The Sundance Film Festival has long been a hub for showcasing diverse perspectives. And that didn’t change in 2021, despite the turbulent times. Though indie film fans couldn’t converge in Park City, Utah and the festival went mostly virtual, it boasted its largest audience ever, and the event remained as provocative as always.
Sundance Film Festival regulars hunger for the fest’s hallmark The Big Conversation and Cinema Café speaker series, which feature discussions with renowned filmmakers. This year, those fireside chats will reach an even wider audience through the Audible Original “Best of Sundance Film Festival” podcast series, which for the first time will bring highlights of those conversations to listeners around the world.
The seven episodes illuminate varied voices from films screened at the festival, ranging from revered Latina trailblazers Rita Moreno and Sonia Manzano, to scientists and filmmakers coming together for the greater good of humanity.
The Sundance Film Festival is always a place to discover unknown talent. One Cinema Café episode introduces three newcomers starring in feature films for the first time: Patti Harrison of “Together Together,” Emilia Jones of “CODA” and Tyson Brown of “First Date.” All three films premiered at the fest.
Aside from “Together Together,” which Variety hailed as “a gentle, intimate celebration of a unique, 21st century family in the making,” actor-comedian Harrison is known for her work in “Search Party” and “Shrill,” and will soon be heard in the animated feature “Raya and the Last Dragon.” In her deadpan manner, Harrison shares in the “Best of Sundance Film Festival” Audible Original episode how thrilled she was ultimately to step out of her comfort zone in “Together Together,” a comedy about surrogacy and platonic love. “That was the most amount of work I’ve ever done on a single shoot,” says Harrison. “You can have fun in the way that you’re used to, or you can really, like, expand your little brain while you’re, you know, here on earth.”
Another Cinema Café conversation features insights from two veteran actors turned directors, Rebecca Hall and Robin Wright, both showing their feature directorial debuts at the festival. Wright, whose performances have run the gamut from “The Princess Bride” to “Wonder Woman 1984,” actually had prior directing experience before helming “Land,” having directed 10 episodes of “House of Cards.” She calls that experience “mini cinema school.”
“What a gift that was,” says Wright, “because, otherwise, I would not have had the confidence to move on and do a feature film.” In “Land,” Wright directs herself, as she plays Edee Mathis, a lawyer consumed with grief who flees to the mountains of Wyoming to cope. Variety’s review described her film as “so pure and simple it speaks to enormous self-confidence.”
The featured Big Conversation that feels particularly timely is “Come Together,” which urges collaboration between scientists and filmmakers, especially in an age where only the boons of science can revive in-person filmmaking and festival-going as the world once knew them.
In the “Best of Sundance Film Festival” Audible Original episode, director, screenwriter, and producer Scott Z. Burns breaks down his prescient film “Contagion,” whose origins were rooted in Burns’ interest in making a “global pandemic movie that was grounded in science.” In his research, Burns shares, all of the scientists he spoke to informed him that “it’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when” the next pandemic happens. “I was really interested in telling a story about how these things are able to proliferate in a world that now is more globalized than ever before,” he explains.
One of the most intimate featured Cinema Café conversations is between “Judas and the Black Messiah” director, co-writer, and producer Shaka King and drummer-DJ Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson, who became a first-time director with his documentary, “Summer of Soul (…Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised).” Both films provide insight into a select stretch of Black history, the late 1960s.
Questlove’s documentary introduces the world to the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival by unearthing footage that was buried in a basement for 50 years. While he thought of himself as “the all-knowing sage of everything music,” The Roots band leader was shocked to have never learned about this celebration of Black pride and music prior to the project. “I knew this film was my destiny,” he says in the episode, “because once I saw the footage, I just lit up like, ‘OK, I have to tell this story.’”
To hear more of these stories and incisive points of view on cinema, tune in to the “Best of Sundance Film Festival” podcast, which is now available for free to Audible members exclusively in the Audible Plus catalog at audible.com/bestofsff.