Sundance 2024 Recap by Gavin Dahl

  • February 9, 2024
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The 2024 Sundance Film Festival was inspiring and informative and a lot of fun.

The best feature films I saw were Rob Peace and The Outrun, both based on true stories. Rob Peace was a brilliant young man who rose from poverty in Newark to academic success at Yale University, fighting for justice for his imprisoned father, and navigating prejudice in his own way. Rob Peace is built upon a breakout performance from Jay Will who told the crowd at the festival he came from the hood and got into Julliard. Hopefully, the film will find a distributor. The Outrun, based on Amy Liptrot’s memoir, stars Saoirse Ronan as a young woman confronting the fallout of her alcoholism. It’s a difficult film built around her fully-realized acting, and may not make it to domestic theaters. We’ll see. The feature films Freaky Tales and The American Society of Magical Negroes offer two very different approaches to racism. Freaky Tales is a crowd-pleaser with humor, romance, and action that’s set in 1987 Oakland, but beware, brutal violence awaits neo-nazis. If it gets released it could become a cult classic. The American Society of Magical Negroes, starring David Alan Grier and Justice Smith, centers on a secret society that monitors white fragility to redirect fear into healthier outcomes for Black folks. Watch for a March release. The other fiction film I most enjoyed was Thelma, a comedy featuring 94-year old actor June Squibb’s first lead role. The film crucially laughs along with its senior citizen characters, not at them. It’s light-hearted and believable and will be worth seeing in the theater when it is released. 

The documentary selections at Sundance were potent. Director Gary Hustwit brought his new project Eno to the festival. Visionary producer and music legend Brian Eno wasn’t willing to be part of a traditional documentary. Instead the filmmakers created an engine that ensures no two versions of the film are ever the same. What I saw was riveting. Your results may vary. Devo, directed by Chris Smith, captured why the band from Akron Ohio felt the urge to serve as what they call a musical laxative for a constipated society. Soundtrack to a Coup D’Etat was a jazzy history lesson about the revulsion of Belgium and the United States when Patrice Lumumba became the first prime minister of the newly independent Congo in 1960. A stream of consciousness look at how the UN was under the thumb of the US, the film also reveals how the CIA used jazz artists like Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington as propaganda tools abroad. The documentary Power asks why we’re complicit in the systemic problem of unaccountable policing. Netflix will release it this year. The documentary Union shows the successful effort to organize an Amazon warehouse on Staten Island, the first unionized facility in the company’s history. But Amazon has been stalling, filing legal appeals, and still hasn’t recognized the union. Frida tells the story of the iconic Mexican artist in her own words with a fascinating visual style based on her own artworks. In Black Box Diaries, Japanese journalist Ito Shiori turns her own effort to prove a prominent colleague raped her into a book and documentary, strengthened by her undercover recordings. 

Congrats to the Sundance Film Festival on 40 years. 2024’s lineup was impressive. For KRCL and Rocky Mountain Community Radio, I’m Gavin Dahl.