The Greenwich International Film Festival team went to Park City, Utah to attend the 2020 Sundance Film Festival which ran from January 23rd to February 2nd. Sundance features storytelling across all film categories – and this year there were lots of highlights. We spoke with Shari Angel, GIFF Programmer, to discuss her experience and takeaways from the Festival.
GIFF: Tell me about the environment at Sundance. What was it like being there?
Shari Angel: Attending Sundance is always a treat! Park City, Utah is completely taken over by film lovers of all kinds, with over 120,000 attendees. The Sundance experience overall is certainly high-octane, as Programmers like me see as many films as possible, hoping to curate a nice selection for their own festivals, distribution executives get into bidding wars over their favorites, journalists are reporting on the buzziest picks, and filmmakers have a platform to showcase their work to the public. The audiences are engaged, film-obsessed crowds that span all backgrounds, so it really is a fantastic environment.
GIFF: What films really stuck out for you?
Shari Angel: There were lots of standouts for me at Sundance 2020. ‘The Killing of Two Lovers’ was an intense and completely captivating marriage story about a couple in crisis. I loved its phenomenal performances, tight script, and incredible sound design. I couldn’t take my eyes off of it! ‘Minari’ starring Steven Yeun was a beautiful and sensitive Korean American immigrant story and family drama with lots of heart. Keep your eye out for Alan Kim who plays 7 year old David – he had the audience in the palm of his hand! ‘Uncle Frank’ was also a favorite of mine. This 1973-set family drama stars Paul Bettany as the titular Frank, who delivers a stunningly nuanced portrait of a life lived in secret. This latest film from Alan Ball had an all-star cast and was a big crowd pleaser. GIFF Founder and Director of Programming, Colleen deVeer, also loved ‘Charter’ – a Swedish family drama with breathtaking cinematography, superb acting, and a great script. ‘Palm Springs’ – a clever indie romantic comedy starring Andy Sandberg and Cristin Milioti. And ‘Us Kids’, which delivered a powerful examination of what needs to happen in legislation regarding gun control and features student activist survivors of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Shooting.
GIFF: What do you look for when choosing which films to include in our festival?
Shari Angel: GIFF is a special Festival because of our Social Impact focus. This year’s theme is Knowledge Is Power, so at Sundance, I was on the lookout for films with particularly strong social messages and calls to action. From films featuring diverse voices, to ones that inspire, to those calling for tolerance and empathy – Sundance did not disappoint in 2020.
GIFF: What was your favorite panel event of Sundance 2020?
Shari Angel: I see back to back films, so I was unable to attend any panels, but I have heard that they were strong this Sundance. Our Executive Director and COO, Ginger Stickel, attended ‘Women Breaking Barriers’, hosted by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, and loved it. This panel focused on recent challenges that have arisen for women in entertainment. It featured actor and producer Kerry Washington, writer/director/producer/actor Frankie Shaw, and director Julie Taymor. It was a Sundance highlight for Ginger and featured a spirited industry discussion which resonates with us at GIFF, as we are a female-founded and run Festival.
GIFF: How is Sundance different than other film festivals you have been to, and what was your biggest takeaway?
Shari Angel: Sundance stands out amongst other film festivals that I have been to because of its diversity of programming. It has prestigious world premieres and features indie gems. The Sundance team does an excellent job of curating emerging filmmakers as well as highlighting work from directors and actors that general audiences already know and love. The Festival’s timing each January also sets them apart. As culturally relevant themes emerge from their program, Sundance, in turn, sets the stage for other festivals each year. The most important takeaway for me was that audiences are clamoring for more socially impactful films, and this bodes well for GIFF. With our Social Impact focus, we are able to foster great community here in Greenwich and expose our audience to important films from around the world. I can’t wait to see you all at our sixth annual Greenwich International Film Festival, April 30 – May 3, 2020!