This post was written by Lawren Desai, Executive Director and Curator of a/perture cinema.
The 2024 Sundance Film Festival was the third I’ve attended virtually (having always attended in person since 2011) and though I miss catching up with cinema colleagues in the snowy mountains of Park City, I have to admit, it does make my life a little less complicated at this time of year. January is super busy at a/perture and also when we get knee deep in planning our a/ movie prom gala event (shameless plug – come join us at Win Mock on March 2 for night of dancing to you favorite soundtrack songs played live.) This year, the online version was condensed to only 5 days, something I also appreciated, as the longer the films are available, the more pressure I feel to watch as many as I can. I managed to screen 22 films, a good solid number. A lot of industry folks and critics are cheering 2024 as the year Sundance returned to form and they’re not wrong. All 22 films I screened, I’m certain will find their audiences, hopefully many at a/perture. And that’s just the competition films, I didn’t even get to screen many of the spotlight and special presentation films that dropped at Sundance.
Because I can’t possibly write about all 22, I’ve picked six that I’m keeping my eye on the most and hopeful they are picked up by a distributor or that they have a theatrical release (that means you Netflix).
Also, to preface this, there were a lot of films that had me shedding some tears. This Sundance felt overly cathartic. I’ll note with a 💧 the level of my tears.
Didi (弟弟) – 💧💧💧
Directed by Sean Yang
Didi is a coming of age story about a Taiwanese American boy in the summer before high school. As the mom of a teenager, I deeply related to the mom challenges and angst of attempting to navigate a child’s adolescence and the emotional roller coaster that entails. It’s also set in 2008, so MySpace and Instant Messaging are featured prominently; in the age of TikTok and iPhone messaging sometimes we forget these platforms once existed.
A Real Pain – 💧
Directed by Jesse Eisenberg
Recently, I’ve found myself reading a lot of articles about cousin relationships (maybe because they are sent to me by my cousins) and how we talk endlessly about sibling dynamics but not about those of cousins. Thus, I was eager to see the cousin dramedy A Real Pain. It didn’t disappoint. There is layered meaning in the title and the two leads, Jesse Eisenberg and Keiran Culkin, are fantastic as cousins who reunite to travel to Poland on a Holocaust tour and to visit their grandmother’s house following her death.
Girls Will Be Girls -💧
Directed by Shuchi Talati
Another coming of age story, this one set at an Indian boarding school in the Himalayas. Girls Will Be Girls is a film that demonstrates what it is like to be a teenage girl outside of the United States and because of that it feels like a breath of fresh air. It’s about first love and breaking the rules; trying to be independent while recognizing sometimes you still need a good hug from your mother. The lead actress Preeti Panigrahi won a Special Jury Award for Acting for her performance as Mira.
Daughters – 💧💧💧💧
Directed by Angela Patton and Natalie Rae
I can with 100% certainty promise that you will cry multiple times while watching Daughters, as you should. The directors know this and embrace it so that they can use the film as a vehicle to point out how our criminal justice system is just plain broken. Daughters is about the Date with Dad program, an event designed to take place within a correctional facility and aimed at father-daughter bonding without physical barriers between the two. Are you already tearing up?
Every Little Thing -💧💧💧
Directed by Sally Aitken
Terry Masear rescues and rehabilitates hummingbirds in Los Angeles. She washes them and feeds them sugar water out of a dropper. Sometimes she has to bury the ones who don’t survive their bird trauma. But as much as the Every Little Thing is about hummingbirds, it’s also a deeply personal film abut Terry, her complicated life and how she came to be so utterly devoted to these riveting creatures.
Directed by Angela Patton and Natalie Rae
June Squibb is 94 years old and she performed many of her own stunts in Thelma. That’s all I needed to read in the synopsis to get me to watch the film. It’s an action film, it’s a revenge film, it’s a family drama and it’s also super funny. Thelma is also Richard Roundtree’s (aka the original Shaft) final performance, so yeah, it’s also a bit of a buddy comedy.
And a list of the other 16 films I screened. I hope many of these will also find a screen at a/perture over the course of the year: Gaucho Gaucho, Frida, Handling the Undead 💧, Exhibiting Forgiveness 💧, Eternal You, Good One, Between the Temples, Kneecap, Little Death, Black Box Diaries 💧💧, Porcelain Wars, Union, Stress Positions, In the Summers 💧, A New Kind of Wilderness 💧💧💧💧, and Seeking Mavis Beacon.