The Sundance Institute has announced its high profile Premieres section where Hollywood stars flock like bees to the honey pot to promote their films often by seasoned directors. The is the section where potential 2015 Oscar nominees Boyhood and Whiplash premiered last year and were among the festival hits. What will rise to the surface this year? Sundance is more a crapshoot than any other festival, so we shall have to wait and see. One thing’s for sure though—new documentaries by Alex Gibney and Amy Berg, two of the most probing talents in the business, will be unmissable.
Some of the early standouts of the lineup include:
Ben Mendelsohn is on double duty
The Australian veteran was already announced as part of the cast of Sundance competition entry Slow West alongside Michael Fassbender and Kodi Smit-McPhee. He now also stars with Ryan Reynolds and Sienna Miller in Mississippi Grind, Ryan Fleck’s and Anna Boden’s tale about high stakes gamblers.
So are Jemaine Clement and Sam Rockwell
The NZ funnyman has already been announced as the star of competition comedy People, Places, Things, and now has a leading role with Rockwell in Don Verdeam, directed by Jared Hess (Napoleon Dynamite). Set in Utah, it’s billed as a comedy of faith and fraud and follows Rockwell’s biblical archaeologist who is hired by a local church pastor to find faith-promoting relics in the Holy Land. Rockwell also supports Rosemarie Dewitt and Orlando Bloom in Joe Swanberg’s thriller Digging for Fire, about the discovery of a bone and a gun that send a husband and wife on separate adventures over the course of a weekend.
Australian multimedia filmmakers are off to a great start for 2015
Matthew Bate, previous Sundance Film Festival winner for his short film Shut Up Little Man! An Audio Misadventure, has made another documentary using pre-existing media, with Sam Klemke’s Time Machine. In 1977, 17 year-old Sam Klemke set out to record himself every year until his death. Sam filmed and narrated 50 years of his life, creating a strange and intimate portrait of what it means to be human.
Melbourne filmmaker Oscar Raby has written, directed and produced Assent, an immersive documentary using virtual reality technology to replicate his own father's experiences when, as a 22-year-old army officer stationed in the north of Chile, the Caravan of Death came to his regiment. The film screened at the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam and won the Audience Cross-Platform Award at Sheffield International Documentary Festival this year.
James Franco is a 'pray the gay away' preacher
Justin Kelly’s drama I Am Michael stars James Franco as the real-life Michael Glatze, a former journalist and gay-rights advocate who renounced his homosexuality and became a conservative Christian minister.
Ewan McGregor is both Jesus and Satan
Rodrigo Garcia, who gave Naomi Watts one of her best roles in Mother and Child, ventures into father-son territory with Last Days in the Desert. Ewan McGregor (above) is both Jesus and the Devil in an imagined chapter from his 40 days of fasting and praying in the desert. Nash Edgerton again doubles as Mcgregor's stunt stand-in for the movie's more epic biblical showdowns.
Lily Tomlin is a lesbian grandmother
Paul Weitz (American Pie, About A Boy, Little Fockers) in Grandma directs the openly gay Lily Tomlin as a lesbian grandmother who embarks on a road trip with her granddaughter, played by the wonderful and so far under-appreciated Julia Garner.
Greta Gerwig is a lonely college girl in what sounds like a wacky Francis Ha 2.0
After making the bigger budget While We’re Young starring Naomi Watts and Ben Stiller, Noah Baumbach reteams with his muse and madcap screenwriter girlfriend, Greta Gerwig, for Mistress America, a comedy about dream-chasing, score-settling, makeshift families, and cat-stealing. Could it match up to Frances Ha?
Ethan Hawke is in a story of parenthood in 80s yuppified New York
Husband and wife team Robert Pulcini and Shari Springer Berman (American Splendor) present the screen adaptation of Eleanor Henderson’s novel Ten Thousand Saints. It follows three lost kids and their equally lost parents as they come of age in New York's East Village in the era of CBGB, yuppies, and the tinderbox of gentrification that exploded into the Tompkins Square Park Riot of 1988. Ethan Hawke stars alongside Asa Butterfield, Emily Mortimer, Julianne Nicholson, Hailee Steinfeld and Emile Hirsch.
Alex Gibney takes on Scientology
With Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief, Alex Gibney profiles eight former members of the Church of Scientology, shining a light on how they attract true believers and the things they do in the name of religion.
While Amy Berg investigates a Mormon scandal
With Prophet's Prey, Amy Berg follows Warren Jeffs’ rise to prophet of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, and his bridging the gap between sister wives and ecclesiastically justified rape.
Kurt Cobain's life will be on show
Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck. Brett Morgen takes us on a raw and visceral journey through Cobain’s life and his career with Nirvana through the lens of his home movies, recordings, artwork, photography, and journals.
So will Nina Simone's
*What Happened, Miss Simone? Liz Garbus follows the classically trained pianist, dive-bar chanteuse, black power icon, and legendary recording artist Nina Simone who lived a life of brutal honesty, musical genius, and tortured melancholy, interweaving never-before-heard recordings and rare footage.