Sundance ’18 | Spotlight

by Tim Gordon

This group of provocative stories will be featured in the Spotlight section of the Sundance Film Festival.

(Director and screenwriter: Michael Pearce) – Moll is stuck. She’s isolated on Jersey, a tiny island in the English Channel. She’s also beset by her domineering mother and her history of mental fragility—not to mention the false pity it engenders. Freedom comes in an exceedingly unlikely form: local loner Pascal. Soon he and Moll are enmeshed in the sort of intense, overwhelming relationship that only two outcasts can forge. Nothing can stop them, not even Moll’s creeping suspicion that Pascal might be involved with a string of unspeakable crimes.

(Director and screenwriter: Samuel Maoz) – It begins with the anguish of an Israeli couple, Michael and Dafna, informed that their son has been killed in the line of duty, but then veers sharply to arrive at the remote desert checkpoint where he was deployed. The tiny contingent of soldiers stationed there check IDs, lift the gate for passersby, and sleep in a shipping container that lists heavily to one side. The tedium is broken only by the occasional passing camel—until a dramatic turn of events.

I Am Not a Witch
(Director and screenwriter: Rungano Nyoni) – After nine-year-old Shula is accused of being a witch by her fellow villagers, she is ushered to the state authorities for judgment, whereupon she is immediately declared guilty and unceremoniously sentenced to exile in a camp for witches of all ages. Upon arrival, she is tied to a long, white ribbon connected to a large coil whose removal, she is told, will transform her into a goat. Just like Shula, the camp denizens have been scapegoated and gathered together, occasionally expected to perform miracles.


Sweet Country
(Director: Warwick Thornton; screenwriters: Steven McGregor & David Tranter) – It’s 1929 on the vast, desert-like Eastern Arrernte Nation lands that are now known as the Central Australian outback. Sam Kelly (Hamilton Morris), a middle-aged Aboriginal man, works the land of a kind preacher, Fred Smith (Sam Neill). After an ill-tempered bully arrives in town and Kelly kills him in self-defense, he and his wife, Lizzie, go on the run as a posse gathers to hunt him down.

The Death of Stalin
(Director: Armando Iannucci; screenwriters: Armando Iannucci, David Schneider & Ian Martin) – Russia, 1953: The mood under Stalin’s despotic regime is one of rampant paranoia. Spouses inform on one another, the secret police are always listening, and death squads roam the streets executing “traitors.” One morning, the dictator is found comatose after a massive stroke, triggering an absurd, hysterical, and deadly power grab among his closest sycophants and confidants.

The Rider
(Director and screenwriter: Chloé Zhao) – Brady (Brady Jandreau) is a rising rodeo star suffering from a traumatic head injury sustained in the ring. Though he longs to climb back in the saddle, Brady finds himself torn between the macho allure of cowboy life and obligations to his widowed father and autistic sister (both played by Jandreau’s real-life family members). During visits with Lane—a paraplegic ex-rodeo star—and amid struggles to train an ornery horse, Brady is forced to face a life outside of the ring.

You Were Never Really Here
(Director and screenwriter: Lynne Ramsay) – Stoic and hardened vigilante Joe (Phoenix) needs only one tool to carry out his dubious line of work: a hammer. Hired by a senator desperately seeking answers about the disappearance of his daughter, Joe sets out with his habitual confidence, only to find that this time he may be in over his head.