Sundance 2020 Preview

December 16, 2019
Our resident film festival hopper presents a preview of the upcoming Sundance Film Festival, with a special focus on participating Australians.

Last week the Hollywood Foreign Press Association snubbed female directors in its dramatic nominations for the Golden Globes, most famously leaving out Greta Gerwig for Little Women and Lulu Wang for The Farewell. The Sundance Film Festival flips that conversation, given that 44 per cent of the films are directed by one or more women. The Farewell, starring the widely nominated Awkwafina, had been one of the Sundance hits this year.

Taking in Sundance’s 2020 programme is as usual, overwhelming. But that is part of the fun. I started going to Sundance because it was on my way to Berlin, so I could do a doubler. Now the Festival that Robert Redford founded is probably my favourite –because of its unpredictability.

Most of the films are world premieres and a lot of “talent” attend as it’s not far from Los Angeles – and it’s a rather gorgeous place. A former mining town turned into an upscale retreat for artistic types and skiers, Park City is not cheap. And when the storms set in, you’re stuffed. But if you’re prepared to brave the cold – and it’s really a matter of having the right clothes – the experience is unmissable.

After perusing the lengthy list of 2020 films and realising that the likes of Angelina Jolie and Benedict Cumberbatch will have films there (Ironbark and Come Away respectively), I decided to go to the press photos to get a sense of what they might be like. No pics of those big names available but guess who shone out above the rest? Our own Toni Collette in a film called Dream Horse [pictured, top] by Welsh director Euros Lyn (a bloke, known for Doctor Who and Torchwood). Arms raised excitedly in the air like an older Muriel, Collette plays a Welsh cleaner and bartender-turned-horse-breeder who takes on the moneyed horseracing establishment. At least the HFPA got it right in nominating Collette for her gutsy detective turn in the Netflix mini-series, Unbelievable.

The big news for Australia is Relic, the debut film from writer-director Natalie Erika-James [pictured, above] starring Emily Mortimer, Robyn Nevin and Bella Heathcote. The film world premieres in the Midnight section and looks to do for dementia what The Babadook did for maternal neuroses.

Odessa Young, in Sundance two years ago as the star of the festival hit, Assassination Nation, this year stars alongside Elisabeth Moss in the competition entry Shirley, directed by Josephine Decker and produced by Killer Films’ Christine Vachon. It follows a young couple who get more than they bargain for when they move in with Moss’s author and her professor husband. Vachon also has Julie Taymor’s The Glorias where several actresses including Julianne Moore and Alicia Vikander play women’s rights activist Gloria Steinem.

Another Sundance regular, Australian director Kitty Casting JonBenet Green [pictured, above], will bring her latest US film The Assistant where Julia Garner stars in a Harvey Weinstein scandal inspired story. Miranda Otto appears alongside Will Ferrell and Julia-Louise Dreyfus in Downhill, a remake of Ruben Östlund’s 2014 hit Force Majeure about a couple narrowly escaping an avalanche during a family ski holiday in the Alps. It’s by Nat Faxon and Jim Rash who had directed 2013 Sundance entry The Way Way Back starring Collette.

On the documentary front, while last year the Michael Jackson exploration Leaving Neverland and the Harvey Weinstein movie Untouchable created a stir, this year The Dissident about Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi and Natalie Wood: What Remains Behind [above] told through the perspective of her daughter, Natasha Gregson Wagner, should be the hot tickets.

Australian director Emma Sullivan [above] has a Danish documentary, Into The Deep in the world cinema documentary competition. The blurb sounds fascinating: “In 2016, a young Australian filmmaker began documenting amateur inventor Peter Madsen. One year in, Madsen brutally murdered Kim Wall aboard his homemade submarine. An unprecedented revelation of a killer and the journey his young helpers take as they reckon with their own complicity and prepare to testify.”

Viggo Mortensen is making his directing debut in Falling, where he stars (David Cronenberg, one of his biggest influences also appears) opposite Lance Henriksen, above] while British actress Ramola Garai is likewise moving behind the camera to direct the Midnight entry Amulet. Starring Imelda Staunton and talented Romanian actor Alec Secareanu (from God’s Own Country), it follows a homeless ex-soldier taken in by a young woman and her dying mother, and there’s something sinister going on.

Not to forget the formidable talent of British actress Andrea Riseborough who is doing double duty starring as an aid worker in the romantic drama Luxor and in Brandon Cronenberg’s Possessor [above] about a secretive organisation using brain-implant technology to inhabit other people’s bodies. Watch out for Riseborough in the Roberto Saviano-scripted series, ZeroZeroZero, one of the best things in Venice, and that is coming this year to SBS.

The Sundance Film Festival is on January 23 – February 2, 2020

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