Nigerian American filmmaker Chinonye Chukwu is making her Sundance debut with Clemency, her second film. In Clemency, Alre Woodard portrays Bernadine Williams, a prison warden in charge of executions in a maximum security prison. Back at home, Wlliamsis drifting away from her husband, and sparks an interest in death-row inmate Anthony Woods (Aldis Hodge).
Acclaimed contemporary artist Rashid Johnson offers a modern take on Richard Wright’s classic novel, Native Son. Written by Pulitzer Prize–winning playwright, Suzan-Lori Parks, the film follows Bigger ‘Big’ Thomas (played by Moonlight star Ashton Sanders), who much like the novel is a young Black man living with his family in Chicago. In Parks’ Native Son however, Big has green hair, smokes weed and wears a punk jacket. Still, when he gets a job to chauffeur a wealthy businessman across town, including his wild yet progressive daughter, Mary, he finds himself in the middle of an accidental death that forces him to collide with social forces he’s too weak to persist.
The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind
Oscar-nominated actor Chiwetel Ejiofor makes his directorial debut with this adaptation of William Kamkwamba’s best selling autobiography, The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind. In the film, “Young William Kamkwamba lives with his family in rural Malawi, where he attends school regularly and shows great aptitude for his studies. Yet after land development and poor weather lead to a meager harvest, famine strikes the village, alarming the community and forcing William to drop out of school when his father (Ejiofor) can no longer afford the fees. Determined to find a way out of the life-threatening situation his family is facing, William sneaks into the school library to research—and soon conspires to build a windmill pump to irrigate the land. Caught between his father’s close-minded skepticism and the difficulty of creating a machine out of bicycle parts and scrap materials, William races against the clock to fight for his community’s survival.”
Written by Rashaad Ernesto Green and Zora Howard, Premature centerns on Ayanna, a Harlem teen who’s about to head off to college. Ayanna “is bold, confident, and not really looking for love—until she meets the slightly older Isaiah. After one of those rare first dates that lasts for hours, she knows there’s something different about him. Ayanna has found herself at an intimidating crossroads: one foot is still under her mother’s roof, while the the other is primed to step out on her own with Isaiah.”
The Last Tree
British filmmaker Shola Amoo returns to Sundance with his latest feature, The Last Tree. In the film, “Femi, a British boy of Nigerian heritage, enjoys a happy childhood in Lincolnshire, where he is raised by doting foster mother Mary and surrounded by a tight-knit group of friends—until his real mom reclaims him and deposits him into a much different life in her small inner-London flat. With little emotional bond to his mother and no remembrance of their cultural heritage, Femi struggles to adapt. As he acclimates to his new environment, Femi hardens himself, pulling away from the wishes of both of his “mothers” and forging ahead in a brazen attempt to build his own identity.”
British filmmaking duo Bert&Bertie present the whimsical feature, Troop Zero. The film centers on “nine-year-old oddball Christmas Flint (Mckenna Grace), who is obsessed with space and making contact with the aliens of the universe. When she finds out the prize at the 1977 Birdie Jamboree is getting her voice on NASA’s Golden Record, Christmas forms her own misfit Birdie troop. Nothing can prepare them for the painfully perfect world of the legit Birdies. But, led by their reluctant yet fearless troop mama (Viola Davis) and Christmas’s dad (Jim Gaffigan), they find glory in the most unexpected circumstances—much to the despair of the ever-judgmental school principal, Miss Massey (Allison Janney).” Mike Epps also stars.
Writer and director Jacob Estes returns to Sundance with Relive, a supernatural thriller that stars David Oyelowo and Storm Reid. In the film, “a Los Angeles detective Jack Radcliff (Oyelowo) fields a distressed phone call from his niece Ashley (Reid) and rushes to the rescue—only to find the girl and her parents dead in an apparent murder-suicide. Then, just as the police department declares the killings an open-and-shut case, Jack gets another call from Ashley. With the cell-phone connection acting as a link between the past and the present, Jack urges Ashley to collect clues that will help him to solve her murder and change her fate.”
Selah and the Spades
Writer and director Tayarisha Poe makes her feature debut with Selah and the Spades, a drama about 17-year-old Selah Summers. The film takes place “in the closed world of an elite Pennsylvania boarding school, the Haldwell, where the student body is run by five factions. Selah runs the most dominant group, the Spades, with unshakable poise, as they cater to the most classic of vices and supply students with coveted, illegal alcohol and pills. Tensions between the factions escalate, and when Selah’s best friend/right hand Maxxi becomes distracted by a new love, Selah takes on a protégée, enamored sophomore Paloma, to whom she imparts her wisdom on ruling the school. But with graduation looming and Paloma proving an impressively quick study, Selah’s fears turn sinister as she grapples with losing the control by which she defines herself.”
Nigerian American Julius Onah hits Sundance with a drama about a transracial adoption called, Luce. When the film begins, “it’s been ten years since Amy and Peter Edgar (Naomi Watts and Tim Roth) adopted their son from war-torn Eritrea, and they thought the worst was behind them. Luce Edgar (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) has become an all-star student beloved by his community in Arlington, Virginia. His African American teacher, Harriet Wilson (Octavia Spencer), believes he is a symbol of black excellence that sets a positive example for his peers. But when he is assigned to write an essay in the voice of a historical twentieth-century figure, Luce turns in a paper that makes an alarming statement about political violence. Worried about how this assignment reflects upon her star pupil, Harriet searches his locker and finds something that confirms her worst fears.”
Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am
Filmmaker/photographer Timothy Greenfield-Sanders explores the life and career of one of America’s greatest writers, Toni Morrison. In Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am, Greenfield-Sanders “relies on a trove of archival material, evocative works of contemporary art, and interviews with Oprah Winfrey, Angela Davis, and Morrison herself, as viewers revisit her famed books and learn about the inspiration for her writing. Throughout, Morrison is effortlessly graceful, insightful, and candid, making this intimate, comprehensive portrait of her life and works an exploration of what it means to be a writer whose stories are so deeply intertwined with often-unrealized national truths.”
Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool
Acclaimed documentarian Stanley Nelson returns to Sundance with Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool, an unflinching look at the legendary musician. Nelson’s film culls from “newly released archival material, alongside interviews with pre-eminent historians and personal friends like Quincy Jones, illustrate a man of intensity and devotion to his craft. Despite the indignities of America during the time of segregation, nothing was going to stop Davis from realizing his dream: to create a new form of musical expression.” Nelson also explores Davis’ volatile relationships and additions to present a full portrait of the man.
Wu-Tang Clan: Of Mics and Men
Mass Appeal and Showtime present their upcoming docuseries about one of hip-hop’s most legendary groups. In Wu-Tang Clan: Of Mics and Men, filmmaker Sacha Jenkins uses “never-before-seen footage and interviews recounting the obstacles traversed to stay united as one Wu family.” According to the project’s description, Jenkins also “poignantly captures [the group’s] struggles and triumphs in intimate detail, creating a group portrait that transcends music and delves into broader themes of race, economic strife, and brotherhood while weaving their distinctly raw and resonant sound throughout.”
Filmmakers Ivete Lucas and Patrick Bresnan train their lenses on four high schoolers in Pahokee, Florida, a small town on the shores of Lake Okeechobee. In the film, Lucas and Bresnan follow the group as they “navigate all of the sometimes exciting, sometimes heartbreaking rite-of-passage rituals as they make profound decisions about their futures. As they do, the pressure of Pahokee’s economic hardships weighs heavily on their shoulders—the community has placed all hopes for opportunity on them, the next generation.”
Always in Season
In Always in Season, filmmaker Jacqueline Olive tries to find out what really happened to Claudia Lacy’s 17-year-old son, Lennon, who was found hanging from a swing set in Bladenboro, North Carolina. While the authorities ruled his death a suicide, his mother wasn’t convinced. The film takes a look at the “suspicious details surrounding Lennon’s death, and certain that her son would not take his own life, Claudia is convinced Lennon was lynched. Jacqueline Olive’s unwavering debut film puts Lacy’s pursuit for justice into a wider historical context, inspiring a powerful discussion about lynching across racial lines.”
Kenneth Paul Rosenberg’s documentary, Bedlam, is “the first major documentary to explore the crisis in care of severely mentally-ill citizens. Set in Los Angeles, the film tracks wrenching individual stories of mentally-ill patients caught on an endless merry-go-round of ineffective care, exposing the anatomy of a broken healthcare mill.” Featuring Black Lives Matter co-founder Patrisse Cullors, the doc promises to show “how deep-seated shame, stigma, and decades-long political negligence have led to the single largest social catastrophe of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.”