The Dramatic Competition for both U.S. and World films allows bleary-eyed film goers and the invited jury panel members to discern the quality and originality of the submitted Sundance films. Audience members get to rate each competition film on a scale of 1 to 4 stars by paper ballot. The jury also has their own say in the voting process. At the end of the festival, awards are given to the Jury Prize Winner and the Audience Prize Winner. But before that process can begin, you can be sure that critical film debates all over town will be as fierce and passionate as the next film.
Here are some films that will get people buzzing about.
Filly Brown – “Majo” Tonorio, a.k.a. Filly Brown, is a raw, young Los Angeles hip-hop artist who spits from the heart. When a sleazy record producer offers her a crack at rap stardom, Majo faces some daunting choices. With an incarcerated mother, a record contract could be the ticket out for her struggling family. But taking the deal means selling out her talent and the true friends who helped her to the cusp of success.
The First Time – Dave, a high school senior, spends most of his time pining away over a girl he can’t have. Aubrey, a junior with artistic aspirations, has a hot boyfriend who doesn’t quite understand her or seem to care. Although they go to different schools, Dave and Aubrey find themselves at the same party. When both head outside to get some air, they meet. A casual conversation sparks an instant connection, and, over the course of a weekend, things turn magical, romantic, complicated, and funny as Aubrey and Dave discover what it’s like to fall in love for the first time.
Keep the Lights On – A chronicle of the emotionally and sexually charged journey through the love, addiction, and friendship of two men by director Ira Sachs. Documentary filmmaker Erik and closeted lawyer Paul meet through a casual encounter, but they find a deeper connection and become a couple. Individually and together, they are risk takers—compulsive, and fueled by drugs and sex. In an almost decade-long relationship defined by highs, lows, and dysfunctional patterns, Erik struggles to negotiate his own boundaries and dignity and to be true to himself.
Nobody Walks – Martine, a 23-year-old artist from New York, arrives in Los Angeles to stay in the pool house of a family living in the hip and hilly community of Silver Lake. Peter, the father, has agreed to help Martine complete sound design on her art film as a favor to his wife. Martine innocently enters the seemingly idyllic life of this open-minded family with two kids and a relaxed Southern California vibe. Like a bolt of lightning, her arrival sparks a surge of energy that awakens suppressed impulses in everyone and forces them to confront their own fears and desires.
Safety Not Guaranteed – Three magazine employees are sent to investigate a personal advertisement placed in the newspaper: guy seeking partner for time travel. They venture to the coast and set up a haphazard surveillance. Darius is recruited as the shill; her dry wit and cynical nature are perfectly suited to trap this enigmatic oddball, Kenneth, and get a good story. But it is she who first sees past the paranoid loner façade to the compelling person inside. The drawback? This still doesn’t rule out the possibility that he just might be crazy.
Simon Killer – A recent college graduate goes to Paris after breaking up with his girlfriend of five years. His life should be open-ended and full of promise, but he can’t shake his feelings of loss. Being a stranger in a strange land only aggravates his situation. When he falls in love with a young mysterious prostitute, a fateful journey begins, though we soon learn that Simon is the one with deeper secrets.
Smashed – Kate and Charlie like to have a good time. Their marriage thrives on a shared fondness for music, laughter . . . and getting smashed. When Kate’s partying spirals into hard-core asocial behavior, compromising her job as an elementary schoolteacher, something’s got to give. But change isn’t exactly a cakewalk. Sobriety means she will have to confront the lies she’s been spinning at work, her troubling relationship with her mother, and the nature of her bond with Charlie.
My Brother the Devil – Fourteen-year-old Mo is a lonely, sensitive boy whose hunger for the rant and banter of buddies makes him prone to tread dangerous territories. He idolizes his handsome older brother, Rashid, a charismatic, well-respected member of a local gang, whose drug dealing enables “Rash” to provide for his family. Aching to be seen as a tough guy himself, Mo takes a job that unlocks a fateful turn of events and forces the brothers to confront their inner demons. It turns out that hate is easy. It is love and understanding that take real courage. (UK)
Father’s Chair – Theo is living the good life in an upscale Brazilian neighborhood. He’s a hardworking doctor, husband, and father. However, Theo has chosen his career over his family, and little by little he discovers that his world is crumbling around him. His beloved mentor and surrogate father is dying, and his wife announces that she wants a divorce. Yet nothing prepares him for the day when he comes home to discover that his 15-year-old son, Pedro, has disappeared. Theo takes to the road in search of his son. In a journey that leads him throughout Brazil, Theo discovers what really matters to him. Searching for his missing son, Theo finds himself. (Brazil)
The Last Elvis – In the unique world of the Buenos Aires celebrity-impersonator scene, “Elvis” Gutiérrez is a star. By day, though, he must contend with a dead-end factory job and an ex-wife who worries about how his obsessive behavior affects their young daughter, Lisa Marie. Feeling more connected to his persona as the King than to his own family, Gutiérrez retreats from reality until a tragic accident interrupts his plans and forces him to grapple with his real-world responsibilities. (Argentina)
Wish You Were Here – Expectant parents Alice and Dave join Alice’s younger sister, Steph, and her new boyfriend, Jeremy, on an impromptu tropical getaway in Cambodia. But following Jeremy’s abrupt disappearance, the others must attempt to return to their normal lives in Sydney. The shell-shocked survivors’ recovery begins to fall apart when a stinging truth about their time in Cambodia is revealed. The three must contend with the fallout, along with the looming threat of further revelations about that fateful night. (Australia)
Wrong – Dolph Springer wakes up one morning to realize he has lost the love of his life, his dog, Paul. During his quest to get Paul (and his life) back, Dolph radically changes the lives of others: a pizza-delivering nymphomaniac, a jogging-addict neighbor in search of completeness, an opportunistic French Mexican gardener, and an off-kilter pet detective. In his journey to find Paul, Dolph may lose something even more vital—his mind. (France/U.S.)
Young & Wild – Daniela is a petite, pretty teenager raised in the bosom of a strict and well-to-do evangelical family in Santiago, Chile. Daniela is also a 17-year-old who finds that her raging sexual drive is difficult to reconcile with the orders of her religion. With no outlet for her desire, Daniela taps into a rampant underground network of other horny teenagers through her sexually charged blog. As she types the gospel of her life as a fornicator online, Daniela still goes to church and prays to Jesus, “Lord, see to it that Mother doesn’t type youngandwild.blogspot.com!” (Chile)