21 January 2020

A guide to the most hyped films at Sundance

Debuting the latest features from Dee Rees and Miranda July, as well as an adaptation of the Twitter thread that defined 2015, there's a lot to look out for.

The most important film festival in the US, Sundance sees a coterie of industry insiders, directors and up-and-coming talent descend upon Salt Lake City for ten days of movie-viewing pleasure. Whilst it doesn’t quite have the glitz of Cannes, nor the global outlook of TIFF, it’s one of the most important dates in the film industry calendar. With an impressive track record of matching indie films with big distribution deals, the likes of Sorry to Bother You, The Diary of a Teenage Girl and Call Me By Your Name all debuted at Sundance. 

All eyes are on Sundance, then, as it sets to boot up for its 2020 edition from 23rd January to 3 February. Likely, the buzz-worthy films from the festival will soon be in a film theatre near you and, further down the line, making the awards ceremony rounds. So you can keep track of what movies are going to hit it big in the year to come, we break down the five Sundance picks we’re most excited for.

"Zola" dir. Janicza Bravo. Courtesy of Sundance Institute


Set to be the defining film of Sundance 2020, the A24 feature is based off of that viral Twitter thread which saw exotic dancer Aziah “Zola” Wells narrate a trip to Florida with Jessica Rae “this white bitch I met in Hooters” Swiatkowski to hundreds of thousands of Twitter users. With celebrity fans in the form of Solange, Ava DuVernay and Missy Elliot, this tale of sex trafficking ft. attempted suicide has a ready-made audience. With Broadway playwright Jeremy O. Harris co-writing the screenplay and a score from Oscar-nominee Mica Levi, the story is being translated from Twitter to screen by some of today’s most exciting creative talent.

The 40-Year-Old Version 

With production from the Lena Waithe, this comedy directed by Radha Blank (She’s Gotta Have it) follows a playwright as she decides to rediscover her authentic creative voice by becoming a rapper, aged 40. Honing in on New York’s hip hop and theatre scenes, spaces which are still inhospitable to Black womxn, it’s rooted in an important perspective which is often overlooked. Shot on black and white film, this quintessential story of the struggle for artistic integrity is given an update with Blank’s excellent attention to detail, tone and social dynamics. Sure to be a shining star of Sundance, we’re excited to see where it goes next.

"The Last Thing He Wanted" dir. Dee Rees. Courtesy of Sundance Institute

Never Rarely Sometimes Always

Known for tender, coming-of-age dramas It Felt Like Love and Beach Rats, filmmaker Eliza Hittman is back with Never Rarely Sometimes Always. Following two teens as they take a bus journey from Pennsylvania to NYC in search of an abortion clinic, it’s sure to occupy a similar emotional register as her previous releases – so get those tissues out. It’s also perfectly timed, bringing debates around reproductive agency to the big screen in a moment where the right to choose is being perilously undermined in politics.

The Last Thing He Wanted

Already having secured a Netflix deal, this Joan Didion adaptation will see powerhouse Dee Rees – the filmmaker behind universally-lauded Pariah and Mudbound – direct Anne Hathaway as a political journalist who unwittingly inherits her father’s role as an arms trader in Latin America. Rees has a reputation for bringing out unexpected excellence in her casts, so it’s more than likely that The Last Thing He Wanted will be a defining moment in Hathaway’s career…we think Oscar noms await on the horizon.

"Kajillionaire" dir. Miranda July. Courtesy of Sundance Institute


A very 2020 breed of auteur, you’re equally likely to know Miranda July from cult short story collection No One Belongs Here More Than You as from her Chaotic Good Instagram, which has featured guest spots from Margaret Qualley and Carrie Brownstein. For her film work, she has also received the Caméra d’Or prize at Cannes and the Special Jury Prize at Sundance – meaning she’s, you know, a pretty big deal. Her latest feature, Kajillionaire, stars Evan Rachel Wood as a natural-born con artist who begins to doubt her career path. Whatever the verdict at Sundance, we’re sure you’ll be hearing a lot more about Kajillionaire very, very soon.

Sundance Film Festival runs from 23rd January to 3 February. You can find more info here

Cover image "The Forty-Year-Old Version" dir. Radha Blank. Courtesy of Sundance Institute

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