Happening Now: Sundance Films To Put On Your Must-See List

Happening Now: Sundance Films To Put On Your Must-See List

Sundance Film Festival is in full effect, currently taking place in snow-filled Park City, Utah, under sunny skies and cold temperatures. 

It’s a major intersection of storytelling, culture, brands, high-level meetings and thought-leadership until Feb. 3, 2019. But, of course, the foundation of the annual event is the collection of films for select members of the public, press and industry. 

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Here are three stand-outs that particularly showcase narratives from a diverse perspective:

Wu-Tang Clan — Cappadonna, Ghostface Killah, U-God, RZA, and Masta Killa — attend the new Showtime Docuseries “Wu-Tang Clan: Of Mics & Men” celebration at Stella’s Film Lounge during the 2019 Sundance Film Festival, Jan. 28, 2019 in Park City, Utah. (Photo by Phillip Faraone/Getty Images for Stella Artois )

Of Mics and Men

Let’s start with a bit of edge. The highly anticipated new four-hour Showtime documentary about the legendary rap group Wu-Tang Clan made it debut. Entitled “Of Mics and Men,” the film follows the group from its early days in New York to global superstardom. Filmmaker Sacha Jenkins, who was a rap journalist for many years, offers a solid look that integrates archival footage and interviews to weave the tale. The reflective portions from the group itself are just as rich as the performance clips.  This is about a behind-the-scenes insider look that not only Wu fans but fans of culture overall, will find intriguing.

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However, once again, this project is a missed opportunity to include both more female talent behind the camera as well as those who join the on-screen interview ranks of such writers as Ta-Nehisi Coates. The film is produced by Mass Appeal and will premiere in May 2019 on Showtime.

RZA performs onstage with D.J. Mr Best during the new Showtime Docuseries “Wu-Tang Clan: Of Mics & Men” celebration at Stella’s Film Lounge during the 2019 Sundance Film Festival, Jan. 28, 2019 in Park City, Utah. (Photo by Phillip Faraone/Getty Images for Stella Artois )

The Last Black Man In San Francisco

From the east coast over to the west coast, “The Last Black Man In San Francisco” is a semi-autobiographical tale about Jimmie Fails, who plays a version of himself and struggles as a Black man trying to come to terms with a gentrifying San Francisco.

Fails is obsessed with returning to the Victorian-style home in which he grew up in the city’s Fillmore District which was once known as “Harlem of the West.” Naturally, the neighborhood and residential owners have changed since then. Together with his friend Montgomery (Jonathan Majors) an aspiring playwright, the two try to navigate a world that is predominantly driven by affluent technorati and other young professionals. This a tale about class, economics, race, introspection, friendship and more.

The main topic is one well worth exploring, but somehow the film misses making a great deal of plain and direct social commentary; nor is it a forecast for the future. The film seems much, much longer than its two-hour running time and tries to subtly squeeze a number of social and psychological themes all in one piece of work. One also gets the sense that filmmaker Joe Talbot is rather enamored with the shooting styles for which Spike Lee is known in such films as “Do The Right Thing.” And there is a bit of a heavy-handed borrowing from such techniques. Still, the piece is worth seeing even to explore one’s own feelings about the intersection of race, place and disruption in today’s world.

David Oyelowo and Storm Reid in “Relive”, which premiered at Sundance 2019. Photo: Courtesy of Sundance Institute


And finally, from harsh reality to a clever combination of supernatural-meets-thriller, “Relive” is the newest release from Blumhouse Productions, the innovative minds behind Jordan Peele’s “Get Out”. Writer-director Jacob Aaron Estes manages to successfully blend traditional ghost story with modern mobile devices and the paranoia of a conspiracy vibe to create a very solid offering. The acting is stellar here and includes David Oyelowo, who is beyond believable. Storm Reid, star of last year’s “A Wrinkle in Time”, is truly remarkable as the spectral teen detective.

When asked where he got the inspiration for the film, Estes said:

“The theme of loss is a big part of my life. When I was a teenager, my father’s partner (aka my “other father”) died of AIDS, when I was in my 20s, my first cousin drowned and when I was in my 30s, my wife’s best friend, her maid of honor at our wedding, was murdered.

“These three experiences had a strong commonality that I felt and witnessed—a wishful painful longing that we could somehow recover what was lost; a feeling that there must still be some way to connect to that love that was extinguished long before its time.

“Moreover, a year before we went into production I had a brush with death myself—I went to Mexico and caught dengue fever and typhus at the same time; several organs failed and I experienced a kind of hallucinatory delirium for several days on end but all the while I kept focused on living to stay with my children…

“Fighting for my life was much easier for me than I think it would have been if I had no children to protect in the world—my need to live was founded in an extremely strong primal desire to protect. That’s what this movie is about in many ways.”