Sundance Film Fest 2015: World Premieres–Narrative and Documentaries

Sundance Film Festival director John Cooper noted that while this year’s 16 Premieres selections will be among the most commercial titles in Park City, “they’re not without an independent feel to them, and that’s what I’m always looking for. There is a very independent spirit behind these films.”

Cooper cited “Last Days in the Desert,” a description-resistant foray into father-son territory from Garcia, a director known for his stories about women (“Nine Lives,” “Mother and Child”);

John Crowley’s “Brooklyn,” an unusually romantic drama starring Ronan as an Irish-American immigrant;

“Ten Thousand Saints,” Pulcini and Springer Berman’s 1980s-set drama about the challenges of parenting in the modern world, a particularly common theme for today’s independent filmmakers.

I am Michael

A particularly provocative-sounding entry is “I Am Michael,” Justin Kelly’s drama starring James Franco as Michael Glatze, a former journalist and gay-rights advocate who renounced his homosexuality and became a conservative Christian minister.

Another film that tackles evangelical Christianity is Jared Hess’ Utah-set comedy, “Don Verdean.”  Hess, who came to prominence as writer-director of the 2004 Sundance hit “Napoleon Dynamite,” is not the only Park City alum in Premieres.

Other returning filmmakers include:

Joe Swanberg (of last year’s dramatic competition entry “Happy Christmas”), back with the 35mm-lensed “Digging for Fire”;

Leslye Headland (“Bachelorette”), bringing “Sleeping With Other People,” starring Jason Sudeikis and Alison Brie as serial cheaters;

James Ponsoldt (“The Spectacular Now,” “Smashed”) bringing “The End of the Tour,” starring Jesse Eisenberg and Jason Segel as David Lipsky and David Foster Wallace, respectively;

Michael Almereyda (“Hamlet”), back with “Experimenter,” a dramatic account of social psychologist Stanley Milgram’s radical 1961 behavior experiments;

Noah Baumbach (“The Squid and the Whale”), bringing his latest collaboration with Greta Gerwig, “Mistress America”;

Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden (“Half Nelson,” “Sugar”), a poker movie starring Ryan Reynolds and Ben Mendelsohn.

Other Premieres titles include Paul Weitz’s “Grandma,” with Lily Tomlin and Julia Garner as a grandmother-granddaughter duo;

Brett Haley’s “I’ll See You in My Dreams,” starring Blythe Danner as a woman who starts dating again after 20 years;

Charles Stone III’s “Lila & Eve,” a drama of grief and retribution starring Viola Davis and Jennifer Lopez;

Mora Stephens’ “Zipper,” starring Patrick Wilson as a politician who has trouble keeping it in his pants;

Benson Lee’s “Seoul Searching,” an ’80s-set comedy about three foreign-born Korean teenagers.

“Documentarians have learned what cinema is, and how going from the informational to the cinematic makes things much more engaging,” Groth said. “The story is key in tackling an issue.”

Three docus likely to generate considerable attention by virtue of their subject matter alone are:

“Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief,”

Alex Gibney’s HBO-bound look at Scientology;

“The Hunting Ground,” Kirby Dick’s look at the prevalence of sexual assault on college campuses (particularly in the wake of Rolling Stone’s recently published, controversially contested account of a gang rape at the University of Virginia);

“Prophet’s Prey,” a look at Warren Jeffs, former president of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. “Prey” is directed by Amy Berg, coming off “An Open Secret,” her controversial feature about widespread sexual abuse of young male actors in Hollywood.

The festival-wide comedy theme identified by Cooper and Groth in the competition lineup also prevails in the Documentary Premieres entry “Tig,” Kristina Goolsby and Ashley York’s film about comedian Tig Notaro, and with Kevin Pollak’s “Misery Loves Comedy,” an interview-heavy inquiry into whether comedy has its roots in agony. That film is screening in Special Events, a new section the festival introduced this year to showcase episodic work, short films and live performances.