Film Festival

My Adventures at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival

Rachel Wagner enjoying her time at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival.
Rachel Wagner enjoying her time at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival.

As a critic and cinephile, one of the benefits of living in Utah is getting to attend the Sundance Film Festival each year at an affordable rate. 2020 was my fourth year attending the festival but it was also my least favorite experience; however, it was still wonderful to see so many unique films.

Part of the reason my experience wasn’t as good this year is because this was the first year I didn’t purchase a locals’ pass which allows access to all of the Salt Lake City screenings. With just The Grand Pass and a 10-pack I was more limited to what I could see and forced to wait in long lines you wouldn’t need to with a pass (with tickets you also have to try and predict what will be a big hit whereas with a pass you can attend whatever has buzz). It was a little discouraging to not find the gems I found last year but still a good experience.

Sunita Mani and John Reynolds appear in Save Yourselves! by Alex Fischer and Eleanor Wilson. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Matt Clegg

The best film I saw at this year’s festival is a comedy called Save Yourselves! This is a film directed by Alex Hurston Fischer about a couple (Sunita Mani and John Paul Reynolds) who decide to take a break from their cell phones for a weekend and go up to a mountain retreat. The only problem is that same there just happens to be an alien invasion that same weekend! Not only is it a comedic movie about hipsters and technology but it is also a sweet and endearing romance. The actors have great chemistry and I was laughing throughout. 

Dick Johnson is Dead (documentary) premiered at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival.

My second favorite of the festival is a documentary called Dick Johnson is Dead. This film is directed by Kirsten Johnson and is a very unique look into the process of aging and grief from the perspective of her dad who is still living. I had a very close relationship with most of my grandparents, and watching Kirsten’s dad brought back a lot of memories. There are even fantasy sequences where he dies on screen and he attends his own funeral! I was bawling my eyes out and yet still laughing each time her dad was his charming self. Look out for this on Netflix. 

Winston Duke and Zazie Beetz in Nine Days. Courtesy of Sundance Institute

I saw a lot of artistic pieces at Sundance this year (and most of it, to be honest, were a bit of a slog) but 2 experimental projects worked for me: Nine Days and Tesla. Nine Days is a very interesting film about a premortal world where a man named Will (great performance given by Winston Duke) is tasked with selecting who is worthy to come down to Earth and get a body. For nine days he interviews a variety of people while also dealing with the knowledge that one of his choices just committed suicide, which he does not understand. It was emotional, beautifully filmed and very well acted. I found myself thinking about it several days after I saw it. 

Ethan Hawke in Tesla, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival

Tesla is definitely not for everyone, but it intrigued me. Purportedly, it is about the famed inventor Nikola Tesla played by Ethan Hawke, but it is not a bland biopic. There’s lots of fourth wall breaking and nods to modern technology. It all culminates in the character singing Tears for Fears at a modern karaoke bar. I am very curious to see—outside of the Sundance bubble—what people think of this quirky weird movie. 

So that was my Sundance 2020 experience. It is a lot of fun but it is also a bit of a grueling experience. There are a lot of lines and just seeing 26 movies in 10 days takes a lot out of me. I know there are a lot of festival favorites I didn’t get to see like Minari and Time, so I look forward to catching up with them. And hopefully next year I can get a locals’ pass again so I have an even better experience!

Did you get to attend the festival? If so, what were some of your favorite films? Let us know in the comments section!

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