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2020 Sundance Film Festival

Festival Predictions

2020 Sundance Film Festival Predictions: Sean Durkin, Eliza Hittman, Chloé Zhao

2020 Sundance Film Festival Predictions: Sean Durkin, Eliza Hittman, Chloé Zhao

Mughal Mowgli
Moving from the docu form (2013’s These Birds Walk and 2019’s Ghosts Of Sugar Land) into fiction, Bassam Tariq lassoed Riz Ahmed for his fiction debut. Shot in London this past March, the Cinereach produced project is coined as a spiritual drama that follows a British Pakistani rapper who, on the cusp of his first world tour, is struck down by an illness that threatens to derail his big break. It’ll be a fun comparison point alongside a film like Sound of Metal – also starring Ahmed.
Prediction: U.S. DRAMATIC COMPETITION

Naked Singularity
Well before landing the writing gig for It, Chase Palmer commenced his movie-making career with Sundance preemed 2002 short Neo-Noir. Flash-forward to May of 2019 with John Boyega, Olivia Cooke and Bill Skarsgård to boot, this centers on an idealistic young New York City public defender burned out by the system and in the middle of a mental breakdown. Seeing signs of the universe collapsing around him, he gets suspended and decides to rob a $75M drug deal off one of his clients
U.S. DRAMATIC COMPETITION

The Nest
Almost eight full years since he broke out big with the Sundance preemed Martha Marcy May Marlene, Sean Durkin will likely return to the foothills of Park City to present his sophomore thriller which stars Jude Law and Carrie Coon toplining. This follows Rory (Jude Law), an ambitious entrepreneur who brings his American wife and kids to his native country, England, to explore new business opportunities. After abandoning the sanctuary of their safe American suburban surroundings, the family is plunged into the despair of an archaic ’80s Britain and their unaffordable new life in an English manor house threatens to destroy the family. James White cinematographer Mátyás Erdély joined the Borderline crew for a second time out.
Prediction: U.S. DRAMATIC COMPETITION

Never Rarely Sometimes Always
A Sundance darling with It Felt Like Love (2013) and Beach Rats (2017) hitting all the right notes and indie industry folk noticed. Eliza Hittman‘s third feature is produced by power producers Adele Romanski and Sara Murphy, backed by Focus Features with a young cast featuring Sidney Flanigan, Talia Ryder, Théodore Pellerin, Ryan Eggold, and Sharon Van Etten. This is the intimate portrayal of two teenage girls in rural Pennsylvania. Faced with an unintended pregnancy and a lack of local support, Autumn (Sidney Flanigan) and her cousin Skylar (Talia Ryder) embark on a brave, fraught journey across state lines to New York City.
Prediction: U.S. DRAMATIC COMPETITION

Night Shift
Anne Fontaine (her most recent visit to Sundance was for 2016’s The Innocents) continues on her film per year pace with a project that pits Virginie Efira and Omar Sy in an intimate setting. Based on the novel by Hugo Boris, this is about three Paris police officers who are forced to accept an unusual mission: to drive a stranger back to the border. On the way to the airport, Virginia realizes that their prisoner risks death if he returns to his country. Faced with an unbearable decision, she tries to convince her colleagues to let him go. Berlin is a distinct premiere possibility as well.
Prediction: PREMIERES

Nina Wu
Of all the Cannes’ Un Certain Regard titles (other noteworthy items include Annie Silverstein’s Bull and Beanpole) continuing on their impressive runs moving into the North American market with further festival plays and first quarter 2020 theatrical premieres, it is the #MeToo movement film text of Midi Z that sticks out. After eight years toiling in bit-parts, aspiring actress Nina Wu finally gets her big break with a leading role in a spy thriller set in the 1960s. The part is challenging, not least because it calls for full nudity and explicit sex scenes, and the film’s director is often hard on her. But both the industry and the press are confident that the results are sensationally good. Film Movement have not dated the film yet – so this premiere would be a plus.
Prediction: SPOTLIGHT

Nishkinata
She broke out big with Twilight Portrait in 2011, and followed that up with 2014’s Welcome Home, but Angelina Nikonova squeezed in a US-based horror film that starred Jim Gleason, Ann Smith and Ryan Anthony Williams. Little info is available on the project which wrapped up in early 2019.
Prediction: MIDNIGHT

Nomadland
Back in February, Fox Searchlight Pictures teased the industry with a first still to a project that not many folks knew was in production. Chloé Zhao and players Frances McDormand and David Strathairn must have wrapped up production sometime in the first quarter. This book to film project that explores a phenomenon of older American workers traveling the country like “nomads”, campers in tow, in search of employment. Zhao has presented Songs My Brother Taught Me and The Rider at the festival but there is another high profile picture that might occupy the Premiere section.
Prediction: PREMIERES

Omniboat: A Fastboat Fantasia
The Miami-based filmmaking cooperative Borscht Corp. grabbed a slew of filmmakers headed by Lucas Levya and Jillian Mayer with the participation of Bernardo Britto, Terence Nance, Celia Rowlson-Hall, and the Daniels for what involves a speedboat and other fun in the sun shenanigans.
Prediction: MIDNIGHT

On the Rocks
We wouldn’t normally peg Sofia Coppola as a Sundance possibility (as she pretty much sticks to Cannes), but we never know how A24 might play their cards. Jenny Slate, Bill Murray and Rashida Jones star in the story of a young mother who reconnects with her larger than life playboy father on an adventure through New York.
PREMIERES

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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