Connect with us
Sundance 2018: The Year of Youth in Revolt

Film Festivals

Sundance 2018: The Year of Youth in Revolt

There’s an old adage in filmmaking that goes something like: ‘never work with kids or animals.’ This year’s Sundance Film Festival is a direct rebuttal to that conventional wisdom. No, I’m not talking about the miniature horse in the Zellner brothers loosely-constructed screwball western Damsel. This year’s festival was dominated by new faces with big talent and small shoe sizes. Among the 20 films I saw, a fresh crop of actors emerged ranging in age from 4 to 17. At a Q&A for Bo Burnham’s Eighth Grade, when pressed about challenges of being a first-time director, answered that one thing that was unequivocally NOT a challenge was working with young performers. Burnham’s theory: they all have a camera in their pocket, and therefore a comfort-level that children before the advent of cell phones were not privy to. After sifting through a bushel of this year’s Sundance selections, I tend to agree.

Eighth Grade’s fourteen year-old Elsie Fisher is terrific as a shy middle-schooler, (so are her myriad young co-stars), in what would be my favorite film of the fest. Dominique Fishback and Tatum Marilyn Hall, playing a pair of sisters, own the screen for the entire running time of the life-on-the-margins thriller Night Comes On. Another breakout is Thomasin McKenzie in Leave No Trace, a seventeen year-old who some have compared to Jennifer Lawrence. Director Debra Granik discovered Lawrence in Winter’s Bone and here again shows a knack for spotting young talent. McKenzie’s composed portrayal of a sheltered nature-girl and her complicated relationship with her father (Ben Foster) comes sharply into focus whenever she’s onscreen.

Fifteen year-old Milly Shapiro is convincingly terrifying in Hereditary, pulling a 180 after her Broadway debut as Matilda. Three Hispanic boys at the center of the magical and emotional We The Animals carry the film with their youthful exuberance and imagination that comes alive through scrapbook illustrations and other flights of fancy. On the other hand, A Kid Like Jake, one of the weaker films in my lineup, suffered because we never got to know the four year-old boy at its center. In the era of Brooklyn Prince and Jacob Tremblay, audiences expect memorable, three-dimensional child characters. So when the titular Jake is virtually a prop, it feels like a missed opportunity. Desiree Akhavan’s The Miseducation of Cameron Post, which won this year’s Grand Jury Prize, features 20 year-old Chloe Grace Moretz playing a high school student sent to gay conversion therapy. Moretz delivers a fine performance, but I wonder if an unknown 17 year-old would have been a more exciting choice. After all, the best part of Akhavan’s previous film Appropriate Behavior was her own breakout performance.

Blending real subjects with a scripted narrative, Crystal Moselle examines the lives of a group of girl skateboarders over a summer in New York City. Skate Kitchen marks a breakthrough for the entire band of teens, who have already begun to build a social media following for their ‘clips’ of skateboarding tricks. More traditional documentaries Inventing Tomorrow and Science Fair both focus on the Intel ISEF competition, following a variety of young competitors from all over the world. The story’s inspiration comes from the young scientists’ benevolent attitudes, hoping that their research will benefit their communities and potentially the entire world. Our children are the future, as they say, and in 2018, young performers are getting an early start. It’ll be fun to watch them grow right in front of our eyes.

New York City based, Matt Delman contributes coverage for and Hammer To Nail for Sundance, SXSW, Tribeca, TIFF and many of the New York festivals and film series. He also runs social media ad campaigns for indie films under his 3rd Impression banner. His top 3 theatrical releases of 2018: Cold War, Eighth Grade, & Bisbee ‘17.

Click to comment

More in Film Festivals

To Top