Sundance Buzz: 2017 Dramatic Competition Contenders

Every year, at America’s biggest indie film festival, there is one prize that matters above all: the Dramatic Competition prize. This award can put a career off to a good start. Just take the example of 1985, when two brothers released a violent noir called “Blood Simple.” They were the Coen brothers, and went on to make some of the most memorable American films. There are few more prestigious honors in film than SUndance Film Festival’s Dramatic Competition.

As a brief disclaimer, this isn’t a complete list of all the amazing contenders for the Dramatic Competition prize. Be sure to check out all the entries and watch as many films as you can at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. Also be sure to check out our roundup new directors to watch this year at the Festival. But, when it comes to predicting the winner for Dramatic Competition, you may want to think about these films…

Note: All plot descriptions were taken from Sundance’s official competition announcement, linked here.

1. “Beach Rats”


Directed and Written By: Eliza Hittman

You Might Know Them From: “It Felt Like Love

In her sophomore effort, Hittman focuses on a coming of age story about “an aimless teenager on the outer edges of Brooklyn struggles to escape his bleak home life … as he balances his time between his delinquent friends, a potential new girlfriend, and older men he meets online.”

Cast: Harris Dickinson, Madeline Weinstein, Kate Hodge, Neal Huff.

2. “Burning Sands”


Directed By: Gerard McMurray

Written By: Christine Berg and McMurray

You Might Know Them From: “Fruitvale Station”; Berg’s debut

Gerard McMurray’s “Fruitvale Station” was a powerful movie that dived into the life of Oscar Grant before he was shot on the BART train. He returns with this fraternity drama about a pledge “torn between honoring his code of silence or standing up against the intensifying violence of underground hazing.”

Cast: Trevor Jackson, Alfre Woodard, Steve Harris, Tosin Cole, DeRon Horton, Trevante Rhodes.

3. “Crown Heights”

Directed and Written By: Matt Ruskin

You Might Know Them From: “Booster” and “The Hip Hop Project

Adapted from This American Life episode “DIY,” Matt Ruskin directs the story of Carl King, a man who becomes an ad-hoc investigator to prove the innocence of his friend, Colin Warner.

Cast: Keith Stanfield, Nnamdi Asomugha, Natalie Paul, Bill Camp, Nestor Carbonell, Amari Cheatom.

4. “Golden Exits


Directed and Written By: Alex Ross Perry

You Might Know Them From: “Queen of Earth” and “Listen Up, Philip

Indie institution Perry goes for his biggest prize yet with this drama, focusing on events instigated when “the arrival of a young foreign girl disrupts the lives and emotional balances of two Brooklyn families.”

Cast: Emily Browning, Adam Horovitz, Mary-Louise Parker, Lily Rabe, Jason Schwartzman, Chloë Sevigny.

5. “The Hero

Directed By: Brett Haley

Written By: Haley and Marc Basch

You Might Know Them From: “I’ll See You in My Dreams

Sam Elliot might be spying a comeback in this drama that focuses on a western icon who “[receives] a lifetime achievement award and unexpected news” and “reexamines his past.”

Cast: Sam Elliott, Laura Prepon, Krysten Ritter, Nick Offerman, Katharine Ross.

6. “Ingrid Goes West

Directed by: Matt Spicer

Written by: Spicer and David Branson Smith

You Might Know Them From: “Flower” and “It’s Not You, It’s Me

This dark comedy focuses on “a young woman becomes obsessed with an Instagram “influencer” and moves to Los Angeles to try and befriend her in real life.”

Cast: Aubrey Plaza, Elizabeth Olsen, O’Shea Jackson Jr., Wyatt Russell, Billy Magnussen. World Premiere

7. “Landline

Directed by: Gillian Robespierre

Written by: Elisabeth Holm and Robespierre

You Might Know Them From: “Obvious Child

This dramedy about “two sisters [coming] of age in ’90s New York when they discover their dad’s affair — and it turns out he’s not the only cheater in the family.” Prepare yourself to get nostalgic about seeing smoking sections in restaurants.

Cast: Jenny Slate, John Turturro, Edie Falco, Abby Quinn, Jay Duplass, Finn Wittrock.

8. “Novitiate

Directed and Written By: Margaret Betts

You Might Know Them From:  This is Betts’s film debut.

Betts has been a social activist for years, so look for her debut film to focus on social issues in the “the Vatican II era, [as] a young woman training to become a nun struggles with issues of faith, sexuality and the changing church.”

Cast: Margaret Qualley, Melissa Leo, Julianne Nicholson, Dianna Agron, Morgan Saylor.

9. “Patti Cake$

Directed and Written By: Geremy Jasper

You Might Know Them From: His short film “Outlaws

This comedy focuses on “a female aspiring rapper fighting through a world of strip malls and strip clubs on an unlikely quest for glory.” Whether it’s inspiring or bizarre, look for it to at least be interesting, as Geremy Jasper has already won the Palm Springs International Film Festival award for “Directors to Watch.”

Cast: Danielle Macdonald, Bridget Everett, Siddharth Dhananjay, Mamoudou Athie, Cathy Moriarty.

10. “Roxanne Roxanne

Directed and Written By: Michael Larnell

You Might Know Them From: “Cronies

This biopic of Lolita “Roxanne Shante” Gooden, one of the original female rapper, should be an interesting portrayal of The Roxanne Wars. The Roxanne Wars were a series of diss records volleyed back and forth between Roxanne Shante and The Real Roxanne. It’ll also focus on the singer’s upbringing in the Bronx and bring light to a sometimes forgotten moment in hip hop’s rich history.

Cast: Chanté Adams, Mahershala Ali, Nia Long, Elvis Nolasco, Kevin Phillips, Shenell Edmonds.

11. Walking Out

Directors and screenwriters: Alex and Andrew Smith

You Might Know Them From: “Winter in the Blood

Based on a short story by nature writer David Quammen, the film is concerns a teenager hunting big game with his estranged father, until “a brutal encounter in the heart of the wilderness changes everything.”

Cast: Matt Bomer, Josh Wiggins, Bill Pullman, Alex Neustaedter, Lily Gladstone.

12. The Yellow Birds

Directed By: Alexandre Moors

Written By: David Lowery and R.F.I. Porto

This adaptation of an award-winning novel by Kevin Powers will ask difficult questions about one of the defining moments of the Aughts. From Sundance: “Two young men enlist in the army and are deployed to fight in the Iraq War. After an unthinkable tragedy, the returning soldier struggles to balance his promise of silence with the truth and a mourning mother’s search for peace.”

Cast: Tye Sheridan, Jack Huston, Alden Ehrenreich, Jason Patric, Toni Collette, Jennifer Aniston. World Premiere.

Who do you have winning the Sundance Dramatic Competition? Sound off in the comments!

7 Directorial Debuts to Watch at Sundance 2017

Sundance: the famous film festival in Park City, Utah, best known for providing big breaks to independent filmmakers — some who are debuting their work for the first time. Famous auteurs like Paul Thomas Anderson, Quentin Tarantino, and David O. Russell got their break debuting their films at Sundance. This year, there is no doubt this proud tradition of highlighting the work of the up-and-coming powerhouse directors of the future will continue. In the spirit of Sundance and to prepare for this year’s festival, we’ve rounded up some breakout directors and films you may want to check out.

1. Flying Lotus/Steven Ellison – “Kuso


The Los Angeles beat scene maestro and prankster behind the Captain Murphy mixtapes didn’t start off as a musician; he got his start at the Los Angeles Film School. It wasn’t until he saw an “Adult Swim” advertisement and submitted a few songs that he gained notoriety. His debut film “Kuso” features “Adult Swim” alums like Tim Heidecker and Hannibal Burress, in a film he describes as “pretty much everything that I’m afraid of.” Oh, and he’s doing the score, too.

2. Taylor Sheridan – “Wind River


Best known for playing David Hale on FX’s “Sons of Anarchy” and writing the screenplays for “Sicario” and “Hell or High Water,” Taylor’s debut film stars Jeremy Renner, Elizabeth Olsen, and Jon Bernthal, in a thriller involving the FBI’s partnership with a game tracker in an attempt to solve a murder on an Indian Reservation.

3. Zoe Lister-Jones – “Band Aid


Zoe Lister-Jones, the star of CBS’s “Life in Pieces” has a long and varied resume. She’s even recorded a solo album and was a member of The Ladybug Transistor. So it makes sense that her debut film is about a couple who decides to save their marriage by starting a band and writing songs about their fights. The film also features current Seth Myers bandleader and “Portlandia” funnyman Fred Armisen.

4. Marti Noxon– “To The Bone


TV veteran Marti Noxon, who got her start as a writer with “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and recently worked as a producer on “Mad Men,” makes her debut with this medical drama about a young woman struggling with anorexia, featuring Keanu Reeves (in a non-action role!) as her doctor.

5. Dave McCary– “Brigsby Bear


Before he was an SNL alum, Kyle Mooney was best known for his odd delivery and manchild characters in sketches filmed by his comedy group Good Neighbor. When the entire group was hired on to SNL, they brought along Dave McCary, who debuts with “Brigsby Bear, a film about a children’s TV show produced for an audience of one that abruptly ends. Kyle Mooney stars as the audience member who decides to solve the mystery behind the show and finish the plot for himself.

6. Macon Blair– “I Don’t Feel At Home in This World Anymore


Macon Blair has been on a bit of a tear as an actor, starring in revenge thriller “Blue Ruin” and neo-nazi siege horror “Green Room.” His film “I Don’t Feel At Home In This World Anymore” is about a woman whose house gets burglarized. With the help of her neighbor, she begins attempting to track down the burglars. Hopefully he can build on the successes of his prior films. The film, featuring former Hobbit Elijah Wood, has been picked up by Netflix, so it looks like he’s done just that.

Which films and directors are you following as you prepare for this year’s Sundance Festival? Let us know in the comments below!


Feminism and Film Festivals: A Change In The Right Direction?

Last year was something of a breakthrough for women in cinematography in that female directors have made up precisely half of the entries in last year’s Sundance Film Festival dramatic film competition.

The news is inspiring, but also illustrates the massive disparity between the indie scene and Hollywood when it comes to gender equality. It also doesn’t necessarily mean that this isolated statistic is indicative of long term change—indeed, Stacy Smith (of the University of Southern California who carried out the Sundance survey) concluded that “There has been no sustained or meaningful change across the last 11 years in the percentage of [female] directors or producers at the Sundance film festival.”

feminism film festivals

In total, over the last 11 years of Sundance less than one third of the professional staff who worked on films appearing at the festival were women. But if recent statistics mark a positive upswing in gender equality in film, how best can we sustain and build upon the trend?

A Focus on the Figures

To better understand the issue, more consistent analysis is needed; statistics on the gender divide in the industry are rarely current and surveys aren’t usually carried out on a large scale by professional bodies. While the numbers from 2013’s Sundance festival are both accurate and current, they weren’t drawn from a particularly large sample pool (the 50% figure relates to just the 16 films in the Dramatic Competition) and tell us nothing about the industry outside of the festival, as popular as it is.

Perhaps we should look towards Sweden, a country with a proud film heritage that is committed to analyzing and addressing the balance. The Swedish Film Institute, a semi-state funded body based in Stockholm, has worked hard over the last few years to make sure funding is awarded equally between men and women.

Swedish women in film

The Institute has determined that currently around 29% of feature films which are awarded funding are directed by women (who also account for 40% of the producers and writers). Not quite equal yet, but also a lot better than the loosely estimated national statistics for the US.

What’s more, the Swedish Film Institute has constructed an action plan based on its findings to achieve total equality in film funding by as soon as 2015 through regular dialogue, constructive action and mentorship programs. They’ve already cracked that nut when it comes to shorts and documentaries; it’s only the feature films that need raising from 29% to 50% in the director’s chair.

At the time of writing, no such research or action plan has been commissioned by the American Film Institute.

Raising Consciousness Through Film Festivals

That all said, the Sundance survey (commissioned by the festival itself in part with Women in Film) should be applauded as a step in the right direction. More studies of this kind should be carried out by hosting festivals, not only to get a more accurate handle on the issue but also to avoid the shambles that was Cannes 2012 (in which the Palme d’Or competition was dominated exclusively by males).

In addition, there’s a somewhat cyclical effect to surveys such as these. The numbers are of great interest to film writers and bloggers, who disseminate the information to the public at large.

In turn, this fosters an awareness where one might not have previously existed and creates a desire to see more female-directed or produced works. It also inspires more women to take up a career in the industry, helping the diversity some of the best cinematography schools in the country are already keen to foster.

And that gives rise to festivals dedicated to the works of women. This year sees an impressive line-up of such events, including last month’s return of SIFF’s Women in Cinema which returned to Seattle after a ten-year hiatus.

The Wellywood Woman blog has recently updated its handy list of female-centric film festivals which are appearing globally around the world; be sure to check out the full list here.

Pushing Forward

Feminism in Film

Of course, it’s not all about the numbers and blindly working towards a 50% gender split in films shown at festivals is not the only goal. As projects helmed by women—either as a director or producer—are in no way less likely to be profitable than those made by their male counterparts, it’s important that we promote a greater number of works by females at film festivals purely because it gives us as viewers more variance.

Variety is, after all, the spice of life; let’s demand more from our film festival organizers.


Enjoy this? You might also want to check out our Gender Inequality in Film infographic to dig into the numbers a little deeper.