,” and the queer romance “Layla.”
And at at IndieWire’s studio on Main Street (presented by our pals at Dropbox), we’re expecting a cavalcade of stars and creators to sit down tomorrow for our own first day, where they will chat with own Christian Blauvelt about their new films, including Kristen Stewart, Steven Yeun, Jane Schoenbrun, Justice Smith, Brigette Lundy-Paine, Lucy Liu, Jason Schwartzman, Jodie Foster, Riley Keough, the Zellner brothers, Jesse Eisenberg, Kieran Culkin, Theda Hammel, John Early, Talia Ryder, David Schwimmer, Amanda McBaine, Jesse Moss, Yance Ford, and many more. Look for those interviews (and more good stuff) to roll out on the site in the coming days.
So, what to expect today, on day two of the festival? Premieres like “Between the Temples,” “The Outrun,” “Sasquatch Sunset,” “Love Me,” “Power,” “Little Death,” “Presence,” “It’s What’s Inside,” and many more. It just keeps rolling! —Kate Erbland
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