Sundance Film Festival is only a day away (January 19-29), and will showcase some of the best independent films that we will see all year! Check out some of the films highlighted below, and if you can’t make it to the festival then be sure to track these amazing films/projects so that you can check them out when they visit a city near you at some point this year!
Black women are shining at this year’s festival, so we wanted to share an extra spotlight on them! The works spans across films (in all genres), shorts, documentaries, television series, and everything in between!
Synopses Provided via Sundance Institute:
Natalie Paul (Actress) – Crown Heights
On April 10, 1980, a shot rang out on the streets of Crown Heights, igniting a decades-long quest for justice in this harrowing true story. Colin Warner, played with heartbreaking sincerity by Lakeith Stanfield, is arrested and tried for a crime he did not commit, a victim of a deeply broken system that refuses to listen. Quick to throw him away, the court wrongfully convicts him. But as Colin loses hope to reclaim an innocence that has been cast aside, his best friend, Carl King, devotes his life to restoring Colin’s freedom, doggedly pursuing every lead for years.
Maggie Betts (Writer/Director) – Novitiate
Spanning the early 1950s through the mid-’60s, this coming-of-age story is about a young girl’s first love. In this case, her first love is God. Raised by a deeply caring, non-religious mother, Cathleen is drawn to the heady mysticism of the lives of Catholic nuns and their undying romantic devotion to their chosen husband, Jesus Christ. She enrolls in a training program with The Sisters of Blessed Rose, a cloistered convent. As Cathleen progresses from the postulant to the novitiate levels of her tutelage, her faith is challenged by the harsh, often inhumane realities of being a nun, just as Pope John XXIII’s announcement of the Second Vatican Council threatens to alter the course of nuns’ lives forever.
Chanté Adams (Actress) & Nia Long (Actress) – Roxanne Roxanne
In 1984, Lolita Shanté Gooden was just another 14-year-old living in New York’s Queensbridge projects. When she famously laid down the lyrics to “Roxanne’s Revenge”—an underground answer rap to U.T.F.O.’s popular single “Roxanne, Roxanne”—she sparked one of the earliest and most significant beefs in hip-hop history, establishing herself as a feared battle emcee in a genre on the verge of worldwide recognition. With fame firmly in her grasp, Roxanne Shanté was still just a teenager with the weight of the world on her shoulders, hustling to provide for her family while defending herself from the perils of life in the projects.
Jessica Williams (Actress) – The Incredible Jessica James
Jessica James (Jessica Williams), an aspiring playwright in New York City, is trying hard to get over a recent breakup with her boyfriend. She sees light at the end of the tunnel when she meets Boone (Chris O’Dowd), who’s also recovering from a recent break-up. Together, they figure out a way to make it through the tough times, while also realizing they like each other—a lot.
Dee Rees (Writer/Director) – Mudbound
Set in the post-WWII South, this epic pioneer story pits two families against a barbaric social hierarchy and an unrelenting landscape as they simultaneously fight the battle at home and the battle abroad. Newly transplanted from the quiet civility of Memphis, the McAllans are underprepared and overly hopeful for Henry’s grandiose farming dreams while Laura strives to keep the faith in her husband’s losing venture. For Hap and Florence Jackson, whose families have worked the land for generations, every day is a losing venture as they struggle bravely to build some small dream of their own. The war upends both families, as their returning loved ones, Jamie and Ronsel, forge a fast, uneasy friendship that challenges them all.
Marcia Smith (Writer) – Tell Them We Are Rising: The Story of Black Colleges and Universities
African Americans who would not be denied a higher education played an enormous part in propelling the epic journey toward liberation for Black people in the United States. Though much of their history was eclipsed by the explosiveness of the 1960s, HBCUs played a central role in the shaping of Black life, creating a Black middle class and dismantling segregation. Through this rich tapestry of archival photos, letters, diaries, home movies, a variety of never before seen or heard media, and memorable testimonials with key students, staff, faculty, and alumni, Nelson brings into sharp focus the pivotal role the 150-year history of HBCUs has played in American history, culture, and national identity.
Ashleigh Murray (Actress), Rachel Crow (Actress), Danielle Nicolet (Actress), and Sasheer Zamata (Actress) – Deidra & Laney Rob A Train
Deidra Tanner is a whip-smart high school senior who sells answers to chemistry tests to save up for college, all the while helping her mother raise her stubborn little sister, Laney, and her brother, Jet. It’s more than your average teenager can handle, but Deidra runs a tight ship—that is, until Mom blows a mental gasket at her retail job and throws a high-end TV on the pavement. When Deidra realizes that jail time is ironically proving to be a healthy and therapeutic break from single parent life for her mom, her life is derailed. When she conjures up the will to face her new circumstances, Deidra focuses her talents on the train tracks in her own backyard.
Janicza Bravo (Writer/Director) – Lemon
Isaac Lachmann has seen better days. His acting career is tanking, while his colleagues succeed; his blind girlfriend of 10 years plans to leave him; and his own family singles him out as a constant disappointment at their latest reunion. Even as he takes a chance on new romance, Isaac struggles to define his place in a world that has seemingly turned against him.
Aaliyah Williams (Executive Producer) – Genti-Fied
Bicultural millennials and old-school pillars of the Boyle Heights neighborhood of Los Angeles hustle to maintain their cultural identity when faced with an influx of outsiders to their traditionally Latino community. Each episode of this comedic drama focuses on a different character as they survey the complications and benefits of modern gentrification. The Festival debuts three episodes of this short form episodic series.
Rashida Jones (Director) – Hot Girls Wanted: Turned On
Porn has gone mainstream; the question is, can we handle it? This exploration of the intersection of sex and technology is told through the stories of the people whose lives are defined by the current explosion of internet porn—whether they’re creating it, consuming it, or both. The Festival will debut an episode titled “Women on Top,” directed by Rashida Jones, which explores a subculture of women bringing feminist philosophies into their workplace, with the idea that female-friendly porn can exist.
Gina Prince-Bythewood (Creator), Sanaa Lathan (Actress) – Shots Fired
This dramatic new event series examines the dangerous aftermath of racially charged shootings in a small North Carolina town. An expert investigator digs into the cases alongside a special prosecutor, and together they navigate the media attention, public debate, and social unrest that comes with such volatile cases—seeking justice before the divided town erupts. As they pull back the layers of both cases, they suspect a cover-up that may involve some of the state’s most powerful people, and learn that the truth is rarely black and white.
Naima Ramos-Chapman (Producer) – 18 BLACK GIRLS / BOYS AGES 1-18 WHO HAVE ARRIVED AT THE SINGULARITY AND ARE THUS SPIRITUAL MACHINES: $X IN AN EDITION OF $97 QUADRILLION
In this pair of live performances, Nance googles the phrase “one-year-old black boy” and “one-year-old black girl,” ascending in age to 18, and allows Google’s “popular searches” algorithm to populate what words will follow. He then peruses the results based on what Google assumes a search for a black boy or girl is.
As with each gaze into the mirror, each performance is unique, and the results are surprising, sobering, and often provocative. The liveness and sequential nature of the performances both parallels and simulates the experience of observing somebody age over time. The degree to which small differences in search terms result in radically different results and attitudes exposes the precarious position that black children find themselves in throughout their lives. As the searches progress in age, the viewer bears witness to the shifting attitudes towards black children of different ages and the increasing degree to which criminal behavior is attached to the search terms.
Ifunanya Maduka (Writer/Director/Producer) – Waiting for Hassana
In 2014, 276 teenage girls came together for exams in Chibok, Nigeria—by dawn, nearly all had disappeared, and their school was burned to the ground. Jessica, an escapee, shares her haunting account of a friendship violently interrupted by Boko Haram.
Jessica Beshir (Writer/Director/Cinematographer) – Hairat
One man’s nightly ritual brings solace to the lovelorn of Harar.
Christine Turner (Writer/Director) – Hold On
Family bonds are tested when a young man is left to care for his grandmother one morning.