This year’s Sundance International Film Festival is in a unique position. It’s the first festival to come out of the gate after the dual WGA/SAG-AFTRA strikes that affected Hollywood last summer and fall. It’s also studios first opportunity to look at what’s coming out and make some big-money deals to fuel their production slate.
This year’s festival is premiering 82 features with Sundance boasting a record number of submissions — 17,435 — from 153 countries or territories, including 4,410 feature-length films, Sundance programmers told TheWrap. And while there is hesitation from buyers about the strength of this year’s titles, the ones that are up for sale this year range the spectrum from emotional documentaries about celebrity to intriguing indie dramas starring a bevy of A-list talent. Each one also has the strong ability to play well in a theater, a must for any serious buyer coming to the festival.
Below are 14 of the titles for sale that are making the most buzz. Be sure to keep following TheWrap as the festival starts on Thursday to see which ones get snapped up quickly.
A Real Pain (U.S. Dramatic Competition)
Jesse Eisenberg returns with another directing turn after his 2022 directorial debut, “When You Finish Saving the World” (which also showed at Sundance). His latest effort, “A Real Pain,” tells the story of two mismatched cousins, played by himself and Kieran Culkin, who reunite to take a tour of Poland to honor their grandmother. Like any good Sundance feature, things take a turn and secrets are revealed.
Outside of seeing Eisenberg take another turn behind the camera the film also stars Culkin who is incredibly hot right now from his work on Succession and recent Emmy win on Tuesday. As Sundance buyers have said, domestic family dramas tend to sell well and this looks like no exception.
Between the Temples (U.S. Dramatic Competition)
Director Nathan Silver is a longtime indie filmmaker but, as buyers have pointed out, his upcoming feature “Between the Temples” could finally break him out to the mainstream once its purchased. The film follows a cantor, played by Jason Schwartzman, whose life is changed when his grade-school music teacher, played by Carol Kane, reenters his life.
The film has a sweet indie premise but the coupling of Schwarztman and Kane, who have both indie and mainstream success is the secret ingredient. Schwartzman has long been a character actor in features both big and small, but often doesn’t get to lead movies; he was last scene as a young Cesar Flickerman in the latest “Hunger Games” movie. And Kane has been an actor in Hollywood going back to the 1970s and is due for a resurgence.
In the 1980s it was impossible to escape the song “Whip It,” performed by the quirky band Devo. So, of course, it’s worth exploring their success and why their music caught on with listeners, especially in a decade so consumed by excess. Chris Smith, director of the 1999 documentary “American Movie,” seeks to lift the veil on the band. He examines their rise as a New Wave Band, crafted in the wake of the horrific Kent State massacre, and their success.
Music documentaries often do really well at Sundance; the festival debuted five of them in 2022 and last year’s documentary on the Indigo Girls, “It’s Only Life After All,” was well-received. With nostalgia continuing to play such a part in what audiences consume, a look back at Devo and the 1980s sounds like it’ll fit right in.
Didi (U.S. Dramatic Competition)
When buyers were asked what movies they were hearing about before Sundance, nearly everyone told TheWrap that “Didi” was the title on everyone’s lips. Director Sean Wang’s directorial debut is set in 2008 and follows a preteen Taiwanese American boy as he learns about life and love.
Right now, it’s unknown exactly what is the secret ingredient that buyers are seeing in “Didi,” but it’s there. The film is being presented as “a moving love letter to immigrant parents and a playful examination of our uncertain paths to adulthood” and that could play into the belief it holds commonalities with indie darlings like Lulu Wang’s “The Farewell.” Either way, “Didi” is definitely the one to watch out for.
Exhibiting Forgiveness (U.S. Dramatic Competition)
Painter Titus Kaphar makes his feature film debut with “Exhibiting Forgiveness,” a story about a Black artist (Andre Holland) whose path is blocked by the arrival of his estranged father. This is another one that is getting a lot of buzz, though many buyers have said that’s also because agency UTA is pushing it very hard.
Regardless, it’s understandable why considering the talent in front of the camera, including Holland — best known for the Oscar-winning feature “Moonlight” — as well as Andra Day and “Origin” star Aujanue Elllis-Taylor. Kaphar is an internationally world-renowned artist, but he has connections to Hollywood as well. His 2022 short “Shut Up and Paint” was on the Oscar shortlist for Best Documentary Short Film.
Freaky Tales (Premieres)
Sundance darlings and directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck return to the Sundance Film Festival with this anthology feature telling four interconnected stories that take place in Oakland in 1987. Not much is known beyond that but we do know that everyone’s favorite actor Pedro Pascal is somehow involved.
The directing pair have been Sundance staples since Fleck’s 2007 feature (which Boden produced) “Half Nelson” took the 2006 festival by storm. Since then they’ve returned, as co-directors. Their 2008 feature “Sugar” debuted there as well as their 2015 feature “Mississippi Grind.” The pair took some time away from the festival to director Marvel movies — specifically “Captain Marvel” in 2019 — but the fact that their back should be exciting.
Love Me (U.S. Dramatic Competition)
Described to TheWrap as a movie that completely defies explanation, “Love Me” could be buzzy just for being a mindbender of a movie in itself. The Sundance website describes it as “Long after humanity’s extinction, a buoy and a satellite meet online and fall in love.” What that means is anyone’s guess, especially as audiences know Kristen Stewart and newly minted Emmy winner Steven Yeun are meant to play those characters. According to sources, once audiences see “Love Me” they’ll fall in love with it and that should be enough to create instant buzz.
My Old Ass (Premieres)
Director Megan Park makes her Sundance debut with “My Old Ass,” a quirky story about what happens when a teenage girl meets her older self while tripping on mushrooms. The premise alone is incredibly sweet but also showcases Park’s range as a director. Her 2021 feature “The Fallout,” which premiered on then-HBO Max, focused on teens and the guilt experienced from surviving a school shooting.
But Park seems to have a way with young people, and “My Old Ass” no doubt will look at both the life changes of its characters and the world around them. It reunites Park with actress Maddie Ziegler and introduces Aubry Plaza into her world. If nostalgia sells (and we know it does) this should be a great one.
The Outrun (Premieres)
“The Outrun” is an interesting feature as it has serious bona fides behind it. The film, adapted from Amy Liptrot’s memoir, stars Saoirse Ronan as a troubled woman who returns to her hometown in Scotland’s Orkney Islands to heal. As buyers have told TheWrap, international features can be a harder sell, but “The Outrun” doesn’t look like it’ll have that issue. Outside of it being adapted from a successful memoir — always bet on book adaptations! — it stars Ronan who remains both popular for Gen Z as well as millennials.
Director Steven Soderbergh brings it back where it all started with his latest feature. “Presence” is a horror film following a family who believe they aren’t alone in their new home. As with any good Soderbergh feature it’s probably safe to assume things aren’t that straightforward.
Sundance and Soderbergh go together like peanut butter and jelly. It could be said one wouldn’t have happened without the other. Soderbergh premiered his first film, 1989’s “Sex, Lies and Videotape” at the festival — where it remains one of the best films to come out of the event — and having him return for its 40th edition feels special. Many buyers are wondering why he would self-finance the film and take it to a festival, no doubt many studios would immediately snap it up, but the backstory feels like it explains everything. This is a full-circle moment.
Rob Peace (Premieres)
After his 2019 directorial debut, “The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind,” actor and director Chiwetel Ejiofor is back with “Rob Peace.” Ejiofor directed and wrote this true story of an impoverished young man who graduated with degrees in biophysics and biochemistry from Yale while simultaneously working his way through school by selling marijuana.
The plot sounds fascinating and, as buyers have said, domestic stories that have an air of playing well on a big screen are what everyone is on the lookout for. With a plot like that, “Rob Peace” could be a thrilling one to watch in a movie theater.
Super/Man: The Christopher Reeve Story (Premieres)
Directors Ian Bonhote and Peter Ettedgui craft a documentary about a real-life superhero with “Super/Man: The Christopher Reeve Story.” Touted as having never-before-seen home movies and access to Reeve’s personal archive, this could be a serious candidate for Best Documentary next year. This is one buyers were surprised hadn’t already been purchased, particularly considering the success of the Michael J. Fox documentary. Disability remains a hot-button topic and seeing Reeve’s story on a big screen could do a lot to stoke more discussions on it.
Will & Harper (Premieres)
After his success in “Barbie,” Will Ferrell turns to the documentary space with “Will & Harper.” The film follows Ferrell as he discovers his best friend of 30 years is coming out as a trans woman. The two then embark on a cross-country road trip together.
Director Josh Greenbaum helms this one after spending a lot of time in the comedy space; he previously worked with Ferrell just last year on the dog comedy “Strays.” The film looks incredibly sweet and considering Ferrell’s ability to work in both comedy and drama it will be great watching him play himself in an intimate, vulnerable doc.
Director Susanna Fogel returns to Sundance after her controversial feature “Cat Person” last year. “Winner” tells the story of “a brilliant young misfit from a Texas border town who finds her morals challenged while serving as an NSA contractor.” If the story sounds familiar to you it was the subject of Max’s movie “Reality,” starring Sydney Sweeney that was released in May of last year. But Fogel always tells a unique story — if you’ve seen “Cat Person” you know — and the film has a great cast that includes “CODA” star Emilia Jones, Connie Britton, Zach Galifianakis and Kathryn Newton.