Sundance 2014: Cutter Hodierne, Damien Chazelle, Kat Candler & Mona Fastvold Among Lucky 16 U.S. Dramatic Comp Selections

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As I had predicted here, names such as Cutter Hodierne, Kat Candler, Maya Forbes, Mona Fastvold and Damien Chazelle would be among the invited guests at the ’14 edition of the Sundance Film Festival. It was such a strong year that even some items that I thought would be dark horse/long shots and might be looking at a fest berth from the sidelines are considered definite dramatic comp material, while some that was fully expecting to break the line-up have been passed up.

Horror “labeled” directors Carter Smith (Jamie Marks Is Dead) and Jim Mickle (Cold in July) broke into the line-up that is usually reserved for the newbie type of director and are coming in with perhaps different genre material. We’re glad to see Justin Simien’s Dear White People break into the 16 – it also acts as the long awaited return of Duly Noted producer Effie Brown. Actor John Slattery is all high fives with his directing debut God’s Pocket which goes against a film that cost next to nothing (shot in Super-8) with the far from being a rookie entry from Joe Swanberg. Helmer David Zellner was completely off our radar – he’ll return to Park City with Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter. And finally fans of Kristen Stewart will see orange – as in jumpsuit orange from Guantanamo in Peter Sattler’s directing debut. Blood Simple won back in 1985 and previous winners include Frozen River (2008), Precious (2009), Winter’s Bone (2010), Like Crazy (2011), Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012) and last year’s Fruitvale Station. The IONCINEMA.com team will of course be on hand to cover all 16 competition titles: look for interviews and reviews in about six weeks from now. Here are the 16 items in the Dramatic Comp.

“Camp X-Ray” — Directed and written by Peter Sattler. A young female guard at Guantanamo Bay forms an unlikely friendship with one of the detainees. Cast: Kristen Stewart, Payman Maadi, Lane Garrison, J.J. Soria, John Carroll Lynch.

“Cold in July” — Directed by Jim Mickle, written by Nick Damici. A small-town Texas man kills a home intruder, only to see his life violently unravel in Mickle’s follow-up to “We Are What We Are.” Cast: Michael C. Hall, Don Johnson, Sam Shepard, Vinessa Shaw, Nick Damici, Wyatt Russell.

“Dear White People” — Directed and written by Justin Simien. A tongue-in-cheek look at racial identity at an Ivy League university, where a riot breaks out over an “African-American-themed” party thrown by white students. Cast: Tyler Williams, Tessa Thompson, Teyonah Parris, Brandon Bell.

“Fishing Without Nets” (U.S.-Somalia-Kenya) — Directed by Cutter Hodierne, written by Hodierne, John Hibey and David Burkman. This story of pirates in Somalia is told from the perspective of a struggling young local fisherman. Cast: Abdikani Muktar, Abdi Siad, Abduwwhali Faarah, Abdikhadir Hassan, Reda Kateb, Idil Ibrahim.

“God’s Pocket” — Directed John Slattery, written by Slattery, Alex Metcalf. The story of a man trying to conceal the truth about the construction “accident” that killed his stepson. Cast: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Richard Jenkins, Christina Hendricks, John Turturro.

“Happy Christmas” — Directed and written by Joe Swanberg. A young woman breaks up with her boyfriend and then moves in with her older brother, his wife, and their 2-year-old son. Cast: Anna Kendrick, Melanie Lynskey, Mark Webber, Lena Dunham, Swanberg.

“Hellion” — Directed and written by Kat Candler. A 13-year-old delinquent must get his act together, along with his emotionally absent dad, in order to bring back his little brother, who’s been taken away by child protective services. Cast: Aaron Paul, Juliette Lewis, Josh Wiggins, Deke Garner, Jonny Mars, Walt Roberts.

“Infinitely Polar Bear” — Directed and written by Maya Forbes. A manic-depressive father tries to win back his wife by taking full responsibility of their two young daughters. Cast: Mark Ruffalo, Zoe Saldana, Imogene Wolodarsky, Ashley Aufderheide.

“Jamie Marks Is Dead” — Directed and written by Carter Smith. A ghost visits his former classmate, hoping to find the love and friendship he never experienced in life. Cast: Cameron Monaghan, Noah Silver, Morgan Saylor, Judy Greer, Madisen Beaty, Liv Tyler.

“Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter” — Directed by David Zellner, written by David and Nathan Zellner. A lonely Japanese woman abandons her structured life in Tokyo to seek a satchel of money rumoredly hidden in the Minnesota wilderness. Cast: Rinko Kikuchi.

“Life After Beth” — Directed and written by Jeff Baena. A man is devastated by his girlfriend’s unexpected death, but receives a second chance at love when she mysteriously returns. Cast: Aubrey Plaza, Dave DeHaan, John C. Reilly, Molly Shannon, Cheryl Hines, Paul Reiser.

“Low Down” — Directed by Jeff Preiss, written by Amy Albany and Topper Lilien. This adaptation of Albany’s memoir explores her journey to adulthood while being raised by her troubled father, bebop pianist Joe Albany. Cast: John Hawkes, Elle Fanning, Glenn Close, Lena Headey, Peter Dinklage, Flea.

“The Skeleton Twins” — Directed by Craig Johnson, written by Johnson and Mark Heyman. An estranged brother and sister coincidentally cheat death on the same day, prompting a reunion. Cast: Bill Hader, Kristen Wiig, Luke Wilson, Ty Burrell, Boyd Holbrook, Joanna Gleason.

“The Sleepwalker” (U.S.-Norway) — Directed by Mona Fastvold, written by Fastvold, Brady Corbet. A young couple see their lives violently interrupted when unexpected guests arrive at their secluded estate. Cast: Gitte Witt, Christopher Abbott, Corbet, Stephanie Ellis.

“Song One” — Directed and written by Kate Barker-Froyland. When an accident leaves her brother comatose, a woman sets out to retrace his life as an aspiring musician, leading to an unexpected relationship against the backdrop of Brooklyn’s music scene. Cast: Anne Hathaway, Johnny Flynn, Mary Steenburgen, Ben Rosenfield.

“Whiplash” — Directed and written by Damien Chazelle. A talented young drummer pursues perfection at any cost in Chazelle’s follow-up to “Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench.” Cast: Miles Teller, J.K. Simmons.

Eric Lavallée is the founder, editor-in-chief and film critic at IONCINEMA.com (founded in 2000). Eric splits his time between his home base in Montreal, NYC, and is a regular at Sundance, Cannes and TIFF. He has a BFA in Film Studies at the Mel Hoppenheim School of Cinema. In 2013 he served as a Narrative Competition Jury Member at the SXSW Film Festival. Top Films From Contemporary Film Auteurs: Almodóvar (Talk to Her), Coen Bros. (Fargo), Dardennes (La Promesse), Haneke (Caché), Hsiao-Hsien (Three Times), Kar-wai (In the Mood for Love), Kiarostami (Taste of Cherry), Lynch (Mulholland Dr.), Tarantino (Pulp Fiction), Van Sant (My Own Private Idaho), von Trier (Breaking the Waves)