Sundance 2022 Headliners Regina Hall, Sterling K. Brown, Dakota Johnson and Keke Palmer Participate
Reporter: LaKisa Renee
Sundance Film Festival welcomed audiences to an action-packed weekend with the fourth day of premiere screenings and conversations featuring some of the most notable visionaries in independent film, new media, and culture at-large, including Regina Hall, Sterling K. Brown, Dakota Johnson, Leslie Mann, Keke Palmer, Evan Rachel Wood, Amy Poehler, Eva Longoria Bastón, Thandie Newton, Alan Cumming, Cooper Raiff, Amy Berg, Clarence "Coodie" Simmons, Jeremy O. Harris, and more.
Regina Hall and Sterling K. Brown discussed their personal journeys with religion; Keke Palmer talked about the importance of telling different perspectives on slavery in America; Dakota Johnson gushed about her co-star Vanessa Burghardt in Cooper Raiff’s Cha Cha Real Smooth; Evan Rachel Wood and Director Amy Burg called for awareness to domestic violence through Phoenix Rising; Thandie Newton expressed her love of Westerns and activism and how both came together in God’s Country; Alan Cumming talked bad lip-synching drag queens; Amy Poehler and Eva Longoria Bastón discussed their love of documentaries and how it differs from directing narrative features.
Each year, Sundance serves as a cultural launchpad, helping to expand audience horizons through film and the conversations that occur the minute that credits roll. Continuing to foster this spirit of discussion into 2022, Sundance Film Festival programs a series of panels across discipline and topic to keep the conversation going.
Film Q&As: Sundance 2022 Film Festival
Honk for Jesus. Save Your Soul. Panel
ADAMMA Ebo on using faux documentary style: “I wanted to incorporate faux documentary style because I was interested in this nebulous area of what is the truth and what isn’t the truth. People take documentaries as fact and I was intrigued by the lead characters not telling the truth while the documentary cameras were on and then telling the truth when the cameras were off. It shows the Black megachurch culture, which is theater and entertainment, while being very true and meaningful for people.”
ADAMMA Ebo (director/writer) and ADANNE Ebo (producer) on working with Regina and Sterling in the future: (Adamma)“I love Regina and Sterling so much. I want to create a Regina and Sterling Multiverse.” (Adanne) “Multiverses are hot right now.”
ADAMMA on the symbolism of hot sauce in the film: “It is written in the script that there is hot sauce. I think that a lot [of hot sauce] that I like sneaks up on you and I think that’s what this film does is it sneaks up on you. That is what hot sauce does, you’re like ‘oh yeah, that’s good’ and then shortly after you’re like ‘oh that’s spicy!’”
REGINA on her personal journey with religion: “It was a lot. From the time I was a little girl, there were many things that I was like ‘that doesn’t feel like God.’ There was a lot that didn’t resonate with me or feel right. No matter what was preached, I just didn’t feel it was right. I knew what was in my heart and what was in my head and what I’ve been taught and what I’ve learned from my own spiritual connection. That’s the thing in that small journey between religion and a spiritual relationship with God. Those small key discernments. And I don’t judge either, but if I came from an overall view of what I believe is all encompassed in God, which I believe is love, then I would think what would it be if we were to allow it.”
ADAMMA on her connection to religion and Black culture: “There was a point I wanted to be completely disconnected from it [Organized Religion], specifically Southern Baptist culture. But then there was so much about it that was very intrinsic to my being and so much that is intrinsic to Black culture, I found myself not wanting to. I decided that the best parts were the best parts and the worst parts I’ll continue to call out and critique. It’s an institution that resonates so deeply with people’s lives and that they can and should be doing better.”
STERLING K. BROWN on finding a way to humanize a Southern Baptist megachurch pastor: “The people in my family who are LGBTQ and who are also Christian and them finding their way into religion and being accepted and being a bit of a schism in terms of something being considered an abomination but like this is something you have been inculcated. Taking the people that I knew from my family who I love and cherish and want to see represented in a way, an love by this community [Organized religion], and sort of seeing that in Lee Curtis, that he’s not just a straight man. I’ve had many conversations with people who say ‘I just want a regular life. I just want to get married and have kids.’ It’s those conversations that my character is carrying with him, recognizing that he has desires that don’t fit into this box of Southern Baptist megachurch. Knowing that he has a gift of connecting and inspiring and preaching the word of God and if he could do that well enough, then maybe these other things that are also whispering to him that don’t fit within that box would go away. So he’s a man who’s really trying to do the Lord’s work. And when someone has a purpose that is considered to be divinely given, I think it sort of lends itself to someone who is having a human experience.
Cha Cha Real Smooth Panel
DAKOTA JOHNSON (Actor/Producer) on first meeting co-star and first-time actress Vanessa Burghardt: “Vanessa was asking the most pure questions, like what it was like being on set. She showed up and was totally prepared. It was so wonderful.”
DAKOTA JOHNSON (Actor/Producer) on where she draws inspiration from playing a mother: “My best friend is a mother of two kids who are my god babies. It’s a lot of watching her be a mom and asking her what it really feels like deep on the inside. I’m not a mother yet, but I had a lot of siblings and I did raise them and take care of them in a lot of ways.”
VANESSA BURGHARDT (Actor) on how she became comfortable with the actors on set: “I had Zoomed with Cooper a few times before we began filming. I hadn’t met Dakota until we got to Pittsburgh, but it was quick getting comfortable.” COOPER: “The electric chemistry was there, even when we were on Zoom.”
COOPER RAIFF (Writer/Director/Actor/Producer) on Filming the Bar Mitzvah scenes during COVID: “We didn’t have nearly as many extras as we wanted, but we had a ton of fun. There was a lot of dancing. DAKOTA: “We managed to not shut down once.”
TONYA LEWIS LEE (Director/Producer) on not understanding the infant mortality rate problem: “Back in 2007 … At the time I didn’t know the US had an infant mortality problem. I didn’t know that babies died at 3X the rate as white babies in this country.”
SHAWNEE BENTON-GIBSON (Featured Subject) on how she wanted to join the project: “I had the energy that this was the right team and I specifically like the fact that this was a black woman and white woman coming together to tell these stories because Tonya has a lived experience as a black woman and Paula has her experience in trauma so the blending of that would create a film that had integrity.”
OMARI MAYNARD (Featured Subject) on how to quantify loss: “We are working on figuring out some legislation to create a bill… it’s difficult to quantify the amount around loss.”
BRUCE MCINTRYRE (Featured Subject) on what brings him solace: “Being surrounded by community and being surrounded by love and people who are in this fight with me brings me solace.”
jeen-Yuhs: A Kanye Trilogy Panel
CLARENCE “COODIE” SIMMONS (Director/Producer/Writer/Cinematographer) on showing Kanye the film: “I told Kanye that I wanted to show it to him when we were all together so we could laugh together and cry together.”
CLARENCE “COODIE” SIMMONS on what is to come in the next two episodes: “You’re going to see the making of College Dropout, and Kanye winning a Grammy. The third episode is a heartbreaking one, you have the ups and downs that Kanye went through. It’s going to show that no matter what, you can overcome it.”
CLARENCE “COODIE” SIMMONS on when the rest of the trilogy will be released: “We are going to be doing a theater run on February 10”
KRYSTIN VER LINDEN (Director) on her filmmaking philosophy: “If I’m not creating art that moves the needle, then I shouldn't do it. I think that should be the mantra for every artist.”
KEKE PALMER (Actor) on why she was drawn to this role: “I LOVE history, I’m not ashamed at all of my ancestry. I’m proud of who I am, where I come from and what my ancestors did for me to be who I am in this country. But I just want their story to be told with pride and resilience, the way I feel inside, and that’s why I was all in.”
KEKE PALMER (Actor) on the importance of telling different perspectives on slavery in America: “A big thing to remember is that its not to kick anything in the teeth, but It’s to give a different perspective. That [Roots] is one story, one version of how we perceive our history. But the big conversation is that we need more, we especially need different narratives and I think we as Black Americans need narratives that aren't always coming from a position of, ‘I feel so bad for you, can you believe?’ Let’s not only view history in this way, let’s open it up and allow us to see the real truth which is: only the strong survived.”
Phoenix Rising Panel
EVAN RACHEL WOOD (Actor, Activist, Survivor) on how this Phoenix Rising came to be: “In the midst of the Phoenix Act and being bombarded with the heartbreaking stories of the other survivors I went to Amy very desperate to be heard and for this story to be told and for people to finally pay attention to what we’ve been saying and how serious it is. It’s not just us unfortunately. My story is not unique, it’s unique in the way that it’s been in the spotlight and that it’s gone virtually unnoticed, but the tactics and everything involved is very common.”
IRA WOOD (Evan’s brother) on how he felt about getting involved with the film: “This is my first time seeing the final cut all the way through so coming off of this it opens up a lot of wounds and stirs a lot of emotions, so I’m still going through that at this moment…. There were no reservations in speaking the truth and supporting my sister and lending voices to the survivors. I think the fear and not the reservation is that you and your family are very exposed, and you reconcile with the fact that the reason that you are allowing yourself to be so exposed is because it’s to help, to educate, to share mistakes that were made so those mistakes don’t happen to other people.”
AMY BERG (Director) on how the industry needs to take accountability: “I think it’s really important to realize that this story is a great example of how things can go wrong from a community standpoint. This is a person who was hiding in plain sight. He stood on stage and said everything that he needed to say for Rolling Stone to not call it an antic… This is degradation of women and this is something that’s been going on for decades and we’ve been memorializing and worshipping a person who was doing horrendous things to his victims. I think the industry needs to take inventory of themselves now because we ran into a lot of stumbling blocks even just trying to clear music in this film because people are still protecting Brian Warner and they don’t want to participate in anything that might upset him. As an industry we need to take account at this point.”
IRA on what he hopes audiences take away from the film: “All of us getting into this… this is our flare in the sky from the lifeboat, we’re still going through it. It’s not over. You’ll see two parts of a documentary that will end, but these lives keep going. So I hope it raises awareness and that it stirs the start of an end
SHAY FRANCO-CLAUSEN (Phoenix Act Coalition Member) on the work that is still being done: “I’m still in the fire, I’m still trying to create legislation in funding and policies today. We have important things happening at the Board of Supervisors at the state capitol right now. I hope that when they see this story, these are familiar faces, they can see themselves in it, that they’ll be more inclined to really support the work of ending violence against women and children, domestic violence and human trafficking that I advocate all the time for.”
EVAN on going public and the film’s release: “It’s time for me to tell the truth. It’s time for me to finally tell my side. I can’t have it told for me anymore and people are going to believe whatever they’re going to believe. It’s not my job to convince people. I’m not lying. It’s my job to tell the truth and that’s what I’ve done. It’s all I can do.”
God’s Country Panel
THANDIE NEWTON (Actor) on how her love of Westerns and activism converged in God’s Country: “When I joined Westworld, it changed my life in terms of streamlining my activism into my art. It also made me love the Western! Enter God’s Country. What a Western! A thriller, a Western and also the work that I’ve been doing with Kimberly Crenshaw and the African American Policy for the last 10 years, my fight alongside them to try to be open about critical race theory and the extraordinary gift that that gives the world, and suddenly there was God’s Country in my lap and it dialed into all those things. Then when they told me that the character was named after Sandra Bland - I’m trying to not cry right now - that was it. The fact that these two men wanted to honor her, and not just her, all women, not just African American women, all women who have felt oppressed, who felt that they could not achieve their full potential because a woman’s full potential means a family’s full potential, means a community’s full potential, means a world’s full potential. That’s not a threat, it’s just a beautiful truth.
JULIAN HIGGINS (Director/Producer) on the vast environment showcased in the film: “It was something that was very conscious for me when I first read the story was what that closeness to the nature that can be absolutely gorgeous and also dangerous at the same time and that just really feels to me like a fitting metaphor for our existence.”
SHAYE OGBONNA (Writer) on the film’s references to Hurricane Katrina : “I feel like sometimes in the world, but specifically in this country, we sweep things under the rug. We try to misremember or forget things that go against American exceptionalism and things that specifically deal with the experiences of the marginalized people in this country.”
How To Participate
The Festival takes place digitally via our enhanced online platform at Festival.Sundance.org, on the New Frontier Spaceship, a bespoke immersive platform allowing festival goers to gather virtually, and in-person at seven Satellite Screens venues around the country during the Festival’s second weekend. Additional programming includes a daily talk show (“How to Fest: Daily”), and Satellite Screen conversations as well as partner offerings in the Festival Village. To note, all talks are available online via livestream or posted later on festival.sundance.org to view globally. Sign up for an account at festival.sundance.org to access online. All times are U.S. Mountain Time. Tickets are on sale.
About Sundance Film Festival
The Festival is a program of the non-profit Sundance Institute. 2022 Festival sponsors include: Presenting Sponsors – Acura, AMC+, Chase Sapphire, Adobe; Leadership Sponsors – Amazon Studios, DIRECTV, DoorDash, Dropbox, Netflix, Omnicom Group, WarnerMedia, XRM Media; Sustaining Sponsors – Aflac, Audible, Canada Goose, Canon U.S.A., Inc., Dell Technologies, IMDbPro, Michelob ULTRA Pure Gold, Rabbit Hole Bourbon & Rye, Unity Technologies, University of Utah Health, White Claw Hard Seltzer; Media Sponsors – The Atlantic, IndieWire, Los Angeles Times, NPR, Shadow and Act, Variety, Vulture. Sundance Institute recognizes critical support from the State of Utah as Festival Host State. The support of these organizations helps offset the Festival’s costs and sustain the Institute’s year-round programs for independent artists.
Visit www.sundance.org/festival for more.
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Sundance Institute.