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Still on the sidelines for Sundance? Here are a few films to get you in the game

AP — 2023 Sundance Film Festival, 20 Days in Mariupol screening, Jan. 20, 2023
Felipe Dana
Associated Press video journalist Mstyslav Chernov, the director, producer and cinematographer of the documentary film "20 Days in Mariupol," walks after introducing the film at its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival, Friday, Jan. 20, 2023, in Park City, Utah.

You've still got some time to hit Park City to see a movie and maybe spot some celebrities. With the Sundance Film Festival back in person after two pandemic-induced virtual years, movie buffs have found that a special feeling has returned this year.

“There's a great communal thrill when a bunch of people are all looking [in] the same direction toward the wall where the screen is,” said Salt Lake Tribune Culture Editor Sean Means. “And I think that's amplified in a place like Sundance because of the sense of discovery that people get to share.”

He pointed to the moody adaptation of Ottessa Moshfegh’s debut novel “Eileen,” which stars Anne Hathaway and has a late plot twist, as a prime example of that intimate group experience.

“Everybody just gasped when it happened,” Means said. “And you don't get that if you're all sitting at home watching it on your screens.”

This year’s films reflect diversity in their filmmakers and actors — and also in genre and the way stories are told.

Randall Park’s directorial debut, ‘Shortcomings,’ is a really funny comedy, but it's also a very insightful commentary about Asian-American identity,” Means said. There’s also “All Dirt Roads Taste of Salt,” which he described as a non-linear memory play about a Black woman in rural Mississippi.

“As memories come up, you'll see this person at different points in life. [It’s] very beautiful, and it's also part of that diverse spectrum.”

The documentary “Bad Press” also grabbed Means’ attention. The film focuses on the Muscogee Nation and highlights that most federally recognized Native American tribes do not have freedom of the press codified in their laws. He said “Bad Press” follows what happens when the Muscogee Nation's government tries to put strict limits on its media.

Theater Camp” is a comedy co-directed by Molly Gordon, who acted in “Booksmart” and “Shiva Baby,” and Nick Lieberman. Several of the actors in this film about the people at a summer camp for theater kids are friends, including Ben Platt from “Dear Evan Hansen” and Noah Galvin, a comic.

“They got together and made this movie, [a] mock documentary, sort of in the Christopher Guest, “Waiting for Guffman” mold,” he said. “And it's very funny, and it's very sweet.”

Sundance continues through Jan. 29.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Ciara Hulet: What's the vibe right now in Park City? 

Sean Means: There's very much a feel of, “Thank goodness we're back.” Even with the usual complaints about the shuttle buses being late and the lines and the crowds and so on, everyone is very excited about the fact that they are doing this in person.

CH: Main Street businesses suffered during the online years. I know you're not an economist, but how do things look on Main Street today?

SM: What I've seen is [that] people are going back and forth and up and down. And the businesses seem to be doing quite well. I mean, I saw the Java Cow, the coffee place on Main, doing the usual bustling business and everybody getting their lattes.

CH: Got a prediction of which movie will go mainstream this year?

SM: I've tried to make those guesses in the past and have been wrong almost every time. … The story I always tell is that about 11 years ago, there was this one movie that had nobody you knew of. It was filmed in Louisiana, a rural, regional project. And it had this 9-year-old girl [Quvenzhané Wallis] in the lead whose name you couldn't pronounce. And that movie was “Beasts of the Southern Wild.” That went on to massive acclaim all over and Oscar nominations. It’s a great example of: You can never really tell what's going to pop out of the festival.

Ciara is a native of Utah and KUER's Morning Edition host
Emily Pohlsander graduated with a journalism degree from Missouri State University and has worked for newspapers in Missouri and North Carolina. She was recognized by the Missouri Press Association for her series on budget cuts in six adjacent school districts.
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