Sundance Festival director John Cooper in an interview with the Indiewire edit team was enthusiastic about the state of the indie cinema based on the continued high quality of the submissions which are improving each year, he says. "The independent film community is thriving," he says. "We had 12,000 submissions, which are up. The general quality continues to grow, over the years. I'm chalking it up to a vital community that is existing around independent film, well-known actors willing to be in indie films, the creation of better film teams--creative producers, art directors, directors of photography--and the surge of talent that is both creating and staying with indie films as a career."
The programmers saw one theme for this year's fest pop out: the frank treatment of sex on the part of both men and women filmmakers, such as Jill Soloway's U.,S. dramatic competition title "Afternoon Delight." Many of the films are "immediate and fearless," says Cooper. "A lot of our filmmakers were not afraid to delve into the complex nature of sexual relationships in our society."
"This year the dam burst," adds programmer Trevor Groth. "And people went further with it a lot from a female perspective. It's exciting for us, it opens up a new realm of storytelling we hadn't see before."
Other names in the highest-profile Sundance lineup, the dramatic competition, include Lynn Shelton's "Touchy Feely," which stars "Sisters"' Rosemary DeWitt but not Mark Duplass; jack-of-all-trades David Lowery's "Aint Them Bodies Saints"; Sundance vet Cherien Dabis's return with "May in the Summer"; and "Smashed" director James Ponsoldt's follow-up "The Spectacular Now." Lowery has another film in the NEXT program, as a screenwriter, "Pit Stop."
The programmers insist that finding the right films for the right sections was paramount, based on the style and content, and if a filmmaker was a returning one, they too deserved to have attention paid to their efforts. "It's vital to have both a showcase for returning independent filmmakers as well as discovering first timers," says Cooper.
On the documentary side, the urgency of contemporary politics takes center stage, says Cooper: "A lot of films are explaining and exposing issues of our times, such as economic inequality, corporate corruption and greed, problems and solutions from the information-sharing community we live in right now."
The NEXT program is not limited to rookies either, including indie vets Matthew Porterfield ("I Used to Be Darker") and Andrew Bujalski ("Computer Chess"). "This film is a departure, a unique distinctive vision," says Groth. "We were excited about having it as a signature film." NEXT is filled with "pure, bold works distinguished by innovative forward storytelling."
President and founder Robert Redford states: “Every great film starts with an idea, and it is a testament to artists that they continually find new ideas, new stories, new points of view and new ways of sharing them, year after year. We look forward to hearing from these artists not just through their words and images onscreen but also through the larger dialogue they create with audiences at our Festival and beyond.”
Check out the lineup below: