Highlights of films and characters from the virtual festival


The recently concluded Sundance Film Festival was a lonely affair — at least IRL, as the kids say.

The impressive pivot the festival made in January 2021 was as cool as it was new back then. This year’s episode, which ended around midnight on Sunday, was, in a way that mattered, equally engaging, especially as the festival had to drop the online and in-person hybrid it had planned. to return exclusively to an online experience. When the Grammys announced the postponement of their show, omicron prevailed and Sundance alerted attendees, press and guests that it was going virtual.

And so the loneliness.

This year’s Sundance roundup highlights the wondrous or miserable or hilarious or inspiring characters — some imagined, others the real protagonists of the documentary — who made their films memorable. For 10 days these became my people. Their films were among the best at Sundance. Seek their company in the coming months when the films hit theaters, streaming platforms or at a local film festival.

CNN Movies

Anti-corruption activist Alexie Navalny and star of Daniel Roher’s ‘Navalny’ sits down for an interview nearly a year after an assassination attempt and just before returning to Russia.

Alexie Navalny. Director Daniel Roher’s documentary “Navalny” was a late addition to the festival and the last film screened. What an entry. The documentary about Putin’s rival, anti-corruption activist and target of a poison assassination attempt won the People’s Choice Award for American Documentary as well as the Favorite Festival Award. Roher made a beautiful and tense film, that’s for sure. But it’s its subject, Alexie Navalny – tall, eloquent, funny and determined – that makes it a star vehicle. If he and his wife Yulia feed a small pony and a donkey in Germany (where he went to recover from a nerve agent attack); where he sits for a formal interview brushing off Roher’s most pessimistic question; or, in the film’s most notable scene, he telephones one of the conspirators in the failed assassination, Navalny transfixes. And “Navalny” makes it clear that what the imprisoned dissident faces is diabolical and sometimes absurd. (HBO Max and CNN Plus, Spring 2022)

Aisha. Smart, warm and undocumented, Aisha (Anna Diop) lands a job as a nanny to a worried couple in Manhattan. Her new charge is gentle and quickly takes care of her caregiver. Aisha’s own young son is 4,300 miles away in Sierra Leone. She saved, saved, and sent money to bring him to the United States. As writer-director Nikyatu Jusu zigzags through a horror story flavored with West African folklore, Aisha’s situation grows increasingly dark and chilling. While the film pays homage to “Black Girl” (1966) by the late great Senegalese director Ousmane Sembène, the color, the sound-saturated scenes, the enhancement of the domestic space is entirely Jusu. Winner of the US Dramatic competition, “Nanny” announces a new and gifted cinematic force.

Nadeem Shehzad and Mohammad Saud. New Delhi brothers Nadeem and Mohammad love birds. In particular, they have a constant affection for the black kite. The bird of prey gets its name from its smooth arcs in the air. The air and its slow poisoning is a theme in director Shaunak Sen’s tenderly crafted documentary about these bird rescuers. The film is agitated. Not only is the air dropping more and more kites, but sectarian tensions in New Delhi are becoming deadly. But these brothers – their affection for each other, their overlapping but different ways of embracing the world – are deeply genuine even if their devotion seems like great literature.

Sundance Film Festival

Andrew (Cooper Raiff, left) and Domino (Dakota Johnson) share complicated chemistry in US Dramatic Audience Award-winning “Cha Cha Real Slow.”

Andrew. More than once, in “Cha Cha Real Smooth,” a jolt of joy lights up protagonist Andrew’s face – so much so that you might want to join him on a dance floor. In the award-winning comedy-drama, the recent college grad discovers he has a knack for getting the party started at Long Island bar and bat mitzvahs. Writer-director Cooper Raiff, who plays Andrew, infuses his charming, hapless character with easy, endearing aplomb. When Andrew falls for Domino (Dakota Johnson) and befriends his daughter, Lola, who is on the autism spectrum, it’s hard not to root for him — for them — against your best instincts. (Earlier this week, Apple bought the movie.)

Omari Maynard and Bruce McIntyre III. In 2019, when Omari Maynard heard about Bruce McIntyre and the death of his partner, Amber Rose Isaac, during childbirth, he reached out to his fellow Brooklynite. Maynard was sure he knew what McIntyre was going through: he too had lost his pregnant young partner – Shamony Gibson, 30 – shortly after she gave birth to their infant son. “Aftershock,” by directors Paula Eiset and Tonya Lewis Lee, about the crisis of maternal deaths among black women (regardless of social status), won the Impact for Change Special Jury Prize. Well Named. The documentary is gripping, gripping and in-depth as it presents the data and engages a number of compelling characters who ask the tough questions and challenge the biases that plague the healthcare system. But it’s these two young men who turn their grief into action and provide “Aftershock” with its touching fury and deep compassion.

The Janes. The group of women who formed a collective in Chicago in the late 1960s to provide women with access to safe abortions got their big shots in two films, each of them engaging. In “Call Jane”, Elizabeth Banks plays Joy, a suburban wife and mother who becomes increasingly involved in an underground group led by Virginia (Sigourney Weaver). As good as the cast in the fictional film is, the real Janes interviewed in “The Janes” documentary inspire with their candor and stories about those years just before Roe v. Wade.

Sony Pictures Classics, provided by Sundance Film Festival

Bill Nighy is at his best as a man facing the worst in “Living.”

Williams. Bill Nighy is often a pleasure. In the delicately paced drama “Living,” he is a treasure. Here he portrays the well-regarded but cold bureaucrat Williams, quietly working and bullying his underlings in post-World War II London. When he learns that he is terminally ill, he begins to thaw out – very…so…slightly. If this setup sounds familiar, it’s because the film is a remake of Akira Kurosawa’s “Ikiru,” here adapted by Kazuo Ishiguro (“Remains of the Day”) and directed with visual grace by Oliver Hermanus.

Nancy Wood and Leo Grande. It’s so good to be a fly on the wall of the hotel room that retired schoolteacher and widow Nancy Stokes got for a tryst, one intended to introduce her to sexual pleasure untapped in his marriage. In the smart and charming comedy-drama “Good Luck to You, Leo Grande”, she also got a male escort whose love name is Leo Grande. Emma Thompson is great as Nancy, but it’s Daryl McCormack as a really good guy at his job that’s a revelation.

Isabel Castro, Impact Partners, courtesy of Sundance Film Festival

Doris Muñoz is the heart, soul and voice of Isabel Castro’s documentary, “Mija”.

Doris Munoz and Jacks Haupt. Musical comedy manager Doris Muñoz is on a roll as 2020 begins. Her star client, Mexican-American pop star Cuco, continues her ascent. Their work together helps fund her parents’ legal bills and green card applications. The youngest of three children, Doris was the only one born in the United States. Then she and her client separated and COVID-19 hit. Isabel Castro’s “Mija” documentary captures Doris’ saga with rich visual art and sound design. When Muñoz reaches out to a potential new client, the film takes a wild and brief leap from Los Angeles to Dallas where Chicana singer Jacks Haupt harbors her own dreams. She too is the child of undocumented parents. These girls, these “mijas”, are the inspiring stars of Castro’s beautifully crafted and unique debut.


Jake (Colin Farrell), Kyra (Jodie Turner-Smith), Yang (Justin H. Min) and Mika (Malea Emma Tjandrawidjaja) at a happier time in “After Yang.”

Yang: When the titular techno-sapien in “After Yang” breaks down at the start of director Koganada’s deliciously hushed drama, it leads to grief and uncertainty in Jake and Kyra’s home. (Colin Farrell and Jodie Turner-Smith portray the couple, who bought Yang (Justin H. Min) to be the culturally knowledgeable and racially similar brother of their adopted Chinese daughter. In trying to fix what was wrong with Yang, they discover just how complex being (human) is. It’s a tale of the near future that the late master of dystopian literature Philip K. Dick might dream up, but with a tenderness that increasingly seems like a trait of Kogonada (In theaters and streaming on Showtime March 4)

Maria and Nevena (or the Wicked Witch and the Curious Witch). In the magnificent Macedonian horror film “You Won’t be Alone”, a mother hides her daughter in a cave, hoping to escape the claim that the witch Maria has laid on her baby. It does not work. When Nevena reaches her majority, the disfigured devil transforms the young woman into a witch. Nevena’s discovery of the world is often touching and just as often deadly. Meanwhile, the dance of need and rebuff between Maria and Nevena is heavy and, yes, sometimes fun. Eastern European folklore meets the poetic splendor of Terrence Malick in the impressive debut of Australian screenwriter and director Goran Stolevski. (Theatrical release April 1)

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