Thursday, February 4, 2021

Sundance 2021: Wrapping up the Festival

As a film festival enthusiast, the Sundance Film Festival has been on my bucket list for a number of years. But for a humble critic from the Caribbean, the cost and climate always seemed intimidating. If there's a silver lining to the pandemic, however, it's that many of the top festivals have become more accessible to audiences by going online. 

With the generous support of the festival's Press Inclusion Initiative, my Sundance dream therefore became a reality in 2021. Over the course of 7 days, I screened 20 films across 7 programmed sections and wrote articles for 3 outlets - Awards Radar, The Spool and That Shelf. Looking back on the past week, it was certainly a demanding experience but was ultimately rewarding. 

As always, the documentaries were among the best of the Sundance lineup this year, with three distinctly compelling non-fiction films emerging as my favorites. In Questlove's "Summer of Soul," the musician makes an exhilarating directorial debut as he uncovers the untold story of the Harlem Cultural Festival, a vibrant celebration of Black music in the 1960s. From a more contemporary perspective, Camilla Nielsson's "President" turns an unflinching eye towards Zimbabwe's troubled democracy in the aftermath of Mugabe's ousting. And in Jonas Poher Rasmussen's extraordinary animation hybrid "Flee", the past and present converge as a gay Afghan man reflects on his experiences as a refugee. All three films deservedly won awards during Tuesday night's ceremony and will surely be heavily discussed upon general release. 

There were memorable moments from the narrative features too, including the black-and-white elegance of Rebecca Hall's "Passing," the gut-punch chamber piece that is "Mass" and the riveting performances that fuel Shaka King's Oscar contender "Judas and the Black Messiah". Nearly every film I watched contained something to recommend. Though I may not have gotten the full experience of the Park City atmosphere, the films certainly delivered the fresh, innovative visions that Sundance is known for.

Sundance Top 10:

  1. Flee
  2. President
  3. Summer of Soul (…Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised)
  4. Mass
  5. In the Same Breath
  6. Prime Time
  7. Judas and the Black Messiah
  8. Writing With Fire
  9. Jockey
  10. The Pink Cloud
Best of the Fest:

Best Film: Flee
Best Director: Rebecca Hall, Passing
Best Screenplay: Mass
Best Performance: Daniel Kaluuya, Judas and the Black Messiah

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