Lindsey Bahr and Jake Coyle
AP – Dispatches from the Sundance Film Festival are usually accompanied by descriptions of the looming mountains, snowy premieres and frantic bus shuttles. This year’s Sundance, which played out entirely virtually due to the COVID-19 surge driven by the Omicron variant, meant less evocative screening circumstances: Laptops, digital links and Zooms.
But even in reduced form, the films were often hypnotic, thrilling and urgent. Here are some films that stood out to AP Film Writers Lindsey Bahr and Jake Coyle from their virtual Sundance, which wrapped last Sunday.
FIRE OF LOVE
Katia and Maurice Krafft were married French volcanologists who spent their lives documenting the world’s volcanoes and died during one such expedition in Japan in 1991.
Werner Herzog used them briefly in Into the Inferno, but the Kraffts and their stunning photographs and 16-millimetre films get the spotlight in Sara Dosa’s Fire of Love, a mesmerising and almost mystical portrait of love and the extremes of the natural world to be released by National Geographic. With a synthy indie pop score (including Brian Eno and Air), Miranda July narration and experimental editing, it’s like Mike Mills meets Terrence Malick meets Guy Maddin. – Lindsey Bahr (LB)
Margaret Brown’s documentary concerns the discovery of the Clotilda, a schooner submerged in Alabama’s Mobile River in 1860, considered to be the last known slave ship to bring enslaved Africans to the United States (US). But Brown’s film, which was acquired by Netflix and the Obamas’ Higher Ground Productions, excavates far more than the Clotilda. In taking a wide lens to the descendants of the ship and the present-day circumstances of Africatown near Mobile, where many of the survivors settled, Descendant lyrically ruminates on the legacy of slavery in America, telescoping past and present like few films before it. – Jake Coyle (JC)
CHA CHA REAL SMOOTH
On paper, this movie looks like something that came out of a round of Sundance mad-libs: Aimless college grad gets hired by local mothers to be a party starter and strikes up a friendship with a young single mom of an autistic teenage daughter. And yet Cooper Raiff’s sophomore film, which he stars in alongside Dakota Johnson, is never what you expect.
Sweet, funny and moving, this is a small, indie trope-defying gem that’ll be on Apple TV+ this year. – LB
WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT COSBY
Bill Cosby’s descent was fairly definitive. And yet even with his (brief) imprisonment and the wider cultural #MeToo reckoning, director W Kamau Bell had a feeling that we had not yet fully processed what had happened to the man once known as America’s Dad. And indeed the four-part docuseries We Need to Talk About Cosby, rolling out on Showtime over the next three weekends, delivers on its title. Bell talks to survivors, colleagues and cultural commentators about Cosby’s life, career, impact and misdeeds, in his own attempt to grapple with the downfall of someone he and many others once thought of as hero. It is an absolute must-see. – LB
EMILY THE CRIMINAL
The burden of student loan debut is taken to darkly electrifying extremes in first-time writer-director John Patton Ford’s taut neo-noir thriller. Most of all, it’s a showcase for Aubrey Plaza, who plays a desperate young Los Angeles woman drawn into a criminal underworld through high-paying but dangerous scams (with a charming Theo Rossi) that slyly critique modern-day economic injustices. The always engrossing Plaza, also a producer on the film, has never been more potent. – JC
There are so, so many accounts of Diana’s life, struggles, death and legacies (many recent and many excellent, too) that even the idea of another film just sounds exhausting. But The Princess, coming to HBO this year, is something else entirely. Director Ed Perkins tells the story of her public life using only archival footage, including news broadcasts, man-on-the-street interviews, talk show segments, b-roll and outtakes. Looking at us looking at her is an immersive, moving and revelatory experience. – LB
Daniel Roher’s documentary of the imprisoned Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny is a riveting, occasionally farcical, often alarming portrait of a still-unspooling real-life geopolitical drama. The film, which HBO Max and CNN will release later this year, was both the documentary audience award winner and the overall audience winner at Sundance. That’s a testament to Roher’s film and to Navalny’s audacious, entertaining manner. – JC