Every year important movies come to the Sundance Film Festival. Documentaries about global warming, narrative features about the trials of incarceration, stories of marginalized communities—they’re all screening from sunup to sundown. Yet this year’s Sundance lineup might be its most crucial, and timely, yet.
That’s because at a time when less than 5 percent of the top-grossing movies in US theaters are directed by women, 37 percent of the Sundance lineup had women behind the camera. Not only that, many of their films—from documentaries about attorney Gloria Allred and Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg to features about women coming to terms with past sexual experiences—reflect issues currently filling news and social media feeds. “We’re proud of the diversity of this year’s lineup,” Sundance Institute executive director Keri Putnam said in a statement. “These stories might inspire or move us, even occasionally make us uncomfortable—but they can shift our perspectives, spark conversation, and create change.”
The movies at the festival, which kicks into full gear this weekend, also reflect what’s going on the film industry itself. As Hollywood reacts and recalibrates following allegations of sexual misconduct against figures like producer Harvey Weinstein—and in the middle of the #MeToo movement—Sundance will not only be a place for movies by and about women, it’ll be an environment where people will be discussing women’s role(s) in the business. Some of the organizers of last year’s Women’s March in Park City, Utah, where the fest is held, are planning a Respect Rally for Saturday, and Time’s Up—the industry harassment, assault, and inequality legal defense fund—is expected to have a presence as well.
What will happen at this year’s Sundance—and what changes could come as a result of it—remain to be seen. The following, however, are the films most likely to spark conversation and excitement at this year’s festival.
I Think We’re Alone Now
At first glance, I Think We’re Alone Now should grab your attention because it’s a post-apocalyptic flick that stars Peter Dinklage (aka Game of Thrones’ Tyrion Lannister) and Elle Fanning. But the big draw here is director Reed Morano, the virtuoso behind the best episodes of last year’s Handmaid’s Tale series on Hulu. She’s got an eye like no other—she was a cinematographer for years and was one of the many awesome women who contributed to the look of Beyoncé’s Lemonade visuals—so expect this one to look stunning.
Sorry to Bother You
This directorial debut from Boots Riley, longtime frontman of hip-hop group The Coup, has pretty much everything: Atlanta’s Lakeith Stanfield, Thor: Ragnarok’s Tessa Thompson, telemarketing. But it’s the send-up of tech culture—and presumably Bay Area life—that sounds most promising. The synopsis promises that “the unimaginable hits the fan when Cassius (Stanfield) meets [his] company’s cocaine-snorting, orgy-hosting, obnoxious, and relentlessly optimistic CEO, Steve Lift (Armie Hammer).” Yeah, it’s like that.
The Miseducation of Cameron Post
One-time Hit-Girl Chloë Grace Moretz stars as the titular Cameron Post, a high school girl who gets caught in the backseat of a car with a girl on prom night and is sent off to conversion therapy for “de-gaying.” Adapted from Emily Danforth’s novel, the latest from writer-director Desiree Akhavan (if you haven’t seen her film Appropriate Behavior, you’re missing out), will likely delight queer kids—and anyone who loved But I’m a Cheerleader in the 1990s.
Between Big Little Lies and Star Wars: The Last Jedi Laura Dern had a huge 2017. She’s continuing that in 2018 with this film about a woman who is forced to delve deep into the memory of her first sexual relationship and look at “the stories we tell ourselves to survive.” The movie is directed by documentarian Jennifer Fox and based on her own experiences. This one should be heavy and compelling.
This documentary, which will come to Netflix later this year, takes a long look at the life and career of Gloria Allred, the media-ready women’s rights attorney whose cases have taken on everyone from Bill Cosby to Donald Trump. Expect that look to be unblinking.
Laura Nix’s documentary follows six high school students ramping up for competition in the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair. Each young whiz kid has proposed a solution to one of the world’s environmental problems inspired by something they’ve witnessed in their own communities. Kids who believe in science? Yes, please.
This feminist retelling of Hamlet features Daisy Ridley—you know, Rey from Star Wars—as the titular character. It would be too much to hope she completes the story by giving new life to the Resistance, but maybe director Claire McCarthy gives her a better end than the tragic one she gets in Shakespeare’s version? We’ll see.
Half the Picture
Sometimes being on-the-nose is bad, but when “on-the-nose” means “a documentary about the lack of gender parity in Hollywood directing gigs coming to Sundance” then it’s just right. Director Amy Adrion talked to all manner of female directors, including Ava DuVernay and original Twilight helmer Catherine Hardwicke, to get the real story on the small numbers of women who get the opportunity to direct big films. Maybe the industry insiders watching will take notes.
It’s actually kind of surprising there’s never been a documentary devoted to Ruth Bader Ginsburg before. But at least there’s one now. And if people don’t know about the work the Notorious RBG has done to shape gender-discrimination law in the United States, they all should all watch it.
On Her Shoulders
Alexandria Bombach’s documentary takes a long, hard look at the work of Nadia Murad, who at 23 goes on a mission to inform the public about the threat ISIS poses to the Yazidi community. From radio interviews to the floor of the United Nations, she recounts again and again her time as a sex slave and the death of her family at the hands of the militant group. Hard to watch? Yes. Essential viewing? That too.