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The Scarlet & Black

Film in Stock: Highlights of the 2018 Sundance Film Festival

With the Oscars over, upsets and all, it’s time to look forward. The submissions and winners of the 2018 Sundance Film Festival make it hard not to get excited over the upcoming films that will grace our screens this year. In my more optimistic moments, I like to think this list of winners foreshadows a move toward more woman-centered and woman-created content, as well as content created by and about people of color. Here’s to cinema in 2018.

“And Breathe Normally” by Ísold Uggadóttir

Writer-director Ísold Uggadóttir’s first full-length film focuses on the relationship between two women: a single mother from Iceland (played by Kristín Thóra Haraldsdóttir) and a refugee from Guinea-Bissau (played by Babetida Sadjo) as they struggle through systems of power. From the trailer, which was 75 percent in Icelandic, this film seems like no other, particularly because of the intensely specific relationship that serves as its foundation. “And Breathe Normally” won Uggadóttir Sundance’s Directing Award in the category of Dramatic World Cinema.

“Sorry to Bother You” by Boots Riley

Directed by musician and first-time director Boots Riley (yes, that Boots Riley), the cast of this film alone deems it worthy of a watch: Tessa Thompson, Armie Hammer, Lakeith Stanfield, David Cross, Danny Glover and Steven Yeun all star. As with any satire, the description of this film seems a bit ridiculous. According to interviews with the director, the film centers on a telemarketer (played by Stanfield) as he navigates structures of racism and classism in a not-so-parallel universe. While no description does the film justice, it definitely is at the top of my list this year. The film premiered at Sundance and should be in select theaters this summer.

“This Is Home: a Refugee Story” by Alexandra Shiva

American documentary maker Alexandra Shiva follows four Syrian families living in Baltimore. Shiva’s notable other credit includes 2015’s Peabody Award-winner “How to Dance in Ohio,” which focuses on four autistic teenagers as they prepare for a school dance. As a reference for Shiva’s work, “How to Dance in Ohio,” documentary shows the filmmaker’s ability to let the subjects frame their own stories through the genre. From the reviews I’ve read, “This Is Home: a Refugee Story” similarly does not reinvent the genre, but uses the existing mold of documentary film to humanize a largely underrepresented group of people, a theme throughout Shiva’s work. “This Is Home: a Refugee Story” won the Audience Award in the category of World Cinema Documentary.

“Butterflies” by Tolga Karaçelik

As the most entertaining 48 seconds I have ever spent, I highly recommend watching the teaser trailer for this film. Admittedly ridiculous, it depicts a man dressed in an astronaut suit in a rural village trying to get cattle to move out of the way while the theme music of “2001: A Space Odyssey” plays. The tagline of the film, in context of the teaser trailer, says it all: “There is nothing more dangerous than an astronaut with nothing to lose.” Turkish director Tolga Karaçelik adds to the list of reasons why Turkish cinema is in the midst of a golden age with “Butterflies,” which follows three unknowingly-related siblings as they navigate life after their father passes away. Shot in just eighteen days, “Butterflies” follows Karaçelik’s other films “Toll Booth” (2010) and “Ivy” (2015), the latter of which was nominated for the same Sundance prize that “Butterflies” won, the World Cinema Grand Jury Prize in drama.

“The Tale” by Jennifer Fox

As a warning, this film portrays childhood abuse very vividly, as it looks as writer-director Jennifer Fox’s own experiences in a fictionalized form. “The Tale” investigates how an adult navigates childhood trauma and the trick of time and memory. Fox previously directed several documentary films, most notably “Beirut: The Last Home Movie” (1986) and “My Reincarnation” (2011). Even more, Fox acted as her own cinematographer for three of her six films. Beyond the fascinatingly horrifying narrative, this film had to make the list out of my love for Laura Dern, which arose rather recently out of Kelly Reichardt’s “Certain Women” from 2015. Laura Dern has proven that she shines best in roles that demand subtlety, and “The Tale” sounds like such a venue for this talent. “The Tale” was submitted to Sundance in the category of U.S. Dramatic Competition.

Further notables from 2018 Sundance include “The Miseducation of Cameron Post” by Desiree Akhavan, “Monster” by Anthony Mandler, “The Kindergarten Teacher” by Sara Colangelo, “Monsters and Men” by Reinaldo Marcus Green and  “Blaze” by Ethan Hawke.

— Martha Beliveau ’21

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