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2015 Sundance Film Festival Predictions List: An Introduction

Whether you are a filmmaker, or one of the Sundance programmers whose task it is to identify the films that make up a line-up, it is indeed the most wonderful, panic-filled and nerve racking time of the year. The 31st edition of the Sundance Film Festival kicks off on January 22nd with Park City and Salt Lake City playing host to some of the more innovative, thought-provoking narrative and non-fiction films of 2015. Last year, a Jenga tall order of 4,057 features and 8,161 shorts were submitted. Now let’s think about those numbers for a second.

Twenty years ago, Terry Zwigoff’s Crumb claimed the Grand Jury Prize Documentary award, Living in Oblivion‘s Tom DiCillo was honored with the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award, and Edward Burns’ micro-budgeted The Brothers McMullen (there is a read-worthy, lively, eleventh hour account on how it was submitted to the fest in Ted Hope’s “Hope for Film”) won the Grand Jury Prize Dramatic prize. Engrained in the Sundance folklore is the ongoing blood, sweat and tears struggle of the American independent filmmaker, which also acts as a testament to the hard-working indie film community at large (shout out goes to the producers and technicians behind the camera). There is a method to the madness, and it’ll likely never change.

Prior to the exciting announcements that will be made in early December, last week I proposed four days worth of predictions, a total of 80 films (including 15 docu films) that have, in my opinion Sundance written all over them. Truth be told, some are expected longshots, there are the next to no-shots, some will land elsewhere and a good chunk will indeed be part of the line-up. Here is a batch of 30 other titles that we took a long, hard look at and finally didn’t include in our prediction profiles, but wouldn’t be surprised if a handful do trickle into one of the ten programmed sections.

  • Wolf Creek (Sundance ’05) director Greg Mclean has Grand Canyon set, family misadventure 6 Miranda Drive in post. The Blumhouse thriller stars Kevin Bacon and Radha Mitchell.
  • Long-time attendee with close to a dozen works featured at the fest (most recently The Invisible War – Sundance ’12) docu filmmaker and cinematographer Kirsten Johnson (seek out Citizenfour) has being filming A Blind Eye for 25 years. This is about a U.S. military surveillance blimp that floats over Kabul, looking down at a one-eyed boy haunted by his loss and a clear-eyed girl staking out her future.
  • Vanessa Hope can certainly benefit from the wealth of indie filmmaking experience that her husband Ted Hope has to offer. Her docu debut All Eyes & Ears – looks at the United States’ foreign policy relationship with China.
  • Starring Dianna Agron, Paz de la Huerta, Chris Zylka and Louisa Krause, Natalia Leite’s directorial debut titled Bare is set in a small town near Nevada, and is about a young girl who meets an older woman, a drifter who has made some drug deals.
  • Bloomin Mud Shuffle is filmmaker Frank V. Ross’ seventh feature. Filmed in 2014, this comedy starring Natasha Lyonne, James Ransone, Joe Swanberg comes on the heels of his last pair in 2010’s Audrey the Trainwreck and Gotham Awards nominated Tiger Tail in Blue. This is ready for 2015 – perhaps…SXSW?
  • Starring Jason Patric, Louisa Krause, Mark Margolis and Carlos Velazquez, video director Eytan Rockaway’s directorial debut belongs to the horror mystery thriller genre. The Confines follows a troubled young woman who, in a last-ditch effort at getting her life together, takes a job working nights as a security guard at an abandoned luxury apartment building.
  • A crime thriller that stars Dan Stevens, John Travolta, Michael Pitt, Christopher Abbott and himself, Jackie Earle Haley broke into directing this May with Criminal Activities. This is about four young men make a risky investment together that puts them in trouble with the mob. Seamus Tierney is the cinematographer on this one.
  • Derick Martini had his debut film, the 2008 preemed Lymelife at the Sundance Directors Lab in 2001, followed with sophomore Hick. His third, The Curse of Downers Grove is based on a screenplay by the one and only Bret Easton Ellis. Kevin Zegers, Lucas Till, Helen Slater, Mark L. Young, Penelope Mitchell, Tom Arnold Tom Arnold, Bella Heathcote star in the horror mystery.
  • A sci-fi film about memory, Claire Carre’s Embers doesn’t appear to be ready for a 2015 deadline, but I’d look out for it Names such as Jason Ritter and Dominique Swain are part of the supporting cast of this micro-budgeted pic.
  • Seeing that he is deeply rooted in Park City (where 2010’s Douchebag, 2011’s Like Crazy and 2013’s Breathe In all got their jump start) Drake Doremus’ Equals – a futuristic love story set in a world where emotions have been eradicated might be a tad too big for Sundance. This stars Kristen Stewart, Nicholas Hoult, Guy Pearce, Jacki Weaver and Kate Lyn Sheil. Perhaps Premieres section?
  • A filmmaker who has been a long time favorite of the Sundance Film Fest, Michael Almereyda latest the Stanley Milgram Project (now called The Experimenter) has been receiving support from the Sundance Institute since 2008. The freak show sees Peter Sarsgaard as Stanley Milgram with Taryn Manning , Winona Ryder, Lori Singer, Kellan Lutz, Anton Yelchin, John Leguizamo and Dennis Haysbert part of the nuttiness: this is about a psychology experiment in which people think they’re delivering electric shocks to an affable stranger strapped into a chair in another room.
  • A docu about a new detective agency in Dallas, started by a group of exonerated men with decades in prison served between them Jamie Meltzer’s Freedom Fighters received a 2013 Sundance Documentary Film Grant. Should be ready for ’15.
  • A comedy that feels more like SXSW than Sundance, Alison Bagnall’s Funny Bunny stars Olly Alexander, Kentucker Audley, Joslyn Jensen and Louis Cancelmi in this tale about an anti-childhood obesity crusader and a trust fund manchild vie for the heart of a reclusive factory farming activist.
  • A film that is in limbo and we’ve haven’t got the slightest clue as to why, starring Anna Kendrick, Miles Teller and Bryan Cranston, it be a total surprise if Get a Job was announced. Dylan Kidd has been a strong support in the lab work done at the Institute.
  • More of a SXSW director than Sundance (he only showed V/H/S in Park City), Ti West might bypass both fests this year with this indie film item with a budget that might be bigger than The House of the Devil, The Innkeepers and The Sacrament combined. In a Valley of Violence stars Karen Gillan, Taissa Farmiga, Ethan Hawke, James Ransone and John Travolta.
  • An euro item with international talent and which is feasibly ready to go, Alain Choquart’s Lady Grey starring Jérémie Renier, Emily Mortimer and Peter Sarsgaard, this is about a French mission set in the Drakensberg mountains.
  • An actor who has been a part of the fest in the past (e.g. California Solo), Sundance might be a kind place for Robert Carlyle to present his directorial debut, a dramedy-thriller that stars himself and Emma Thompson, Ray Winstone. The Legend of Barney Thomson is about a Glasgow barber, lives a life of desperate mediocrity and his uninteresting life is about to go from 0 to 60 in five seconds, as he enters the grotesque and comically absurd world of the serial killer.
  • Madame Bovary has already received its film fest premieres in Telluride and Toronto, but perhaps Millennium Ent. might want to tap an early release date and get this into a Spotlight section showing. Sophie Barthes saw her directorial debut Cold Souls at the fest back in 2008.
  • Currently in post-production, Aly Muritiba’s The Man Who Killed My Beloved Dead grabbed a 2013 Sundance Institute/Mahindra Global Filmmaking Award and looks to be reading for a 2015 international release. Here’s the gist: After the death of his wife, Paulo mourns her each day by repairing her clothes and tending to the personal belongings she’s left behind. One day, he finds a video tape that will change his life.
  • An indie title with a pairing we like in Robert Longstreet and Alexia Rasmussen, A.D. Calvo’s The Missing Girl (Mort, the lonely and disillusioned owner of a comic book shop, and Ellen, the emotionally disruptive, aspiring graphic novelist he’s hired.) could sneak into SXSW.
  • Supported by the folks at Tribeca, the quality might be lacking but the docu subject matter is distinctly indie. Lisa Collins, Mark Schwartzburt’s Oscar’s Comeback is not about the useless golden statue, but about the grand-daddy of indie filmmakers: Oscar Micheaux.
  • The War Within director Joseph Castelo’s third film commenced filming sometime in August so it might not be ready. This is about a student at a private school uses his connections to establish a drug trafficking network at his school. The Preppie Connection stars Sam Page, Lucy Fry, Thomas Mann, Logan Huffman, Amy Hargreaves and Bill Sage.
  • Circa 1998, James Merendino SLC Punk! broke into Sundance. Fast forward to the present day, and we’ve got a sequel to the green hair flavored first instalment. Punk’s Dead features Devon Sawa, Ben Schnetzer, Til Schweiger, Hannah Marks, Sarah Clarke and an ear-busting soundtrack.
  • She landed a coveted Sundance spot with her debut, Wrestling with Alligators in 1998 and we had to wait until 2015 for her sophomore feature. Laurie Weltz’s Scout is about a rebellious Goth girl embarks on a road trip across Texas with a suicidal young man in an effort to find her little sister. Shelley Hennig, Nikki Reed and Ellen Burstyn star.
  • Eddie O’Keefe saw his name land on the Blacklist, but his directing debut Shangri-La Suite which stars Emily Browning, Ashley Greene and Avan Jogia is a drama to look out for. Karen and Jack met in a mental hospital and fell in love with each other. They set out to follow what Jack think is his destiny: killing Elvis Presley.
  • Part of the Sundance folklore with the release of 2008’s Once, John Carney landed on a project with some heavy involvement from U2’s Bono. Sing Street was picked up by the Weinsteins. In post – this might be fitted with a fall release.
  • Deborah Kampmeier broke out of Sundance with 2007’s Hounddog and has a drama fantasy up next with Amy Ferguson, Morgan Spector and Anna Mouglalis. Split is a surreal and epic journey of a young woman who takes to claim her own darkness and sexuality so she can stop putting it into the hands of her abusive lover.
  • Nathan Silver has been rocking the indie fest scene (read our reviews of Soft in the Head and Uncertain Terms) and has perhaps his most ambitious project to date somewhere in post. Stinking Heaven stars Deragh Campbell, Keith Poulson and Hannah Gross in the backdrop of a commune of recovering drug addicts in 1990 suburban New York. Cinematographer is Sean Price Williams.
  • She broke out big in 2008 with Frozen River and for her sophomore film (about a defense attorney who works to get his teenage client acquitted of murdering his wealthy father) she landed the likes of Renée Zellweger, Keanu Reeves, Gugu Mbatha-Raw and James Belushi. It might be a high value acquisitions title set for another fest, but we’re curious as to where Courtney Hunt’s The Whole Truth takes us.
  • Actress Marianna Palka saw her debut film Good Dick land at 2008 edition of the fest and she now appears to be back into creative mode with a pair of projects. The one we are zeroing in on is titled Worthy and stars Gillian Zinser, Jason Ritter, Lukas Haas.

Eric Lavallée is the founder, CEO, editor-in-chief, film journalist, and critic at IONCINEMA.com, established in 2000. A regular at Sundance, Cannes, and Venice, Eric holds a BFA in film studies from the Mel Hoppenheim School of Cinema. In 2013, he served on the narrative competition jury at the SXSW Film Festival. He was an associate producer on Mark Jackson’s "This Teacher" (2018 LA Film Festival, 2018 BFI London). In 2022, he was a New Flesh Juror for Best First Feature at the Fantasia International Film Festival. Current top films for 2023 include The Zone of Interest (Glazer), Inside the Yellow Cocoon Shell (Pham Thien An), Totem (Lila Avilés), La Chimera (Alice Rohrwacher), All Dirt Roads Taste of Salt (Raven Jackson).

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