Sundance 2020: What To Expect At This Year’s Film Festival

María Mercedes Coroy and Mara Teln appear in “La Llorona,” a film by Jayro Bustamante, which is also an official selection of the Spotlight program at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival.

Filmmakers, from returning directors to up-and-coming artists, submitted a record of 5,100 submissions this year to Sundance 2020 across its program, with selected films representing 27 countries in all. Diverse stories fill the slate and include some impressive work from independent artists that have already attracted buyers.

This Friday, festival attendees can take in Josh Ruben’s feature directorial debut “Scare Me” and Jayro Bustamante’s Venice-Award-winner “La llorona,” which were both quickly nabbed by AMC Networks’ genre-streaming service, Shudder, ahead of their respective screenings.

A still from “Scare Me” by Josh Ruben, an official selection of the Midnight program at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Brendan Banks

“Scare Me” seeks to send shivers up festival-goers’ spines during its world premiere at Sundance’s Midnight Section. The film follows two strangers that swap scary stories during a power outage in the Catskills. The more the duo commit to their tales, however, the more the stories come to life in their dark cabin haunt. We’ll see if it makes for a good scare at its late-night premiere.

“La Llorona” also arrives with much heat, after winning the Venice Days Director Award. Featured in the Spotlight category, it follows Enrique, a retired general who oversaw the Mayan genocide but is now haunted by his devastating crimes of the past. The intense genocide revenge drama re-interprets the Latin American folktale of “La Llorona,” a weeping woman doomed to haunt the earth mourning her dead children.

Olivia Colman and Anthony Hopkins appear in “The Father” by Florian Zeller, an official selection of the Premieres program at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Sean Gleason

It’s important to note that the festival doesn’t purposely sidestep stars. But what separates the festival films from the rest of Hollywood mainstream is that star power is used to lend distinctive voices to the work. A great example of this is the film, “The Father,” starring Anthony Hopkins and Oscar’s favorite Olivia Colman. It’s billed as a universal prophecy of loss that comes with age. What’s more is that the film attracted Sony Pictures Classics, which acquired rights for its US and international release before it screens in the Premieres category.

Jahi appears in “Charm City Kings” by Angel Manuel Soto, an official selection of the U.S. Dramatic Competition program at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival.

Sony Pictures Classics also nabbed “Charm City Kings,” a film of note in the U.S. Dramatic Competition and billed as a gutsy coming-of-age story that follows fourteen-year-old Mouse, who desperately wants to join an infamous group of Baltimore dirt-bike riders hailed as the Midnight Clique who rule the summertime streets.

Elsewhere in buys this year: “Never Rarely Sometimes Always” garnered Focus Features’ attention, buying a film that plays as an intimate portrait of two teenage girls in rural Pennsylvania that make a trek across state lines to New York after one of them unintentionally becomes pregnant. We’ll review this compelling film when it plays during the U.S. Dramatic Competition.

Sidney Flanigan appears in Never Rarely Sometimes Always by Eliza Hittman, an official selection of the U.S. Dramatic Competition at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival.

Netflix also arrives with a host of titles, including their high-profile Taylor Swift documentary “Miss Americana” from director Lana Wilson, playing in the Documentary Premieres section. Netflix also offers the intriguing doc “Into The Deep” in the World Cinema Documentary Competition. Billed as a profile of amateur inventor Peter Madsen, the documentary ends up turning into something darker when Madsen is discovered to have murdered someone aboard his homemade submarine.

Sundance Alumnus Dee Rees returns with the much anticipated, “The Last Thing He Wanted.” Rees was the first black woman nominated for an Academy Award in the Best Adapted Screenplay category for “Mudbound” back in 2017. Her latest film features Anne Hathaway as journalist Elena McMahon, inadvertently finding herself in the middle of a series of unfinished and unsavory arms deals and suddenly wrapped up in the very story she’s trying to break. Ben Affleck and Willem Dafoe co-star in this thriller.

Anne Hathaway appears in “The Last Thing He Wanted” by Dee Rees, an official selection of the Premieres program at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival.

Other top titles generating buzz include “On The Record,” a documentary focused on accusations of sexual assault against music mogul Russell Simmons. The film comes from Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering, two-time Emmy Award-winning and two-time Academy Award-nominated filmmakers. “On The Record” seeks a buyer after Oprah Winfrey backed out of the project, originally set for release on Apple TV+. Its compelling subject matter is sure to attract attention when it plays in the Documentary Premieres section.

While films cover a large part of the festival, we’ll also focus on lectures and events. We will be at several informal chats with special guests, including filmmaker Ron Howard, as well as interviews with a diverse range of cinematographers, directors, editors and more as the festival rolls. So, stay tuned…