Sundance 2022 features a broader queer reach for a wider global audience

It wasn’t supposed to be like this. Despite the success of an almost entirely virtual event last year, Sundance Film Festival organizers had eagerly prepared a hybrid festival for 2022 that would have allowed filmmakers, buyers, critics and entertainment enthusiasts to meet in person. safely – in their late January natural habitat of Park City, Utah to celebrate the best in independent cinema.

Then came omicron. Two weeks ago, the powers that be at the festival announced that out of an abundance of caution, Sundance 2022 (which runs Thursday through January 30) would once again go mostly virtual. It was bad news for industry insiders who had planned a reunion in Park City, but good news for the wider audience of viewers, who will now have a better chance of seeing some of the newest films, the best and most cutting-edge on the planet – including many queer-themed titles – without having to wait months for things to work through the usual pre-pandemic distribution channels.

For festival director Tabitha Jackson — a Sundance veteran who took the reins at the start of 2020, just as Covid-19 was beginning to spread across the world — the return to a mostly virtual festival is bittersweet.

“One of the things that’s important to me is access and how to expand the Sundance community for artists – and that means finding ways to include people who may not have the opportunity to come join us in Utah, but still want to be a part of the festival,” she said. “In my thinking, it was probably going to be a five- or ten-year plan to get there, but the pandemic has both accelerated things to a considerable speed and made things necessary that were not conceivable before.”

For Sundance 2022, that means a wider – indeed, global – queer audience will have instant access to an exceptionally diverse lineup, expanding even further than last year’s roster, which included acclaimed LGBTQ titles. by critics as “Flee” (now an Academy Award nominee) and “My name is Pauli Murray”.

“I would say it runs through Sundance’s DNA that queer cinema is part of the burst of creativity that has accompanied the life of the festival,” Jackson said. “And while queer filmmakers have had a significant imprint on queer cinema for a while, now it’s evening and widening. There’s a very rich array of queer films out there right now, and in particular, we’re seeing some new voices around trans cinema. There’s a lot of innovation going on.”

“Neptune Frost” is a sci-fi musical film set in a village in Rwanda.Courtesy of Sundance

This year, that bold originality includes genre-defying cinematic visions like “Neptune Frost,” a sci-fi musical set in Rwanda and featuring an intersex lead character.

“Everything about this movie blows our minds,” Jackson said. “African Futurism as a thing illuminates intersex differently and how it is illuminated by a different culture than American/Eurocentric culture. It’s an amazing informal experience and innovation.

Jackson said another standout is “Sirens,” a world premiere documentary from Lebanon highlighting the first and only all-female thrash metal band in the Middle East: Slave to Sirens.

“It’s about two women as a couple in Beirut, and how they and their music kind of encapsulate a resistance that also resonates like the indie spirit, that resistance or challenge to cultural orthodoxies to be yourself,” explained Jackson. “It also sheds light on how lesbianism or homosexuality works in other societies, and not necessarily the way we would expect. These two queer protagonists have a spirit full of hope and resilience that we could all notice.

A lingering trend in queer cinema, a trend Jackson says he enjoyed, is that the protagonist’s sexuality isn’t the main point of the story.

“This year we have ‘Mars One,’ for example, where there are characters with fully dimensional relationships, and they happen to be of the same gender, but that doesn’t have to be a plot point. “, she said. “We talk about ourselves as a festival of discovery – it [“Mars One” Director Gabriel Martins] is a rookie filmmaker, and definitely one to watch. It’s a very beautiful film, alive in its expression of both emotion and a kind of life we ​​haven’t seen.

In “Mars One”, a lower-class black family in Brazil tries to keep their spirits up in the months following Jair Bolsonaro’s election.Courtesy of Sundance

Also premiering at Sundance 2022, Chase Joynt’s “Framing Agnes,” a hybrid documentary — similar in style to his acclaimed biography of Billy Tipton “No Ordinary Man” — focuses on a trailblazing transgender icon who, by participating in the gender health research from the 1960s at UCLA, helped foster a broader public understanding of what it means to be trans.

“It’s kind of thoughtful cinema, seeing the process of thinking out loud, questioning and reframing history,” Jackson said of the film, which stars “Transparent” producer Zackary. Drucker and “Pose” star Angelica Ross. “It is also a theme of our festival, and this particularly resonant trans theme speaks to the larger historical framework that the festival faces.”

This is far from the first time Sundance has played a key role in shaping queer history and culture. Amazingly, it was at the height of another pandemic exactly 30 years ago when the boldness and innovation of the festival helped galvanize a new era of LGBTQ cinema. At Sundance 1992, the groundbreaking “Barbed Wire Kisses” panel featured some of the most talented and influential LGBTQ authors of the day, including Derek Jarman, Christine Vachon, Isaac Julien, Gregg Araki, Todd Haynes, Bruce LaBruce and B Ruby Rich, who, during the panel, gave his name to the “New Queer Cinema” movement.

Zachary Drucker appears in “Framing Agnes”.Ava Benjamin Shorr / Courtesy of Sundance

“We had a conversation as a programming team this year around that similar time when the filmmakers were dealing with grief and loss,” Jackson said. “Of course, it was around the AIDS epidemic, which tended to be characterized by queer filmmakers, for obvious reasons. At that point, Sundance felt it was necessary to introduce it to starting from the margins and redefining it – not as something shameful – in its decimation of entire communities.

Other queer-themed features at Sundance this year include the directorial debuts of Tig Notaro and Stephanie Allyne; the best female friendship comedy “Am I OK?”, starring Dakota Johnson and Sonoya Mizuno; the Finnish teenage affair story “Girl Picture”; the survival tale of a Mexican business run by women “Dos Estaciones”; the eco-drama about the Bolivian indigenous way of life “Utama”; the Chilean family fantasy “The cow that sang a song to the future”; and the immersive exploration of VR connectivity “We Met in Virtual Reality”.

Some 15 LGBTQ-themed shorts will also premiere at Sundance 2022, including Jackson’s top picks “A Wild Patience Has Taken Me Here” and “F^¢k ‘€m R!ght [email protected]¢k,” as well as the trans-themed episodic series “My trip to Spain”.

While most titles of all lengths will only be screened virtually this year, a few feature films, including “Sirens” and “Mars One,” will have special in-person viewings on seven satellite screens across the country over the weekend. end of January 28 to 30.

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