Women directed half of the selections for the 2021 Sundance Film Festival

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Rita Moreno is seen in “Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided to Go For It” by Mariem Pérez Riera, an official selection of the U.S. Documentary Competition at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival. [Courtesy of Sundance Institute]

New independent works in the Feature Film, Short Film, Indie Series and New Frontier categories will be showcased at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival, which starts Thursday and continues through Feb. 3.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this year’s Sundance Film Festival – which usually takes place in Park City, Utah – is not only going digital at festival.sundance.org but also is offering in-person socially distanced screenings and events at drive-in theaters, independent arthouses and other venues around the country.

“This Festival is a singular response to a singular year – both in design and curation – and we are excited about the new dimensions of possibility it will reveal. But at its core is something that speaks to our most enduring values,” said Tabitha Jackson, Director of the Sundance Film Festival, in a statement. “For thousands of years humans have gathered to tell stories and make meaning. In this pandemic year, we gather to celebrate a constellation of artists with unique perspectives that express this current moment and who together are saying, ‘We exist. This is who we are. And this is what we see.’”

The full 2021 Sundance slate includes 71 feature-length films, representing 29 countries and 38 first-time feature filmmakers. The films were selected from 14,092 submissions, including 3,500 feature-length films. Of the feature film submissions, 1,377 were from the U.S. and 2,132 were international.

“The work in this year’s program is groundbreaking, imaginative, and formally daring,” said Kim Yutani, the Festival’s Director of Programming. “With over half the program made by first-time directors, a sense of discovery remains true to us at Sundance. This year’s Festival presents irrefutable evidence that despite the challenges, the independent voice is as strong as ever.”

Across 139 films and projects, 50%, or 69, were directed by one or more women; 4%, or six, were directed by one or more non-binary individuals; 50%, or 70, were directed by one or more artists of color; and 15%, or 21, by one or more people who identify as LGBTQ+.

“The work in this year’s program is groundbreaking, imaginative, and formally daring,” said Kim Yutani, the festival’s director of programming, in a statement. “With over half the program made by first-time directors, a sense of discovery remains true to us at Sundance. This year’s Festival presents irrefutable evidence that despite the challenges, the independent voice is as strong as ever.”

In the U.S. competition, 50% of the 10 directors in this year’s U.S. Dramatic Competition identify as women, while 40% identify as BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and people of color). In addition, 64% of the 11 directors in this year’s U.S. Documentary Competition identify as women, while 73% identify as BIPOC and 9% as LGBTQ+.

Also, 50% of the 10 World Dramatic Competition selections are directed by filmmakers who identify as women.

Here are some of the woman-helmed projects that are on the Sundance 2021 slate:

Ruth Negga and Tessa Thompson appear in “Passing” by Rebecca Hall, an official selection of the U.S. Dramatic Competition at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival. [Courtesy of Sundance Institute/photo by Edu Grau]

U.S. Dramatic Competition:

“Passing”
Director and screenwriter: Rebecca Hall
Two African American women who can “pass” as white choose to live on opposite sides of the color line in 1929 New York in an exploration of racial and gender identity, performance, obsession and repression.

“CODA”
Director and screenwriter: Siân Heder
As a CODA – Child of Deaf Adults – Ruby is the only hearing person in her deaf family. When the family’s fishing business is threatened, Ruby finds herself torn between pursuing her love of music and her fear of abandoning her parents.

“Together Together”
Director and screenwriter: Nikole Beckwith
When young loner Anna is hired as the surrogate for Matt, a single man in his 40s, the two strangers come to realize this unexpected relationship will quickly challenge their perceptions of connection, boundaries and the particulars of love.

“Mayday”
Director and screenwriter: Karen Cinorre
Ana is transported to a dreamlike and dangerous land where she joins a team of female soldiers engaged in a never-ending war along a rugged coast. Though she finds strength in this exhilarating world, she comes to realize that she’s not the killer they want her to be.

“Superior”
Director: Erin Vassilopoulos
Screenwriters: Erin Vassilopoulos and Alessandra Mesa
On the run, Marian returns to her hometown in upstate New York to hide out with her estranged identical twin sister, Vivian. Struggling to put the past behind her, Marian lies about the reason for her return, leaving her sister in the dark until their two worlds begin to collide.

Dancers are shown in “Ailey,” by Jamila Wignot, an official selection of the U.S. Documentary Competition at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival. [Courtesy of Sundance Institute/photo by Jack Mitchell]

U.S. Documentary Competition:

“Ailey”
Director: Jamila Wignot
Alvin Ailey was a visionary artist who found salvation through dance. Told in his own words and through the creation of a dance inspired by his life, this immersive portrait follows a man who, when confronted by a world that refused to embrace him, determined to build one that would.

“At the Ready”
Director: Maisie Crow
Home to one of the region’s largest law enforcement education program, students at Horizon High School in El Paso train to become police officers and Border Patrol agents as they discover the realities of their dream jobs may be at odds with the truths and people they hold most dear.

“Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided to Go for It”
Director: Mariem Pérez Riera
Rita Moreno defied both her humble upbringing and relentless racism to become one of a select group who have won an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony Award. Over a seventy year career, she has paved the way for Hispanic American performers by refusing to be pigeonholed into one-dimensional stereotypes.

“Users”
Director: Natalia Almada
A mother wonders, will my children love their perfect machines more than they love me, their imperfect mother? She switches on a smart-crib lulling her crying baby to sleep. This perfect mother is everywhere. She watches over us, takes care of us. We listen to her. We trust her.

“Cusp”
Directors: Parker Hill and Isabel Bethencourt
In a Texas military town, three teenage girls confront the dark corners of adolescence at the end of a fever dream summer.

“Try Harder!”
Director: Debbie Lum
In a universe where cool kids are nerds, the orchestra is world class and being Asian American is the norm, seniors at Lowell High School compete for the top prize: admission to the college of their dreams.

Renata de Lélis appears in “The Pink Cloud,” by Iuli Gerbase, an official selection of the World Cinema Dramatic Competition at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival. [Courtesy of Sundance Institute]

World Cinema Dramatic Competition:

“The Pink Cloud” (Brazil)
Director and Screenwriter: Iuli Gerbase
A mysterious and deadly pink cloud appears across the globe, forcing everyone to stay home. Strangers at the outset, Giovana and Yago try to invent themselves as a couple as years of shared lockdown pass. While Yago is living in his own utopia, Giovana feels trapped deep inside.

“El Planeta” (U.S.-Spain)
Director and Screenwriter: Amalia Ulman
Amidst the devastation of post-crisis Spain, mother and daughter bluff and grift to keep up the lifestyle they think they deserve, bonding over common tragedy and an impending eviction.

“The Dog Who Wouldn’t Be Quiet” (Argentina)
Director: Ana Katz
Sebastian, a man in his thirties, works a series of temporary jobs and he embraces love at every opportunity. He transforms, through a series of short encounters, as the world flirts with possible apocalypse.

“Hive” (Kosovo-Switzerland-Macedonia-Albania)
Director and Screenwriter: Blerta Basholli
Fahrije’s husband has been missing since the war in Kosovo. She sets up her own small business to provide for her kids, but as she fights against a patriarchal society that does not support her, she faces a crucial decision: to wait for his return, or to continue to persevere.

“Pleasure” (Sweden-Netherlands-France)
Director and Screenwriter: Ninja Thyberg
A 20-year-old girl moves from her small town in Sweden to LA for a shot at a career in the adult film industry.

“Playing with Sharks,” by Sally Aitken, is an official selection of the World Cinema Documentary Competition at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival. [Courtesy of Sundance Institute]

World Cinema Documentary Competition:

“Playing with Sharks” (Australia)
Director and Screenwriter: Sally Aitken
Valerie Taylor is a shark fanatic and an Australian icon – a marine maverick who forged her way as a fearless diver, cinematographer and conservationist. She filmed the real sharks for Jaws and famously wore a chain mail suit, using herself as shark bait, changing our scientific understanding of sharks forever.

“Writing with Fire” (India)
Directors and Producers: Rintu Thomas, Sushmit Ghosh
In a cluttered news landscape dominated by men, emerges India’s only newspaper run by Dalit women. Armed with smartphones, Chief Reporter Meera and her journalists break traditions on the frontlines of India’s biggest issues and within the confines of their own homes, redefining what it means to be powerful.

“Taming the Garden” (Switzerland-Germany-Georgia)
Director Salomé Jashi
A poetic ode to the rivalry between men and nature.

“Faya Dayi” (Ethiopia-U.S.)
Director, Screenwriter and Producer: Jessica Beshir
A spiritual journey into the highlands of Harar, immersed in the rituals of khat, a leaf Sufi Muslims chewed for centuries for religious meditations – and Ethiopia’s most lucrative cash crop today. A tapestry of intimate stories offers a window into the dreams of youth under a repressive regime.

“The Most Beautiful Boy in the World” (Sweden)
Directors: Kristina Lindström, Kristian Petri
Swedish actor/musician Björn Andresen’s life was forever changed at the age of 15, when he played Tadzio, the object of Dirk Bogarde’s obsession in Death in Venice – a role which led Italian maestro Luchino Visconti to dub him “the world’s most beautiful boy.”

“President” (Denmark-U.S.-Norway)
Director: Camilla Nielsson
Zimbabwe is at a crossroads. The leader of the opposition MDC party, Nelson Chamisa, challenges the old guard ZANU-PF led by Emmerson Mnangagwa, known as “The Crocodile.” The election tests both the ruling party and the opposition – how do they interpret principles of democracy in discourse and in practice?

To check out a full list of Sundance selections, click here.

-BAM

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