Diversity, inclusion permeate the plot for the 2020 Sundance Film Festival

Diversity, inclusion permeate the plot for the 2020 Sundance Film Festival

When it comes to diversity and inclusion, the Sundance Film Festival is making waves where other film institutions are barely making ripples.

While Hollywood continues to produce a small number of films helmed by women — and this year’s Oscars nominations included an all-male roster for the Best Director category — Sundance 2020 is rolling out its most inclusive festival yet with the theme of “Imagined Futures.”


A full 46% of the festival’s 56 competition films are directed by women. And 48% of Sundance’s indie episodic, shots and special events are directed by women. By comparison, 10.6% of directors of 2019’s top-grossing movies were women; in 2018 that number was 4.5%.

The Sundance Institute says its lineup of female-directed films are a “celebration of … vital women’s voices” and “will take you on a far-reaching journey.”

The festival, which kicks off Thursday, Jan. 23, runs in various locations throughout Utah — including Park City, Salt Lake City and Sundance Mountain Resort.

“The 40-Year-Old Version” is one of many highly anticipated, woman-directed movies coming to a Sundance screen this year. Director and star Radha Blank’s feature debut, “Version” depicts a playwright facing her reality of being a struggling artist and single at the age of 40.

A documentary premiere attracting buzz is director Lana Wilson’s “Miss Americana,” which features the global icon Taylor Swift and her success and struggles both professionally and personally. Wilson won an Emmy in 2013 for Best Documentary with her “After Tiller” film.

Anne Hathaway stars in writer/director Dee Rees’ “The Last Thing He Wanted.” The political thriller is an adaptation of the novel of the same name and highlights a hardened journalist and single mother investigating Contra activity in Central America. Rees became the first black woman nominated for an Academy Award in the Best Adapted Screenplay category for the 2017 film “Mudbound.”

A full guide of all women-directed films showing at this year’s Sundance Film Festival can be found at https://sundance.org/blogs/2020-women-festival-projects.

People of color

Along with the number of women directors, this year’s Sundance Film Festival also will include a high number of feature-length films directed by a person of color — 34%, to be exact.

“We do think of it as the new year of culture where people have to sit up and take notice,” John Cooper, the director of Sundance, told the Associated Press. “Audiences have changed, too. They’re more hungry for different. That’s not just from the Oscars. That’s from, let’s face it, the world we’re living in right now. It’s the urgency of thinking outside of old normalities.”

“Blast Beat,” an entry in the U.S. Dramatic Competition category at this year’s festival, is directed by Esteban Arango, a Colombian. His film features Colombian brothers as they prepare to move to the United States for their final years of high school.

Verónica Chen, born in Buenos Aires, directed “High Tide,” an entry in the World Cinema Dramatic Competition. The film features a woman who feels she is losing control when professional and personal boundaries are crossed with a contractor company.

People with disabilities

With the launch of Sundance’s Outreach & Inclusion and Impact, Engagement and Advocacy programs, the institute has collaborated with and supported artists with disabilities whose creative practice and work explores access, justice, neurodiversity, sound and vision.

Sundance Institute says the programs underscore “the importance of empowering artists with disabilities to tell their own stories.”

Press inclusion

Sundance’s Press Inclusion Initiative returned for a second year, in the institution’s effort to cultivate a more representative press corps at the festival.

The initiative made available a pool of 51 unrestricted cash stipends to support festival attendance for critics, freelancers and journalists from backgrounds underrepresented in the critical mainstream, with an emphasis on people of color, women, and people with disabilities, according to a press release by Karim Ahmad, director of Outreach & Inclusion, and Spencer Alcorn, director of media relations.

Applicants filling those 51 slots are 61% women, 84% people of color (including 51% women of color), 49% LGBTQ+ people, and 25% people with a disability, according to the press release.

Festival tickets are on sale at http://sundance.org.

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