Each year, filmmakers, cinephiles, and the creme-de-la-creme of the entertainment industry make their way to Park City, Utah for the Sundance Film Festival to be the first to watch some of the most buzzed-about films of the year.
People like Ava DuVernay, Ryan Coogler, and Radha Blank have had career-defining moments at Sundance. This year, just like every other major cultural event, the largest independent film festival in the United States will look very different. Instead of gathering in theaters, coffee shops, and parties, Sundance attendees will be convening around their screens from the comfort and safety of their homes.
Since Sundance is virtual this year, it’s more accessible than ever. Moreover, from feature films and documentaries to shorts and experimental programs, the selections at Sundance this year prove how diverse Black storytelling has become. Here are a few of the highlights.
Based on the acclaimed novella by Nella Larsen. Tessa Thompson and Ruth Negga star in Passing, a film set in New York in 1929. The narrative follows two Black women living on opposite sides of the color line. Sundance has called the movie an “exploration of racial and gender identity, performance, obsession, and repression.”
Passing premieres Jan. 30.
Directed by Jamila Wignot, Ailey is a documentary that follows legendary dancer and choreographer, Alvin Ailey. Told using Ailey’s own words and performances, the film is described as an “immersive portrait [following] a man who, when confronted by a world that refused to embrace him, determined to build one that would.”
Ailey premieres Jan. 30.
Summer Of Soul (…Or, When The Revolution Could Not Be Televised)
During the summer of 1969, over 300,000 people gathered in Upper Manhattan for the Harlem Cultural Festival. It was an event that celebrated Black music and culture while promoting Black pride and unity. For over 50 years, the vibrant footage from the festival sat forgotten in a basement. Now, in his directorial debut, Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson is bringing it to life once again.
Summer Of Soul premiered Jan. 28 at Sundance 2021
In his feature film debut, Carey Williams puts his unique spin on Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet in R#J. Told exclusively using smartphones and social media with Black and brown actors at the center, this is a new vision of the Montagues and Capulets.
R#J premieres Jan. 30.
Judas and the Black Messiah
Director Shaka King turns his lens on the revolutionary Black Panther Chairman Fred Hampton (Daniel Kaluuya) in the year leading up to his death. As much as the film centers on the charismatic young leader who died for Black freedom, it also centers on William O’Neal (LaKeith Stanfield), an FBI Informant who infiltrated Hampton’s inner circle, ultimately handing the FBI and the Chicago Police Department the blueprint to Hampton’s apartment.
Judas and the Black Messiah premieres Feb. 1.
My Name is Pauli Murray
Thurgood Marshall and Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s contributions to America have been well documented. However, Pauli Murray, the legal trailblazer who influenced both Supreme Court Justices, has been overlooked in history. Murray was a non-binary Black lawyer, activist, poet, and priest who helped transform the world.
My Name is Pauli Murray premieres on Jan. 31.
Traveling the Interstitium with Octavia Butler
Helmed by experimental documentary filmmaker Sophia Nahli Allison, Traveling the Interstitium with Octavia Butler is an interactive WebXR experience that draws inspiration from Butler’s words and stories brought forth in a fusion of art, film, science, music, and technology.
Traveling the Interstitium with Octavia Butler premiered Jan. 28.
Don’t Go Tellin’ Your Momma
In his directorial debut, Topaz Jones takes his audience back in time to Chicago in 1970 at the birth of the Black ABCs. Created by Black educators, the alphabet flashcards delivered Black-centered educational materials to a white-washed educational system. With his short film, Don’t Go Tellin’ Your Momma, Jones delivers 26 scenes that give the Black ABCs a 21st-century update.
Don’t Go Tellin’ Your Momma premiered Jan. 28.
Following her award-winning 2018 short film Haven, social activist Kelly Fyffe-Marshall presents Black Bodies, a searing 4-minute film that centers on a Black man coming to grips with what it means to be Black in America.
Black Bodies premieres Jan. 28.
Photographer and filmmaker Renee Maria Osubu’s documentary short Dear Philadelphia is a reflection of three fathers in North Philadelphia who are all grappling with forgiveness and community.
Dear Philadelphia premieres Jan. 28.
The Changing Same: Episode 1
Artists Michèle Stephenson, Joe Brewster, and Yasmin Elayat have come together for a virtual reality experience where the viewer travels through time and space to witness the connected historical experiences of racial injustice in America. Beginning with a present-day police altercation, the Afrofuturistic piece zips back in time to a slave warehouse.
The Changing Same: Episode 1 premieres Jan. 28.
In her documentary film debut, Mexican Ethiopian director Jessica Beshir reveals the world of khat, a flowering plant, and Ethiopia’s cash crop. Many Ethiopians have harvested the stimulant plant for generations. Today, the youth of Ethiopia are searching for something more, even if that means leaving behind the only home they’ve ever known.
Faya Dayi premieres Jan. 30. V
Sundance Film Festival 2021 runs Jan 28 – Feb. 3.