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Sundance 2019 is all about diversity, immigrants, and comedians getting serious

Plus the 25 projects we’re most excited about.

Sundance 2019 is all about diversity, immigrants, and comedians getting serious
[Photo: Travis Wise/Wikimedia Commons]

The Sundance Film Festival has released the entire lineup for 2019, a dazzling slate overflowing with potential hits, conversation-starters, and future cult classics.

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Unlike the 2018 iteration, however, which was distinguished by a flurry of Trump-adjacent projects, next year’s Sundance appears notable for its diversity in front of and behind the camera, a wealth of projects focused on immigration and refugee stories, and comedians genre-hopping out of comedy.

Long before projects like Black Panther and Crazy Rich Asians proved how profitable diverse filmmakers and majority non-white casts could be, there’s been a rising demand for better onscreen representation and more stories that don’t center around white people. If Sundance is any indication, 2019 could finally be the year it all comes to fruition. This lineup is the least concerned with white, straight maleness that I have ever seen. (As Variety reports, 45 of the 112 features accepted to Sundance were directed by one or more women, 40 were directed by a filmmaker of color, and 15 by people who identify as LGBTQIA.)

If there’s a topical recurring theme at the festival, though, it’s immigrant stories (and the tales of those attempting to flee their home countries.) Whether it’s Poland’s Dolce Fine Giornata, which is about a Tuscan woman’s relationship with an immigrant during a time of terrorism; Midnight Traveler, a documentary about an Afghan man and his family seeking asylum; or The Infiltrators, a film about undocumented American “Dreamers” detained by border patrol, humanizing portraits of immigrants are in abundance this year.

Finally, performers who are known for comedic roles are taking on serious roles this year. Zach Galifianakis and Jenny Slate have both appeared in dramas before, so their collaboration, The Sunlit Nation, which is about an unlikely relationship in the Arctic Circle, is not terribly surprising. However, comedians who are newer to the scene–Awkwafina and Pete Davidson–are also showing up in dramas, like The Farewell and Big Time Adolescence respectively. (Awkwafina actually has two dramatic roles in contention this year.)

Have a look below at the 25 films at this year’s Sundance Festival that we’re most excited about, with cast information and loglines culled from Variety’s comprehensive roundup:

  • Brittany Runs a Marathon (Director and screenwriter: Paul Downs Colaizzo, Producers: Matthew Plouffe, Tobey Maguire, Margot Hand) — A woman living in New York takes control of her life – one city block at a time. Cast: Jillian Bell, Michaela Watkins, Utkarsh Ambudkar, Lil Rel Howery, Micah Stock, Alice Lee.
  • Clemency (Director and screenwriter: Chinonye Chukwu, Producers: Bronwyn Cornelius, Julian Cautherley, Peter Wong, Timur Bekbosunov) — Years of carrying out death row executions have taken a toll on prison warden Bernadine Williams. As she prepares to execute another inmate, Bernadine must confront the psychological and emotional demons her job creates, ultimately connecting her to the man she is sanctioned to kill. Cast: Alfre Woodard, Aldis Hodge, Richard Schiff, Wendell Pierce, Richard Gunn, Danielle Brooks.
  • The Farewell (Director and screenwriter: Lulu Wang, Producers: Daniele Melia, Peter Saraf, Marc Turtletaub, Chris Weitz, Andrew Miano, Anita Gou) — A headstrong Chinese-American woman returns to China when her beloved grandmother is given a terminal diagnosis. Billi struggles with her family’s decision to keep grandma in the dark about her own illness as they all stage an impromptu wedding to see grandma one last time. Cast: Awkwafina, Tzi Ma, Diana Lin, Zhao Shuzhen, Lu Hong, Jiang Yongbo.
  • Hala (Director and screenwriter: Minhal Baig, Producers: Clarence Hammond, Jamal Watson, Minhal Baig) — Muslim teenager Hala copes with the unraveling of her family as she comes into her own. Cast: Geraldine Viswanathan (a standout in Kay Cannon’s hit comedy, Blockers), Jack Kilmer, Gabriel Luna, Purbi Joshi, Azad Khan, Anna Chlumsky.
  • Luce (Director: Julius Onah, Screenwriters: JC Lee, Julius Onah, Producers: John Baker, Julius Onah, Andrew Yang) — A married couple is forced to reckon with their idealized image of their son, adopted from war-torn Eritrea, after an alarming discovery by a devoted high school teacher threatens his status as an all-star student. Cast: Naomi Watts, Octavia Spencer, Kelvin Harrison Jr., Tim Roth, Norbert Leo Butz.
  • Always in Season (Director: Jacqueline Olive) — When 17-year-old Lennon Lacy is found hanging from a swing set in rural North Carolina in 2014, his mother’s search for justice and reconciliation begins as the trauma of more than a century of lynching African Americans bleeds into the present. (Documentary)
  • American Factory (Directors: Steven Bognar, Julia Reichert, Producers: Steven Bognar, Julia Reichert, Jeff Reichert, Julie Parker Benello) — In post-industrial Ohio, a Chinese billionaire opens a new factory in the husk of an abandoned General Motors plant, hiring 2,000 blue-collar Americans. Early days of hope and optimism give way to setbacks as high-tech China clashes with working-class America. (Documentary)
  • Knock Down the House (Director: Rachel Lears, Producers: Sarah Olson, Robin Blotnick, Rachel Lears) — A young bartender in the Bronx, a coal miner’s daughter in West Virginia, a grieving mother in Nevada, and a registered nurse in Missouri build a movement of insurgent candidates challenging powerful incumbents in Congress. One of their races will become the most shocking political upset in recent American history. Cast: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. (Documentary)
  • One Child Nation (Directors: Nanfu Wang, Jialing Zhang, Producers: Nanfu Wang, Jialing Zhang, Julie Goldman, Christoph Jörg, Christopher Clements, Carolyn Hepburn) — After becoming a mother, a filmmaker uncovers the untold history of China’s one-child policy and the generations of parents and children forever shaped by this social experiment. (Documentary)
  • Dirty God (Director: Sacha Polak, Screenwriters: Sacha Polak, Susanne Farrell, Producers: Marleen Slot, Michael Elliott) — Jade is a young mother in the prime of her life when an acid attack leaves her severely burned. While her face has been reconstructed, her beauty is lost beneath the scars. Descending a self-destructive path with relationships crumbling, Jade must take drastic action to reclaim her life. Cast: Vicky Knight, Katherine Kelly, Eliza Brady-Girard, Rebecca Stone, Bluey Robinson, Dana Marienci.
  • The Souvenir (Director and screenwriter: Joanna Hogg, Producers: Luke Schiller, Joanna Hogg) — A quiet film student begins finding her voice as an artist while navigating a turbulent courtship with a charismatic but untrustworthy man. She defies her protective mother and concerned friends as she slips deeper and deeper into an intense, emotionally fraught relationship which comes dangerously close to destroying her dreams. Cast: Honor Swinton Byrne, Tom Burke, Tilda Swinton.
  • Midnight Traveler (Director: Hassan Fazili, Screenwriter: Emelie Mahdavian, Producers: Emelie Mahdavian, Su Kim) — When the Taliban puts a bounty on Afghan director Hassan Fazili’s head, he is forced to flee with his wife and two young daughters. Capturing their uncertain journey, Fazili shows firsthand the dangers facing refugees seeking asylum and the love shared between a family on the run. (Documentary)
  • Shooting the Mafia (Director: Kim Longinotto, Producer: Niamh Fagan) — Sicilian Letizia Battaglia began a lifelong battle with the Mafia when she first pointed her camera at a brutally slain victim. Documenting the Cosa Nostra’s barbaric rule, she bore unflinching witness to their crimes. Her photographs, art, and bravery helped to bring an end to a shocking reign of slaughter. (Documentary)
  • Adam (Director: Rhys Ernst, Screenwriter: Ariel Schrag, Producers: Howard Gertler, James Schamus) — Awkward teenager Adam arrives to spend his final high school summer with his older sister, who has thrown herself into New York City’s lesbian and trans activist scene. Over the summer, Adam and those around him experience love, friendship, and attendant hard truths in this coming-of-age comedy. Cast: Nicholas Alexander, India Menuez, Leo Sheng, Chloe Levine, Margaret Qualley.
  • The Infiltrators (Directors: Alex Rivera, Cristina Ibarra, Screenwriters: Alex Rivera, Aldo Velasco, Producers: Cristina Ibarra, Alex Rivera, Darren Dean) — A rag-tag group of undocumented youth – Dreamers – deliberately get detained by Border Patrol in order to infiltrate a shadowy, for-profit detention center. Cast: Maynor Alvarado, Manuel Uriza, Chelsea Rendon, Juan Gabriel Pareja, Vik Sahay.
  • The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind (Director and screenwriter: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Producers: Andrea Calderwood, Gail Egan) — Against all the odds, a 13-year-old boy in Malawi invents an unconventional way to save his family and village from famine. Based on the true story of William Kamkwamba. Cast: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Maxwell Simba, Lily Banda, Noma Dumezweni, Aissa Maiga, Joseph Marcell.
  • Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile (Director: Joe Berlinger, Screenwriter: Michael Werwie, Producers: Michael Costigan, Nicolas Chartier, Ara Keshishian, Michael Simkin) — A chronicle of the crimes of Ted Bundy from the perspective of Liz, his longtime girlfriend, who refused to believe the truth about him for years. Cast: Zac Efron, Lily Collins, Haley Joel Osment, Kaya Scodelario, John Malkovich, Jim Parsons.
  • Late Night (Director: Nisha Ganatra, Screenwriter: Mindy Kaling, Producers: Ben Browning, Howard Klein, Jillian Apfelbaum, Mindy Kaling) — Legendary late-night talk show host’s world is turned upside down when she hires her only female staff writer. Originally intended to smooth over diversity concerns, her decision has unexpectedly hilarious consequences as the two women separated by culture and generation are united by their love of a biting punchline. Cast: Emma Thompson, Mindy Kaling, John Lithgow, Paul Walter Hauser, Reid Scott, Amy Ryan.
  • The Report (Director and screenwriter: Scott Z. Burns, Producers: Steven Soderbergh, Jennifer Fox, Scott Z. Burns, Danny Gabai, Eddy Moretti ) — The story of Daniel Jones, lead investigator for the U.S. Senate’s sweeping study into the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program, which was found to be brutal, immoral, and ineffective. With the truth at stake, Jones battled tirelessly to make public what many in power sought to keep hidden. Cast: Adam Driver, Annette Bening, Jon Hamm, Ted Levine, Maura Tierney, Michael C. Hall.
  • Troupe Zero (Director: Bert & Bertie, Screenwriter: Lucy Alibar, Producers: Todd Black, Jason Blumenthal, Steve Tisch, Alex Siskin, Viola Davis) — In rural 1977 Georgia, a misfit girl dreams of life in outer space. When a national competition offers her a chance at her dream, to be recorded on NASA’s Golden Record, she recruits a makeshift troupe of Birdie Scouts, forging friendships that last a lifetime and beyond. Cast: Viola Davis, McKenna Grace, Jim Gaffigan, Mike Epps, Charlie Shotwell, Allison Janney.
  • Velvet Buzzsaw (Director and screenwriter: Dan Gilroy, Producer: Jennifer Fox) — A thriller set in the contemporary art world scene of Los Angeles, where big money artists and mega-collectors pay a high price when art collides with commerce. Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo, Toni Collette, Zawe Ashton, Tom Sturridge, Natalia Dyer, Billy Magnussen.
  • Little Monsters (Director and screenwriter: Abe Forsythe, Producers: Jodi Matterson, Bruna Papandrea, Steve Hutensky, Keith Calder, Jessica Calder) — A film dedicated to all the kindergarten teachers who motivate children to learn, instill them with confidence and stop them from being devoured by zombies. Cast: Lupita Nyong’o, Alexander England, Josh Gad.
  • Untouchable (Director: Ursula Macfarlane, Producers: Simon Chinn, Jonathan Chinn, Poppy Dixon) — The inside story of the rise and fall of Harvey Weinstein reveals how, over decades, he acquires and protects his power even as scandal threatens to engulf him. Former colleagues and accusers detail the method and consequences of his alleged abuse, hoping for justice and to inspire change.
  • Greener Grass (Directors and screenwriters: Jocelyn DeBoer, Dawn Luebbe, Producer: Natalie Metzger) — A deliciously twisted comedy set in a demented, timeless suburbia where every adult wears braces on their straight teeth, couples coordinate meticulously pressed outfits, and coveted family members are swapped in more ways than one in this competition for acceptance. Cast: Jocelyn DeBoer, Dawn Luebbe, Beck Bennett, Neil Casey, Mary Holland, D’Arcy Carden.
  • The Nightingale (Director and screenwriter: The Babadook filmmaker Jennifer Kent, Producers: Kristina Ceyton, Bruna Papandrea, Steve Hutenski, Jennifer Kent) — 1825. Clare, a young Irish convictwoman, chases a British officer through the Tasmanian wilderness, bent on revenge for a terrible act of violence he committed against her family. On the way she enlists the services of Aboriginal tracker Billy, who is marked by trauma from his own violence-filled past. Cast: Aisling Franciosi, Sam Claflin, Baykali Ganambarr, Damon Herriman, Harry Greenwood, Ewen Leslie.
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