A Preview Of This Year's Sundance Film Festival

Jan 23, 2020
Originally published on January 23, 2020 6:01 am
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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Filmmakers and film lovers are gathering in Park City, Utah, for the Sundance Film Festival, which is beginning today. NPR's Mandalit del Barco brings us a preview of this year's buzziest independent documentaries and narrative films.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MISS AMERICANA AND THE HEARTBREAK PRINCE")

TAYLOR SWIFT: (Singing) Miss Americana and The Heartbreak Prince...

MANDALIT DEL BARCO, BYLINE: Taylor Swift is the star of a documentary premiering tonight at Sundance. Hillary Clinton is the subject of another doc.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, "HILLARY")

HILLARY CLINTON: I provoked strong opinions. What you see is what you get.

DEL BARCO: The Go-Go's also have a doc about them, so do Natalie Wood and Bruce Lee.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, "BE WATER")

BRUCE LEE: Martial art has a very, very deep meaning as far as my life is concerned because...

DEL BARCO: Real-life people like Gloria Steinem are also the subject of feature films, but this independent film festival prides itself on showcasing up-and-comers.

JOHN COOPER: It's a festival of discovery still. And there's a lot that's for sale. It's going to be a exciting moment.

DEL BARCO: John Cooper is the director of the Sundance Film Festival.

COOPER: We think of ourselves as laying the groundwork for kind of the cultural landscape in the next year.

DEL BARCO: Over the years, many Sundance films have gone on to win Oscars - "Little Miss Sunshine," "Boyhood" and "Get Out." Cooper has watched them all, having started with the organization in 1990. He says, since then, independent cinema is no longer just in the art house, it's streaming from YouTube to Netflix to emerging platforms. But Cooper says there's something that unites all the programming at Sundance.

COOPER: There's a spirit to it. There is a authenticity, if you want to use that word. There's a point of view by the director that is maybe out of the norm of what is normally commercial. That's what I think of as independent. And you kind of know it when you see it.

DEL BARCO: This will be Cooper's final year as the festival's director. As he looks back at his legacy, he says he's proud of helping the festival evolve.

COOPER: I said, well, we have to be world class, as opposed to this, oh, it's OK, we're a little scruffy, you know. So what, people have to wait in the cold? It's all part of the fun.

DEL BARCO: This year, the Sundance slate will include new films from Mexico and a number of features with Latinx themes in competition. That includes "Mucho Mucho Amor," a documentary about Puerto Rican astrologer Walter Mercado...

(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, "MUCHO MUCHO AMOR")

WALTER MERCADO: For 15 minutes, I was in a monologue. Aries, Taurus, Gemini, Cancer, the moon. Leo, you are the son. Virgo, Mercury, Libra, Venus.

DEL BARCO: ...And another doc about Lin-Manuel Miranda and his father, Luis.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, "SIEMPRE, LUIS")

LIN-MANUEL MIRANDA: You're a great dad, and you're a great man. Go save Puerto Rico.

LUIS MIRANDA: I got to save Puerto Rico.

LIN-MANUEL MIRANDA: Bye.

LUIS MIRANDA: Bye.

LIN-MANUEL MIRANDA: Break a leg.

DEL BARCO: There will be panels featuring actresses America Ferrera and Eva Longoria, and also one on what they're calling Mexico's New New Wave. Fanny Veliz Grande and Nelson Grande they are spearheading one of the gathering spaces for the Latinx film community.

NELSON GRANDE: So Latinos are showing up to Sundance this year.

FANNY VELIZ GRANDE: Yes. We're going to be in the house (laughter).

N GRANDE: Heck, yeah - the fun house.

DEL BARCO: Fifteen percent of Sundance's 128 feature films were directed by one or more people who identify as LGBTQ. There are films focused on disabilities, including the highly anticipated documentary "Crip Camp." The African American independent film community also has a hub, the Blackhouse, a nonprofit that supports the black film community. This year, its foundation is supporting 55 films, including "Charm City Kings."

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "CHARM CITY KINGS")

JAHI DI'ALLO WINSTON: (As Mouse) One way or another, I'm finna (ph) be with the clique, and nobody going to stop me.

DEL BARCO: Brickson Diamond, the chair of the Blackhouse Foundation, says Sundance is not just about watching movies. It's about new ideas and technologies and being connected.

BRICKSON DIAMOND: There's a camaraderie. There's a community. And I think that connectedness is what keeps it vital because you're isolated, trapped on this mountain. (Laughter) It's just wet and cold and pretty miserable. And no matter how many devices you have, you're still standing in line trying to get in to see the hottest movie of the festival.

DEL BARCO: Heading to hot movies on a cold mountain, I'm Mandalit del Barco. NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.