Sundance 2016: Best of the Fest

The Sundance Film Festival brings the most original storytellers together with the most adventurous audiences for its annual program of dramatic and documentary films, shorts, New Frontier films, installations, performances, panel discussions, and dynamic music events. Since 1985, hundreds of films launched at the Festival have gained critical recognition, received commercial distribution, and reached worldwide audiences eager for fresh perspectives and new voices. Year after year, the Festival pursues new ways to introduce more people to the most original and authentic storytelling.

From family films to tragic historical recountings, it was a banner year at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival. In no particular order, here are several films that stood out:

Captain Fantastic

Captain Fantastic
Directed and written by Matt Ross
USA, 2016

Matt Ross, whose 28 Hotel Rooms also premiered at Sundance, writes and directs the whimsical Captain Fantastic. It follows an unconventional father taking care of his many children who’s sent reeling after the untimely death of his depressed wife. Ben (Viggo Mortensen) holds his family very close, so close that his home school parenting style includes lessons in survivalism, heavy courses in philosophy, and very little interaction with the public. It’s an idyllic yet dangerous life that few from the outside world can comprehend. They are regimented in everything they do and their nuanced intellects intimidate, confuse, delight, and offend those who are not a part of their close knit band. The colorful Captain Fantastic starts off as impossibly eccentric and graduates to a sincere rendering of a family of coping with grief and struggling to stay together… Read the full review

Hunt for the Wilderpeople

The Hunt for the Wilderpeople
Directed by Taika Waititi, based on the the novel by Barry Crump
New Zealand, 2016

Director Taika Waititi (Eagle vs. Shark, What We Do in the Shadows) adapts Barry Crump’s kooky book about a juvenile delinquent left in the care of rough yet loving foster parents who live off the wilds of the New Zealand bush. Waititi’s The Hunt for the Wilderpeople is deeply affectionate in drawing out these characters in their untamed surroundings. Repeatedly flying over the bush, we see the vast expanse of natural wonders that they traverse with energy and purpose, without a clear destination. A brash woman named Bella (Rima Te Wiata) facilitates Ricky’s (Julian Dennison) arrival at her farm, and welcomes him with open arms. She imparts a degree of familial comfort, skills, and nurturing that he has never known. Her curmudgeonly husband, “Uncle Hec” (Sam Neill), is a closed-off survivalist with untapped emotional reserves that he doesn’t want to spend on the boy. Killing animals for food and out of necessity has a light matter-of-fact air to it as Bella teaches Ricky how to hunt. The Hunt for the Wilderpeople decides early on that it’s a family film- building a family out of Bella’s kind nature and seeing it flourish as it meets adversity… Read the full review

As You Are-courtesy of the Sundance Institute

As You Are
Directed by Miles Joris-Peyrafitte
Miles Joris-Peyrafitte and Madison Harrison
USA, 2016

Miles Joris-Peyrafitte’s As You Are follows a trio of misfit teenagers as they grow close during the early 90s. It’s an impressive feature debut that looks as though it was guided by a wisened director with many works under his belt. Deftly attuned to desire, As You Are creates an emotional thriller out of confusion, burgeoning identities, and sexual awakenings. Read the full review

Agnus Dei courtesy of the Sundance Film Festival

Agnus Dei
Directed by Anne Fontaine
Written by Anne Fontaine, Pascal Bonitzer, Sabrina B. Karine, Alice Vial- based on the concept by Philippe Maynial

Anne Fontaine’s Agnus Dei is a quasi-tragic exploration of women at risk. Rectified by a woman drawn into chaos by duty and compassion, it’s always serious but never pretentious. It keeps the audience’s attention with the untold stories of how women are treated in wartime and how they must deal with the repercussions. In the aftermath of WWII, Mathilde (Lou de Laâge) is a young doctor for the French Red Cross in Warsaw who encounters a convent of nuns who have been raped by soldiers. The rapes have resulted in several pregnancies. The nuns are in shock and unable to care or adequately prepare for the pregnant amongst them. Their bodies are out of bounds and to them- the property of God. They do not know themselves and touch is a foreign concept. Much has been dramatized of the heroics or misdeeds that men commit during war. Largely left out of imagination and history are how women interact and cope with destruction during turbulent times. Womens’ decisions in times of crisis have been silently pushed out of the bigger picture. Their perceived vulnerability and actual agency is a far more complicated concept than warrants them unjustly being lumped in with collateral damage. Based on a true story, Agnus Dei attends to the terrible consequences of rape with a knowing intelligence and sense of responsibility that these are not stories that usually get told. Read the full review


The Birth of A Nation
Directed by Nate Parker
Written by Nate Parker and Jean McGianni Celestin
USA, 2016

The Birth of a Nation is a bold vision of preacher Nat Turner’s bloody rebellion against white slave owners in 1831. It’s a thoughtfully crafted feature debut from actor, writer, and director Nate Parker. With the blindsiding emotional punch of this film, he emerges as a startling talent in the lead role. A personal project that was 5 years in the making, it is dedicated to fleshing out a life and incident that has long been kept as a historical footnote. Parker’s film posits the simple idea that America was and still is an imperfect union that needs to rebel and rectify injustices as it evolves as a country. We have to recognize what transpired in order to build something better for us all. The Birth of a Nation is not shockingly revelatory for the acts it dramatizes, but Parker absolutely owns the significance of understanding through empathy and that audiences must have diversity in the identities of storytellers to have a greater grip on the scope of slavery’s legacy… Read the full review

Scroll to Top