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Volume 23 No. 13
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Films make most of Sundance spotlight

Much of the hullabaloo surrounding this year’s Sundance Film Festival was its diverse makeup — perhaps the most in its celebrated history. Sundance 2020 hit a few noteworthy highs: Thirty-eight percent of directors spanning its four competition categories are people of color as are 53% of directors in the U.S. Dramatic Competition. Additionally, 44% of all films announced at the festival were directed by one or more women; 34% were directed by one or more filmmakers of color, and 15% by one or more people who are LGBTQ+.

 

But the festival, which ran from Jan. 23 through Feb. 2 in Park City, Utah, was diversified in other ways. For the Jan. 26 premiere of the cycling-themed film “The Climb,” it wasn’t just those in attendance who got to watch. The festival partnered with Sony Pictures Classics to simulcast the premiere and live Q&A in 10 cities across the U.S., including Annapolis, Md., Fairfax, Va., and Tempe, Ariz.

Keri Putnam, Sundance Institute’s executive director, commented on the significance of the pilot program as a means to explore how to showcase the festival’s roster of independent films beyond the traditional bounds of the event itself. “Collaborations like this underline Sundance’s mission of supporting independent artists and introducing audiences to new work as technology and culture evolve,” she said.

“The Climb” originated as a narrative short, debuting at Sundance 2018. The film follows two best friends winding their way through the back roads of France on their bicycles only to have betrayal revealed.

Here’s a complete list of sports-related films at Sundance 2020:

Documentaries

“Be Water”

After Hollywood rejected him, martial artist Bruce Lee returned to his parents’ homeland of Hong Kong in 1971 to complete four iconic films. The ESPN documentary follows his struggles between two worlds, and explores identity and representation through archival material, interviews and Lee’s own writings. Vietnamese American director Bao Nguyen brings Lee’s story to life.

“Lance”

American director Marina Zenovich provides a deeply personal examination of one of the world’s most controversial figures: Lance Armstrong. The ESPN documentary is a psychological study of the “21st century phenomenon: the celebrity who falls spectacularly and publicly from grace.”

Narrative Features

“Charm City Kings”

A West Baltimore teen known as Mouse feels the fierce pull from different angles. There’s notorious ex-con Blax and concerned Detective Rivers, and more so from his mother, who tries to set Mouse on a straight path. Then there’s the dangers of gang life, which he lost his brother to. It’s the love of “The Ride” — the power, artistry and energy of the motorized dirt-bike scene — that makes him feel alive. The film was directed by Puerto Rican Angel Manuel Soto and executive produced by Jada Pinkett Smith and Will Smith. Sony Pictures Classics will distribute the film, which at Sundance won a U.S. Dramatic Special Jury Award.

“Dream Horse”

In a working-class Welsh town, barmaid Jan Vokes struggles to find meaning in her life. But a chance encounter with a customer, a former race horse syndicate leader, inspires her to create a crazy scheme: to enlist the aid of local residents to create a community fund to breed a race horse. Called Dream Alliance, the horse becomes a racing champ. Welsh director Euros Lyn brings the true story of Vokes to life and stars Toni Collette and Damian Lewis. “Dream Horse” is based on the documentary “Dark Horse,” which won the World Cinema Documentary Audience Award at Sundance 2015. Bleecker Street and Topic Studios are the distributor.

“The Climb”

Kyle and Mike are best friends. Kyle is getting married in France to a French girl. He and Mike, who is also his best man, embark on a bike ride, traversing a twisting road in the south of France. At one point during their ride, Mike reveals he slept with Kyle’s fiancée. Shot in one long take, the confession and resulting exchange are not unlike the ups and downs of the mountainous road — invigorating and painful at the same time. Directed by American Michael Angelo Covino and co-written by Covino and Kyle Marvin, the film is based on the narrative short of the same name that debuted at Sundance 2018.

Documentary Short

“Junior Bangers”

In England, banger racing isn’t just a sport — it’s a way of life. Join 11-year-olds Finn and Harley on a cold winter race day in Birmingham, England. London’s Danny Lee, a writer/director, brings the film short to audiences. Banger racing involves old scrap vehicles typically competing on dirt and shale tracks and is popular in countries such as Belgium, Ireland and the U.K.

Shahnaz Mahmud is a writer in New York.