While most folks are looking back at the past year’s highlights and what’s likely to nab Oscar nods, the Sundance Film Festival is looking ahead – not just to what may end up on folks’ best-of lists or awards’ voters ballots 12 months from now (remember, this is where Boyhood premiered in 2014, and where Manchester by the Sea had its very first screening last year), but toward the future. For almost four decades, before it even adopted the name of a famous screen outlaw, Robert Redford’s Utah-based fest has been searching for the big “what’s next.”
Sometimes it’s done this by offering a forum for filmmakers working outside of the studio system, or those representing cultures that have traditionally been ignored by the mainstream. Other times, in conjunction with the Sundance Institute’s labs, it’s helped nurture several generations’ worth of directors, screenwriters and actors that have shaped the movies – and how we think about the movies – in indelible ways. Yes, it’s a much more commercial endeavor than it was 30 years ago, or 20, or even five. But you can still find documentaries that will start and/or set the pace for many social-issue discussions, discover cutting-edge works that push the medium to mind-blowing new places, and see tomorrow’s major players as they find their voices now. It remains the place where you go every year to get a glimpse at where things are headed.
And looking over the 2017 Sundance lineup, we’ve found a number of films that have piqued our curiosity and frankly, have us chomping at the bit. Before the festival kicks off on January 19th, we’re shining a light on 25 films that we’re dying to check out once the Park City event gets underway – everything from docs on the Grateful Dead and Gawker’s demise, biopics about hip-hop’s “Roxanne Wars” and Ponzi-scheming Polka kings, quirky comedies, heartbreaking dramas and one truly unclassifiable work in which Cate Blanchett plays 13 different characters reciting famous art manifestos. We’ll be reporting back on the festival in depth after the opening night premiere kicks off 10 days of nonstop viewing, but for now, these are the must-see movies to keep an eye out for.