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Sundance 2015: The most anticipated films at the festival

The Egyptian Theatre in Park City, Utah is one of the main venues for the Sundance Film Festival.
The Egyptian Theatre in Park City, Utah is one of the main venues for the Sundance Film Festival.
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Sundance has become the festival for breakout indie films to premiere. Last year it was “Boyhood” — which is now a front-runner for Best Picture at the Academy Awards — and a couple years before that was "Beasts of the Southern Wild," which got four Oscar nominations, including Best Director and Best Picture.

Before heading for Park City, The Frame's host, John Horn, spoke with Kyle Buchanan of our partner about the most anticipated films at this year's festival: 


Sundance has been, in some years, a great market for films. Are there any titles that you think are going to get a lot of interest this year?

Well, it's already kicked off. I was just reading that "Don Verdean" — which is the new movie by Jared Hess, who did "Napoleon Dynamite" — has already sold to Lions Gate. That's one of those good, quirky comedies with breakout potential, which always do very well at Sundance.

There are a lot of very serious movies at Sundance, and so when you have a comedy like "Little Miss Sunshine," it really takes off like a rocket, and I think that we'll see a couple other comedies that could break out there.

Last year, a number of documentaries showed at Sundance and got a lot of attention. This year's Oscar's short list includes "Last Days in Vietnam," which premiered at Sundance. How important are documentaries to the Sundance lineup?

Very. Obviously, people like to focus on the big stars slumming in the independent film world, but I think if you took out all the narrative films, and you just left the docs, you'd have one of the world's best documentary festivals.

There are a couple here this year that I think everybody's excited to see. One of them, which should be one of the most controversial movies of the festival, is called "Going Clear." It's based on Lawrence Wright's book on Scientology, and it promises to be a barnstormer. It's directed by Alex Gibney. 

The Church of Scientology has taken out full-page ads in newspapers, condemning the movie sight-unseen. We should say that Alex Gibney is a very good filmmaker who's made movies about Julian Assange and Lance Armstrong; he's won an Oscar, and it's a serious movie with serious subject matter. It's got great promise, doesn't it?

We'll see. It's definitely going to be talked about.

There are also a couple other films that I am looking forward to. There's "Tig," a documentary about Tig Notaro, a standup comedian who's been battling cancer and whose profile has deservedly risen over the past few years.

And then I'm also super curious about this movie called "The Nightmare." It's directed by Rodney Ascher, who did "Room 237" about "The Shining," and this one is about the little-known but often-experienced condition called sleep paralysis, which is when you wake up and your consciousness hasn't quite woken up with you. So you're trapped in your body. It's a really unnerving feeling.

What movie are you most excited to see? Is there something that's at the top of your list?

There are a couple that are really intriguing me. I'm very interested in this film called "Last Days in the Desert," which stars Ewan McGregor as both Jesus and the Devil. And it's shot by Emmanuel Lubezki, who won the Oscar for shooting "Gravity" and who did all those marvelous single takes in "Birdman." So with those two alone you've got me.

I'm also very curious about "Mistress America," the new movie by Noah Baumbach that he co-wrote with Greta Gerwig, who also stars in the movie. They last teamed on "Frances Ha," which was another big hit that debuted at Sundance.

And, you know, I'm a big fan of a good psychological drama, so there are a couple here that I'm interested in, two of which seem sort of twinned.

OK, tell us about those.

"Stanford Prison Experiment" is based on this study that was conducted at Stanford that essentially separated some students into jailers and some into captives. It was supposed to be a very innocent study, but suffice it to say that, since it's being made into a movie, you can intuit that things didn't go so well.

And then we've got "The Experimenter," which is based on the famous experiments [on obedience] conducted by Stanley Milgram. He's played by Peter Sarsgaard, and so I'm very interested. There are a lot of button-pushing movies at Sundance, and those look to be two of the ones that are jamming down on that button the hardest.

Check the KPCC's website in the coming days for on-the-ground coverage from Sundance. Are you attending the festival? Tell us which films you loved in the comments, on our Facebook page or on Twitter (@KPCC, @TheFrame).

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