1. Wind River

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Director: Taylor Sheridan

Section: Premieres

Nothing foretells a great new director like a history of successful endeavors in acting and screenwriting. Taylor Sheridan, once best-known for his performance in Sons Of Anarchy, recently impressed audiences and critics alike with his screenplays for Sicario and Hell or High Water, the latter of which is gaining serious awards traction. He's at Sundance with his directorial debut, Wind River, a neo-Western crime thriller about an FBI agent (Elisabeth Olsen) who teams up with a game tracker (Jeremy Renner) to solve a murder on a remote Indian Reservation. That strong cast, bolstered by the performances of many Native American actors and Sheridan's proven mastery over American frontier fare, will surely make for what Sundance calls "a stark look at life on the edge of an imposing wilderness, where the rule of law is eclipsed by the laws of nature." —Emily Buder

2. Berlin Syndrome

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Director: Cate Shortland

Section: World Drama

Cate Shortland’s 2004 film Somersault, which premiered at Cannes, is a little-seen coming-of-age gem starring Abbie Cornish in her breakout role as Heidi, a teenager who escapes her abusive home. In keeping with what she learned growing up, Heidi uses her sex appeal to garner attention—and is quickly taken advantage of and disillusioned. With Somersault, Shortland demonstrated the ability to create extremely complex, nuanced characters dealing with emotionally sensitive material; the film was compelling and deeply moving.

Shortland is at Sundance with her third feature film, The Berlin Syndrome, a thriller about a tourist (Teresa Palmer) who travels to Berlin and, after an erotic fling with a local schoolteacher, finds herself imprisoned in his apartment. As her ordeal unfolds, the tourist cycles between reasoning with her captor, surrendering to his obsessions, and plotting her escape. Sundance describes the film as "psychologically acute and uncommonly observant to the shifting power dynamics between captor and prisoner." As Shortland excels in morally confounding territory (often involving the dark sides of sexuality), we're sure she's risen to this challenge. And the film is adapted from a Melanie Joosten novel by Shaun Grant (The Snowtown Murders), which means we're in for a character study of disturbing proportions. —Emily Buder

3. Menashe

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Director: Joshua Z. Weinstein

Section: Next

We have a deep appreciation for cinematic risk takers, and the very act of making a feature in Yiddish—a language spoken only by the minority of a minority—certainly feels risky. Further, Menashe would seem to tread on that fine line between reality and fiction; it’s a narrative film about a man named Menashe from New York's ultra-orthodox Hasidic Jewish community, starring...a man named Menashe from New York's ultra-orthodox Hasidic Jewish community. We implicitly trust the taste of Rooftop Films, which awarded the film its Brigade Marketing Festival Publicity grant. We're also impressed by the team, which includes co-writer Musa Syeed (A Stray) and DP Yoni Brook (Valley of Saints). Chris Columbus (The WitchTallulah) came on as an Executive Producer just this week. —Liz Nord

4. Kuso

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Director: Steven Ellison (AKA Flying Lotus AKA Steve.)

Section: Midnight

Steven Ellison, perhaps better recognized by his stage name, Flying Lotus, is known for being a pretty out-there dude. The public was first treated to a glimpse of the DJ's taste for the absurd through various promo spots he scored for the boundary-pushing late night TV network Adult Swim. After a series of successful yet still heavily experimental albums (along with several mind-boggling music videos), Ellison has turned to the world of film. Or maybe it’s more of a re-turn, considering he once attended the Los Angeles Film School. His debut short, Royal, premiered at Sundance NEXT Fest in August 2016, where viewers were provided with their very own barf bags branded with the movie’s title. Kuso, premiering in the Midnight section at Sundance this year, is the feature-length expansion of this short. There isn't much information available regarding the plot itself— other than Ellison’s remark that “it’s about everything he’s ever been afraid of.” We'll admit it: We're a little afraid, too. —Jon Fusco

5. Nobody Speak: Hulk Hogan, Gawker, and Trials of a Free Press

Nobody_speak_awker'Nobody Speak'Credit: Sundance 2017

Director: Brian Knappenberger

Section: US Doc

This doc hits very close to home: it’s about the changing media landscape, the threat to free speech, and couple of billionaires who conspired to kill a beloved New York publication. Nobody Speak: Hulk Hogan, Gawker, and Trials of a Free Press reveals the forces that brought down the news portal through in-depth interviews with its founder, Nick Denton, and other journalists and media experts. But ultimately, the story is bigger than Gawker itself: it’s about the deepest underpinnings of our democracy, which come under threat whenever the freedom of press is curtailed. Director Brian Knappenberger is a Sundance alum; his documentary The Internet’s Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz premiered here in 2014. —Emily Buder

6. Untitled Buena Vista Social Club Documentary

31406033226_e9160b6b06_o'Untitled Buena Vista Social Club'Credit: Sundance 2017

Director: Lucy Walker

Section: Doc Premieres

It doesn’t even have a title yet and it’s premiering at Sundance—that tells you something about how good Lucy Walker’s latest offering may be. You might remember meeting some Cuban band members in the 1999 Wim Wenders documentary Buena Vista Social Club; the new film follows up with those original musicians in the exciting new climate of US-Cuba cultural exchange. While it may sound like a tough bet to follow the original film, which was a box office hit that garnered an Oscar nomination, the prowess of Lucy Walker (Garbage Dreams) is not to be underestimated. —Oakley Anderson-Moore

7. Brigsby Bear

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Director: Dave McCary

Section: US Dramatic

I've been a Kyle Mooney fan ever since I first saw the weird little interviews he conducted for the Good Neighbor YouTube Channel years ago. His straight-man abilities are easily comparable to the anti-humor stylings of Tim Heidecker, Eric Wareheim, and John C. Reilly of the Absolutely family. In 2013, however, Mooney found his way toward a more mainstream path after he was cast on Saturday Night Live. He has since brought some of his YouTube characters to SNL, but sometimes his style of comedy seems to blend in unevenly with the show's direction. Brigsby Bear, co-written by Mooney with director and Good Neighbor co-founder Dave McCary, will provide him with the opportunity to really let it fly. Mooney plays a man-child who is raised by a children's TV show that has been specifically produced for him. When the show abruptly ends, it becomes clear that his life is a lie; he must figure out what the outside world is actually about. The film's release is even more exciting considering it's produced by all three members of The Lonely Island, a crew that managed to pave the way for talent like Mooney with their own digital shorts in the early 'aughts. —Jon Fusco

8. Lemon

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Director: Janicza Bravo

Section: Next

It's well documented that the vast majority mainstream films are directed by white men. That means that most cinematic stories about women or people of color are told from a perspective other than their own. That's why we're especially excited about the complete script-flipping of Lemon, a story about a white man directed by a black woman. Janicza Bravo has already shown a strong directorial hand with her short film Gregory Go Boom, (2014 Sundance Short Film Jury Award) and VR narrative short Hard World for Small Things (Tribeca Storyscapes 2016). This feature about an unraveling sad-sack (played by co-writer, comedic actor, and Bravo's real-life husband Brett Gelman) shows all signs of continuing on this trajectory. —Liz Nord

9. Miyubi

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Directors: Félix Lajeunesse, Paul Raphaël

Section: New Frontiers VR Experience

Last year, Félix Lajeunesse and Paul Raphaël told us that it was the year of virtual reality for the documentary genre, but that 2017 may well be where narrative VR explodes. Set to realize their own prognostication, they are premiering a 40-minute VR film, the length and professional level of which has never been seen in the medium before. As pioneering VR filmmakers who have embraced the ideas of classic cinema in the new form, this Felix&Paul Studios' collaboration with Funny or Die, where viewers inhabit a domestic family robot in 1982, will be one for the books. —Oakley Anderson-Moore

For more, see our complete coverage of the 2017 Sundance Film Festival.


No Film School's video and editorial coverage of the 2017 Sundance Film Festival is sponsored by RODE Microphones.