Heading to Sundance 2023? Four Films You Need to See
Films transport us to far off places, embrace us with stories close to home, and uncover truths too long left buried. Sundance Film Festival, the largest independent film festival in the United States, brings together films from across the country and the world. This year, travel through the screen to coal country in Central Appalachia, follow a spate of tuba robberies in Southern California schools, journey through Black liberation from the perspective of legendary poet Nikki Giovanni, and observe Earth’s history from the point of view of rocks.
Four Creative Capital artists will be screening their films in Utah and online, January 19–29, 2023! Catch the premieres of two Creative Capital films, King Coal by Elaine McMillion Sheldon (2021 Grantee) and The Tuba Thieves by Alison O’Daniel (2019 Grantee), and watch the latest by Michèle Stephenson (2019 Grantee) and Deborah Stratman (2012 Grantee).
Discover the films below.
Elaine McMillion Sheldon
King Coal (World Premiere)
Central Appalachia is a place of mountains and myth. Director Elaine McMillion Sheldon knows this well, calling those mountains home. Coal has had a profound influence on this community’s identity, but Sheldon dares to consider what future stories might look like out of the shadow of coal, now that relationships to coal are changing. She takes us on an alluring cinematic journey through the past, present, and future of Appalachia.
Sheldon’s distinct vision remixes present-day moments of life in a coal-mining town with archival footage and atmospheric invocations of the land to alchemize something new — a rare, nuanced depiction of this community. A young girl learning the story of coal anchors the journey while Sheldon’s poetic voiceover guides us through the experience and an expressive score differentiates the reality of coal from a more imaginative world. The hybrid approach allows Sheldon to explore the act of storytelling itself and is a magical reclamation of the power of stories to shape how a region sees itself. The end of one story welcomes the beginning of another.
In person: January 23–27, 2023
Online: January 24–30, 2023
The Tuba Thieves (Premiere)
A spate of robberies in Southern California schools had an oddly specific target: tubas. In this work of creative nonfiction, d/Deaf first-time feature director Alison O’Daniel presents the impact of these crimes from an unexpected angle. The film unfolds mimicking a game of telephone, where sound’s feeble transmissibility is proven as the story bends and weaves to human interpretation and miscommunication. The result is a stunning contribution to cinematic language. O’Daniel has developed a syntax of deafness that offers a complex, overlaid, surprising new texture, which offers a dimensional experience of deafness and reorients the audience auditorily in an unfamiliar and exhilarating way.
Blending documentary and fictionalized performances by Nyke, a Deaf woman playing herself, and Geovanny, a drum major of a burglarized, now-tubaless band, the film documents their lives during the years of the robberies. Against a backdrop of Los Angeles never quite seen — or heard, rather — quite like this, the main character is sound and lack thereof. A finely tuned sense of silence and sound — aural and conceptual — are collaged to create this utterly singular sonic and cinematic experience.
In person: January 22–23, 25–27
Online: January 24–30
Going to Mars: The Nikki Giovanni Project
“The trip to Mars can only be understood through Black Americans.” Legendary poet Nikki Giovanni’s revelation is a launching pad to an inspiring exploration of her life and legacy. Through a collision of memories, moments in American history, live readings of her poetry, and impressions of space, Giovanni urges us to imagine a future where Black women lead, and equity is a reality.
Directors Joe Brewster and Michèle Stephenson (American Promise, The Changing Same) craft a vision fit for the radical imagination of Nikki Giovanni. Present-day Giovanni reckons with the inevitable passing of time, while an evocative melding of vérité and archival images act as openings into her mindscape, transcending time and place. Brewster and Stephenson’s approach is imaginative and dreamlike, akin to the way Giovanni’s words are hair-raising in their power to summon unrealized ways of seeing. The Afro-futuristic lens honors Giovanni’s complexity and transports us on a journey through Black liberation from the perspective of one of America’s most acclaimed and beloved writers, a profound artist and activist. Next stop, Mars.
In person: January 20–22, 24, 27
Online: January 24–30
The human race is old, but rocks are timeless. Weaving stunning imagery with evocative text and interviews, Last Things observes the history of all of us and this planet Earth through the most essential parts — evolution and extinction, from the POV of rocks. The immensity of our existence is hard to fathom, and we are obsessed with our past, looking for reasons. A huge journey we should take on a cinema screen.
In a distinctive style seen throughout her long career, Deborah Stratman skillfully combines pure science with speculative fiction, not to give you an answer to the meaning of life, but to provide sounds, images, and ideas to contemplate. The use of both microscopic and landscape photography, we see the luscious textures of rocks and matter and our handprints on it. Texts from writers enhance the journey, ranging from the creators of the science fiction genre to experts of stream-of-consciousness reflections. Stratman blurs the borders of poetry, narrative, and fact in an ethereal adventure. As one interviewee states, “Rocks have a history, but they don’t remember it.”
In person: January 23, 25–27
Online: January 24–30
The 2023 Sundance Film Festival takes place in person in Utah and online, January 19–29, 2023.