Here's what Sundance's programming boss says to put on your watch list at this year's fest

(KUTV) The countdown to the 2017 Sundance Film Festival is on, with just over two weeks to go before the first screening. The buzz has already started, with several titles already snapped up for distribution and indie film lovers anticipating breakout performances and stories that will stick around for years to come.

The Salt Lake Tribune's long-time film critic Sean P. Means and Sundance's Director of Programming Trevor Groth sat down at the Tower Theatre, one of several venues during the fest, to give local (hardcore) film fans a sneak peak at some of the highlights of the 2017 program. Here's a look:


Before I Fall (Director: Ry Russo-Young, Screenwriter: Maria Maggenti, Principal Cast: Zoey Deutch, Halston Sage, Logan Miller, Kian Lawley, Elena Kampouris, Diego Boneta)

Synopsis from the Sundance Film Festival: "Sam is one lucky teenager. She’s beautiful, rich, and popular, with the hottest boyfriend and the most loyal friends. But she and her posse can be cruel and heartless; since elementary school they’ve relentlessly bullied one of their classmates. On Friday, February 12th, driving home from a party, Sam is in a dramatic car crash. She should be dead, but wakes the next morning to find the date hasn’t changed. In a Groundhog Day–like time loop, Sam must unravel the mystery of why the last day of her life keeps repeating again and again. Along the way she realizes that every little deed has a consequence, and every action can change another person’s future."

The Last Word (Director: Mark Pellington, Screenwriter: Stuart Ross Fink, Principal Cast: Shirley MacLaine, Amanda Seyfried, Anne Heche, Thomas Sadoski, Philip Baker Hall)

Synopsis from the Sundance Film Festival: "Harriet Lauler (Shirley MacLaine), a once successful businesswoman, has always been in tight control of every aspect of her life. As she reflects upon her accomplishments, she's suddenly inspired to engage a young local writer, Anne Sherman (Amanda Seyfried), to pen her life's story. When the initial result doesn’t meet Harriet's high expectations, she sets out to reshape the way she is remembered, with Anne dragged along as an unwilling accomplice. As the journey unfolds, the two women develop a unique bond which alters not only Harriet’s legacy, but also Anne’s future."

Wilson (Director: Craig Johnson, Screenwriter: Daniel Clowes, Principal Cast: Woody Harrelson, Laura Dern, Judy Greer)

Synopsis from the Sundance Film Festival: "Woody Harrelson stars as Wilson, a lonely, neurotic, and hilariously honest middle-aged, misanthropic dog lover who reunites with his estranged wife (Laura Dern) and gets a shot at happiness when he learns he has a teenage daughter he’s never met. In his uniquely outrageous and slightly twisted way, Wilson sets out to connect with her in what could be his last chance at having a family."

World Documentary

Machines (Director: Rahul Jain)

Synopsis from the Sundance Film Festival: "With rare access to the guarded world of sweatshops, Rahul Jain brings us into one of the thousands of textile mills in heavily industrialized Sachin, India. To the rhythmic churning of machines, his anatomical exploration follows the flow of fabric through the labyrinthine factory as it’s carted around; spooled and unspooled; and passed through dye presses, baths, and sundry machines—ultimately headed to couture stores a world apart. But the dim and claustrophobic mill, with its chaotic patchwork of cords and pipes, is also home to human toil."

Plastic China (Director: Jiu-liang Wang)

Synopsis from the Sundance Film Festival: "Director Jiu-liang Wang captures the striking, melancholic beauty of a vast and lifeless artificial landscape—a Chinese countryside covered almost entirely in imported plastic. Men and women build lives upon this waste, and children learn about the outside world through tattered western advertisements and tabloid images. Yet even within such a profoundly isolating and toxic atmosphere, hope and humanity find their way into the defiantly optimistic 11-year-old Yi-Jie."

Special Events

TIME: The Kalief Browder Story (Director: Jenner Furst)

Synopsis from the Sundance Film Festival: "At 16, Kalief Browder was charged with stealing a backpack, then arrested in the Bronx. He proclaimed his innocence, fought the system, and in the face of torture and unthinkable circumstances, he prevailed. For this, Kalief became an American hero—but he paid with his life. In a groundbreaking six part docuseries, executive produced by Jay Z, TIME: The Kalief Browder Story is an in-depth look at this harrowing story. Using illuminating interviews with world-renowned experts, celebrities, politicians, local officials, and survivors creates eye-opening nonfiction and humanizes the mechanical levers of justice while forcing Americans to reexamine the broken system. Utilizing multiple filmmaking techniques to create a unique and disruptive style, the series takes the viewer deeper and deeper into the perfect storm of the institutional failure that conspired to destroy Kalief Browder."

Downward Dog (Director: Michael Killen and Samm Hodges, Screenwriters: Kat Likkel, John Hoberg; Principal Cast: Allison Tolman, Samm Hodges, Lucas Neff, Kirby Howell-Baptiste, Barry Rothbart)

Synopsis from the Sundance Film Festival: "With Downward Dog, series creators Michael Killen and Samm Hodges expand upon their incredibly clever web series of the same name in this half-hour comedy produced by Legendary Television and ABC Studios for ABC Television Network. The series follows the day-to-day life of Nan (Allison Tolman), as told by her increasingly lonely and philosophical dog, Martin. Millennial Nan attempts to juggle her tumultuous personal life with a stressful career, unjustly supervised by her self-obsessed boss. Having her story told from the canine perspective provides a uniquely unfiltered point of view that helps us laugh and cry about what it means to be a human being in the twenty-first century. It’s a show about a dog and the girl he adores, and even at their worst, Nan and Martin just might be best for one another."

Gente-fied (Director: Marvin Lemus; Screenwriters: Charles D. King, Aaliyah Williams, America Ferrera, Marvin Lemus; Principal Cast: Edsson Morales, Victoria Ortiz, Rafael Sigler, Alicia Sixtos, Salvador Velez Jr., America Ferrera)

Synopsis from the Sundance Film Festival: "Bicultural millennials and old-school pillars of the Boyle Heights neighborhood of Los Angeles hustle to maintain their cultural identity when faced with an influx of outsiders to their traditionally Latino community. Each episode of this comedic drama focuses on a different character as they survey the complications and benefits of modern gentrification. The Festival debuts three episodes of this short form episodic series."


Red Dog, True Blue (Director: Kriv Stenders; Screenwriter: Daniel Taplitz; Principal Cast: Levi Miller, Bryan Brown, Hanna Mangan-Lawrence, Thomas Cocquerel, Jason Isaacs)

Synopsis from the Sundance Film Festival: "Based on the beloved Australian legend of Red Dog, a one-of-a-kind canine known for wandering in Western Australia during the 1970s, this family film explores the origin of a classic story. After his father dies and his mother is placed in a mental hospital, young Mick is sent to live with his grandfather on a cattle station in the Australian outback, an environment that is completely foreign to him. After a terrible storm, he discovers a puppy covered in blue paint stranded in a tree. Though it takes some convincing, Mick’s grandfather grudgingly allows the boy to keep the dog, now named Blue. The two misfits become inseparable and develop a bond that changes both of their lives forever." Recommended for ages 8 and up.


Lady MacBeth (Director: William Oldroyd; Screenwriter: Alice Birch; Principal Cast: Florence Pugh, Cosmo Jarvis, Paul Hilton, Naomi Ackie, Christopher Fairbank)

Synopsis from the Sundance Film Festival: "Strictly confined to her absentee husband's gothic estate in 1865 England's countryside, young Lady Katherine has been trapped in a loveless marriage of convenience. Imprisoned by the harsh tongue and severe scrutiny of her father-in-law, a steely fire of determination burns within her. When a brutish new servant ensnares her interest, their lascivious affair tears down the status quo, awakening a murderous desire to break free of her chains and inflict vengeance, no matter the price."

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