The Sundance Institute has unveiled its line-up for the 2021 Sundance Film Festival, modified to be a largely online event in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Passes and tickets for the festival go on sale on Jan. 7, and it takes place from Jan. 28 through Feb. 3.
There will also be some in-person events on “Satellite Screens” throughout the country, public health conditions permitting. One of those satellite locations will be the Ray theater in Park City.
The festival is presenting 72 features, 50 short films and 14 projects in the New Frontier section.
In the U.S. Dramatic Competition, one film attracting attention is “Passing,” about two Black women who can pass as white, making different choices in New York of the late 1920s. Characters in some of the other narrative features include an aging jockey hoping for one last victory; a “CODA” that is, a hearing child of deaf adults; and the young protagonist of “John and the Hole”, who, according to the program, ‘holds his family captive in a hole in the ground.”
Some of the films at the festival reference the earth-shaking year of 2020, either directly or indirectly. “In the Same Breath” is a documentary premiere about how the Chinese government reacted to and shaped the early stages of the COVID-19 outbreak.
In another film, “How It Ends” a woman journeys through L.A. on the last day on Earth. “In the Earth” shows two people venturing into the forest as a virus sweeps the globe. And one of the foreign dramatic entries, “The Pink Cloud”, concerns a mysterious, deadly cloud that forces everyone around the globe to stay home.
Among the documentaries, one Premiere focuses on author Amy Tan. It was directed by James Redford, the son of Sundance founder Robert Redford. James died in October.
Other documentary subjects include dancer Alvin Ailey, multi-award-winning actress Rita Moreno; controversial Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner, and the Sparks Brothers, designated in the program as “your favorite band’s favorite band.”
Other topics in the nonfiction line-up include sharks, sex slaves, a presidential election in Zimbabwe and law enforcement.
The Next program returns, which is intended to focus on films with an innovative, forward-thinking approach. One of those films has already been awarded the Alfred P. Sloan Feature Prize for a film with a science theme. That film, “Son of Monarchs,” is about a Mexican biologist who undergoes a metamorphosis when he returns to the monarch butterfly forests of his hometown.
And the Midnight program features films with dark stories about strange noises, encounters with psychopaths, revenge—and at least one film with a strange title. A Belgian film, “Mother Schmuckers,” is about two supremely stupid brothers.
Festival organizers said while they had to adapt their event, they’re still seeking out and supporting independent storytellers. The Festival’s new director, Tabitha Jackson, said, “In this pandemic year, we gather to celebrate a constellation of artists with unique perspectives that express this current moment and who together are saying, ‘We exist.’”