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2013 Sundance Film Fest: Quality offerings from Larrain, Nichols, Wheatley and Polley for Spotlight Program

Sundance announced it’s Spotlight program selections today, which consists of plum titles that have enjoyed prestigious premieres at other festivals from the year before. Last year, Sundance nabbed Andrea Arnold’s Wuthering Heights, Phillippe Falardeau’s Monsieur Lazhar, and Lynn Shelton’s Your Sister’s Sister, to name a few. This year, Sundance has amassed a well chosen selection for Spotlight, rolling out Israel’s submission for Best Foreign Language Film, the New York Film Fest premiered Fill the Void (which was just nominated for Independent Spirit Awards for Best First Film and Best First Screenplay), followed by several high profile Cannes titles, like Pablo Larrain’s No, Ben Wheatley’s Sightseers, Anurag Kashrap’s five hour plus epic Gangs of Wasseypur, and Jeff Nichols’ latest, Mud (which avoided screening at the heavyweight Fall festivals, like Toronto and Venice – and which we accurately predicted). Then, from TIFF and Venice we get another shot at seeing Sarah Polley’s documentary, Stories We Tell, and, lastly, Dror Moreh’s Telluride preemed doc, The Gatekeepers.

Last year, Sundance’s Spotlight program was filled with lots of hot word-of-mouth titles and this year is no exception. However, it’s great to see some titles in here that seem to have flown under the radar, like Kashyap’s epic Gangs and two documentaries that deserve all the attention they can get. And best of all, three very talented and burgeoning filmmakers, Jeff Nichols, Pablo Larrain, and Ben Wheatley get the continued spotlight, all who’ve had brilliant previous titles, that, while critically acclaimed, never received the rightful wider theatrical releases they deserved.

Fill the Void / Israel (Director and screenwriter: Rama Burshtein) — A devout 18-year-old Israeli is pressured to marry the husband of her late sister. Declaring her independence is not an option in Tel Aviv’s ultra-Orthodox Hasidic community, where religious law, tradition and the rabbi’s word are absolute. Cast: Hadas Yaron, Yiftach Klein, Irit Sheleg, Chaim Sharir, Razia Israeli, Hila Feldman.

Gangs of Wasseypur / India (Director: Anurag Kashyap, Screenwriters: Anurag Kashyap, Zeishan Quadri) — Exiled and outcast for robbing British trains, Shahid Khan spurs a battle for revenge that passes down generations. Shahid’s son vows to get his father’s honor back, becoming the most feared man in the Indian town of Wasseypur. Cast: Manoj Bajpai, Nawazuddin Siddique, Richa Chadda, Huma Qureshi, Tigmanshu Dhulia. U.S. Premiere

The Gatekeepers (documentary) / Israel, Germany, Belgium, France (Director: Dror Moreh) — Since its stunning military victory in 1967, Israel has hoped to achieve a long-lasting peace. Forty-five years later, this has yet to happen. Six former heads of Israel’s Secret Service reflect on the successes and failures of the “peace process.”

Mud / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Jeff Nichols) — Two teenage boys encounter a fugitive and form a pact to help him evade the bounty hunters on his trail and reunite him with his true love. Cast: Matthew McConaughey, Tye Sheridan, Jacob Lofland, Reese Witherspoon. North American Premiere

No / Chile, U.S.A. (Director: Pablo Larraín, Screenwriter: Pedro Peirano) — When Chilean military dictator Augusto Pinochet calls for a referendum to decide his permanence in power, the opposition persuades a young advertising executive to head its campaign. With limited resources and under scrutiny, he conceives a plan to win the election. Cast: Gael García Bernal, Alfredo Castro, Antonia Zegers, Luis Gnecco, Marcial Tagle, Néstor Cantillana.

Sightseers / United Kingdom (Director: Ben Wheatley, Screenwriters: Alice Lowe, Steve Oram) — Chris wants to show girlfriend Tina his world, but when events conspire against the couple, their dream caravan holiday takes a very wrong turn. Cast: Alice Lowe, Steve Oram. U.S. Premiere

Stories We Tell (documentary) / Canada (Director: Sarah Polley) — Sarah Polley is both filmmaker and detective as she investigates the secrets kept by a family of storytellers. She unravels the paradoxes to reveal the essence of family: always complicated, warmly messy and fiercely loving.

Los Angeles based Nicholas Bell is's Chief Film Critic and covers film festivals such as Sundance, Berlin, Cannes and TIFF. He is part of the critic groups on Rotten Tomatoes, The Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA), the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and GALECA. His top 3 for 2021: France (Bruno Dumont), Passing (Rebecca Hall) and Nightmare Alley (Guillermo Del Toro). He was a jury member at the 2019 Cleveland International Film Festival.

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