Sundance 2021 Preview: Virtually the Best Indie Cinema of 2021

Screen Anarchy

In the Earth
Ben Wheatley’s latest (Kill List, High-Rise, Rebecca) is a horror thriller about a scientist venturing to a deep forest research station as a virus wracks the planet. Neon has scooped it up for US distribution.

Premieres

Luzzu
This Maltese production tells the story of a traditional fisherman whose customs and livelihood are on a collision course with the 21st Century. It’s a poignant and deeply touching tale of humanity. The film is produced by Ramin Bahrani who served as mentor to the film’s director Alex Camilleri (previously an editor for Bahrani) and features echoes of Bahrani’s humanistic verite style. Look for this one to be in the conversation for Best International Feature a year from now.

World Dramatic Competition

Strawberry Mansion
Sundance darling Kentucker Audley stars and co-directs (with Albert Birney) this stylish oddball story filled with wonderful lofi flourishes about a dream tax auditor. Birney and Audley previously teamed up on the SXSW premiere Sylvio.

Next

A Glitch in the Matrix
We’re big fans of documentary vanguard Rodney Ascher (Room 237, The Nightmare) around these parts. His latest looks at the age old question of if we are living in reality or just a simulation. Magnolia is distributing the film soon.

Midnight

One for the Road
Baz Poonpiriya’s slick road movie about two Thai expats visiting old acquaintances in their home country is produced by Wong Kar Wai. His influence on Poonpiriya in on display in the film’s very impressive stylistic flourishes.

World Dramatic Competition

Violation
An incredibly vivid exploration of the lingering effects of trauma, Violation was one the most vital works to come out of the Toronto International Film Festival last fall. Celebrating its international premiere as a part of Sundance’s Midnight section, Madeleine Sims-Fewer and Dusty Mancinelli’s feature debut is sure to leave viewers shaken to their core. The story of a woman fighting to regain her autonomy from victimhood in what is among the most painful and meticulously mounted rape/revenge films I’ve ever seen, Violation is like watching a collection of raw nerves struggling to steel themselves against the pain by leaning into a raging fire. Impossible to forget and impossible to ignore, Violation is bound to be the talk of the festival when all is said and done. -J Hurtado

Midnight

Read J Hurtado’s full review

In The Same Breath
Nanfu Wang (Hooligan Sparrow, I Am Another You, One Child Nation) has made a name for herself as one of the most interesting voices in the documentary feature space. Her latest looks at Presidents Xi and Trump’s response to the Covid pandemic and similar propagandistic language.

Premieres

The Blazing World
Carlson Young stars in and makes her feature directorial debut in this captivating psychedelic adventure. The impressive cast is filled out by the inimitable Udo Kier, Dermot Mulroney, Vinessa Shaw, John Karna, and French pop star Soko.

Next

Prisoners of Ghostland
Nicolas Cage + Sion Sono in a supernatural Samurai town. Need we say more?

Premieres

Superior
Erin Vassilopoulos’s feature debut stars twins Alessandra and Ani Mesa as yin and yang estranged twin sisters, brought back together by suspenseful events. As the story develops, their relationship, sisterly roles, and interactions with the husband (played by Jake Hoffman) get complicated.

US Dramatic Competition

Eight for Silver
Metro Manila director Sean Ellis returns with this gothic supernatural tale of revenge set in an 1800s remote country village.

Premieres

Try Harder!
Debbie Lum’s (Seeking Asian Female) new documentary takes the viewer inside one of the Bay Area’s highest performing high schools as the mostly Asian-American teens torture themselves over the chance to get into the nation’s top universities.

US Docu Competition

Night of the Kings
In ninety-three spellbinding minutes, director Philippe Lacôte takes us through centuries of magical storytelling devices in Night of the Kings, as a young convict attempts to talk his way through the night in this magnificent take on One Thousand and One Nights. Featuring a fiercely layered performance from newcomer Bakary Koné as the Scheherazade-esque balladeer charged with this mammoth task, the film becomes more than the sum of its very impressive parts through masterful weaving of sound, light, and movement in one of the year’s most impressively artful outings. -J Hurtado

Spotlight

Read J Hurtado’s full review

Misha and the Wolves
This excellent ‘truth is stranger than fiction’ story of a Belgian Holocaust survivor in Massachusets is reminiscent of past Sundance docu hits The Imposter and Casting Jon Benet (with a bit of The King of Kong thrown in for good measure).

World Docu Competition

Together Together
Ed Helms and Patti Harrison star in this very charming pregnancy comedy about a man and his surrogate. It’s helmed by Stockholm, Pennsylvania director Nikole Beckwith.

US Dramatic Competition

Captains of Zaatari
This feature debut by Ali El Arabi follows a group of teens in a Jordanian Syrian refugee camp as they dream of life as professional footballers.

World Docu Competition

Knocking
Frida Kempff’s feature narrative debut is this Swedish thriller about a woman haunted by mysterious noises.

Midnight

Cusp
Three teenage girls in a small Texas town face the challenges posed by the brink of adulthood in Parker Hill and Isabel Bethencourt’s feature debut documentary.

US Docu Competition

How it Ends
Zoe Lister-Jones (D: Band Aid) stars in and co-directs (with Daryl Wein, D: White Rabbit) this very LA tale of the last day on Earth, shot during the pandemic and jam-packed to the brim with movie star cameos.

Premieres

ScreenAnarchy – Sundance 2021 Preview: Virtually the Best Indie Cinema of 2021
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January 27, 2021

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