For the first time in three years, the Sundance Film Festival took place in person, Jan. 19-29, 2023 in Park City, Utah. A total of 99 features were in the latest lineup, 12 of which had the involvement of 16 UCLA alums, including Young. Wild. Free., written by Tony Rettenmaier (BA ’12), whose script made The Black List in 2018. For a complete program listing, visit festival.sundance.org.
U.S. DRAMATIC COMPETITION
THE ACCIDENTAL GETAWAY DRIVER
Christian Bustamante (BA ’03), casting director
Long, a Vietnamese driver in Southern California, answers a late-night call for a ride. Already in his pajamas, he reluctantly accepts, picking up a man, Tây, and his two companions. But the men, recently escaped convicts from an Orange County jail, take Long hostage at gunpoint, thrusting him into their getaway plan. When complications arise, the fugitives and their hostage hole up at a motel, and a tense waiting game unfolds.
Silas Howard (MFA ’10), executive producer
Feña, a young trans guy bustling through life in New York City, is afflicted with an incessantly challenging day that resurrects ghosts from his past. Laundromats, subway turnstiles, and airport transfers are the hectic background to this emotional drama that overlaps past, present, and future.
Randall Park (BA ’97), director
Ben, a struggling filmmaker, lives in Berkeley, Calif., with his girlfriend, Miko, who works for a local Asian American film festival. When he’s not managing an art house movie theater as his day job, Ben spends his time obsessing over unavailable blond women, watching Criterion Collection DVDs, and eating in diners with his best friend, Alice, a queer grad student with a serial dating habit. When Miko moves to New York for an internship, Ben is left to his own devices and begins to explore what he thinks he might want.
WORLD CINEMA DOCUMENTARY COMPETITION
THE ETERNAL MEMORY
Marcela Santibañez (MFA ’14), executive producer
Augusto and Paulina have been together and in love for 25 years. Eight years ago, he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, and his wife has since become his caretaker. As one of Chile’s most prominent cultural commentators and television presenters, Augusto is no stranger to building an archive of memory, having been responsible for that herculean task following the Pinochet dictatorship and its systematic erasure of collective consciousness. Now he turns that work to his own life, trying to hold on to his identity with the help of his beloved.
Andrew Wesman (MFA ’13), editor
Set in an otherworldly human existence, scientist Sterling Pierce dedicated his life to the quest for immortality, slowly creating the building blocks of a groundbreaking serum named “Divinity.” Jaxxon Pierce, his son, now controls and manufactures his father’s once-benevolent dream. Society on this barren planet has been entirely perverted by the supremacy of the drug, whose true origins are shrouded in mystery. Two mysterious brothers arrive with a plan to abduct the mogul, and with the help of a seductive woman named Nikita, they will be set on a path hurtling toward true immortality.
Elaine Gibson (BA ’11), assistant director
Beautiful and troubled 20-something Donya, an Afghan translator who used to work with the U.S. government, has trouble sleeping. She lives by herself in Fremont, California, in a building with other Afghan immigrants and often dines alone at a local restaurant watching soap operas. Her routine changes when she’s promoted to writing the fortunes at her job at a fortune cookie factory in the city. As her fortunes are read by strangers throughout the Bay, Donya’s smoldering longing drives her to send a message out to the world, unsure where it will lead.
YOUNG. WILD. FREE.
Tony Rettenmaier (BA ’12), screenwriter
Being a teenager is rough, and Brandon is no different. Between struggling in school, caring for his two younger siblings, and having just been let go from his job, Brandon often uses his art as an escape from the confines of his subdued day-to-day life. Enter Cassidy, a bedazzled bad girl dripping in confidence, freedom, and danger. Lured in by her whimsy, Brandon teams up with Cassidy, seamlessly slipping into the role of Clyde to her Bonnie as they make their way down an increasingly perilous path.
Fertility doctor Sarah begins her beloved daughter Mia’s seventh birthday expecting nothing amiss. But as an ominous wind swirls in, Sarah’s carefully controlled world begins to alter. Mia begins behaving oddly and a rabbit appears outside their front door — a mysterious birthday gift that delights Mia but seems to deeply disconcert Sarah. As days pass, Mia becomes increasingly not herself, demanding to see Sarah’s long-estranged, hospitalized mother (the grandmother she’s never met before) and fraying Sarah’s nerves as the child’s bizarre tantrums begin to point her toward Sarah’s own dark history. As a ghost from her past re-enters Sarah’s life, she struggles to cling to her distant young daughter.
Adriana Rotaru (MFA ’18), line producer
Following the sudden and tragic death of her mother, young Alysia is uprooted by her father Steve in hopes of restarting his life. They move to 1970s San Francisco where Steve develops his poetic and personal writing and begins to openly date men. Steve’s bohemian lifestyle clashes with the expectations of parenthood from both the outside world and Alysia herself, who occasionally wishes for less of the independence her father gives her. As Alysia grows into a young woman on the cusp of adulthood, their bonds and duty to each other are tested in painful and sudden ways.
FOOD AND COUNTRY
Laura Gabbert (MFA ’04), director, producer Caroline Libresco (MFA ’01), producer Jerry Henry (MFA ’02), cinematographer
Trailblazing food writer Ruth Reichl worries about the fate of small farmers, ranchers, and chefs as they wrestle with both immediate and systemic challenges. As the pandemic takes hold, she reaches across political and social divides to discover innovators who are risking it all to survive on the front lines. The film transcends the health crisis, laying bare how America’s decades-old policy of producing cheap food at all costs hobbles purveyors who are striving to stay independent. What began as a journalistic endeavor blooms into a series of intimate friendships. As Reichl witnesses and follows intrepid characters puzzle through intractable circumstances, she takes stock of the path she’s traveled and the ideals she left behind. Through her eyes, we learn to understand the humanity and struggle behind the food we eat.
Esther Shubinksi (MFA ’12), editor
In September 2018, nearly all of America was transfixed by Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, alleging then-Supreme-Court-nominee Brett Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her in the summer of 1982. While many Americans remember Ford’s allegations, not as many know about Deborah Ramirez, who came forward during the nomination process with her own story of sexual misconduct by Kavanaugh during their time as Yale classmates.
Like many Americans disturbed by these stories and the way they were treated by government officials supposedly driven by the search for the truth, director Doug Liman enlisted producer Amy Herdy for his first documentary feature that pursues the depth and strength of the allegations against Brett Kavanaugh and the equally telling and dishonest responses to ensure his installation on the Court. With harrowing accounts, disturbing revelations, and shockingly direct lies from a man who now sits with a lifetime term on the highest court in the land, Justice is a portrait of a broken, corrupt system and the brave citizens who still feel duty-bound to tell their story.
ANIMATION SHORT FILM PROGRAM
Iyabo Kwayana (MFA ’13), director
An unlikely hero’s journey into his own memories becomes a vehicle for reconciliation and healing for himself and his sibling.
FROM THE COLLECTION
A talented Black poet, Ray (Saul Williams) is arrested on a petty drug possession charge and thrown into a D.C. jail. As he navigates prison and two rival gangs, Ray befriends Lauren (Sonja Sohn), who teaches a writing class for inmates and takes an interest in his poetry and his pending legal hearing. Refusing to accept the “options” given to him by a racist system, Ray finds salvation in his rhymes.
Marc Levin’s charged testament to the transcendent power of art and scathing indictment of the criminal justice system, SLAM won the 1998 Sundance Grand Jury Prize, gave voice to emergent artists like Williams, Sohn, Bonz Malone, Beau Sia, and Liza Jessie Peterson, and contributed to a growing criminal justice reform movement. A documentarian, Levin sought creative collaborators in co-writers Williams, Sohn, and Richard Stratton (editor/publisher of Prison Life magazine), and many roles were played by inmates and non-professional actors. A new digital restoration from a 35mm interpositive made in collaboration between Sundance Institute, the Academy Film Archive, and the UCLA Film & Television Archive. Special thanks to Lionsgate.
From top:The Eternal Memory; Fremont; Food and Country. Descriptions and images: Sundance Film Festival