Sundance 2021: a low-key lineup announced for semi-virtual festival

Directorial debuts from Rebecca Hall and Robin Wright and documentaries about Covid-19 and wildfires to premiere at festival

Ruth Negga and Tessa Thompson in Passing. Photograph: Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Edu Grau.

The 2020 Sundance film festival will be a stripped back, mostly virtual edition following in the footsteps of other festivals that have been forced to redefine themselves in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The lineup, featuring 72 feature films in comparison to last year’s 118, will be one of its most diverse yet with 47% of them directed by one or more women, 42% from film-makers of colour and 15% from LGBTQ+ creators.

Premieres include the directorial debuts of the actors Robin Wright and Rebecca Hall. Wright’s film Land, in which she also stars, focuses on a woman who retreats into the wilderness after suffering a loss. Passing, from Hall, is based on Nella Larsen’s novel about two light-skinned black women in 1920s Harlem and the nature of racial passing with one of them “passing” for white.

“I came across [Passing] at a time when I was trying to reckon creatively with some of my personal family history, and the mystery surrounding my biracial grandfather on my American mother’s side,” said Hall in a recent interview. “In part, making this film is an exploration of that history, to which I’ve never really had access.”

Other narrative premieres include I Was A Simple Man, a family drama set in Hawaii starring Constance Wu; On the Count of Three, the directorial debut of comedian Jerrod Carmichael starring himself and Tiffany Haddish; and R#J, a contemporary update on Romeo and Juliet taking place via smartphones.

Reece Shearsmith appears in In the Earth Photograph: Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Neon

The influence of the coronavirus will be felt not only in the structure of the festival – with screenings taking place via on online platform and with in-person satellite showings across the US – but within the films themselves. Narrative features that indirectly speak to the pandemic include Brazilian drama The Pink Cloud about a deadly cloud that leads to a global lockdown and In the Earth, a British horror film from Kill List and Rebecca director Ben Wheatley about a deadly virus. The director shot it under-the-radar in August in just 15 days.

The documentary section will also feature the premiere of In the Same Breath, from Nanfu Wang the acclaimed director of One Child Nation. The film will assemble firsthand accounts of the pandemic in China and study “how propaganda and patriotism shaped the outbreak’s course”. Other major documentaries at the festival include Bring Your Own Brigade about the increase in wildfires, an Edgar Wright-directed film about the band Sparks and Street Gang: How We Got To Sesame Street which takes a look back at the much-loved kids show.

“Togetherness has been an animating principle here at the Sundance Institute as we’ve worked to reimagine the festival for 2021, because there is no Sundance without our community,” said Sundance Institute founder and president Robert Redford.

Last year’s festival featured the premieres of Never Rarely Sometimes Always, Minari, Shirley, Palm Springs and Promising Young Woman.

Sundance 2021 takes place between 28 January and 3 February.



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