That’s a Wrap – Highlights from the Sundance Festival 2020

Executive Director of the Sundance Institute Keri Putnam and Board Chair Pat Mitchell

As published on LinkedIn Influencers on February 7th, 2020.

The 2020 Sundance Film Festival has officially ended, with over a hundred films screened for thousands of avid film goers who braved snow, wind, and traffic to take in the best of this year’s independent film scene. For myself, this year’s festival was a whirlwind of 22 films, panels, parties, and so much more. In short, it was a fantastic year for Sundance, and a wonderful send off for Festival Director John Cooper, who after 11 years at the helm, is retiring from his position. In a beautifully staged passing of the baton, it was announced at Saturday’s Awards Ceremony that the incomparable Tabitha Jackson will assume the mantle of Festival Director, ensuring that the Sundance Festival will be in great hands.

I fully recognize what a privilege it is to be completely immersed in the work of independent storytellers for 10 days. And while it certainly is a luxury, it also felt urgent, important, and deeply relevant to the work that I do in the world as a donor, investor, non-profit board member, advisor, and consultant. Many of the projects at this year’s festival took years to make, and whether they were fiction or non-fiction, each offered powerful commentaries on urgent issues. I laughed, I cried…well mostly I cried. In the nine years that I have been attending Sundance, this is the one where I cried the most. I cried in despair, I cried because of the courage I witnessed, I cried because of the talent displayed, I just…cried. Some of the featured subject matters include gun violence (Us Kids), incarceration (The Painter and The Thief), memory loss and dementia, (The Mole Agent, The Father, Falling), living with disabilities (Crip Camp), human rights (The Dissident, Crip Camp, Us Kids, On The Record, I Bring You With Me), trauma and sexual assault (Us Kids, Wander Darkly, Promising Young Woman, On the Record)… just to name a few.

For those who may not know anything about film festivals, the Sundance Film Festival is the premiere festival in the United States, and arguably the world, for independent filmmaking. It truly gets the best of the best, and being selected for Sundance, let alone having a film take home an award, is likely to be a career defining moment for these filmmakers. Making films, making art, is their career, and for most people in this industry, it is a challenging one. There are few guarantees, the work is often project to project, and yet these filmmakers persevere because they are artists and storytellers, and the passion they have for their stories is palpable. This is especially true when you have them on stage, responding to an audience when their work is seen for the FIRST TIME. It is magical.

Take a second and imagine the world without visual storytellers. Take another second and think of your favorite film of all time, in fact, think of two: fiction and non-fiction. If you want add them to the comment section below. I hope you agree that film is indeed an incredibly powerful medium that can, and often does, have the power to change the world.

So here is what I saw at the festival. The journey of a film may begin at a festival, but it is you, as a viewer, who can now follow and champion the work.

Listed in the order I saw them…

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Crip Camp – This documentary was selected as the opening night film, and is a wonderful example of the type of advocacy films that Sundance has championed for decades. The story focuses on a summer camp in the 1960s that was run for disabled children, many of whom went on to become prominent activists for the rights of disabled people. It is an incredible example of the power of telling your own story, and a huge thank you goes out to co-Director Jim LeBrecht (photo) who was both featured in the film and co-directed it. I left feeling inspired and emboldened by the subjects’ tenacity and courage, and I certainly left with a deeper understanding of the issues that impact millions of people around the world. It would seem that others agreed, because Crip Camp went on to win the Audience Award for US Documentary. This incredible film will be available to stream on Netflix later this year.

Miss Americana – My first full day of the 2020 Sundance Film Festival started with the new Netflix documentary about Taylor Swift, and regardless of how you feel about the singer/songwriter, it was an incredibly engaging film. I myself am a Taylor fan, and it was powerful to watch Swift’s transformation from “good girl” to speaking her mind on politics, and in particular, on the issues that suddenly hit a lot closer to home in the wake of the sexual assault trial she endured in 2017. While watching the film, I couldn’t help but think about the Gloria Steinem film that would be debuting a couple of days later, and how Miss Americana gave us a first hand look at a different type of activist. In today’s world, celebrities have ever larger platforms, and increasingly, they are using them to champion for the issues they believe in and support. This film can be streamed on Netflix now. Dir: Lana Wilson.

Aggie – Day 1 continued with another documentary that once again focused on women using their power and privilege to enact social change. In this case, Aggie centers around Agnes Gund, who in 2017 sold Roy Lichtenstein’s painting, Masterpiece, for $165 million to start a fund promoting criminal justice reform. She was inspired to do so by The 13th, Ava DuVernay’s documentary film chronicling the impact of the 13th amendment on African Americans with regards to the American justice system. Hopefully others will see this film and be inspired to do the same. Dir: Catherine Gund.

Zola – What can I say about Zola except that it was one wild and crazy ride. When two women from different backgrounds bond over pole dancing, they take off on the road trip of a lifetime to strike it rich in the strip clubs of Florida. I think this might be the first time a film was born out of a series of tweets and a Reddit subthread, but as the media landscape continues to dramatically evolve, I’m sure it won’t be the last. Zola will be released later this summer by A24. Dir: Janicza Bravo.

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The Mole Agent – Not all documentaries are doom and gloom, as The Mole Agent will attest. This delightful film follows an 83 year old Chilean man as he infiltrates a retirement home to determine if its residents are being abused by the staff. I don’t want to give the ending away, but let’s just say I came out of this film with a great big smile on my face. And speaking about faces, look at the face of the mole. He could not travel to the United States from Chile, because as he said, he does not like to fly. Dir: Maite Alberdi.

On the Record – This is Amy Ziering and Kirby Dick’s third film tackling sexual assault after The Invisible War and The Hunting Ground, and this time they are taking on the recording industry, in particular the rape allegations against Russell Simons. This film premiered under a storm of controversy due to the last minute withdrawal of Oprah Winfrey as producer and backer, which was probably why the atmosphere at the premiere was so electric. Personally, I think this film is Ziering and Dick’s best film to date, and thankfully it was picked up by HBO Max, meaning audiences will have a chance to see this incredible film later this year when the streaming service debuts. This is a story about black women’s voices in the #MeToo era, voices that so far have not been given nearly as much weight as others in the conversations surrounding sexual harassment and assault. It is far past the time to change that. I had the opportunity to meet the survivors featured in the film, along with Kimberly Crenshaw who is also in the film, and to all of them I say THANK YOU. Truly, I could write a whole post about the film, the Q & A that followed the film, and the courage it takes to come forth with your truth against powerful men, but that will be for another day.

The Glorias – Full disclosure, Gloria Steinem has been a beloved friend of mine for years, so to say that I was excited for her story to finally hit the big screen would be an understatement to say the least. Directed by Julie Taymor, The Glorias is an ambitious undertaking, chronicling Gloria’s life from childhood through to present day. Gloria herself even made a cameo at the end of the film on a bus full of women heading to the historic women’s marches of 2017. Gloria will always be the first person to deflect attention away from herself and to give credit to others instead, but I for one am happy that her story is finally being told and that credit is being given for her many, many, many accomplishments. Gloria not only attended the premiere screening, but also spoke at a number of events throughout the opening weekend. The picture below was taken in the midst of my Wonder Woman collection, which was actually partially inspired by Gloria. The second issue of MS Magazine had Wonder Woman on its cover (yes I have it ), and again, longer story, but she is indeed a WONDER WOMAN (and 85 years young!)

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Wendy – Benh Zeitlin made a splash with his first feature film, Beasts of the Southern Wild, at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival, and this year he was back with his follow up, Wendy, a whimsical adaption of the Peter Pan story. Wendy will be released later this month by Fox Searchlight, so be sure to check it out.

The Nest – After his triumphant entry Martha Marcy May Marlene at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival, Sean Durkin was back with his latest effort, The Nest, featuring fantastic performances by lead actors Jude Law and Carrie Koon. The film follows a family as they move from America to England in the 1980s with disastrous results, and is a powerful character study on isolation and relationship dynamics.

The Dissident – The security around this film was intense, but you can see why once you get to the end of The Dissident. This documentary chronicled the events surrounding the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi and how he risked everything in the name of freedom of speech. Included in the film is an audio recording of exactly what went on the day he went missing in the embassy, so it was not easy viewing at times. However, this is an important and necessary film for the times we live in, so hopefully this film will land a distribution deal soon. Director Bryan Fogel won the Academy Award in 2018 for Icarus. I think it’s very likely that he will be onstage again next year for this one.

Minari – This hauntingly beautiful film won both the Grand Jury Prize for US Dramatic as well as the Audience Award, and it’s easy to see why. Writer/Director Lee Isaac Chung has created a stunning portrait of an immigrant family’s journey in America, the many ways the American Dream is broken, and the courage it takes to overcome these challenges. Most of the film is in Korean with English subtitles, and the acting was absolutely exquisite. At a time when new Americans are so often portrayed in a negative light, this film is a beacon. Every single character will make you smile and break your heart, so hopefully this film will get picked up soon. Truly a must see.

Dick Johnson is Dead – “What if you could make your loved ones live forever?” Dick Johnson is Dead is director Kirsten Johnson’s delirious and desperate attempt to keep her aging father “alive”, and the result is this stunner of a film. I have seen a lot of documentaries, and this one was so original, so clever, so heartbreaking, and so memorable it was awe-inspiring. This film won a special jury award for innovation in non-fiction storytelling, so clearly I was not alone in this sentiment. Dick Johnson is Dead will be streaming on Netflix later this year.

The Father – Continuing the trend of stories about aging fathers, Olivia Colman and Anthony Hopkins shine in this film that chronicles the impact of dementia from the point of view of the patient itself. Definitely look out for Anthony Hopkins’ name to be in contention for next year’s Oscars race for his searing performance in this film. The Father was picked up by Song Pictures Classics. Dir: Florian Zeller.

Wander Darkly – Tara Miele’s latest film is a surreal take on a troubled relationship between two parents reckoning with trauma and loss. This was yet another film that featured terrific performances from its lead actors, Sienna Miller and Diego Luna, so definitely watch out for this one.

The Painter and the Thief – I absolutely loved this documentary film about the friendship that was forged between a notorious Norwegian art thief and the woman who offered to paint his portrait after he was released from prison. This is a deeply moving film about the power of redemption that everyone should see. Dir: Benjamin Ree.

Promising Young Woman – I’m not entirely sure how to describe this film but is one that I cannot stop thinking about. Is it a romcom for the #MeToo era? A female gaze revenge fantasy? One of the best films of the festival? Seriously, I don’t want to say too much for fear of giving too much away, but let’s just say that this film is required viewing in this day and age. Insightful, funny, horrifying, and superbly directed, this is (hopefully) the start of a brilliant career for writer/director Emerald Fennell. And speaking of brilliant, Carey Mulligan gives another career best performance after breaking out at Sundance over a decade ago with Bad Education.

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Radha Blank

40 Year Old Version – Radha Blank wrote, directed, starred in, and wrote the soundtrack for this incredible film while in her 40s, and was honored with the award for directing at Saturday’s Awards Show. She was visibly moved at the podium and joyfully declared that there is no deadline on dreams, and I couldn’t agree more. This film is proof enough of that fact. Chronicling the journey of a 40 something wannabe playwright and rapper as she navigates the reality of being a woman of color in the entertainment industry over a certain age, this film is a triumph. (Pictured above with Sundance Board Chair Pat Mitchell at the Women’s Event)

Falling – The closing weekend premiere slot is always reserved for a buzzy film, and this year was no exception with the World Premiere of Viggo Mortensen’s directorial debut. He also wrote, starred in, and composed the music for this film about a son’s reckoning with his elderly and acerbic father, so Friday night was truly Viggo’s night. However, after the credits rolled, he brought dozens of people onstage, including almost the entire cast, so it was a celebratory atmosphere all around. The film featured a standout performance by Lance Hendrickson as the father, so keep that name in mind once awards season rolls around next year. Lance and Anthony just may be battling it out.

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Kim Snyder and the “Kids”

Us Kids – In the wake of the mass shooting at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, the student survivors decided that if the elected officials in the US weren’t going to tackle gun control, “us kids” were going to bring the issue to their doorstep. They founded Never Again MSD, an advocacy group for stricter and more common sense gun laws, and in just five weeks, organized the March for our Lives protest, that drew an estimated 2 million people across the United States, making it one of the largest protests in American history. Words can not describe how inspiring these young people are, and I found myself moved to tears multiple times throughout the film. Everyone should see this film, but more importantly, everyone should do everything in their power to ensure that the message of these “kids” is never forgotten. Dir: Kim Snyder.

Nine Days – I had to wait until the final day of the festival to see this film, as I missed an earlier screening that my son and husband attended. They both had come home saying that this film was one of the BEST films they had ever seen at Sundance, so needless to say, my expectations were high. I was not disappointed. Writer-director Edson Oda has created one of the most original, powerful, and awe-inspiring films I’ve seen in a long time, and I can only hope that this film is the beginning of a long and successful career for the first time feature filmmaker. A poetic mediation on what it means to be human, five candidates are interviewed over nine days for the privilege to be born. I won’t say anymore to preserve the viewing experience, but everyone should see this film, and I do mean everyone. Including Academy members, because if there is any justice, this film would be showered with Oscars come next spring.

I Carry You With Me – I closed out the 2020 Sundance Film Festival with another award winner. I Carry You With Me is a hauntingly beautiful love story between two Mexican men who have to survive social stigma, persecution, and country borders. This film was directed by Heidi Ewing, and was picked up by Sony Pictures Classics, so do not miss this incredible film when it is released later this year.

Finally, New Frontier was launched in 2007 as a way for artists, filmmakers, and storytellers to showcase the latest advances in media technology and innovation. Over the past 14 years, the works that have premiered at New Frontier represent the very cutting edge of storytelling technology. The past several years have been dominated by advancements in VR technology, and this year I was lucky enough to experience three of these films.

My Trip – This VR experience simulates a DMT trip, which is psychedelic drug. It was one wild ride. Lead Artist: Bjarne Melgaard.

Persuasion Machines – This VR experiences asks you to step into a living room that is completely wired with smart technology. Are you in control of the machines? Or is it the other way around? The piece was co-directed by Karim Amer as a companion piece to his film The Great Hack (currently streaming on Netflix – WATCH IT). VR is really hard to describe as it is so experiential, but this one left me shaking. The technology and storytelling was able to help viewers see how we are being mined for our data through devices. What we think are private spaces are becoming public trading floors, and the commodity is us. (pictured below)

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Still Here – This incredible immersive experience allows viewers to experience what it is like to re-enter society after being imprisoned for 15 years. What does it look like to return to a world that has continued on without you? Lead Artists: Zahra Rasool and Sarah Springer.

If you made it this far you must really love films. Therefore, if you want to dig deeper into the highlights of the festival, check out these links.

Vulture – The 12 Best Movies at Sundance

New York Times – At Sundance, a Glorious Diversity of Voices Breaks Through

Hollywood Reporter – Award Winners List

Indiewire – Critics Survey: Sundance 2020’s Best Movies According to 187 Film Journalists

Imagine Yourself a HERO

As published on LinkedIn Influencers on February 5th, 2018.

The Sundance Film Festival takes over the small town of Park City, Utah for 10 days every January. Yes, it is all about movies, but it is also about so much more than that. It is a full-out cultural experience. The programmers choose from thousands of feature fiction, non-fiction films, shorts, episodic, and virtual reality works to present to a global audience of industry folks and film lovers alike. It’s not an exaggeration to say that it can make a career to have a work premiere at Sundance. In many ways this festival is like winning a gold medal for storytellers.

I am lucky enough to live in Park City, and for the past 5 years I have served as a Trustee of the Sundance Institute, which is amazing because I LOVE movies. For 10 days I am ALL IN, seeing 20+ films, attending panels, meeting with filmmakers, going to parties, and much, much more. Sundance is non-stop from 8am to 12am every day and I love every second of it. What makes this festival so incredible is to not only experience the work, but to get to know the creators of that work as well. At Sundance it truly is all about the filmmakers. Year after year I have noticed that themes often reveal themselves in the films being presented, and this year was no exception. The tag line for 2018 was “the story lives in you”, and it could not have been more appropriate. The characters in so many of my favorite films this year all had these profoundly complex back stories.

In particular, Jennifer Fox’s The Tale was easily the most talked about film at the festival, but it won’t be coming soon to a theatre near you. Instead, The Tale will be coming to a television screen near you as it was picked up by HBO shortly after its Sundance premiere. Described as one of the first truly great films of the #MeToo movement, despite having been in the works for years, The Tale is not only an incredibly powerful film, it’s also incredibly timely, as it manages to tap into the current cultural zeitgeist in a way that is astonishing. I was at the premiere of this film last Saturday, and believe me, it very much earned its standing ovation. Starring Laura Dern and Isabelle Nelisse (she was 12 when filming took place), it is about a woman who “discovers the coded details she composed 40 years earlier” of “a special relationship she had with two adult coaches.” It is a film about memory, agency, the choices we make, the choices we think we make, and ultimately, the choices we don’t make. The Tale is both a stunning film and a crucial movie for our times, so please look out for it on HBO later this year. (photo with the incredible Director, Jennifer Fox)

One film that will be finding its way to cinemas in the coming year is opening night film Blindspotting (Twitter @blindspottin), which was picked up by Lionsgate last week. Featuring searing performances by leads Daveed Diggs and Rafael Casal, this is a movie for your must see list. (photo with these incredible actors below)“Exploding with energy, style, and raw emotion, this film unravels today’s intersection of race and class with urgent and poetic justice.” There were many films about this intersection, including MonsterMonsters and Men (@monstersmenfilm), Burden and others, and never before in my experience at the festival have there been so many complex male characters that challenge beliefs around what it means to be a ‘real man’. There was a rap sequence in the film that blew my mind and for good reason. Lead actor Daveed Diggs was one of the original cast members of Hamilton.

Other highlights for me included Puzzle, picked up by Sony Pictures Classics, Monster, from Executive Producer John Legend, and Heart Beats Loud, which had probably the most epic title song ever. On the documentary front, the best of the best included Won’t You Be My Neighborfrom Focus Features, 306 Hollywood, award winner On Her Shoulders, and Generation Wealth by the magnificent Lauren Greenfield (@lgreen66) and Studio 54.

Onto the Virtual Reality. Sundance has been programming VR pieces for the past few years, and may have been one of the first major film festivals to do so. This year the number of submissions in this category exploded. “The New Frontier section champions filmmakers and artists who explain, experiment with, and explode traditional storytelling.” I was transported to the Amazon to spend time with the first woman shaman in Awavena, dove in to the animated world of a teenage Puerto Rican girl in Battlescar, and was trained as an astronaut in Space Explorers: A New Dawn. While all of these films were incredible, Hero(@iNKStories) was transformational. Please find a video I filmed right after experiencing this piece below.

Stories matter. One of my favorite quotes is by Harold Goddard. “The destiny of the world is determined less by the battles that are lost and won than by the stories it loves and believes in.” The Sundance Institute is a non-profit organization whose mission is to support independent storytellers, helping them to tell the stories they want, no, strike that, NEED to tell. Yes, of course, the hope is that the end product is sold, but it is clear that what might matter more is that the end product is seen, is heard, and is experienced.

Please support independent film and artists. Take some time on the Sundance website and watch the short videos on the artists behind the work. Their stories are as amazing as the stories they tell.

Here are the winners.

To find great films and where to watch them, here.

What Story Lives in You?

As published on LinkedIn Influencers on January 18th, 2018.

Every year around this time, I pound the vitamins, enable my email’s auto reply, and mentally prepare myself for the fact that I won’t be getting a good night’s sleep for the next two weeks. I do this because every year, the last two weeks of January are completely taken over by the Sundance Film Festival. From opening night to the closing awards show and party, Sundance is 11 days of films, events, panels, and parties, and this year will be no different. Or maybe it will be?

This is the first Sundance in a post-Harvey Weinstein era. This is the first Sundance since the sexual harassment and abuse scandal that has rocked Hollywood since last fall, and this is the first Sundance since the tide of change has swept through the entire industry. This is a topic that will be sure to dominate conversations, panels, and Q&As, and on Saturday, January 20th, a Respect Rally will be held in Park City to commemorate the one year anniversary of the Women’s Marches and last year’s March on Main (disclosure: I am a sponsor of the Respect Rally). It has also resulted in changes such as a very visible and thoughtful policy around code of conduct. The Sundance Institute is proudly partnering with the Utah Attorney General’s office to provide a 24 hotline to report code violations.

The theme of Sundance this year is the relationship between the storyteller and the audience. If this past year has taught us anything, it’s that stories matter now more than ever, but even more important than the story is that the story gets heard and absorbed. Or in this case, seen. Women and men have been telling their stories of abuse and misconduct for decades, but often through secret channels and whisper networks out of fear of retribution. Allegations of sexual harassment and assault are sadly nothing new, but what’s changed in the past several months is that people are finally ready to listen to these stories, to believe these stories, and finally, FINALLY, we are ready to do something about them. Stories matter, but so does the audience and how these stories are received, and I look forward to delving deeper into this issue over the coming days of the festival and beyond.

The destiny of the world is determined less by battles lost and won than by the stories we come to love and believe in. – H. Goddard.

Now on to the festival…

This year’s festival is featuring 238 works altogether, including 122 feature films and 69 short films. Altogether, the Sundance Institute received over 13,000 submissions for the 2018 festival, and I can’t wait to see what made the cut. In addition to these films, an entirely new category is debuting for indie episodic work, which is a testament to the growing presence of this medium. While this content has previously been screened at Sundance as featured programming, episodic work is now being recognized as the force it truly is with its own section within the festival. Sundance is also debuting two new awards, including the Festival Favorite to be determined by audience ballot across all screenings of all feature films, and the NEXT Innovator Award that will be presented by RuPaul. There’s also a brand new theatre, incredible works and technology to discover in the New Frontier VR and AR section, and with over 46 countries represented, this year’s festival is truly an international affair.

It is also a year of increased representation for women. Earlier this month at the Golden Globes, Natalie Portman made a point of recognizing that yet again the nominees for Best Director were all male, despite the fact that Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird won one of the top awards of the night as the Best Comedy or Musical. In a far cry from Hollywood, where only 4% of the directors of the top grossing films of the past 11 years were women, 42% of all features and shorts that are to be screened at Sundance this year are directed by women (37% of features and 51% of shorts). This represents a 4% increase in female directors of features over 2017, and a 3% overall increase in female directors. One can only hope that those numbers will continue to go up in the years to come.

As I look over my schedule for the next 11 days, I can’t help but feel equal parts exhilarated and exhausted, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. You can follow the conversation online with #Sundance2018 and follow my adventures at @JackiZehner on Twitter. Below are a list of some of the films I’ll be seeing over the coming days, with descriptions pulled from the festival program. New this year are Meet the Artist videos on many of the pages, but you can also find them on Youtube HERE. If you’re in Park City happy festing! And if not, I’ll be back after the festival is over with my best of the fest of films to look out for in cinemas in the coming months.

Blindspotting – Collin is trying to make it through his final days of probation for an infamous arrest he can’t wait to put behind him. Always by his side is his fast-talking childhood bestie, Miles, who has a knack for finding trouble. They grew up together in the notoriously rough Oakland, a.k.a. “The Town,” which has become the new trendy place to live in the rapidly gentrifying Bay Area. But when Collin’s chance for a fresh start is interrupted by a life-changing missed curfew, his friendship with Miles is forced out of its comfortable buddy-comedy existence, and the Bay boys are set on a spiraling collision course with each other. Exploding with energy, style, and raw emotion, Blindspotting unravels today’s intersection of race and class with urgent and poetic justice. This is the opening night film tonight!

Private Life – Rachel (Kathryn Hahn) and Richard (Paul Giamatti) have been repeatedly trying to get pregnant, undergoing multiple fertility treatments while also exploring adoption and other options. As they hit obstacles and face up to the reality of their chances, their strained marriage seems to be further than ever from completing the elusive path to parenthood.

Monsters and Men – One night, in front of a bodega in Brooklyn’s Bed–Stuy neighborhood, Manny Ortega witnesses a white police officer wrongfully gun down a neighborhood street hustler, and Manny films the incident on his phone. Now he’s faced with a dilemma: release the video and bring unwanted exposure to himself and his family, or keep the video private and be complicit in the injustice?

Juliet, Naked – Annie is stuck in a long-term relationship with Duncan—an obsessive fan of obscure rocker Tucker Crowe. Duncan is far more devoted to his music idol than to Annie. When the acoustic demo of Tucker’s hit record from 25 years ago surfaces, it leads to a life-changing encounter between Annie and the elusive rocker himself.

Eighth Grade – Eighth-grader Kayla Day always has her phone in hand, hoping to find connections online that might make up for those she’s unable to forge in everyday life. She makes YouTube videos aimed at other adolescents dealing with similar issues—feelings of isolation, anxiety, and invisibility—but after so easily summoning this wisdom and confidence when addressing her (barely existent) audience, Kayla finds it paralyzingly difficult to apply in real situations. In the final week of a thus-far-disastrous school year—and with high school looming on the horizon—Kayla struggles to bridge the gap between how she perceives herself and who she believes she should be.

The Tale – Jennifer, a globetrotting journalist and professor, lives an enviable life with her boyfriend in New York City. That is, until her mother finds a story Jennifer wrote at age 13 depicting a “special” relationship with two adult coaches. Reading the yellowed pages of “The Tale,” Jennifer discovers the coded details she composed 40 years earlier are quite unlike her recollection. Deeply shaken yet determined to square her version of events with the truth, Jennifer sets out to find her two coaches. Returning to the Carolina horse farm where so much transpired, Jennifer’s gangly yet tenacious seventh-grade self reawakens, and the loving stories she told herself for decades begin to unravel.

Leave No Trace – For years Will and his teenage daughter, Tom, have lived off the grid, blissfully undetected by authorities in a vast nature reserve on the edge of Portland, Oregon. When a chance encounter blows their cover, they’re removed from their camp and put into the charge of social services. Struggling to adapt to their new surroundings, Will and Tom set off on a perilous journey back to the wilderness, where they are finally forced to confront conflicting desires—a longing for community versus a fierce need to live apart.

I Think We’re Alone Now – Del (Peter Dinklage) is alone in the world. Literally. After the human race is wiped out, he lives in a small, empty town, methodically going from house to house, collecting batteries and other useful items, and burying the dead. He dines alone, reads, watches movies, and shelves books in the local library he’s made his home. He’s content in his solitude—until he discovers Grace (Elle Fanning), an interloper on his quiet earth. Her history and motives are obscure, and worse yet, she wants to stay.

Inventing Tomorrow – Indonesia, India, Mexico, Hawaii, and many other countries, communities, and islands are rife with the ravages of environmental degradation. But hope comes with a surprising—and touching—group of young people. Meet six brilliant high school students as they prepare for the world’s largest high school science competition: the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF). Inspired by the issues and problems they’ve witnessed in their own communities, these teens propose big ideas and ingenious solutions to the world’s environmental challenges. With unfettered minds and ambition, they descend upon Los Angeles to participate in ISEF and meet thousands of their peers from all over the world. Soon, a sense of global community forms, focused on making the world a better place.

Come Sunday – Every Sunday, Bishop Carlton Pearson—evangelical megastar, brilliant orator, and television host with millions of followers—preaches the fundamentalist gospel to six thousand supplicants at his Higher Dimensions Church. He’s the pride and joy of his spiritual father, Oral Roberts, and the toast of Tulsa. One day, rattled by an uncle’s suicide and distraught by reports of the Rwandan Genocide, Pearson receives an epiphany. Suddenly it’s crystal clear—God loves all humankind; everyone is already saved, whether Christian or not; and there is no hell. But these ideas are heretical, violating sacrosanct doctrines.

Monster – Steve Harmon, a bright, sensitive 17-year-old, stands trial for acting as a lookout during the lethal armed robbery of a Harlem bodega. Before his arrest, he was an honors student and aspiring filmmaker taking street-level snapshots and on-the-fly footage of neighborhood life. Now, Steve is seen as just another young black criminal, assumed guilty and labeled a monster. But Steve and his lawyer declare his innocence and attempt to defy the odds in a bid to win his freedom.

Beirut – Mason Skiles (Jon Hamm), a top U.S. diplomat, left Lebanon in the 1970s after a tragic incident. Ten years later, the CIA calls him back to a war-torn Beirut with a mission only he can accomplish. Meanwhile, a CIA field agent who is working undercover at the American embassy is tasked with keeping Skiles alive and ensuring that the mission is a success. Without knowing who is on his side and with lives on the line, Skiles must outmaneuver everyone to expose the truth.

Burden – Mike Burden (Garrett Hedlund) is a taciturn repo man rising through the ranks of the Ku Klux Klan in small-town South Carolina, 1996. Orphaned as a child, he is fiercely loyal to local Klan leader and toxic father figure Tom Griffin (a terrifying Tom Wilkinson). But Burden has a change of heart when he falls for Judy (Andrea Riseborough), a single mother who stirs his social conscience. His violent break from the Klan sends him into the open arms of Reverend Kennedy (Forest Whitaker), an idealistic African American preacher, who offers him safety and a shot at redemption.

Damsel – It’s a classic tale of the Old West: Samuel Alabaster is a man searching for his true love. Parson Henry is another, much drunker man, searching for a new start. Penelope is a woman who has found her own path. And Rufus Cornell is just a mean bastard with a taste for buckskin. There’s rotgut, rawhide, rootin’, tootin’, and hootin’. Plus, a little tiny horse.

A Kid Like Jake – Loving parents Alex (Claire Danes) and Greg (Jim Parsons) are faced with the daunting task of applying to private kindergartens in NYC for their 4-year-old, Jake. Competing in this cutthroat environment means focusing on what is most unique about a child, forcing Alex and Greg to consider Jake’s love of dresses, fairy tales, and princesses. These qualities never seemed unusual before, but when Jake begins to act out in preschool, Alex and Greg—suddenly at odds—must find a way to support Jake’s identity without losing each other in the process.

Sorry to Bother You – Cassius Green (Lakeith Stanfield), a 30-something black telemarketer with self-esteem issues, discovers a magical selling power living inside of him. Suddenly he’s rising up the ranks to the elite team of his company, which sells heinous products and services. The upswing in Cassius’s career raises serious red flags with his brilliant girlfriend, Detroit (Tessa Thompson), a sign-twirling gallery artist who is secretly a part of a Banksy-style collective called Left Eye. But the unimaginable hits the fan when Cassius meets the company’s cocaine-snorting, orgy-hosting, obnoxious, and relentlessly optimistic CEO, Steve Lift (Armie Hammer).

Three Identical Strangers – New York, 1980: Three complete strangers—Bobby Shafran, Eddy Galland, and David Kellman—make the astounding discovery that they are identical triplets. Separated at birth, adopted, and raised by three different families, the 19-year-olds are reunited by chance. Their story sets the tabloids on fire, and the triplets suddenly become famous around the world.

What They Had – During a bout of dementia, Ruth (Blythe Danner) gets out of bed at night and wanders off into a blizzard. Ruth’s brief disappearance triggers the homecoming of her daughter Bridget (Hilary Swank) and teenage granddaughter Emma (Taissa Farmiga). The episode also renews lifelong tensions between stubborn patriarch Burt (Robert Forster) and estranged son Nicky (Michael Shannon). As they all debate placing Ruth into a memory-care facility, family ties begin to fray, rekindling a rivalry between the adult siblings.

Generation Wealth – Over the past 25 years, Lauren Greenfield’s documentary photography and film projects have explored youth culture, gender, body image, and affluence. In this fascinating meld of career retrospective and film essay, Greenfield offers a meditation on her extensive body of work, structuring it through the lens of materialism and its increasing sway on culture and society in America and throughout the world. Underscoring the ever-increasing gap between the haves and the have-nots, her portraits reveal a focus on cultivating image over substance, where subjects unable to attain actual wealth instead settle for its trappings, no matter their ability to pay for it. I know Lauren personally and she is an incredible person and filmmaker. Amongst her many film credits she also did the game changing video, LIKE A GIRL.

NANCY – Nancy is a 35-year-old temp living with her mom and cat in a modest home in a modest town. She is also an aspiring writer whose submissions are consistently rejected by the likes of the Atlantic and the Paris Review. To make up for these failures and the invisibility she feels, Nancy spins elaborate lies and hoaxes under pseudonyms on the internet. When she encounters a couple whose 5-year-old daughter went missing 30 years ago, fact and fiction begin to blur in Nancy’s mind, and she becomes increasingly convinced these strangers are her real parents.

Loveling – Irene is raising four rambunctious sons in a home that is physically crumbling but warm and happy. As Irene simultaneously shelters her sister Sonia (who just left a volatile marriage), supports her own husband through a financial crisis, and plans her own long-awaited high school graduation, Irene’s eldest son, Fernando, suddenly announces he has been recruited by a professional handball team in Germany and will be leaving in just three weeks. Consummate caretaker Irene prickles at the idea of emancipating the 16-year-old so he can travel and live alone, and she becomes increasingly anxious about what her future holds.

Seeing Allred – As described in the film guide, to some, Gloria Allred is a money-grubbing, shrill feminist prone to tawdry theatrics; to others she’s the most effective and fearless women’s rights attorney in America. In this intimate, warts-and-all documentary, one thing is certain: Allred’s 40-year devotion to asserting, protecting, and expanding the rights of women is unwavering and her influence unassailable. She is also scheduled to speak at the the rally.

Lizzie – 1892: Headstrong Lizzie Borden lives with her wealthy father, stepmother, and sister in Fall River, Massachusetts. Lizzie lovingly tends to her pet pigeons and is occasionally allowed out of her dimly lit, foreboding house, but otherwise lives under strict rules set by her domineering father. When her family hires live-in maid Bridget, an uneducated Irish immigrant, the two find kindred spirits in one another. Their friendship begins with covert communication and companionship that blossoms into an intimate relationship. Meanwhile, tension builds in the Borden household, and Lizzie’s claustrophobic existence becomes increasingly more oppressive and abusive, leading to its inevitable breaking point.

Hearts Beat Loud – As single dad Frank (Nick Offerman) prepares to send hardworking daughter Sam (Kiersey Clemons) off to UCLA pre-med, he also reluctantly realizes he has to accept that his own record-store business is failing. Hoping to stay connected with his daughter through their shared love of music, he urges her to turn their weekly “jam sesh” into an actual band. Channeling Sam’s resistance into a band name, they unexpectedly find We’re Not a Band’s first song turning into a minor Spotify hit, and they use their songwriting efforts to work through their feelings about the life changes each of them faces.

The Long Dumb Road – Not far down the highway from his childhood home in Texas, Nathan’s car breaks down on the drive to his freshman year of art school in Los Angeles. Richard, a local mechanic, agrees to fix the car as long as Nathan helps Richard escape his bastard of a boss. On the way out of town, Richard pounds a road beer or three, sparks a joint, and begins to question why young Nathan is lacking a clear philosophy about the rest of his life. As they venture on, these two strangers will battle through bar fights, heartache, and many more unfortunate detours to make it to their next destinations in life. This is a film that I am personally invested in through the film Fund Gamechanger.

On Her Shoulders – Mobbed by iPhone cameras and pushy reporters, 23-year-old Nadia Murad leads a harrowing but vital crusade: to find the most influential platforms in the world and speak out on behalf of the embattled Yazidi community who face mass extermination by ISIS militants. Having narrowly escaped with her own life, Nadia must now relentlessly recount on radio shows, at rallies, and even on the floor of the United Nation’s general assembly her ordeal as a Yazidi sex slave and witness to her family’s brutal killings. Though excruciating, she forces herself to revisit these realities again and again. For without her testimony, the genocide happening right in front of the world’s eyes might go completely unnoticed.