Forrest Goodluck, Sasha Lane, and Chloë Grace Moretz in Desiree Akhavan's The Miseducation of Cameron Post
Forrest Goodluck, Sasha Lane, and Chloë Grace Moretz in Desiree Akhavan's The Miseducation of Cameron Post
Image: Jeong Park / Sundance Institute

Times being what they are, it’s been hard not to read topical commentary into just about every movie we saw this year.

But even if the parallels were clearly there, most of those films weren’t, and couldn’t be, direct responses to Trump. Most of them were in production well before the 2016 election. (There are exceptions: Steven Spielberg’s El cargo came together in the early months of this year.)

That changes right about … oh, now.

Next year’s Sundance may well be the first major film festival that is truly of the Trump era – in that it’s probably the first one with a significant number of films that were made and selected after the election. And it shows.

The initial wave of titles announced for the U.S. dramatic competition (home to some of the festival’s most high-profile picks) very much feels like a reflection of our scared and scary times.

There are films about the KKK (Burden), gay conversion therapy (The Miseducation of Cameron Post), race (TYREL), labor (Sorry to Bother You), gentrification (Blindspotting – which, by the way, is also a Hamilton mini-reunion), police brutality (Monsters and Men), the criminal justice system (Monstruo), and statutory rape (The Tale).

And that’s just for starters.

This definitely feels like a program designed in correspondence with the times.

Which isn’t to say we’re in for an especially heavy or sober Sundance. All these films take very different approaches to their topics. There are comedies and dramas, sci-fi stories and coming-of-age ones. Some will tread lightly and others will pound their fists.

And of course, we can’t know what the creators actually intended – whether these projects were envisioned as responses to current events, or just took on added resonance as the news cycles progressed. Some of the Sundance slate will still be movies that were conceived, developed, and filmed before anyone knew what 2017 would become.

But this definitely feels like a program designed in correspondence with the times. If 2017 was the year cinema drew from the vague unease leading up to November 2016, 2018 will be the first year in which cinema gets to fire back at the election of Donald Trump, and everything that’s happened since.

In other words, buckle up – we’re probably in for a wild ride.

The Sundance Film Festival runs January 18-28. U.S. Dramatic Competition entries are listed below; find the rest of the lineup at Sundance.org.

American Animals

Director and screenwriter: Bart Layton, Producers: Derrin Schlesinger, Katherine Butler, Dimitri Doganis, Mary Jane Skalski.
Cast: Evan Peters, Barry Keoghan, Blake Jenner, Jared Abrahamson, Ann Dowd, Udo Kier.
Synopsis: The unbelievable but mostly true story of four young men who mistake their lives for a movie and attempt one of the most audacious art heists in U.S. history.

BLAZE

Director: Ethan Hawke, Screenwriters: Ethan Hawke, Sybil Rosen, Producers: Jake Seal, John Sloss, Ryan Hawke, Ethan Hawke.
Cast: Benjamin Dickey, Alia Shawkat, Josh Hamilton, Charlie Sexton.
Synopsis: A reimagining of the life and times of Blaze Foley, the unsung songwriting legend of the Texas Outlaw Music movement; he gave up paradise for the sake of a song.

Blindspotting

Director: Carlos Lopez Estrada, Screenwriters: Rafael Casal, Daveed Diggs, Producers: Keith Calder, Jess Calder, Rafael Casal, Daveed Diggs.
Cast: Daveed Diggs, Rafael Casal, Janina Gavankar, Jasmine Cephas Jones.
Synopsis: A buddy comedy in a world that won’t let it be one.

Burden

Director and screenwriter: Andrew Heckler, Producers: Robbie Brenner, Jincheng, Bill Kenwright.
Cast: Garrett Hedlund, Forest Whitaker, Andrea Riseborough, Tom Wilkinson, Usher Raymond.
Synopsis: After opening a KKK shop, Klansman Michael Burden falls in love with a single mom who forces him to confront his senseless hatred. After leaving the Klan and with nowhere to turn, Burden is taken in by an African-American reverend, and learns tolerance through their combined love and faith.

Eighth Grade

Director and screenwriter: Bo Burnham, Producers: Scott Rudin, Eli Bush, Christopher Storer, Lila Yacoub.
Cast: Elsie Fisher, Josh Hamilton.
Synopsis: Thirteen-year-old Kayla endures the tidal wave of contemporary suburban adolescence as she makes her way through the last week of middle school — the end of her thus far disastrous eighth grade year — before she begins high school.

I Think We’re Alone Now

Director: Reed Morano, Screenwriter: Mike Makowsky, Producers: Fred Berger, Brian Kavanaugh-Jones, Fernando Loureiro, Roberto Vasconcellos, Peter Dinklage, Mike Makowsky.
Cast: Peter Dinklage, Elle Fanning.
Synopsis: The apocalypse proves a blessing in disguise for one lucky recluse – until a second survivor arrives with the threat of companionship.

The Kindergarten Teacher

Director and screenwriter: Sara Colangelo, Producers: Celine Rattray, Trudie Styler, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Osnat Handelsman-Keren, Talia Kleinhendler.
Cast: Maggie Gyllenhaal, Parker Sevak, Rosa Salazar, Anna Barynishikov, Michael Chernus, Gael Garcia Bernal.
Synopsis: Lisa Spinelli is a Staten Island teacher who is unusually devoted to her students. When she discovers one of her five-year-olds is a prodigy, she becomes fascinated with the boy, ultimately risking her family and freedom to nurture his talent. Based on the acclaimed Israeli film.

Lizzie

Director: Craig William Macneill, Screenwriter: Bryce Kass, Producers: Naomi Despres, Liz Destro.
Cast: Chloë Sevigny, Kristen Stewart, Jamey Sheridan, Fiona Shaw, Kim Dickens, Denis O’Hare.
Synopsis: Based on the 1892 murder of Lizzie Borden’s family in Fall River, MA, this tense psychological thriller lays bare the legend of Lizzie Borden to reveal the much more complex, poignant and truly terrifying woman within — and her intimate bond with the family’s young Irish housemaid, Bridget Sullivan.

The Miseducation of Cameron Post

Director: Desiree Akhavan, Screenwriters: Desiree Akhavan, Cecilia Frugiuele, Producers: Cecilia Frugiuele, Jonathan Montepare, Michael B. Clark, Alex Turtletaub.
Cast: Chloë Grace Moretz, Sasha Lane, Forrest Goodluck, John Gallagher Jr., Jennifer Ehle.
Synopsis: 1993: after being caught having sex with the prom queen, a girl is forced into a gay conversion therapy center. Based on Emily Danforth’s acclaimed and controversial coming-of-age novel.

Monstruo

Director: Anthony Mandler, Screenwriters: Radha Blank, Cole Wiley, Janece Shaffer, Producers: Tonya Lewis Lee, Nikki Silver, Aaron L. Gilbert, Mike Jackson, Edward Tyler Nahem.
Cast: Kelvin Harrison Jr., Jeffrey Wright, Jennifer Hudson, Rakim Mayers, Jennifer Ehle, Tim Blake Nelson.
Synopsis: “Monster” is what the prosecutor calls 17 year old honors student and aspiring filmmaker Steve Harmon. Charged with felony murder for a crime he says he did not commit, the film follows his dramatic journey through a complex legal battle that could leave him spending the rest of his life in prison.

Monsters and Men

Director and screenwriter: Reinaldo Marcus Green, Producers: Elizabeth Lodge Stepp, Josh Penn, Eddie Vaisman, Julia Lebedev, Luca Borghese.
Cast: John David Washington, Anthony Ramos, Kelvin Harrison Jr., Chanté Adams, Nicole Beharie, Rob Morgan.
Synopsis: This interwoven narrative explores the aftermath of a police killing of a black man. The film is told through the eyes of the bystander who filmed the act, an African-American police officer and a high-school baseball phenom inspired to take a stand.

NANCY

Director and screenwriter: Christina Choe, Producers: Amy Lo, Michelle Cameron, Andrea Riseborough.
Cast: Andrea Riseborough, J. Smith-Cameron, Steve Buscemi, Ann Dowd, John Leguizamo.
Synopsis: Blurring lines between fact and fiction, Nancy becomes increasingly convinced she was kidnapped as a child. When she meets a couple whose daughter went missing thirty years ago, reasonable doubts give way to willful belief – and the power of emotion threatens to overcome all rationality.

Sorry to Bother You

Director and screenwriter: Boots Riley, Producers: Nina Yang Bongiovi, Forest Whitaker, Charles King, George Rush, Jonathan Duffy, Kelly Williams.
Cast: Lakeith Stanfield, Tessa Thompson, Steven Yeun, Jermaine Fowler, Armie Hammer, Omari Hardwicke.
Synopsis: In a speculative and dystopian not-too-distant future, black telemarketer Cassius Green discovers a magical key to professional success – which propels him into a macabre universe.

The Tale

Director and screenwriter: Jennifer Fox, Producers: Oren Moverman, Lawrence Inglee, Laura Rister, Mynette Louie, Sol Bondy, Simone Pero.
Cast: Laura Dern, Isabel Nelisse, Jason Ritter, Elizabeth Debicki, Ellen Burstyn, Common.
Synopsis: An investigation into one woman’s memory as she’s forced to re-examine her first sexual relationship and the stories we tell ourselves in order to survive; based on the filmmaker’s own story.

TYREL

Director and screenwriter: Sebastian Silva, Producers: Jacob Wasserman, Max Born.
Cast: Jason Mitchell, Christopher Abbott, Michael Cera, Caleb Landry Jones, Ann Dowd.
Synopsis: Tyler spirals out of control when he realizes he’s the only black person attending a weekend birthday party in a secluded cabin.

Wildlife

Director: Paul Dano, Screenwriters: Paul Dano, Zoe Kazan, Producers: Andrew Duncan, Alex Saks, Oren Moverman, Ann Ruark, Jake Gyllenhaal, Riva Marker.
Cast: Carey Mulligan, Ed Oxenbould, Bill Camp, Jake Gyllenhaal.
Synopsis: Montana, 1960: A portrait of a family in crisis. Based on the novel by Richard Ford.

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