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Sundance ’16: Antonio Campos, So Yong Kim, Elizabeth Wood & The Daniels Among U.S. Dramatic Competition

In last year’s selection of sixteen U.S. Dramatic Competition offerings, it was Alfonso Gomez-Rejon’s Me & Earl & the Dying Girl that landed both U.S. Grand Jury Prize: Dramatic and Audience Award: U.S. Dramatic awards, it was Rick Famuyiwa’s Dope who landed the richest deal ($7 million range), it was Patrick Brice’s The Overnight that had the most post festival momentum, it was Marielle Heller’s The Diary of a Teenage Girl that received a longer term accolades (Bel Powley won Best Actress at the Gothams) and it might be Robert Eggers’ The Witch that becomes the cult item we reference back in a decade from now. This year we accurately predicted ten of the sixteen items below. Among the more familiar folk, we have established names such as Antonio Campos (Christine – see pic of Rebecca Hall above) and So Yong Kim (Lovesong). We have second Meera Menon (Equity) and third films Chad Hartigan (Morris from America) and a generous helping of new filmmakers such as Andrew Ahn (Spa Night), Jason Lew (The Free World), Elizabeth Wood (White Girl) and The Daniels (Swiss Army Man). Here are the sixteen of ’16.

U.S. DRAMATIC COMPETITION

As You Are” / U.S.A. (Director: Miles Joris-Peyrafitte, Screenwriters: Miles Joris-Peyrafitte, Madison Harrison) — As You Are is the telling and retelling of a relationship between three teenagers as it traces the course of their friendship through a construction of disparate memories prompted by a police investigation. Cast: Owen Campbell, Charlie Heaton, Amandla Stenberg, John Scurti, Scott Cohen, Mary Stuart Masterson. World Premiere

The Birth of a Nation” / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Nate Parker) — Set against the antebellum South, this story follows Nat Turner, a literate slave and preacher, whose financially strained owner, Samuel Turner, accepts an offer to use Nat’s preaching to subdue unruly slaves. After witnessing countless atrocities against fellow slaves, Nat devises a plan to lead his people to freedom. Cast: Nate Parker, Armie Hammer, Aja Naomi King, Jackie Earle Haley, Gabrielle Union, Mark Boone Jr. World Premiere

Christine” / U.S.A. (Director: Antonio Campos, Screenwriter: Craig Shilowich) — In 1974, a female TV news reporter aims for high standards in life and love in Sarasota, Florida. Missing her mark is not an option. This story is based on true events. Cast: Rebecca Hall, Michael C. Hall, Maria Dizzia, Tracy Letts, J. Smith-Cameron. World Premiere

Equity” / U.S.A. (Director: Meera Menon, Screenwriter: Amy Fox) — A female investment banker, fighting to get a promotion at her competitive Wall Street firm, leads a controversial tech IPO in the post-financial-crisis world, where regulations are tight but pressure to bring in big money remains high. Cast: Anna Gunn, James Purefoy, Sarah Megan Thomas, Alysia Reiner. World Premiere

The Free World” / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Jason Lew) — Following his release from a brutal stretch in prison for crimes he didn’t commit, Mo is struggling to adapt to life on the outside. When his world collides with Doris, a mysterious woman with a violent past, he decides to risk his newfound freedom to keep her in his life. Cast: Boyd Holbrook, Elisabeth Moss, Octavia Spencer, Sung Kang, Waleed Zuaiter. World Premiere

Goat” / U.S.A. (Director: Andrew Neel, Screenwriters: David Gordon Green, Andrew Neel, Michael Roberts) — Reeling from a terrifying assault, a 19-year-old boy pledges his brother’s fraternity in an attempt to prove his manhood. What happens there, in the name of “brotherhood,” tests both the boys and their relationship in brutal ways. Cast: Nick Jonas, Ben Schnetzer, Virginia Gardner, Danny Flaherty, Austin Lyon. World Premiere

The Intervention” / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Clea DuVall) — A weekend getaway for four couples takes a sharp turn when one of the couples discovers the entire trip was orchestrated to host an intervention on their marriage. Cast: Melanie Lynskey, Cobie Smulders, Alia Shawkat, Clea DuVall, Natasha Lyonne, Ben Schwartz. World Premiere

Joshy” / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Jeff Baena) — Josh treats what would have been his bachelor party as an opportunity to reconnect with his friends. Cast: Thomas Middleditch, Adam Pally, Alex Ross Perry, Nick Kroll, Brett Gelman, Jenny Slate. World Premiere

Lovesong” / U.S.A. (Director: So Yong Kim, Screenwriters: So Yong Kim, Bradley Rust Gray) — Neglected by her husband, Sarah embarks on an impromptu road trip with her young daughter and her best friend, Mindy. Along the way, the dynamic between the two friends intensifies before circumstances force them apart. Years later, Sarah attempts to rebuild their intimate connection in the days before Mindy’s wedding. Cast: Jena Malone, Riley Keough, Brooklyn Decker, Amy Seimetz, Ryan Eggold, Rosanna Arquette. World Premiere

Morris from America” / U.S.A., Germany (Director and screenwriter: Chad Hartigan) — Thirteen-year-old Morris, a hip-hop loving American, moves to Heidelberg, Germany, with his father. In this completely foreign land, he falls in love with a local girl, befriends his German tutor-turned-confidant, and attempts to navigate the unique trials and tribulations of adolescence. Cast: Markees Christmas, Craig Robinson, Carla Juri, Lina Keller, Jakub Gierszał, Levin Henning. World Premiere

Other People” / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Chris Kelly) — A struggling comedy writer, fresh from breaking up with his boyfriend, moves to Sacramento to help his sick mother. Living with his conservative father and younger sisters, David feels like a stranger in his childhood home. As his mother worsens, he tries to convince everyone (including himself) he’s “doing okay.” Cast: Jesse Plemons, Molly Shannon, Bradley Whitford, Maude Apatow, Zach Woods, June Squibb. World Premiere. DAY ONE FILM

Southside With You” / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Richard Tanne) — Southside With You is a chronicle of the summer afternoon in 1989 when the future president of the United States of America, Barack Obama, wooed his future First Lady on an epic first date across Chicago’s South Side. Cast: Tika Sumpter, Parker Sawyers, Vanessa Bell Calloway. World Premiere

Spa Night” / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Andrew Ahn) — A young Korean-American man works to reconcile his obligations to his struggling immigrant family with his burgeoning sexual desires in the underground world of gay hookups at Korean spas in Los Angeles. Cast: Joe Seo, Haerry Kim, Youn Ho Cho, Tae Song, Ho Young Chung, Linda Han. World Premiere

Swiss Army Man” / U.S.A. (Directors and screenwriters: Daniel Scheinert, Daniel Kwan) — Hank, a hopeless man stranded in the wild, discovers a mysterious dead body. Together the two embark on an epic journey to get home. As Hank realizes the body is the key to his survival, this once-suicidal man is forced to convince a dead body that life is worth living. Cast: Paul Dano, Daniel Radcliffe, Mary Elizabeth Winstead. World Premiere

Tallulah” / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Sian Heder) — A rootless young woman takes a toddler from a wealthy, negligent mother and passes the baby off as her own in an effort to protect her. This decision connects and transforms the lives of three very different women. Cast: Ellen Page, Allison Janney, Tammy Blanchard, Evan Jonigkeit, Uzo Aduba. World Premiere (see pic above)

White Girl” / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Elizabeth Wood) — Summer, New York City: A college student goes to extremes to get her drug dealer boyfriend out of jail. Cast: Morgan Saylor, Brian ‘Sene’ Marc, Justin Bartha, Chris Noth, India Menuez, Adrian Martinez. World Premiere

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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