Streaming Spotlight - Sundance 2021 highlights

Films to catch at this year's online edition of the festival

by Amber Wilkinson, Jeremy Mathews

Jessica Beshir's Faya Dayi
Jessica Beshir's Faya Dayi Photo: Jessica Beshir
This week, we’re turning our Streaming Spotlight on Sundance – which has move online for this year’s edition because of the pandemic. While that means regulars will miss out on the buzz of queuing in sub-zero temperatures and Q&As with the stars, the upside is that many more people, who wouldn’t get the chance to go to Utah can watch some of the programme. The festival kicks off tonight and we’ve selected some films to look out for along with their first screening (shown in GMT, once you create an account the festival will show you screening times according to your time zone). You can see the full programme, additional screenings and book tickets on the official site. Full reviews of all these titles and more will be coming after the films have premiered.

Faya Dayi, January 30, 8pm

Amber Wilkinson writes: If there’s one film that will make you long for a big screen to watch it on the big screen, it is probably this immersive and poetic documentary from Jessica Beshir. Shot in crisp black and white, allowing an emphasis between light and dark – concepts that are picked up on in the more mythic element of the film – this is a meditative consideration of Ethiopia, stitched through with the story and industry surrounding stimulant leaf khat, dipping in and out of various lives to paint a picture of the modern state of the country, particularly for the younger generation. Read our full review.

Human Factors, January 29, 5pm

Human Factors
Human Factors Photo: Klemens Hufnagl
Jeremy Mathews writes: Time and perspective pivot, weave and fold in this German character drama about a family in collective yet isolated crisis. After four family members experience a traumatic yet ambiguous home invasion from different places in their vacation house, we see husband, wife, son and daughter struggle to come to terms with themselves and their relationships with one another. The structure creates a compelling urgency by making the who, why and when of its movements unpredictable yet emotionally honest. Read our full review.

First Date, February 1, 2am

First Date
First Date Photo: Manuel Crosby
Amber Wilkinson writes: We’ve all had first dates that haven’t worked out but Mike (Tyson Brown) is about to have the mother of all disasters after he unexpectedly scores one with Kelsey (Shelby Duclos). He ‘invests’ in a clapped out Chrysler for the occasion only to discover some Very Bad People would very much like the car back. Sparky both in terms of the comedy and its sweet central romance, Manuel Crosby and Darren Knapp’s film is packed with sharply observed characters, who stay in focus as the farce mounts. Imagine if early Coen brothers went on a date with the dry absurdity of early Ben Wheatley and you’ll be in the ballpark.

Pink Cloud, January 29, 11pm

The Pink Cloud
The Pink Cloud Photo: Courtesy of Sundance Institute
Jeremy Mathews writes: This film feels so much like it was inspired by Covid-19 that the filmmakers included a disclaimer that it was written in 2017 and shot in 2019. Brazilian director Iuli Gerbase’s epic sci-fi chamber drama imagines that a mysterious pink cloud appears across the world, killing anyone it surrounds within 10 seconds of breathing its air. Everyone has to shelter in place, without even having time to go home.The film doesn’t follow scientists or government officials, but a couple that wakes up after a one-night-stand and realizes they have to spend an indefinite future stuck together, while communicating with friends and family via the internet. The result is a fascinating character study, even when it hits close to home. Read our full review.

Violation, February 1, 5am

Violation Photo: Courtesy of Sundance Institute
Amber Wilkinson writes: As soon as the words “don’t” and “stop” are uttered in Madeleine Sims-Fewer and Dusty Mancinelli’s psychological horror, we feel the weight of their ambiguity. And ambiguity is the name of the game for much of this melancholy film that considers both a shocking – and not for the fainthearted – event and its trigger. The story is presented piecemeal, as the deeply disturbing fuller picture begins to emerge. Although this is Canadian it has the cool chill of the European arthouse about it and features a fierce central performance from Sims-Fewer that compels you not to look away even when you want to. If you don’t catch it at Sundance, Violation will be released on Shudder on March 25. Read our full review.

Writing with Fire, January 31, 2am

Writing With Fire
Writing With Fire Photo: Courtesy of Sundance Institute
Jeremy Mathews writes: This documentary offers a unique look into the leadership and staff of an Indian newspaper run entirely by women from the Dalit (“untouchable”) caste. While there’s not a robust narrative thrust, the brave and ambitious reporters are great subjects, and their reporting offers a window into a rarely seen part of India. The news they report can be quite bleak, but it’s inspiring to get to know these marginalised women as they find success speaking truth to power.

Luzzu, January 29, 8pm

Luzzu Photo: Inigo Taylor
Amber Wilkinson writes: Alex Camilleri elicits heartfelt and magnetic performances from the non-actors in his neorealist drama about the struggles faced by traditional Maltese fishermen in the face of increased commercialisation. He opens a window to this world through the story of Jesmark (Jesmark Scicluna), who is struggling to keep his traditional family luzzu boat afloat, both literally and figuratively. Camilleri shows how small fry like Jesmark not only face being caught in a net of corruption but also huge environmental challenges, while never losing sight of the human drama at his film’s heart. Read our full review and our interview with Camilleri.

In terms of shorts programming, there’s a wealth to choose from, but look out for the twisty and well-crafted You Wouldn’t Understand (January 28, 3pm) about a picnic that goes awry. Plus, if you’re looking for something to whet your appetite, check out Jessica Beshir’s short film Hairat, which should put you in the mood for Faya Dayi

Hairat from Topic on Vimeo.

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