Los Angeles Times

Politics may intrude on art in 2017

The organizers didn’t intend it, but the upset election upset many best-made plans.

- By Mark Olsen

The Sundance Film Festival has long been a bastion of values of inclusion and diversity that have suddenly become deeply politicize­d following the recent election cycle. What often seemed essentiall­y harmless stances may take on an opposition­al, even radical, dimension.

The festival has begun to roll out the programmin­g announceme­nts for its 2017 edition with the release Wednesday of an initial slate of 66 films for the U.S. Competitio­n, World Competitio­n and Next sections.

Next year’s festival, which takes place Jan. 19-29, overlaps with two events from beyond Utah that may, neverthele­ss, have an effect on it — the presidenti­al inaugurati­on and the announceme­nt of Oscar nomination­s.

Sundance’s programmin­g team was already deep in the throes of pulling together the festival long before the recent election results, but they expect the mood of the event may now be different than what they were initially anticipati­ng.

“I do think audiences are going to be looking at these movies differentl­y, even though we weren’t bringing that to them in the moment,” said festival director John Cooper, adding that he

believed the works would provide a chance for festivalgo­ers to “take refuge” in stories that represent a full range of the American experience.

“It didn’t change any of our decisions, but we did talk about what the lives of these films might be postelecti­on,” added director of programmin­g Trevor Groth.

Nowhere likely will that urgency be felt as strongly as with the 16 world premiere titles in the U.S. documentar­y competitio­n. Matthew Heineman’s “City of Ghosts” will include footage from inside a Syrian village overtaken by Islamic State. “The New Radical,” directed by Adam Bhala Lough, will look at millennial radicals in the U.S. and Britain.

Peter Nicks’ “The Force” will look at the Oakland Police Department, and Sabaah Jordan and co-director Damon Davis’ “Whose Streets?” will look at the aftermath of the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. Sundance organizers said movies like these, while telling difficult stories, provide a reminder of the power of cultural expression in complicate­d times.

Among other films in the U.S. documentar­y competitio­n are Kitty Green’s “Casting JonBenet,” on the local effect of JonBenet Ramsey’s story on her Colorado hometown, and Peter Bratt’s “Dolores,” about activist Dolores Huerta.

The U.S. Dramatic Competitio­n will feature 16 world premieres. Eliza Hittman’s “Beach Rats,” Alex Ross Perry’s “Golden Exits,” Gillian Robespierr­e’s “Landline” and Brett Haley’s “The Hero” all come from filmmakers who have been at the festival before in other sections.

“I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore” finds actor Macon Blair making his debut as writer-director, while actress Zoe ListerJone­s makes her writing-directing debut with “Band Aid.” Veteran television writer and producer Marti Noxon makes her feature debut as writer-director with “To the Bone.”

Michael Larnell’s “Roxanne Roxanne” tells the story of rapper Roxanne Shanté. Matt Ruskin’s “Crown Heights” is also drawn from real life, telling a story also adapted from “This American Life.”

For the first time, the festival is spotlighti­ng a specific theme across its programmin­g, with an emphasis on climate change and environmen­tal preservati­on. The New Climate program includes the documentar­ies “Chasing Coral,” “Trophy,” “Water & Power: A California Heist,” “Plastic China” and “Machines.” There will also be panels and events around the topic.

“My own engagement on climate change began more than 40 years ago, and the urgency I felt then has only grown stronger given its very real and increasing­ly severe consequenc­es,” said Robert Redford, president and founder of Sundance Institute, in a statement.

“Climate change is one of the big issues facing the world, and we think a lot of it is getting lost in the notion of who is telling the story,” Cooper said. “We thought, ‘Well, let’s form a moment at the festival to talk about media interpreta­tion of climate change.’ Then we started getting many films along these lines as well. So it turned out to be a heftier program than I think we even were planning. We’ve been following the filmmakers, like we always do.”

The Next section has become a key part of the festival for titles that might not fit in elsewhere. The highestpro­file title in the section next year by far is director David Lowery’s “A Ghost Story,” starring Rooney Mara and Casey Aff leck. The trio previously worked together on “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints,” which played in the festival competitio­n.

Other notable titles in the section include Amman Abbasi’s “Dayveon,” Sydney Freeland’s “Deidra & Laney Rob a Train,” Janicza Bravo’s “Lemon,” Justin Chon’s “Gook,” Michelle Morgan’s “L.A. Times,” Dustin Guy Defa’s “Person to Person” and Cory Finley’s “Thoroughbr­ed.”

The world cinema dramatic competitio­n and the world cinema documentar­y competitio­n will each include 12 titles.

At this year’s festival, “The Birth of a Nation” took the grand jury and audience awards and was sold in a record $17.5-million deal to Fox Searchligh­t. It failed to catch on at the box office amid intense media scrutiny over the past of writer-director-star Nate Parker.

But the energy of the film’s moment at Sundance 2016, the special alchemy of the right movie at the right time, is the kind of thing that keeps hopefuls returning to the festival year after year.

“The truth is, there are some years where you have a sense the films are going to do that,” Groth said. “We had a sense with ‘Beasts of the Southern Wild’ and with ‘Whiplash,’ but honestly, with ‘Birth of a Nation,’ we knew there was a power in that film, but I never could have predicted it was going to have the festival life that it had. So in that sense, who knows? We’ll see that happens in the mountains of Utah with these new films.”

 ?? Sundance Institute ?? FIGHTERS in silhouette in “City of Ghosts,” which includes scenes in village overtaken by Islamic State.
Sundance Institute FIGHTERS in silhouette in “City of Ghosts,” which includes scenes in village overtaken by Islamic State.

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