Iowa City's FilmScene theatre announces its Sundance Film Festival line-up
FilmScene announced its line-up Tuesday of eight films that will be screened in downtown Iowa City as part of the Sundance Film Festival.
"It’s been a really unique curation process," FilmScene programming director Rebecca Fons told the Press-Citizen on Wednesday. "Sundance is a festival of discovery — it seeks out the best in established voices and emerging voices."
Fons and the rest of the staff at FilmScene hope that those voices resonate with Iowa audiences when screenings begin later this month.
The screenings come a month and a half after FilmScene was selected as one of the few theaters across the country that would have the opportunity to host screenings as part of the annual festival. For four days, starting on Thursday, Jan. 28, FilmScene will be one of the festival's dozens of satellite locations as organizers sought to plan around the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
At 10 a.m. Thursday, $10 tickets for in-person screenings will be made available to FilmScene's members in a raffle. The films will also be available to view on the Sundance Film Festival website.
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Raffle tickets will be available to the general public at 10 a.m. Friday.
Forty raffle tickets will be sold for each screening, each with one winner able to bring a small group into the theater. Speaking with Fons, who worked with Sundance representatives to select these films for Iowa City audiences, the Press-Citizen has compiled a look at the eight movies to be featured in Iowa City:
'In the Same Breath'
- Genre: Documentary
- Director: Nanfu Wang
- Screening: 8 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 28
"In the Same Breath" is the latest from the documentary director of "One Child Nation," which was screened at FilmScene in late 2019. This latest piece is a look at the Chinese government's handling of the novel coronavirus after its emergence from Wuhan.
"It will be a really spotlit portrait of China," said Fons, who will be experiencing most of these films for the first time once the festival starts. "(Wang) behind the lens means it's going to be a really 'take no prisoners' look."
The pertinence of examining world governments' handling of the COVID-19 pandemic was highlighted during the Wednesday interview given the day before saw record pandemic related deaths in the United States.
- Genre: Documentary
- Director: Peter Nicks
- Screenings: 3 p.m., 3:30 p.m. and 4 p.m. Friday, Jan. 29
Yet another documentary that very much speaks to our current moment in time. From director Peter Nicks comes a look at Oakland High School's graduating class of 2020.
From Fons' understanding and online synopses of the film, "Homeroom" is particularly focused on the features of 2020 that are by now synonymous with the year: grappling with the COVID-19 pandemic and cries for racial justice.
The latter of these issues is rendered especially pertinent in light of efforts to eliminate the school district's police force.
- Genre: Documentary
- Director: Pedro Kos
- Screenings: 8 p.m. and 9 p.m. Friday, Jan. 29
The third, but not the last, documentary film in the local line-up, "Rebel Hearts" traces the actions of Los Angeles' Sister of the Immaculate Heart, a group of feminist nuns who, 50 years ago, protested the patriarchal conventions within the Catholic Church.
"It's a religious showdown in the 20th century," Fons said. "From the clips I've seen ... there's a lot of really great archival footage."
- Genre: Contemporary Drama
- Director: Fran Kranz
- Screenings: 3 p.m., 3:30 p.m. and 4 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 30
Written and directed by Fran Kranz, "Mass" follows two sets of parents in the aftermath of a mass school shooting. One set of parents belongs to a child who was a victim of the attack, while the other set belongs to the child who perpetrated it.
Fons highlighted the strong array of dramatic actors behind the film such as Jason Isaacs and Martha Plimpton.
“It’s going to be a tour de force of acting," she added, "one of the art house films you can really sink your teeth into."
- Genre: Contemporary Drama/Literary Adaptation
- Director: Carey Williams
- Screenings: 8 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 30
“What is the gif that Juliet uses when Tybalt is killed?” Fons mused.
The ponderment comes in relation to "R#J," the most recent adaptation of one of William Shakespeare's most famous plays.
Adapted and directed by Carey Williams, the picture tells the story of Romeo and Juliet through cell phones and social media. At this point, even Fons isn't entirely certain how the narrative unfolds — whether the film focuses strictly on screens or if it cuts between the web and what's happening "irl" — but she's excited to find out.
“It’s such a universal story, it begs for different adaptations and different points of view.”
- Genre: Documentary
- Director: Parker Hill and Isabel Bethencourt
- Screenings: 2:30 p.m. and 3 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 31
The fourth and final documentary in FilmScene's eight-film Sundance offering, "Cusp" is a documentary that plants itself in a Texas military town where three teenage girls are coming of age.
"It deals with the experience they've dealt with, in terms of assault or in terms of harassment," Fons explained.
The film follows the three girls at its center as they reminisce about their path, contemplate definitions of freedom and consent, and head into their respective futures.
- Genre: Drama
- Director: Karen Cinorre
- Screenings: 7:30 p.m. and 8 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 31
A directorial debut from Karen Cinorre, "Mayday" is a film about a woman, Ana, transported from her workplace to an alternate reality, one in which female soldiers fight an endless war.
While inhabiting this strange world, Ana learns to be a sharpshooter and explores her own morality in what promises to be "a feminist fever dream and an ambitious reimagining of a war film."
'Judas and the Black Messiah'
- Genre: Biopic
- Director: Shaka King
- Screenings: 8:30 p.m. and 9 p.m. Monday, Feb. 1
Likely the most publicized movie among FilmScene's offerings is "Judas and the Black Messiah." The film, produced by "Black Panther" director Ryan Coogler, dramatizes the life and death of Fred Hampton.
The film features Daniel Kaluuya as Hampton, the chairman of the Illinois Black Panther Party, and LaKeith Stanfield as William O'Neal, the FBI informant who betrayed him.
Fons also noted that, as this film is distributed by Warner Bros., it is also expected to be available for streaming for a limited time on HBO Max in February.
Though that concludes the films on being presented by FilmScene during Sundance, FilmScene will be collaborating with the film festival in other ways, Fons noted.
With an official announcement expected to be posted by FilmScene on Thursday morning, Fons mentioned FilmScene — along with several other Sundance satellite locations — will be hosting talkbacks, roundtables and other such events virtually with filmmakers over the last weekend in January, as well.
The events will be free to view even for those who aren't able to attend the in-person screenings and will be posted on the Sundance website.
“So if you’re looking for something to do — and who isn’t looking for something to do," Fons quipped, "you could spend a week exploring independent theaters across the nation."
Though all of these announcements have only come over the course of the past couple of months, Fons also noted that forms of these plans have been in the works since July. Now, they're weeks away from taking form.
“I want to praise Sundance for running with a very big lift of an idea," she said. "It’s very different from what we all planned, but isn’t that the case for the past year of all our lives?”