6 Gems From the 2020 Sundance Film Festival

02/18/2020

The Sundance Film Festival is a premiere venue for upcoming Academy Award hopefuls. From documentaries and narrative to experimental film and media, Sundance offers a wide range of stories for all avid viewers. This festival is the largest in the country, screening over 128 feature-length and 74 short films in the span of 10 days. Attendees can’t possibly watch all the films at the festival! With so many films, here are a handful of gems from the 2020 Sundance Film Festival to watch out for.

image from Saudi Runaway, one of the gems from the 2020 Sundance Film Festival

Saudi Runaway directed by Susanne Regina Meures

In the documentary landscape, films co-produced by the protagonists are becoming more and more popular. The film Saudi Runaway, directed by Susanne Regina Meures, is a collaboration with Muna, a young woman who escapes from Saudi Arabia after her wedding. Captured using two smartphones, Muna documents everyday life leading up to her impending nuptials. Muna is forced to marry a young man she doesn’t know while she watches her own parents’ marriage fall apart. During her honeymoon in Abu Dhabi, Muna is able to escape to Germany, where she currently resides with a refugee visa. The film serves as a potential guide for other young women leaving abusive or imposed marriages.

Still from Charm City Kings, one of the gems from the Sundance Film Festival

Charm City Kings directed by Angel Manuel Soto

On the streets of Baltimore, the Midnight Clique includes the most popular dirt-bike riders at “The Ride,” a weekly summertime street race. The protagonist, Mouse, is a young boy coping with the recent death of his older brother. Drawn to racing and deeply passionate about animals, Mouse must choose between his fascination with the Midnight Clique and his job at the animal hospital. The film stars Meek Mill as MC Blax, a lead member of the Clique and mentor to Mouse who was just released from prison. This story pays homage to dirt-bike culture in Baltimore by featuring local riders. Charm City Kings was co-written by Academy Award winner Barry Jenkins (Moonlight) and executive produced by Jada Pinkett Smith and Will Smith. The film was awarded the U.S. Dramatic Special Jury Award for Ensemble Cast.

Still from Us Kids, one of the gems from the Sundance Film Festival

Us Kids directed by Kim A. Snyder

This year was marked by a rise in youth activism. Us Kids, directed by Kim A. Snyder, follows Marjory Stoneman Douglas high schoolers as they organize the “March for Our Lives,” a national campaign to spread awareness about gun violence. The film also documents the experiences of Samantha Fuentes, a young survivor of the Parkland mass shooting. She tries to cope with her physical, emotional, and psychological wounds while connecting with the younger brother of a deceased classmate. Other Parkland students in the film include Emma Gonzalez, David Hogg, and Jackie Corin. Us Kids is a testament to the power of youth organizing for inspiring national political change.

Still from La Leyenda Negra

La Leyenda Negra directed by Patricia Vidal Delgado

La Leyenda Negra, “the Spanish Black Legend,” derives its title from the atrocities of the Spanish conquistadors toward indigenous natives. The protagonist is Salvadoran immigrant Aleteia, who struggles to maintain her UCLA scholarship while her Temporary Protected Status (TPS) is removed. A fierce, head-strong young woman, Aleteia struggles to balance her frustration with the political situation and her feelings for popular girl Rosarito. This queer coming-of-age story serves as a pointed political commentary.

Still from Dick Johnson is Dead

Dick Johnson Is Dead directed by Kirsten Johnson

Through documentary filmmaking, director Kirsten Johnson uses dark humor to cope with the impending death of her father. In hilarious and terrifying simulations, Johnson orchestrates the death of her father—window a/c units crush him and a construction worker smacks him in the face. Johnson goes so far as to recreate her father’s funeral at the Seventh-day Adventist Church where she grew up. After many attempted deaths, Johnson recreates her own version of Heaven where her father dances with her mother and popcorn falls from the sky. Ironically, Dick Johnson is still alive but, one day, the title will be true. Wondering where to watch this strange yet entertaining film outside of Sundance? Stream it soon on Netflix. The film was also awarded the U.S. Documentary Special Jury Award for Innovation in Nonfiction Storytelling.

Still from Mucho Mucho Amore

Mucho Mucho Amor directed by Cristina Costantini and Kareem Tabsch

The last of these gems from the 2020 Sundance Film Festival is Mucho Mucho Amor, which documents the final years of famed astronomer Walter Mercado’s life. The title of the film comes from Mercado’s well-known TV sign off, “with a lot, a lot of love.” Described by the filmmakers as “Oprah and Mr. Rogers but dressed as Liberace,” Mercado is an icon throughout Latin America and would appear on TV screens in Latino households daily. He unexpectedly passed away last year, making the film both timely and impactful. Catch Mucho Mucho Amor on Netflix as well.

If you enjoyed these gems from the 2020 Sundance Film Festival, check more of Submittable’s film content

**All photos courtesy of Sundance Film Institute

Kristal Sotomayor (Guest Blogger)

Kristal Sotomayor is a bilingual Latinx documentary filmmaker, festival programmer, and freelance journalist. Currently, Kristal is working on EXPANDING SANCTUARY, an independent short documentary about the historic end to police database sharing organized by nonprofit Juntos and the Latinx immigrant community in South Philadelphia. Kristal serves as the Communications and Outreach Coordinator at Scribe Video Center and as the Programming Director for the Philadelphia Latino Film Festival.