SUNDANCE 2020: Coverage From Afar – Ulkar Alakbarova reports

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Sundance 2020 should have marked my fourth year of attendance at the festival. However, a personal matter prevented me from traveling to Park City this year. Although that personal matter was a big event in my life, my inability to attend still upset me deeply. I could not tolerate the fact that I had to skip it this year, even though I had a good reason.

Those who attend the festival every year know how hard it is to get screeners from publicists. However, after explaining my situation, I was — thankfully — able to get screeners for 23 films so that I could cover the festival remotely.

I know that covering the festival from Toronto is not the same as being in Park City, Utah, but it is great to know that the mission has still been accomplished, more or less.

After all, does it really matter where we are? We are still close to what drives the ever-expanding cinematic universe – cinema itself, and storytelling, and the ability to see the movies in any part of the world.

As for the titles I’ve been given the chance to see, some are worth highlighting here. From among the films I’ve seen so far, I would like to introduce my top five. Once you see them for yourselves, I think you might agree with my choices.


A custody battle over a child is traumatic for all parties involved, particularly the child, who will suffer the most. So the question is, what can be done to prevent a catastrophic chain of events when two stubborn adults remain in disagreement? No matter the reasons behind those differences, there’s always someone who has to make the sacrifice; a sacrifice that will lead either to the path of forgiveness or to heartbreak. Written and directed by Amanda Kernell, and starring Sverrir Gudnason and Ane Dah Torp, Charter is a sad portrait of a broken family where the extent of the damage seems to be beyond even the slightest repair.

High Tide

Something extraordinary must occur in a movie, like the one that unfolds in High Tide, if the viewer is to feel the absolute bottom of morbid despair. Films like this normally prepare you for something insane, but the insanity you’ll witness in this movie reaches a whole new level, which, I assure you, will take you some time to process adequately. Written and directed by Veronica Chen, High Tide is a very clever psychological drama that centres around one woman who thinks she can manage everything by herself. It’s about a woman who is open to new challenges, affairs, and feelings which she most likely did not realize even existed. She is not a bad person; just spoiled. As for the rest of it, I will leave it to you to find out.


Each society is different from all others. While one society may teach us to be obedient, another might accept rebelliousness and open-mindedness, and so on. However, whenever we lock a child inside a box, we must expect that little precious life to escape from it. And when that happens, there’s no known force that would stop the youth from growing within that same mind set that someone tried to stifle.
From writer/director Maïmouna Doucouré, Cuties is not a Hollywood type of film. In fact, do not expect something bold and thought-provoking like this ever to be made in the Western World.

The Climb

Mike (Michael Angelo Covino) and Kyle (Kyle Marvin) love each other as friends. They cycle together, laugh together, and even get angry together. Pretty much, they represent the type of friendship you would expect to see in two such people. Things change when Mike suddenly confesses to Kyle that he is in love with Kyle’s fiancée, Ava (Judith Godreche), and from that moment on, their friendship is put to the test on every level and over many years. They will share heartbreak, loss, love, betrayal, and disappointment as they journey through lives that are full of ups and downs.


To be a father is not an easy matter for every man. Certain moments that are emotional for a child require more than just the consoling of the little one. How do we explain, say, the meaning of life and death? Daughter is an interaction between a daughter and her terminally ill father, whose condition is akin to that of a bird that breaks a window pane after impact. It is no surprise that Daria Kashcheeva’s film has already been nominated for the Oscars. It may well earn one.

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Ulkar Alakbarova

Ulkar Alakbarova has been writing about movies since childhood. She loves black-and-white cinema. She worked as an independent film journalist in Azerbaijan. Starting in 2013, she has worked as a Toronto-based film critic/interviewer. She is a founder of and regularly covers major film festivals, such as TIFF, Fantasia Film Festival, Tribeca Film Festival, New York Film Festival, Hot Docs and Sundance.