Sundancing 2020: Women Lead the Way

by Elisabeth Sereda January 23, 2020
Egyprtian Thetare in park City, Sudnance film festival 2020

mark sagliocco/getty images

It’s that time of the year again: Hollywood and the international film industry are descending on Park City to kick off the year in movies. The weather forecast is freezing: when the high is 30F, you just know you better pack those earmuffs for a night out on Main Street.

In the screening rooms, it is up to the films to pack some heat and Sundance never disappoints, even though buyers’ interests could be shifting this year, (a little) away from English language films to more international fare, after The Farewell and Parasite were such successes.  One such project could be Sin Señas Particulares (Identifying Features) which deals with the current hot button issue of the US-Mexico border and a lost child. The film is directed by Fernanda Valadez. Another topic that could draw buyers is Yalda, A Night for Forgiveness about a young Iranian woman sentenced to death for the murder of her abusive husband. Or Maïmouna Doucouré’s Cuties about a group of Senegalese girls hoping to win a dance competition.

With these and several other foreign films potential studios, networks, and streamers avoid the risk of overpaying for acquisitions. Last year left a wound when buyers shelled out close to 60 million dollars for four movies that ended up making a combined $47 million at the box office.

Films at Sundance 2020

Sundancing in Park City (clockwise from top left): The Glorias, Wendy, Cuties, Hillary, and Downhill.

sundance film festival


That is not to say that one or the other big star vehicle won’t get interest. Unless they have already been bought like Downhill, a remake of the Swedish film Force Majeure, it stars Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Will Ferrell, The Father with Anthony Hopkins, and Promising Young Woman with Carey Mulligan who plays a vengeful feminist in Emerald Fennel’s film about the #MeToo era. Up for grabs, however, is Kajillionaire, directed Miranda July with Evan Rachel Wood and Gina Rodriguez. And the psycho-drama Shirley by Josephine Decker with Elisabeth Moss playing a horror writer. Among the other most anticipated films of this year’s festival are The Glorias by Julie Taymor, in which Julianne Moore and Alicia Vikander play Gloria Steinem at different ages. Bette Midler, Janelle Monáe, Lorraine Toussaint and Timothy Hutton round out the cast. Michael Keaton and Stanley Tucci star in Worth by Sara Colangelo about the aftermath of 9-11. And Benh Zeitlin will show the long-awaited follow-up to his debut film Beasts of the Southern Wild: Wendy is a Peter Pan-like story about a girl and her brothers fleeing to a lonely island where time stands still.

In the documentary section, two films have already stirred the pot: in the four-part series Hillary, Hillary Clinton talks openly about Monica Lewinsky, her marriage, failed campaign and women in politics. One comment she makes on former and current presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders is sure to cause some controversy: “Nobody wants to work with him.” And speaking of controversy: Oprah Winfrey pulled her support from the Russell Simmons doc On The Record less than two weeks before the festival and Simmons’ victims (he is accused of raping 20 women) are more than rattled. Oprah’s withdrawal has prompted harsh criticism by advocates who call it “one of the saddest moments for the #MeToo movement” and argue that this will make it “very hard for women, particularly women of color, to come forward next time when they have been thrown under the bus by none other than Oprah." The topic is sure to come up at the Sundance press conference for the film.

Apart from film screenings and premieres, there are a large number of panels who seem to have replaced the array of parties and swag suites that used to be such a Sundance staple. The panels feature huge names and are extremely female-centric in keeping with Sundance’ mission of being the festival with the largest amount of women filmmakers. Conversations with Hillary Clinton, Carrie Bernstein, Rufus Wainwright, and Ron Howard are as much part of it as topics like ‘Power of Story’ and the HFPA’s very own ‘Women Breaking Barriers’ with Keri Putnam, Kerry Washington, Julie Taymor, Frankie Shaw and Lisa Jackson which is co-produced by Sundance TV and will be live-streamed on this site.