Synopsis from Sundance: What would you do if there was proof of an afterlife? The answer to this question is rivetingly explored in The Discovery, where world-renowned physicist Doctor Thomas Harber (Robert Redford) is able to scientifically prove the existence of an afterlife—but with dire consequences. His estranged son, Will (Jason Segel), tries to confront the situation by returning to the New England–esque island where he grew up. He crosses paths with Isla (Rooney Mara), who's returning to the island for mysterious reasons of her own. The tale unfolds over the ensuing days as the regret of past choices forces these lost characters to reflect on how they've gotten to where they are.
Synopsis from Sundance: Tour-de-force: a term so overused that we need an undeniable acting performance to renew its meaning for cinema. Cate Blanchett has just given us one, going all-out in Manifesto. Already respected as one of the best actresses in film, Blanchett raises the bar even higher by playing 13 different roles in Manifesto, embodying some of the most influential and emotional artist manifestos in history.
Synopsis from Sundance: Gather round if you dare for four murderous tales of supernatural frights, predatory thrills, profound anxiety, and Gothic decay in the first all-female-driven horror anthology film. Audacious new works from some of the genre's most promising voices—Annie Clark (better known to fans as St. Vincent), Karyn Kusama (The Invitation, Girlfight), Roxanne Benjamin (Southbound), and Jovanka Vuckovic (former editor of Rue Morgue magazine)—bring forth a study in the proper unspooling of dread for your viewing pleasure.
Before I Fall
Synopsis from Sundance: Sam is one lucky teenager. She’s beautiful, rich, and popular, with the hottest boyfriend and the most loyal friends. But she and her posse can be cruel and heartless; since elementary school they’ve relentlessly bullied one of their classmates. On Friday, February 12th, driving home from a party, Sam is in a dramatic car crash. She should be dead, but wakes the next morning to find the date hasn’t changed. In a Groundhog Day–like time loop, Sam must unravel the mystery of why the last day of her life keeps repeating again and again. Along the way she realizes that every little deed has a consequence, and every action can change another person’s future.
Synopsis from Sundance: Woody Harrelson stars as Wilson, a lonely, neurotic, and hilariously honest middle-aged, misanthropic dog lover who reunites with his estranged wife (Laura Dern) and gets a shot at happiness when he learns he has a teenage daughter he’s never met. In his uniquely outrageous and slightly twisted way, Wilson sets out to connect with her in what could be his last chance at having a family.
The Killing Ground
Synopsis from Sundance: When young couple Sam and Ian escape the confines of urban living for a weekend getaway at a remote campsite, they arrive to find a neighboring tent set up with its inhabitants nowhere in sight. As day turns to night and then to day again, the young couple becomes increasingly concerned about the whereabouts of their unknown fellow campers. When they discover a toddler wandering alone on the campground, things go from bad to worse, thrusting them into a harrowing fight for survival in a place miles from civilization, where no one can hear them scream.
The Last Word
Synopsis from Sundance: Harriet Lauler (Shirley MacLaine), a once successful businesswoman, has always been in tight control of every aspect of her life. As she reflects upon her accomplishments, she's suddenly inspired to engage a young local writer, Anne Sherman (Amanda Seyfried), to pen her life's story. When the initial result doesn’t meet Harriet's high expectations, she sets out to reshape the way she is remembered, with Anne dragged along as an unwilling accomplice. As the journey unfolds, the two women develop a unique bond which alters not only Harriet’s legacy, but also Anne’s future.
Synopsis from Sundance: Brilliant, shy 16-year-old Justine heads to the same veterinary college her parents attended, and where her older sister, Alexia, is also a student. Along with the other newbies, Justine is subjected to a series of bizarre initiations, including a hazing ritual that forces her to eat a raw rabbit liver. Although she’s a committed vegetarian, Justine is desperate to fit in and ultimately caves to the peer pressure. Afterward, she grows a voracious appetite for meat, which starts branching out to other forms of flesh. At the same time, the young virgin’s new carnivorous tendency coincides with a burgeoning sexual desire. A grisly, viscerally charged experience, Raw is art-house horror of the highest order. A darkly funny coming-of-age story at its bloody heart, it unpeels the complex layers of the sisters’ not-always-nurturing bond as it hurtles toward a climactic, bloody showdown.
Synopsis from Sundance: Tall, dark, and handsome, Julián steps off a bus, hands over his clothes, gets his long curly locks chopped off, and becomes fresh meat walking inside the Najayo Prison in the Dominican Republic. He locates his cellblock underneath the moist corner where the Woodpeckers perch. Woodpeckers—prisoners who romance ladies incarcerated at the women’s prison 150 meters across the way—spend their days in affectionate conversation with their lovers through sign language. When Julián encounters Yanelly, a gorgeous spitfire of a woman, he finds love in the last place he imagined. Now he must find a way, through cement, barbed wire, dozens of guards, and murderous exes to win Yanelly’s love, all the while keeping it secret.
My Life as a Zucchini
Synopsis from Sundance: Based on the book Autobiographied’une Courgette by Gilles Paris, Claude Barras’s first feature-length stop-motion animated film explores difficult subject matter with a delicate touch. Icare is a nine-year-old only child living with his alcoholic mother, who calls him “Zucchini.” After an unfortunate accident, he is sent to a group home, which is hostile at first, but he slowly becomes more comfortable there as he learns more about the other children. Through the friendships he develops with them—particularly a young girl named Camille—and the attention of Raymond, a well-meaning policeman, Zucchini finds the strength to overcome his own personal tragedy and embrace life and the future.
Synopsis from Sundance: Director Jiu-liang Wang captures the striking, melancholic beauty of a vast and lifeless artificial landscape—a Chinese countryside covered almost entirely in imported plastic. Men and women build lives upon this waste, and children learn about the outside world through tattered western advertisements and tabloid images. Yet even within such a profoundly isolating and toxic atmosphere, hope and humanity find their way into the defiantly optimistic 11-year-old Yi-Jie.
Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked the World
Synopsis from Sundance: When recalling Link Wray’s shivering guitar classic, “Rumble,” Martin Scorsese marvels, “It is the sound of that guitar . . . the aggression.” Wray was the first to deploy thumping power chords and hone distortion, carving out a new guitar sound that influenced rock and roll forever. But as a Native American, Wray’s music was a threat—and it was treated as such. Blues pioneer Charlie Patton, cherished jazz singer Mildred Bailey, and metaphysical wizard Jimi Hendrix are among the many music greats who have Native American heritage and have created their distinctive music amid the attempted cleansing of indigenous culture from the country. Their music was not even meant to exist. Using playful re-creations and little-known stories, alongside concert footage, audio archives, and interviews with living legends, this deeply insightful film cements how some of our most treasured artists and songs found their inspiration in ancient, native melodies and harmonies that were infused with a desire to resist. You’ll never listen to your favorite rock and roll classics the same way again.
Abstract: The Art of Design
A look beyond blueprints and computers into the art and science of design, showcasing great designers from every discipline whose work shapes our world. The Festival will debut an episode focusing on graphic illustrator Christoph Niemann, who deals in equal parts irony, agony, and abstraction. His simple yet surprising designs can be found everywhere, including children’s books, computer apps, and covers of The New Yorker.
Synopsis from Sundance: With rare access to the guarded world of sweatshops, Rahul Jain brings us into one of the thousands of textile mills in heavily industrialized Sachin, India. To the rhythmic churning of machines, his anatomical exploration follows the flow of fabric through the labyrinthine factory as it’s carted around; spooled and unspooled; and passed through dye presses, baths, and sundry machines—ultimately headed to couture stores a world apart. But the dim and claustrophobic mill, with its chaotic patchwork of cords and pipes, is also home to human toil. A visceral, intensely cinematic experience, Machines explores the intertwining of worker and machine, labor and commodity, and humanity and industrialization. Through mesmerizing chiaroscuro imagery that echoes Salgado, Machines offers indelible impressions of machine labor: a man battling a fiery furnace, a child repeatedly jolting himself awake as he feeds fabric along the line. And through scant dialogue, the film gives voice to the countless migrant workers who take out loans to travel great distances and work 12-hour days, often more—all for a chance at a barely livable existence.
Synopsis from Sundance: Catrin lives with her struggling artist husband in WWII-era London. Assuming she is applying for a secretarial post at the Ministry of Information, she is hired to write women’s dialogue—the “slop”—for wartime propaganda shorts. Jaded veteran screenwriter Tom reluctantly acknowledges Catrin’s value, and enlists her help in writing an inspirational film about the war effort.
Bad Day for the Cut
Synopsis from Sundance: Donal is a good man. He is a sturdy farmer who loves his aged mother. He values hard work. His word means something. He is loyal, focused, and tough. What he is not, under any circumstances, is someone to fuck with. So when Donal’s monastic existence as the good son is tragically upended, his justice is bloody and thorough.
Synopsis from Sundance: Following World War I, Anna quietly mourns the death of her German soldier fiancé, Frantz. Her grief is ruptured when she witnesses a stranger, Adrien, laying flowers at her beloved’s grave. Desperate for a connection to Frantz, Anna casts aside her animosity toward Adrien’s French origins and envelops him into her life. She basks in the stories he unfolds of Frantz, and their friendship in Paris before the war. But when the true nature of his bond with Frantz is revealed, Adrien flees Germany, sending Anna on a journey to Paris after him.
In Loco Parentis
Synopsis from Sundance: In the verdant village of Kells, Ireland, there's an antidote to the dark times we live in—a worn and weathered boarding school with a special magic. At the heart of the school is a bemused elderly couple, John and Amanda Leyden, who have taught with equal parts seriousness and silliness for more than 40 years. The delight of In Loco Parentis is watching the pair undertake beloved pedagogical rituals, from performing the writings of great authors to coaching a fledgling rock band, like donning a favorite sweater. The couple’s kindness and inventiveness usher elementary school–age children, hailing from around the world, through patches of loneliness and angst. Although the Leydens pretend to dread loud, screaming kids, the truth is they cannot go a day without them. But even the most beautiful traditions wane. As John and Amanda ponder retirement, unapologetically chain-smoking in their ivy-covered cottage, the film poses a quietly profound question: Will their intimate and caring cultivation of future generations live on, or will it vanish like so many community-centered practices?
Synopsis from Sundance: In 1995, the Oklahoma City bombing rocked the nation as the most deadly act of domestic terrorism in U.S. history. Timothy McVeigh, convicted and executed for the crime in 2001, was a soldier, patriot, and war veteran. But a soldier is not supposed to crack. How McVeigh’s patriotism transformed into radicalism is a vital and haunting question whose exploration has never been more relevant. Director Barak Goodman expertly crafts rarely seen archival footage to immerse us in an era when Ruby Ridge and the Branch Davidian tragedy dominated headlines. These clashes between the government and citizens frame a portrait of an embittered McVeigh, whose traumatic experience in the military influenced a dramatic recalibration of his view of the U.S. government. For McVeigh, the government was suddenly no longer a protective construct, but something to be destroyed. Featuring new interviews with biographers, the FBI, and witnesses, Oklahoma City makes the nerves bristle as a cultural warning when sentiments of anti-government despondency walk tall with us today.
Red Dog: True Blue
Synopsis from Sundance: Based on the beloved Australian legend of Red Dog, a one-of-a-kind canine known for wandering in Western Australia during the 1970s, this family film explores the origin of a classic story.
Synopsis from Sundance: Thana, a once-illustrious architect, drifts ever further into existential crisis, propelled by the impending demolition of his proudest work and his wife’s waning romantic interest. Unexpectedly running into his long-lost childhood “pet” elephant Popeye, performing in the streets of Bangkok, spurs Thana on a quest across Thailand to return his displaced friend to rural Loei, the small village where they grew up. As the unlikely travelers saunter at elephant speed, they encounter fellow lost souls, like a gas station vagabond yearning for his first love and a lonely karaoke singer aching for a friend, who encourage them as a series of unfortunate mishaps impede their journey.
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.