PARK CITY, UT – While there was no Hollywood A-listers and celebrities, no press lines, no buzz or anticipation of world premieres, or catching a glimpse of the likes of Taylor Swift or Former First Lady Hillary Clinton, the recently-wrapped 2021 Sundance Film Festival was a rousing success.
Thanks to COVID-19, Sundance 2021 was a combination being all virtual only with satellite screenings across a few selection theaters across the country, a reduced number of films numbering 70, all Q&A’s, and press conferences done remotely via Zoom. Despite the change in format, Sundance did a great job in organizing and putting together one of the world’s largest and most respected film festivals.
Arguably one of the best in the storied festival’s history, Sundance ‘21 proved that less was truly more in being a strong success with an array of quality films.
The night before the festival’s closing ceremony online, I stayed up last watching “Jockey” and Rebecca Hall’s directorial debut, “Passing” those two films along with CODA are probably the three best films I have seen.
Adapted from Nella Larsen’s Harlem Renaissance novel, ‘Passing’, directed by Rebecca Hall (The Town, Iron Man 2) and starring Tessa Thompson and Ruth Negga, is a 20’s era movie that explores racial stereotypes and identity. And thanks to the use of some stunning black/white cinematography, was one of the must-see films of the festival.
Directed by Sian Heder, CODA was one of the biggest films at Sundance that many are already talking about in Park City—which would ultimately win the Grand Jury Award and be acquired by Apple for $25 million. A fascinating story of a young woman from a deaf family (played brilliantly by British actress, Emilia Jones), CODA is a heartening coming-of-age tale of choosing between her family’s struggling fishing business and her own personal ambition of becoming a singer and going off to college.
And lastly, ‘Jockey’ is a must-see for horse-racing fans who need their fix between now and the Triple Crown. Making his directorial debut, Clint Bentley—who co-wrote the script along with Greg Kwedar —stars Clifton Collins Jr. (CAPOTE, Westworld) as an aging jockey, hoping to win one last title for his longtime trainer (Molly Parker), faces old injuries, an aging body and the arrival of a young rider (Moises Arias), claiming to be his long-lost son, complicating his goal.
A film that combines a great heart-warming story between a father and son, mesmerizing visuals that put you right in the middle of the very essence of horse racing and what real life is like as a jockey in a brutal and cutthroat business from the stables to the trainers to life outside the race track, ‘Jockey’ is an Oscar-worthy film, that was worthy of being picked up by Sony and one of the festival darlings in the U.S. Dramatic Competition.
While these are just my three movies that stood out to me, many other great films such as ‘Flee’, ‘Ailey’, ‘Judas and the Black Messiah’, ‘Summer of Soul’, ‘Mass’ and ‘Bring Your Own Brigade’ have led me to go as far to say that this year’s reduced lineup is better than the films, I saw out in Park City last year last February.
You may call it hyperbole or being a prisoner of the Zoom, but in terms of both quality and overall feel and execution, Sundance ’21 set a new benchmark in virtual film festivals and I would not be surprised if other’s burrow from their successful blueprint.
Till next year, see you on Main Street (hopefully!)
Also published on Medium.