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This Year’s Sundance Film Festival Awards Diversity

In a year when issues pertaining to race and racism have dominated news headlines, the Sundance Film Festival focused on bringing diversity to the big screen.


Words by Spencer Blohm


The films played on the snowy slopes of Utah stood in stark contrast to this year’s big-budget, predominantly white and male pictures starring Oscar nominees. Of course, that's what Sundance has always been about - giving a platform to the smaller voices, those without multi-million dollar allowances or a press team the size of a small town. Among the pack of this year’s eclectic films there were several standouts, with both veteran filmmakers and newcomers alike sharing the winner’s podium.


While on paper it might seem a bit by-the-numbers, this film by David Robert Mitchell is actually anything but. Thematically, it’s a throwback to both '80s teen films and pulp horror films, but It Follows is really their grittier distant cousin. Set in the sleepy suburbs of Detroit, its STD-centric ghost story plot harkens back to the days of John Carpenter and David Lynch. But don’t get it wrong; this film is wholly original and thrilling on its own merits.


An entry from Argentinian director Damián Szifrón, this Spanish-language anthology of five different intertwined subplots was a crowd pleaser at the festival. The film is already nominated for a Best Foreign Language Film Academy Award, and finally American audiences were able to see why. The Pedro Almodovar-produced film is purposefully outrageous, humorous, violent, and, of course, wild. While the stories may at first seem completely unrelated, the threads tying them together slowly draw the audience in and culminate in a satisfying final scene.


This film from John Maclean is another “throwback” in that it’s a Western genre picture, something we’ve been seeing a lot of in more recent years. Starring Michael Fassbender as the token rogue outlaw and young up-and-comer Kodi Smit-McPhee as his unlikely friend, it uses the untamed beauty of New Zealand as a fitting backdrop. Fassbender shined in his role, and the film was picked up by A24 and DirecTV for distribution before it even opened at the Sundance Festival. It also nabbed the festival's award for “World Cinema Grand Jury Prize,” if that gives you any additional indication as to its brilliance.


This timely addition to the festival is set in embattled St. Louis, MO. The film, produced by Spike Lee and directed by Michael Larnell is a black and white faux-documentary centering around the lives of three young friends just trying to get by in modern-day St. Louis. The primary plotline concerns the friendship between the two central characters Jack and Louis. Observing the particular hardships these kids face, it also addresses the common theme of a lifelong friendship on its last legs.


The dynamic duo behind the critically acclaimed Frances Ha, Noah Baumbach and Greta Gerwig are back together in the coming of age drama Mistress America. The story revolves around Tracy, a college freshman with pseudo-intellectual tendencies who’s struggling with school, life and everything else. Her relationship with her flighty, soon-to-be step sister Brooke is less than ideal. The two 20-somethings have very different problems and very different lives, but they find common ground in the struggle to stay afloat in an eat-or-be-eaten city.


Another timely entry is Kirby Dick’s shocking and thought provoking documentary covering the plight of victims of campus rape. With a new incident appearing in the headlines almost weekly, the film shines a light on the women who have become victims of sexual assault in places they thought were safe. By specifically straying away from typical media coverage tactics, it allows the women - not the men or institutions responsible - to tell their stories.
This decision creates a disturbing, emotional, and much needed dialogue for viewers to continue after they’ve left the theater.


Of course, these are only a handful of the many outstanding films shown at this years Sundance Film Festival. You’re sure to see these films, and many others, slowly gain traction throughout the year, spreading messages of diversity and racial and gender equality in theaters nationwide.


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