Small Screen: Sundance lineup puts emphasis on TV series

The latest announcement of titles for the upcoming Sundance Film Festival puts the emphasis on the small screen.

Notable names such as Jordan Peele, Stephen Frears, Nick Hornby and Gregg Araki are among those with episodic work set to debut at the 2019 festival in the Special Events and Indie Episodic sections.

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With the further inclusion of TV titles within the fabric of its annual event, Sundance continues to respond to where storytelling is happening and the spaces creators are finding to do their work.

Among the projects to be unveiled in the festival’s Special Events section are two episodes from the upcoming third season of the IFC series Documentary Now, a satire on conventions of non-fiction filmmaking. The episode Waiting for the Artist stars Cate Blanchett and Fred Armisen, while the episode Original Cast Album: Co-op stars John Mulaney, Renee Elise Goldsberry, Alex Brightman, Paula Pell, Richard Kind and Taran Killam.

Also in special events: The Amazon docu-series Lorena, with Peele among its executive producers. The series focuses on the notorious case of John and Lorena Bobbitt and whether it was a missed opportunity for an earlier conversation on domestic abuse and sexual assault.

Now Apocalypse, directed by Araki and with Steven Soderbergh as an executive producer, is a series about a group of young friends navigating life in Los Angeles. It will debut next year on the premium cable network Starz.

This year’s Indie Episodic selections include State of the Union, a short-form series for Sundance TV created by Nick Hornby and directed by Stephen Frears, starring Rosamund Pike and Chris O’Dowd as an estranged couple lying to their therapist; the episodes chronicle how they came together and fell apart.

Wu-Tang Clan: Of Mics and Men, directed by Sacha Jenkins, tells the cultural history of the rap group Wu-Tang Clan with participation from the group.

In Bootstrapped, created by and starring Danielle Uhlarik and directed by Stephanie Laing, two friends launch a fashion and tech startup from their garage in Kansas City.

Girls Weekend tells the story of a queer woman attempting to reunite with her family.

It’s Not About Jimmy Keene examines the aftermath of the police shooting of an unarmed black teen.

In addition to the episodic programming, 73 short films from 33 countries will screen during the festival, divided across U.S. Narrative, International Narrative, Documentary and animated sections.

Continuing their ongoing commitment to transparency in the programming process, the festival released demographic data on the filmmakers behind the titles.

Of those projects announced, 53 per cent were directed or created by one or more women, 51 per cent were directed or created by one or more filmmaker of colour, and 26 per cent by one or more people who identify as LGBTQ. Sundance Institute supported 12 of those titles in development, whether through direct granting or residency labs.

Festival director John Cooper said in an interview that spotlighting audio-visual storytelling goes back to the very roots of the festival and its founder, Robert Redford.

“It’s all about storytelling at every level,” Cooper said. “You follow what’s happening and try to support it. And it started with Redford, that was his thing. Stories are important, a great story can change things and even if it doesn’t, it can change people in their emotions.”

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