Sundance Film Fest 2023: U.S. Dramatic Competition

The premier indie festival will return as hybrid event, with in-person operation in Park City, and many of the films later available online for virtual festivalgoers.

After last year’s in-person festival was canceled at the last minute because of the winter COVID-19 surge due to Omicron variant, Sundance is returning to Park City for the first time since 2020 with line-up of 101 feature films, representing 23 countries.

The U.S. Dramatic Competition section features thirteen titles. The Jonathan Majors-fronted Magazine Dreams, Randall Park’s directorial debut Shortcomings, and the latest from Will Ferrell and Jessica Elbaum’s Gloria Sanchez, Theater Camp, are among those vying for the top festival prize.

n the Premieres section, which included future awards contenders like Promising Young Woman and The Big Sick, there are notable titles.

Cat Person, the feature based on the 2017 viral New Yorker story of the same name, will bow at the fest alongside Thomasin McKenzie and Anne Hathaway drama Eileen,

Cynthia Erivo refugee drama Drift, and sci-fi book adaptation Landscape With Invisible Hand. The latest features from Nicole Holofcener (You Hurt My Feelings) and Ira Sachs (Passages) are also headed the fest.

A science fiction on reproduction, The Pod Generation from Sophie Barthes, will also screen in the Premieres section and has been named Alfred P. Sloan Feature Film Prize winner.

“Maintaining an essential place for artists to express themselves, take risks, and for visionary stories to endure and entertain is distinctly Sundance,” said Sundance Institute founder Robert Redford. “The Festival continues to foster these values and connections through independent storytelling. We are honored to share the compelling selection of work at this year’s Festival from distinct perspectives and unique voices.”

Potential for Sales

Of the 13 films in the U.S. Dramatic Competition, only 2 are heading into the festival with distribution.

How will Hollywood respond? Virtual deal making has seen acquisitions slow, with splashy deals happening during the festival — CODA (AppleTV+), Cha Cha Real Smooth (AppleTV+) and Summer of Soul (Searchlight/Hulu), but the majority of acquisitions continued after the fest’s close.

“Our role at Sundance is looking at where we are in any given moment and being able to adapt,” says director of programming Kim Yutani. The moment in the industry is one of belt-tightening, as companies continue layoffs and top exec suites continue a game of musical chairs that leaves long-term strategy a lingering question.

“There’s so much consolidation,” notes Sundance Institute CEO Joanna Vicente, who helped program this year’s fest in the absence of a fest director. (New York Film Fest’s Eugene Hernandez will start his post next fest, taking over for Tabitha Jackson.)

Over half of the directors in the U.S. Dramatic Competition (8 out of 13) identify as women, 61 percent as people of color and 23 percent as LGBTQ+.

As for docus, 10 of the 16 directors in U.S. Documentary Competition identify as women; 63 percent — or 10 of the 16 as people of color, 13 percent as LGBTQ+, and 1 as person with disability.

This year the fest is planned as a hybrid event. The in-person program will run from Jan. 19 to 29, with films beginning to screen online starting Jan. 24.

The on-demand, online offerings will include all 2023 competition titles, including those programmed in the U.S. Dramatic, U.S. Documentary, World Cinema Dramatic, World Cinema Documentary, and NEXT sections.

The 2023 award–winning films will screen in person and online Jan. 28 and 29.

The 2023 Fest takes place January 19 to 29.

The full line-up for the 2023 Sundance Film Festival below.

U.S. DRAMATIC COMPETITION

The Accidental Getaway Driver / U.S.A. (Director and Screenwriter: Sing J. Lee, Screenwriter: Christopher Chen, Producers: Kimberly Steward, Basil Iwanyk, Andy Sorgie, Brendon Boyea, Joseph Hiếu) — During a routine pickup, an elderly Vietnamese cab driver is taken hostage at gunpoint by three recently escaped Orange County convicts. Based on a true story. Cast: Hiệp Trần Nghĩa, Dustin Nguyen, Dali Benssalah, Phi Vũ, Gabrielle Chan. World Premiere. Available online.

All Dirt Roads Taste of Salt / U.S.A. (Director and Screenwriter: Raven Jackson, Producers: Maria Altamirano, Barry Jenkins, Adele Romanski, Mark Ceryak) – A decades-spanning exploration of a woman’s life in Mississippi and an ode to the generations of people, places, and ineffable moments that shape us. Cast: Charleen McClure, Moses Ingram, Kaylee Nicole Johnson, Reginald Helms Jr., Sheila Atim, Chris Chalk. World Premiere. Available online.

Fair Play / U.S.A. (Director and Screenwriter: Chloe Domont, Producers: Leopold Hughes, Ben LeClair, Tim White, Trevor White, Allan Mandelbaum) — An unexpected promotion at a cutthroat hedge fund pushes a young couple’s relationship to the brink, threatening to unravel far more than their recent engagement. Cast: Phoebe Dynevor, Alden Ehrenreich, Eddie Marsan. World Premiere. Available online.

Fancy Dance / U.S.A. (Director, Screenwriter, and Producer: Erica Tremblay, Screenwriter: Miciana Alise, Producers: Deidre Backs, Heather Rae, Nina Yang Bongiovi, Tommy Oliver) — Following her sister’s disappearance, a Native American hustler kidnaps her niece from the child’s white grandparents and sets out for the state powwow in hopes of keeping what is left of their family intact. Cast: Lily Gladstone, Isabel Deroy-Olson, Ryan Begay, Shea Whigham, Audrey Wasilewski. World Premiere. Available online.

Magazine Dreams / U.S.A. (Director and Screenwriter: Elijah Bynum, Producers: Jennifer Fox, Dan Gilroy, Jeffrey Soros, Simon Horsman) — An amateur bodybuilder struggles to find human connection as his relentless drive for recognition pushes him to the brink. Cast: Jonathan Majors, Haley Bennett, Taylour Paige, Mike O’Hearn, Harrison Page, Harriet Sansom Harris. World Premiere. Available online.

Mutt / U.S.A. (Director, Screenwriter, and Producer: Vuk Lungulov-Klotz, Producers: Alexander Stegmaier, Stephen Scott Scarpulla, Jennifer Kuczaj, Joel Michaely) — Over the course of a single hectic day in New York City, three people from Feña’s past are thrust back into his life. Having lost touch since transitioning from female to male, he navigates the new dynamics of old relationships while tackling the day-to-day challenges of living life in between. Cast: Lío Mehiel, Cole Doman, MiMi Ryder, Alejandro Goic. World Premiere. Available online.

The Persian Version / U.S.A. (Director, Screenwriter, and Producer: Maryam Keshavarz, Producers: Anne Carey, Ben Howe, Luca Borghese, Peter Block, Corey Nelson) — When a large Iranian-American family gathers for the patriarch’s heart transplant, a family secret is uncovered that catapults the estranged mother and daughter into an exploration of the past. Toggling between the United States and Iran over decades, mother and daughter discover they are more alike than they know. Cast: Layla Mohammadi, Niousha Noor, Kamand Shafieisabet, Bella Warda, Bijan Daneshmand, Shervin Alenabi. World Premiere. Available online.

Shortcomings / U.S.A. (Director: Randall Park, Screenwriter: Adrian Tomine, Producers: Margot Hand, Randall Park, Hieu Ho, Jennifer Berman, Howard Cohen, Eric d’Arbeloff) — Following Ben, Miko, and Alice as they navigate a range of interpersonal relationships and traverse the country in search of the ideal connection. Cast: Justin H. Min, Sherry Cola, Ally Maki, Debby Ryan, Tavi Gevinson, Sonoya Mizuno. World Premiere. Available online.

Sometimes I Think About Dying /U.S.A. (Director: Rachel Lambert, Screenwriters: Kevin Armento, Stefanie Abel Horowitz, Katy Wright-Mead, Producers: Alex Saks, Daisy Ridley, Dori Rath, Lauren Beveridge, Brett Beveridge) — Fran likes to think about dying. It brings sensation to her quiet life. When she makes the new guy at work laugh, it leads to more: a date, a slice of pie, a conversation, a spark. The only thing standing in their way is Fran herself. Cast: Daisy Ridley, Dave Merheje, Parvesh Cheena, Marcia DeBonis, Meg Stalter, Brittany O’Grady. World Premiere. Available online. DAY ONE

The Starling Girl / U.S.A. (Director and Screenwriter: Laurel Akira Parmet, Producers: Kevin Rowe, Kara Durrett) — Seventeen-year-old Jem Starling struggles with her place within her Christian fundamentalist community, but everything changes when her magnetic youth pastor Owen returns to their church. Cast: Eliza Scanlen, Lewis Pullman, Jimmi Simpson, Wrenn Schmidt, Austin Abrams, Jessamine Burgum. World Premiere. Available online.

Theater Camp / U.S.A. (Directors and Screenwriters: Molly Gordon, Nick Lieberman, Screenwriters: Noah Galvin, Ben Platt, Producers: Erik Feig, Samie Kim Falvey, Julia Hammer, Ryan Heller, Will Ferrell, Jessica Elbaum) — When the beloved founder of a run-down theater camp in upstate New York falls into a coma, the eccentric staff must band together with the founder’s crypto-bro son to keep the camp afloat. Cast: Molly Gordon, Ben Platt, Noah Galvin, Jimmy Tatro, Patti Harrison, Ayo Edebiri. World Premiere. Available online.

A Thousand and One / U.S.A. (Director and Screenwriter: A.V. Rockwell, Producers: Eddie Vaisman, Julia Lebedev, Lena Waithe, Rishi Rajani, Brad Weston) — Convinced it’s one last, necessary crime on the path to redemption, unapologetic and free-spirited Inez kidnaps 6-year-old Terry from the foster care system. Holding on to their secret and each other, mother and son set out to reclaim their sense of home, identity, and stability in New York City. Cast: Teyana Taylor, Will Catlett, Josiah Cross, Aven Courtney, Aaron Kingsley Adetola. World Premiere. Available online.