The Sundance Film Festival is in full swing after kicking off on January 19th in Park City, Utah. This year’s festival, which features a number of projects slated to be the next big critically-acclaimed thing, includes 120 different films, selected out of a staggering 13,782 submissions. The final selections include the work of A-list stars and indie up and comers.
For the past 10 years, The Blackhouse has served as both a networking platform and support system for black creators at Sundance. Black women feature prominently at this year’s festival as both filmmakers and film stars. Here are some projects to keep an eye out for in the upcoming season.
Directed by Pascale Lamche, Winnie is an intimate look at the life and activism of Winnie Mandela.
Supremely controversial, Winnie Mandela has been labeled a woman condemned for her radical role in the liberation of her South African people under apartheid. While her husband, Nelson Mandela, remained securely jailed for 27 years, Winnie brushed the patriarchy aside to fight on the front line and take uncompromising steps to inspire an uprising. While Nelson was remembered as a hero, Winnie was demonized in the global media.
This dramatic new event series examines the dangerous aftermath of racially charged shootings in a small North Carolina town. An expert investigator digs into the cases alongside a special prosecutor, and together they navigate the media attention, public debate, and social unrest that comes with such volatile cases—seeking justice before the divided town erupts. As they pull back the layers of both cases, they suspect a cover-up that may involve some of the state’s most powerful people, and learn that the truth is rarely black and white.
Set in the post-WWII South, this epic pioneer story pits two families against a barbaric social hierarchy and an unrelenting landscape as they simultaneously fight the battle at home and the battle abroad. Newly transplanted from the quiet civility of Memphis, the McAllans are underprepared and overly hopeful for Henry’s grandiose farming dreams while Laura strives to keep the faith in her husband’s losing venture. For Hap and Florence Jackson, whose families have worked the land for generations, every day is a losing venture as they struggle bravely to build some small dream of their own. The war upends both families, as their returning loved ones, Jamie and Ronsel, forge a fast, uneasy friendship that challenges them all.
In 1984, Lolita Shanté Gooden was just another 14-year-old living in New York’s Queensbridge projects. When she famously laid down the lyrics to “Roxanne’s Revenge”—an underground answer rap to U.T.F.O.’s popular single “Roxanne, Roxanne”—she sparked one of the earliest and most significant beefs in hip-hop history, establishing herself as a feared battle emcee in a genre on the verge of worldwide recognition. With fame firmly in her grasp, Roxanne Shanté was still just a teenager with the weight of the world on her shoulders, hustling to provide for her family while defending herself from the perils of life in the projects.
The Incredible Jessica James
Jessica James (Jessica Williams), an aspiring playwright in New York City, is trying hard to get over a recent breakup with her boyfriend. She sees light at the end of the tunnel when she meets Boone (Chris O’Dowd), who’s also recovering from a recent break-up. Together, they figure out a way to make it through the tough times, while also realizing they like each other—a lot.
The Baltimore Leadership School for Young Women opened in 2009 with a mandate to send every student to college, despite the barriers that their home lives and community might present. Now, as the first class enters its senior year, the stakes are high to achieve that purpose. The film follows three irrepressible seniors and their “Lethal Ladies” step dance team as they navigate a nerve-wracking college application process and strive to elevate the creative outlet that keeps them united and fighting to reach their goals.
Directed by Sabaah Folayan.
Told by the activists and leaders who live and breathe this movement for justice, Whose Streets? is an unflinching look at the Ferguson uprising. When unarmed teenager Michael Brown is killed by police and left lying in the street for hours, it marks a breaking point for the residents of St. Louis, Missouri. Grief, long-standing racial tensions and renewed anger bring residents together to hold vigil and protest this latest tragedy.
In 1992, filmmaker Yance Ford’s brother William was shot and killed by a 19-year-old white mechanic after a common complaint about a car repair spiraled violently out of control. The mechanic claimed he fired in self-defense, and though William was unarmed, he quickly became the prime suspect in his own death. When an all-white grand jury set the shooter free, Yance’s family retreated into a silent fury. Twenty years later, Strong Island invents a startling cinematic language to penetrate this devastating collision of paralysis, grief, fear, racism, and injustice.
Deidra & Laney Rob a Train
Deidra Tanner is a whip-smart high school senior who sells answers to chemistry tests to save up for college, all the while helping her mother raise her stubborn little sister, Laney, and her brother, Jet. It’s more than your average teenager can handle, but Deidra runs a tight ship—that is, until Mom blows a mental gasket at her retail job and throws a high-end TV on the pavement. When Deidra realizes that jail time is ironically proving to be a healthy and therapeutic break from single parent life for her mom, her life is derailed. When she conjures up the will to face her new circumstances, Deidra focuses her talents on the train tracks in her own backyard.
Directed by Janicza Bravo.
Isaac Lachmann has seen better days. His acting career is tanking, while his colleagues succeed; his blind girlfriend of 10 years plans to leave him; and his own family singles him out as a constant disappointment at their latest reunion. Even as he takes a chance on new romance, Isaac struggles to define his place in a world that has seemingly turned against him.