Sundance Film Festival 2023 Opening Night Review
Sundance Film Festival is always an exciting time for filmmakers and audiences alike. Since 1978, it has featured some of the most interesting and authentic voices in cinema, providing an important platform for independent creators. This year was no exception. And of particular interest was the festival debut for Lisa Cortés — the documentary Little Richard: I Am Everything.
2023 marks a triumphant return for Sundance, which was forced to run virtually for the last two years due to COVID-19. But in-person screenings are once again a part of the Park City, Utah extravaganza. That made opening night feel like a long overdue homecoming for independent cinema.
Sundance 2023 Opening Night
Sundance opened with a strong slate of feature lengths and shorts to kick things off. Daina Reid’s directorial debut Run Rabbit Run provided plenty of horror, while Sophie Barthes gave us the futuristic romantic comedy The Pod Generation. Meanwhile, L'Immensità showed a moving character study and examination of gender by Italian director Emanuele Crialese.
This is only to name a few. But while the fictional tales on offer were often powerful, opening night saw a particularly strong showing by documentaries.
Kim’s Video was one stand out. It follows documentarians David Redmon and Ashley Sabin as they track down the 55,000 DVDs and VHS tapes that once made up the legendary collection of a video rental store in Manhattan. They track down the cache in Italy, where they find it hidden away behind closed doors. The story that unfolds is a love letter to the lost world of physical media and a Kafkaesque journey through the absurdism of bureaucracy.
Another interesting documentary on opening night was Ido Mizrahy’s The Longest Goodbye — a film focused on NASA’s psychological studies of astronauts spending long stretches of time on the International Space Station. It shows the truly human-scale sacrifice that these people make, while also offering a greater meditation on isolation itself.
Little Richard: I Am Everything
The Sundance debut of documentarian Lisa Cortés might have been the most interesting of opening night. Little Richard: I Am Everything dives deep into the true personality of the Black and queer icon.
This film clears away the sanitized image of Little Richard to reveal the man underneath. Richard Wayne Penniman is brought to life through interviews with fellow musicians, family members, scholars, as well as archival footage and interviews with the man who changed rock ‘n’ roll.
The work never veers into a hagiography. Instead, it shows how voices from the margins can become the artists that create transformation — despite the complicated and often painful journey that entails.
The Return of Sundance
Opening night was, above all, a celebratory return-to-form for the leading US festival of independent cinema. The red carpet had a special energy to it, and there was a buzz in the air during “Opening Night: A Taste of Sundance” — the IMDbPro-hosted fundraiser event to support artists.
That feeling of long-awaited return was no doubt the main takeaway of Sundance 2023’s opening night. And as the festival continues and comes to a close, the joy of gathering in-person to watch the newest offering of truly independent filmmakers will be the overriding theme. For more the upcoming films and the festival, visit www.sundance.org