Sundance 2023 Wrap-Up with Cultured Focus Magazine
For the first time since 2020 the Sundance Film Festival made its in-person return to Park City and Salt Lake City, Utah. For the past few years, the festival has been held online virtually due to the COVID pandemic. The festival received 15,856 film submissions and showcased 111 feature films and 64 short films.
I had the opportunity to cover Sundance virtually last year, but this year was my first in-person experience for Cultured Focus Magazine. I had an amazing time! Park City looked like the real-life north pole, the atmosphere was so welcoming. The people were so humble and nice, everyone dressed in comfortable layers due to the cold weather and high altitude. The conditions were no joke and not for the faint of heart. I had the honor of attending many prestigious events and covering the red-carpet screening premieres. I was able to interview, get drops and footage from industry legends and veterans such as Ryan Coogler, Jennifer Connelly, Anne Hathaway, Lisa Cortés, Bethann Hardison, Stephen Curry, Sonya Curry, W. Kamau Bell, Omari Hardwick, Cory Hardrict, Hill Harper, Vivica A. Fox and more. Below is a recap of some of the screening and events I attend.
Like a quasar burning past the gaslight, director Lisa Cortés’ eye-opening documentary explodes the whitewashed canon of American pop music. Little Richard: I Am Everything shines a clarifying light on the Black, queer origins of rock ’n’ roll, and establishes the genre’s big bang: Richard Wayne Penniman.
Testimonials from legendary musicians and cultural figures, Black and queer scholars, Penniman’s family and friends, and interviews with the artist himself all exuberantly reclaim a history that was willfully appropriated by white artists and institutions. Cortés updates the canon with a treasure trove of rarely seen archival footage of Penniman. Among the gems are scenes with his Black and queer predecessors and contemporaries, like Sister Rosetta Tharpe: the mother of rock ’n’ roll who gave 14-year-old Penniman his first break. Cortés depicts Penniman’s complex journey as a conflicted revolutionary who careened between religion, sex, and rock ’n’ roll, navigating the extreme tensions of race and sexuality of his time. She reminds us that outsiders and outcasts can possess superpowers that, given the chance, can create new worlds for us all to dance in.
Fashion revolutionary and model turned agent and activist Bethann Hardison knew that Black is beautiful well before the fashion industry acknowledged the truth. From walking runway shows alongside Iman to discovering supermodels like Tyson Beckford and mentoring icons like Naomi Campbell, Hardison has been at the epicenter of major representational shifts in fashion. Catalyzing change requires continuous championing, and as the next generation takes the reins, Hardison reflects on her personal journey and the cost of being a pioneer.
In tandem with Frédéric Tcheng (Halston, Dior and I), Bethann Hardison is a force at the helm of her own story. Together, the co-directors trace Hardison’s impact on fashion from runway shows in New York and Paris in the ’70s to roundtables about lack of racial diversity in the early 2000s.
TO LIVE AND DIE AND LIVE
Muhammad, a strong, handsome Hollywood film director, makes his way through the gorgeous and alluring landscapes of a rebuilt Detroit — the glistening legacy of his newly deceased stepfather Khalid, a beloved and highly regarded building contractor. Muhammad has returned for the funeral, but his own battle with addiction, which he hides from the world, drives him to immediately fade away into the sultry, late-night, drug-saturated after-hours of Detroit and an equally intoxicating romantic relationship. As he struggles to cope, Muhammad’s family and friends look to him as a leader and provider, and he forges ahead shouldering all of their needs, claiming he's got this, even though it’s a lot — maybe too much. To Live and Die and Live is directed by Qasim Basir and produced by Forest Whitaker, Omari Hardwick, Amin Joseph, Cory Hardrict and Nina Yang Bongiovi.
BAD BEHAVIOUR Lucy (Jennifer Connelly) seeks enlightenment. The former child actress makes a pilgrimage to join her guru, Elon Bello (Ben Whishaw), for a silent retreat at a beautiful mountain resort with a Tesla-crammed parking lot. Before she shuts off her phone to the world, Lucy reaches out to her daughter, Dylan — a stunt person training for a dangerous fight scene — to interrupt her concentration and announce that she will be unavailable and out of range, and that she is very worried about her, and that she might extend her stay. It is co-dependent, bad behavior. When a young model/DJ/influencer at the retreat is paired up with Lucy to do a mother/daughter role-playing exercise, hellfire stokes Lucy’s bad behavior to an astonishing low. Director Alice Englert’s sophisticated feature debut delivers a surprising, tongue-in-cheek, dark comedic dismemberment of a toxic white woman. Jennifer Connelly is pitch-perfect as Lucy, a woman whose sublimated pain has transformed her into an unavoidable mortal vortex. Bad Behaviour shows that purging anger as a redemption strategy can really get someone hurt. EILEEN Based on the book of the same name by literary powerhouse Ottessa Moshfegh, Eileen follows a peculiar young woman whose dreary life stretches on toward unending misery. In frigid 1960s Boston, Eileen (Thomasin McKenzie) shuffles between her father’s dingy, emotionally haunted home and the prison where she works alongside colleagues who have ostracized her. When an intoxicating woman (Anne Hathaway) joins the prison staff, Eileen is taken. Just when the possibility of a salvational friendship (or maybe more) takes hold and forms a singular glimmer in Eileen’s darkness, her newfound confidant entangles her in a shocking crime that alters all. With a seductive and savage performance from Sundance alum Hathaway (Song One, The Last Thing He Wanted) and an unhinged, powerhouse showing from McKenzie, Eileen is brought to the screen with brilliant gloom. Directed by William Oldroyd.
STEPHEN CURRY: UNDERRATED
Award-winners Director Peter Nicks and Ryan Coogler returns to the Sundance Film Festival with documentary Stephen Curry: Underrated, an intimate look at NBA superstar Stephen Curry’s improbable coming of age at tiny Davidson College, where, under the wing of coach Bob McKillop, the team made a thrilling run in the 2008 NCAA tournament. With access to Curry throughout the 2021 season, the film also weaves the Golden State Warriors’ attempt to win another NBA championship following one of the worst seasons in franchise history.
Stephen Curry: Underrated gives us a glimpse into Curry’s personal life as he juggles the demands of his professional career to fulfill a promise he made to his mother when he left Davidson early to declare for the draft: he would get his college degree. Nicks successfully weaves the parallels he finds in video footage of Curry, as an aspiring athlete and as a professional basketball star, to tell the remarkable story of a kid who rose from an undersized and inconspicuous high school basketball player to an NBA icon.
Skilled is a new documentary film from 3M directed by Julio Palacio and produced by Christine Arena that celebrates the modern skilled trade workforce through the eyes of inspiring individuals who break the mold while pursuing the careers of their dreams. The film features four trade workers, plumber Paige Knowles, fall protection specialist Andrea Martin, welder Cedric Smith and film gaffer Sophia Stieglitz at various stages in their careers, highlighting the exciting and meaningful opportunities offered within the trades. The film is now available on 3M.com/Skilled and YouTube.com/3M and will be released wide on VOD in Spring 2023. Actress, Producer, Director, Author and Philanthropist Vivica A. Fox hosted the premiere.
WOMEN WHO WRITE The Women Who Write event celebrated writers Mayanna Berrin, Kiana Butler Jabangwe, and Danielle Solomon - recipients of Hartbeat’s annual comedic screenwriting fellowship for Black women. Each writer was given the opportunity to premiere the original short films developed under the mentorship of the Hartbeat and directors Nicole Byer, Tika Sumpter, and Logan Browning. Each of the writers were awarded a 1 year, first-look deal with Hartbeat. The event was founded by Hartbeat CEO, Thai Randolph and Head of Film, Candice Wilson Cherry, and developed in partnership with Sundance Institute, Women Write Now was designed to champion the next generation of Black women in comedy through mentorship, advocacy, production, and exhibition.
SUNDANCE AWARD WINNERS The following is a list of all of the award winners: Grand Jury Prizes Go To A THOUSAND AND ONE (U.S. Dramatic), GOING TO MARS: THE NIKKI GIOVANNI PROJECT (U.S. Documentary), The Eternal Memory (World Cinema Documentary), and Scrapper (World Cinema Dramatic) The NEXT Innovator Award Presented by Adobe Goes To KOKOMO CITY RADICAL Wins Festival Favorite Award THE PERSIAN VERSION (U.S. Dramatic) and BEYOND UTOPIA (U.S. Documentary) Win Audience Awards Presented by Acura SHAYDA (World Cinema Dramatic) and 20 DAYS IN MARIUPOL (World Cinema Documentary) Win Audience Awards Presented by United Airlines EVENTS AND CONVERSATIONS Outside of the film premieres the festival had so much to offer from lounges to panels to afterparties. The Blackhouse Foundation presented a variety of conversations ranging from Black Storytellers To Know featuring Joe Brewster, Thembi Banks and D. Smith; the NBC Universal Panel ft. Malcolm D. Lee; The ALLBLK Panel ft. Mona Scott-Young, Omarion, MC Lyte, Da Brat, Jessica "Judy" Harris Dupart and Romeo Miller; The Content for Change ft. Nicco Annan and The Prime Video Panel ft. Meagan Good and the Queen. Collective. The MACRO Lodge was definitely the place to be for all of the black excellence. Hosted by MACRO Founder & CEO Charles D. King and his wife Stacey Walker, everyday was packed with conversations, screenings and packed afterparties. Events included Underrated: The Conversation ft. Director, Peter Nicks and Unanimous Media CEO Erick Peyton and Producer Ryan Coogler: The Harlem Season 2 premiere screening with the cast, conversations with Teyana Taylor, ballerina Misty Copeland, actor Daniel Dae Lewis and director Nneka Onuorah. I also had the pleasure of being interviewed by Jordan Peele's Monkeypaw Productions Company as I left an event there. It was a great networking experience and dope vibes.
Chase Sapphire presented an array events including conversations at DJ Pee Wee aka Anderson .Paak at TAO Nightclubs, the Flora & Son Panel ft. Joseph Gordon-Levitt, the Young. Wild. Free Panel ft. Sanaa Lathan & Algee Smith and Chef Melissa King Menu Takeover. They also presented a warm, comfortable lounge daily that provided complementary refreshments, live music, an aura reader, afterparties and more for cardmembers and media. The Variety x Audible Conversations held at The Variety Studio ft. panels with some of the industry's leading directors and top talent including director Lena Waithe, Jason Momoa, Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Brooke Shields. Other studios and venues included the Acura Village, Canon Studio, Indie Wire Studio, The Canada Goose Store, The Latinx House celebrating latinos in film, The MPAC Hollywood Bureau's Muslim House, The One House party hosted by The Sunrise Collective that brought together houses of color (The Blackhouse Foundation, MACRO, Illuminative) to celebrate as one and The Indigenous House celebrating Native leaders, activists and storytellers.
Ericka Nicole Malone Entertainment presented The Indie Director's and Creator's Spotlight Ignited Conversation of Diversity event ft. panel conversations with Tabitha Brown, Eduardo Ramirez, Craig Ross, Lamonia Brown, Vanessa E. Williams and Wendy Raquel Robinson. After the panels the evening transformed into a Neo Soul Lounge with music by DJ Q-Nice and live performances by award-winning r&b artists Angie Stone, Keith Robinson, Sha'leah Nikole and Alfred Johnson. I also had the pleasure of running into producer Duran Jones who I interviewed last year along with director/writer Victor Gabriel about their Sundance short film debut HALLELUJAH. It tells the story of Chetty and Paper, two brothers who refuse to grow up. Due to unforeseen circumstances they are now in charge of their nephew Hallelujah, a strange book quoting black boy and their quiet niece Lila, who are left orphaned after their parents are murdered. It also covered Hallelujah suicide attempt and the topic of mental health in the black community. The film just recently had the legendary filmmaker Spike Lee come on board as executive producer for the full length feature film. I also met a number of celebrities out and about including Cody Fern, Adam Lambert, Erika Rose Alexander, Sidra Smith and Jimmy Akingbola, Covering Sundance in-person was an experience of a lifetime that I will never forget. It is truly a journalist's dream. Until next time! https://www.sundance.org/