If you love queer cinema, plan your trip to Park City for the 2023 Sundance festival, which promises the best of new and familiar voices with groundbreaking work. The international fest includes films on musical icons Indigo Girls and Little Richard, a gay professional wrestle, and trans people navigating challenges large and small.
Below are just a few highlights (we may have missed a few, there are so many!):
The Stroll / U.S.A. (Directors: Kristen Lovell, Zackary Drucker, Producer: Matt Wolf) — The history of New York’s Meatpacking District, told from the perspective of transgender sex workers who lived and worked there. Filmmaker Kristen Lovell, who walked “The Stroll” for a decade, reunites her community to recount the violence, policing, homelessness, and gentrification they overcame to build a movement for transgender rights. World Premiere. Available online.
Cassandro / U.S.A (Director and Screenwriter: Roger Ross Williams, Screenwriters: David Teague, Julián Herbert, Producers: Gerardo Gatica, Todd Black, David Bloomfield, Ted Hope, Julie Goldman) — Saúl Armendáriz, a gay amateur wrestler from El Paso, rises to international stardom after he creates the character Cassandro, the “Liberace of Lucha Libre.” In the process, he upends not just the macho wrestling world, but also his own life. Cast: Gael García Bernal, Roberta Colindrez, Perla De La Rosa, Joaquín Cosío, Raúl Castillo. World Premiere. Fiction.
Mutt / U.S.A. (Director, Screenwriter, and Producer: Vuk Lungulov-Klotz, Producers: Alexander Stegmaier, Stephen Scott Scarpulla, Jennifer Kuczaj, Joel Michaely) — Over the course of a single hectic day in New York City, three people from Feña’s past are thrust back into his life. Having lost touch since transitioning from female to male, he navigates the new dynamics of old relationships while tackling the day-to-day challenges of living life in between. Cast: Lío Mehiel, Cole Doman, MiMi Ryder, Alejandro Goic. World Premiere. Available online.
Bad Behaviour/ New Zealand (Director and Screenwriter: Alice Englert, Producers: Molly Hallam, Desray Armstrong) — Lucy, a former child actor, seeks enlightenment at a retreat led by spiritual leader Elon while she navigates her close yet turbulent relationship with her stunt-performer daughter, Dylan. Cast: Jennifer Connelly, Ben Whishaw, Alice Englert, Ana Scotney, Dasha Nekrasova, Marlon Williams. World Premiere. Available online.
The Deepest Breath / U.K, Ireland (Director and Screenwriter: Laura McGann, Producers: John Battsek, Sarah Thomson, Jamie D’Alton, Anne McLoughlin) — A champion freediver and expert safety diver seemed destined for one another despite the different paths they took to meet at the pinnacle of the freediving world. A look at the thrilling rewards — and inescapable risks — of chasing dreams through the depths of the ocean. World Premiere. Documentary.
Drift / France, U.K, Greece (Director and Producer: Anthony Chen, Screenwriters: Susanne Farrell, Alexander Maksik, Producers: Peter Spears, Emilie Georges, Naima Abed, Cynthia Erivo, Solome Williams) — Jacqueline, a young refugee, lands alone and penniless on a Greek island where she tries to survive, then to cope with her past. While gathering her strength, she begins a friendship with a rootless tour guide and together they find the resilience to forge ahead. Cast: Cynthia Erivo, Alia Shawkat, Ibrahima Ba, Honor Swinton Byrne, Zainab Jah, Suzy Bemba. World Premiere. Fiction.
Eileen / U.S.A (Director and Producer: William Oldroyd, Screenwriters and Producers: Luke Goebel, Ottessa Moshfegh, Producers: Anthony Bregman, Stefanie Azpiazu, Peter Cron) — Set during a bitter 1964 Massachusetts winter, young secretary Eileen becomes enchanted by the glamorous new counselor at the prison where she works. Their budding friendship takes a twisted turn when Rebecca reveals a dark secret — throwing Eileen onto a sinister path. Based on Ottessa Moshfegh’s award-winning novel. Cast: Thomasin McKenzie, Anne Hathaway, Shea Whigham, Marin Ireland, Owen Teague. World Premiere. Fiction.
Fairyland / U.S.A (Director, Screenwriter, and Producer: Andrew Durham, Producers: Sofia Coppola, Megan Carlson, Siena Oberman, Greg Lauritano, Laure Sudreau) — Set against the backdrop of San Francisco’s vibrant cultural scene in the 1970s and ’80s, chronicling a father-daughter relationship as it evolves from an era of bohemian decadence to the heartbreaking AIDS crisis. Based on the best-selling memoir Fairyland: A Memoir of My Father by Alysia Abbott. Cast: Scoot McNairy, Emilia Jones, Geena Davis, Cody Fern, Adam Lambert, Maria Bakalova. World Premiere. Fiction.
Fancy Dance / U.S.A. (Director, Screenwriter, and Producer: Erica Tremblay, Screenwriter: Miciana Alise, Producers: Deidre Backs, Heather Rae, Nina Yang Bongiovi, Tommy Oliver) — Following her sister’s disappearance, a Native American hustler kidnaps her niece from the child’s white grandparents and sets out for the state powwow in hopes of keeping what is left of their family intact. Cast: Lily Gladstone, Isabel Deroy-Olson, Ryan Begay, Shea Whigham, Audrey Wasilewski. World Premiere. Available online.
Girl / U.K. (Director and Screenwriter: Adura Onashile, Producers: Rosie Crerar, Ciara Barry) — Eleven-year-old Ama and her mother, Grace, take solace in the gentle but isolated world they obsessively create. Ama’s growing up threatens the boundaries of their tenderness and forces Grace to reckon with a past she struggles to forget. Cast: Déborah Lukumuena, Danny Sapani, Le’Shantey Bonsu, Liana Turner. World Premiere. Available online.
Going to Mars: The Nikki Giovanni Project / U.S.A. (Directors and Producers: Joe Brewster, Michèle Stephenson, Producer: Tommy Oliver) — Intimate vérité, archival footage, and visually innovative treatments of poetry take us on a journey through the dreamscape of legendary poet Nikki Giovanni as she reflects on her life and legacy. World Premiere. Available online.
Invisible Beauty / U.S.A (Directors: Bethann Hardison, Frédéric Tcheng, Producer: Lisa Cortés) — Fashion revolutionary Bethann Hardison looks back on her journey as a pioneering Black model, modeling agent, and activist, shining a light on an untold chapter in the fight for racial diversity. World Premiere. Documentary.
Is There Anybody Out There? / U.K. (Director: Ella Glendining, Producer: Janine Marmot) — While navigating daily discrimination, a filmmaker who inhabits and loves her unusual body searches the world for another person like her, and explores what it takes to love oneself fiercely despite the pervasiveness of ableism. World Premiere. Available online.
It’s Only Life After All / U.S.A (Director and Producer: Alexandria Bombach, Producers: Kathlyn Horan, Jess Devaney, Anya Rous) — Blending 40 years of home movies, film archives, and intimate present-day vérité, a poignant reflection from Amy Ray and Emily Saliers of iconic folk rock duo Indigo Girls. A timely look into the obstacles, activism, and life lessons of two queer friends who never expected to make it big. World Premiere. Documentary.
Kokomo City / U.S.A. (Director and Producer: D. Smith, Producers: Harris Doran, Bill Butler) — Four Black transgender sex workers explore the dichotomy between the Black community and themselves, while confronting issues long avoided. World Premiere. Documentary. Available online.
Little Richard: I Am Everything / U.S.A. (Director and Producer: Lisa Cortés, Producers: Robert Friedman, Liz Yale Marsh, Caryn Capotosto) — This celebration of Little Richard reveals the Black queer origins of rock ’n’ roll, finally exploding the whitewashed canon of American pop music. Through archival and performance footage, the revolutionary icon’s life unspools with all of its switchbacks and contradictions. World Premiere. Available online.
Mamacruz / Spain (Director and Screenwriter: Patricia Ortega, Screenwriter: José Ortuño, Producer: Olmo Figueredo) — With the help of her newly emigrated daughter, a religious grandmother learns how to use the internet. However, an accidental encounter with pornography poses a dilemma for her. Cast: Kiti Mánver. World Premiere. Available online.
Milisuthando / South Africa (Director and Screenwriter: Milisuthando Bongela, Producer: Marion Isaacs) — Set in past, present, and future South Africa — an invitation into a poetic, memory-driven exploration of love, intimacy, race, and belonging by the filmmaker, who grew up during apartheid but didn’t know it was happening until it was over. World Premiere. Available online.
My Animal / Canada (Director: Jacqueline Castel, Screenwriter: Jae Matthews, Producers: Andrew Bronfman, Michael Solomon) — Heather, an outcast teenage goalie in a small northern town, falls for newcomer Jonny, an alluring but tormented figure skater. As their relationship deepens, Heather’s growing desires clash with her darkest secret, forcing her to control the animal within. Cast: Bobbi Salvör Menuez, Amandla Stenberg, Stephen McHattie, Heidi von Palleske, Cory Lipman, Joe Apollonio. World Premiere. Fiction.
Passages / France (Director and Screenwriter: Ira Sachs, Screenwriter: Mauricio Zacharias, Producers: Saïd Ben Saïd, Michel Merkt) — An intimate examination of attraction and emotional abuse between men and women. Cast: Franz Rogowski, Ben Whishaw, Adèle Exarchopoulos. World Premiere. Fiction.
The Persian Version / U.S.A. (Director, Screenwriter, and Producer: Maryam Keshavarz, Producers: Anne Carey, Ben Howe, Luca Borghese, Peter Block, Corey Nelson) — When a large Iranian-American family gathers for the patriarch’s heart transplant, a family secret is uncovered that catapults the estranged mother and daughter into an exploration of the past. Toggling between the United States and Iran over decades, mother and daughter discover they are more alike than they know. Cast: Layla Mohammadi, Niousha Noor, Kamand Shafieisabet, Bella Warda, Bijan Daneshmand, Shervin Alenabi. World Premiere. Available online.
Rotting in the Sun / U.S.A (Director and Screenwriter: Sebastian Silva, Screenwriter: Pedro Peirano, Producer: Jacob Wasserman) — After filmmaker Sebastian Silva goes missing in Mexico City, social media celebrity Jordan Firstman begins searching for him, suspecting that the cleaning lady in Sebastian’s building may have something to do with his disappearance. Cast: Jordan Firstman, Catalina Saavedra, Sebastian Silva. World Premiere. Fiction.
Shortcomings / U.S.A. (Director: Randall Park, Screenwriter: Adrian Tomine, Producers: Margot Hand, Randall Park, Hieu Ho, Jennifer Berman, Howard Cohen, Eric d’Arbeloff) — Following Ben, Miko, and Alice as they navigate a range of interpersonal relationships and traverse the country in search of the ideal connection. Cast: Justin H. Min, Sherry Cola, Ally Maki, Debby Ryan, Tavi Gevinson, Sonoya Mizuno. World Premiere. Available online.
Smoke Sauna Sisterhood / Estonia, France, Iceland (Director: Anna Hints, Producer: Marianne Ostrat) — In the darkness of a smoke sauna, women share their innermost secrets and intimate experiences, washing off the shame trapped in their bodies and regaining their strength through a sense of communion. World Premiere. Available online.
Theater Camp / U.S.A. (Directors and Screenwriters: Molly Gordon, Nick Lieberman, Screenwriters: Noah Galvin, Ben Platt, Producers: Erik Feig, Samie Kim Falvey, Julia Hammer, Ryan Heller, Will Ferrell, Jessica Elbaum) — When the beloved founder of a run-down theater camp in upstate New York falls into a coma, the eccentric staff must band together with the founder’s crypto-bro son to keep the camp afloat. Cast: Molly Gordon, Ben Platt, Noah Galvin, Jimmy Tatro, Patti Harrison, Ayo Edebiri. World Premiere. Available online.
Image: Sundance Institute