2019 Film Festival Issue | Cover Story | Salt Lake City | Salt Lake City Weekly

2019 Film Festival Issue 

Past stories lay the foundation for new ones in Park City.

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Pedigrees in Park City
Veteran Sundance filmmakers bring new movies this year that deserve a look.
By Scott Renshaw

Every year, industry insiders and movie-lovers descend on Park City for a chance to see the Next Big Thing before that thing becomes big. It's a showcase for work by artists who are often unknown or just starting out—and that can make choosing your movies more than slightly challenging.

Some Sundance features, however, come from filmmakers who have been here before, or simply have at least a bit of a track record worth looking at. Here's a look at a handful of Sundance 2019 films where you might have at least a little sense of what to expect based on their creators' previous work.

The Nightingale - BRON STUDIOS
  • Bron Studios
  • The Nightingale

The Nightingale
Synopsis: Revenge thriller about an Irish convict in 1820s Tasmania who enlists the aid of an aboriginal tracker to find the people who brutalized her family.

Director: Jennifer Kent

Also known for: The 2014 Sundance horror highlight The Babadook, a tale of grief manifesting in the form of a monster. The stunningly directed debut wasn't just the scariest film of that year's Sundance, or the best debut feature; it was the best film of the year, period.

So you might expect: Something grim and terrifying but still genuinely emotional, served up with true cinematic artistry.

Memory – The Origins of Alien - EXHIBIT A PICTURES
  • Exhibit A Pictures
  • Memory – The Origins of Alien

Memory – The Origins of Alien
Synopsis: Documentary look at the story behind the creation of the 1979 horror/sci-fi classic Alien, including the germ of the original script idea that was almost never finished.

Director: Alexandre O. Philippe

Also known for: The 2017 Sundance Midnight documentary 78/52, a deep dive into the structure and cultural resonance of the infamous "shower scene" from Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho. It was a close reading of a film text with an engaging enthusiasm and insight.

So you might expect: A lesson in film history that avoids stuffy academic discourse in favor of a look at why certain creepy things get so deeply under our skin.

  • Hard Working Movies
  • Hail Satan?

Hail Satan?
Synopsis: Documentary exploration of the Satanic Temple, and the way its members have taken their controversial beliefs to the forefront of the "separation of church and state" culture war.

Director: Penny Lane

Also known for: The 2016 Sundance documentary Nuts!, a fascinating profile of inventor/entrepreneur/snake-oil salesman John Romulus Brinkley, which combined visual imagination in its animated re-creations with a tale of pirate radio and impotence cures.

So you might expect: An unconventional approach to an unconventional subject, one that treats strangeness with a welcome sense of humor but also as an absolutely worthy topic of conversation.

The Death of Dick Long - A24 FILMS
  • A24 Films
  • The Death of Dick Long

The Death of Dick Long
Synopsis: A pair of friends in a small-town Alabama band, Zeke and Earl, try to keep it a secret when their bandmate Dick dies, but they're a bit too dumb for a successful cover-up.

Director: Daniel Scheinert

Also known for: The love-it-or-hate-it 2017 Sundance feature Swiss Army Man—yes, the one with Daniel Radcliffe as a talking, farting corpse—co-directed with Daniel Kwan. Sure, it was irreverent, but it also managed to dig into the insecurities that keep so many relationships on a superficial level.

So you might expect: Another dark comedy that finds humor in a dead body, giving Scheinert a leg up on being America's poet laureate of Weekend at Bernie's-inspired philosophizing.

  • Blumhouse Productions
  • Relive

Synopsis: A detective (David Oyelowo) investigates an apparent murder-suicide involving his young niece and her parents—after he receives a telephone call from that dead niece, from the past.

Director: Jacob Estes

Also known for: The 2004 Sundance thriller Mean Creek (about teenagers plotting revenge on a bully) and 2011's The Details (a weird, dark domestic comedy with Tobey Maguire fighting raccoons). Estes also directed the not-so-great 2017 Rings, which attempted to reboot The Ring horror franchise.

So you might expect: With this guy, who knows? He clearly likes traveling through strange, dark territory, but at times seems to lose his grip on his material.

  • Blumhouse Productions
  • Sweetheart

Synopsis: A young woman (Kiersey Clemons) is stranded on a deserted island, where she's hunted by a creature that comes out of the water at night to feed.

Director: J.D. Dillard

Also known for: The 2016 thriller Sleight, about a teenage street magician and part-time drug dealer who needs to use his skills after he gets in over his head. It's a slick, low-budget variant on a superhero origin story, with solidly directed performances.

So you might expect: Another spin on genre tropes—this time, both a survival drama and a monster thriller—that takes those tropes in creative directions, with a talented young actor at the center.

The Mountain - VICE STUDIOS
  • Vice Studios
  • The Mountain

The Mountain
Synopsis: In 1953, a teenage Zamboni driver (Tye Sheridan) joins a lobotomist (Jeff Goldblum) on a tour of rural mental hospitals as the doctor tries to drum up business.

Director: Rick Alverson

Also known for: Most recently, at Sundance 2015 for the Gregg Turkington collaboration Entertainment—about a bitter touring comedian—and before that at Sundance 2012 with The Comedy, both of which emphasize Alverson's fondness for almost aggressive anti-comedy.

So you might expect: More of the same, based on that synopsis. Either you want to see the guy who directed Entertainment directing Goldblum as a lobotomist, or you don't.

Ms. Purple - MACRO
  • Macro
  • Ms. Purple

Ms. Purple
Synopsis: Estranged Korean-American siblings in Southern California are pulled back together to decide how they must care for their bedridden father.

Director: Justin Chon

Also known for: The 2017 Sundance Next Audience Award-winning Gook, about racial tensions in a Los Angeles neighborhood between Korean-American store owners and their mostly African-American customers during the era of the Rodney King verdict.

So you might expect: Character-based drama with a vivid sense of place and cultural specificity, anchored in the Korean-American immigrant experience.

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