JewliciousReels: Yiddish at Sundance – and Other Highlights 2017

On Thursday, January 19, 2017, the Sundance Institute will convene the 2017 Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, with additional screenings in Salt Lake City and Sundance. The festival will run for ten days.

The Festival continues to celebrate creativity and independence. For the 2017 Festival, 113 feature-length films were selected, representing 32 countries and 37 first-time filmmakers, including 20 in competition. These films were selected from 13,782 submissions (… which is a 00.8% acceptance rate…) including 4,068 feature-length films and 8,985 short films. Of the feature film submissions, 2,005 were from the U.S. and 2,063 were international. Ninety-eight feature films at the Festival will be world premieres.

In 2016, the Festival drew 46,600 attendees. Robert Redford, President and Founder of Sundance Institute, said, “This year’s Festival… shows how art can engage, provoke and connect people all over the world.” John Cooper, Director of the Sundance Film Festival, said, “The films in this year’s Festival show the human sides of issues, people and places we don’t often see. Independent filmmakers, with their fearless, bold perspectives, are challenging us to witness our world’s whole story. These artists, armed with their films, will lead us into the future.”

Among the films to be shown and potentially acquired for international distribution are:

Menashe
U.S.A.
Directed by Joshua Z Weinstein
Written by Joshua Z Weinstein, Alex Lipschultz, Musa Syeed
In Yiddish with English subtitles
Within Brooklyn’s ultra-orthodox Jewish community, a widower battles for custody of his son. A tender drama performed entirely in Yiddish, the film intimately explores the nature of faith and the price of parenthood. Cast: Menashe Lustig.
World Premiere

Band Aid
U.S.A.
Directed and written by brooklyn-bred Zoe Lister-Jones
A couple who can’t stop fighting embark on a last-ditch effort to save their marriage: turning their fights into songs and starting a band. Cast: Zoe Lister-Jones, Adam Pally, Fred Armisen, Susie Essman, Hannah Simone, Ravi Patel. World Premiere
(American Dramatic Competition)

Zero Days VR
U.S.A.
Artists: Scatter, Yasmin Elayat, Elie Zananiri
Key Collaborators: Yasmin Elayat, Alexander Porter
A clandestine mission hatched by the U.S. and Israel to sabotage an underground Iranian nuclear facility is told from the perspective of Stuxnet, the world’s first cyberweapon, and a key NSA informant. Audiences experience the high stakes of cyber warfare inside the invisible world of computer viruses.
Cast: Joanne Tucker, Eric Chien, Liam O’Murchu, Ralph Langner, Olli Heinonen, David Sanger.

Call Me by Your Name
Italy, France
Directed by Luca Guadagnino
Written by James Ivory and Luca Guadagnino
Based on the novel of the same name by André Aciman
The sensitive and cultivated Elio Perlman is the only offspring of the American-Italian-French Perlman family. He is facing another lazy summer at his parents’ villa in the beautiful and languid Italian countryside when Oliver, an academic who has come to help with Elio’s father’s research, arrives. Cast: Armie Hammer, Timothée Chalamet, Michael Stuhlbarg, Amira Casar, Esther Garrel, Victoire Du Bois. World Premiere

Beach Rats
U.S.A.
Directed and writen by a daughter of Flatbush, Brooklyn, Eliza Hittman)
An aimless teenager on the outer edges of Brooklyn struggles to escape his bleak home life and navigate questions of self-identity, as he balances his time between his delinquent friends, a potential new girlfriend, and older men he meets online. Cast: Harris Dickinson, Madeline Weinstein, Kate Hodge, Neal Huff. World Premiere
(American Dramatic Competition)

Golden Exits
U.S.A.
Directed and writen by Bryn Mawr native, Alex Ross Perry
The arrival of a young foreign girl disrupts the lives and emotional balances of two Brooklyn families. Cast: Emily Browning, Adam Horovitz, Mary-Louise Parker, Lily Rabe, Jason Schwartzman, Chloë Sevigny. World Premiere

STEP
U.S.A.
Documentary Competition
Directed and produced by Amanda Lipitz, once named a Top Woman by Jewish Woman magazine. A Tony winning producer.
It is the senior year of a girls’ high school step team in inner-city Baltimore. The doc follows them as they try to become the first in their families to attend college. The girls strive to make their dancing a success against the backdrop of social unrest in their troubled city. (Will it be a Broadway musical one day??) World Premiere

Last Men in Aleppo
Denmark, Syria
Directed by Feras Fayyad, Steen Johannessen
A documentary about three men in Aleppo. After five years of war in Syria, Aleppo’s remaining residents prepare themselves for a siege. Khalid, Subhi and Mahmoud, founding members of The White Helmets, have remained in the city to help their fellow citizens—and experience daily life, death, struggle and triumph in a city under fire. World Premiere

(a tangential doc)

Plastic China
China
Directed by Jiu-liang Wang
In this documentary, we meet Yi-Jie, an 11-year-old girl, who works alongside her parents in a recycling facility while dreaming of attending school. Kun, the facility’s ambitious foreman, dreams of a better life. Through the eyes and hands of those who handle its refuse, comes an examination of global consumption and culture. International Premiere. Part of Sundance’s commitment to film on Climate

The Workers Cup
United Kingdom
A documentary directed by Adam Sobel
This doc looks inside Qatar’s labor camps, where African and Asian migrant workers are building the facilities of the 2022 World Cup. They have a competition in a football tournament of their own. World Premiere.

Gook
U.S.A.
Directed and written by actor and entrepreneur Justin Chon
Eli and Daniel are two Korean American brothers who own a struggling women’s shoe store in Los Angeles. They have an unlikely friendship with 11-year-old Kamilla. On the first day of the 1992 L.A. riots, the trio must defend their store — and contemplate the meaning of family, their personal dreams and the future. Inspired by the story of Chon;s father who owned a store in LA during the riots. Cast: Justin Chon, Simone Baker, David So, Curtiss Cook Jr., Sang Chon, Ben Munoz. World Premiere

Lemon
U.S.A.
Directed by Janicza Bravo; Written by Janicza Bravo, Brett Gelman
A person or thing that proves defective, imperfect, or unsatisfactory is known as a “lemon.” A man whose blind girlfriend is leaving him, whose career is going nowhere and whose family is disappointed in him — Isaac Lachmann is 40. He doesn’t know how he got there. Things were supposed to work out differently.
Cast: Brett Gelman, Judy Greer, Michael Cera, Nia Long, Shiri Appleby, Fred Melamed. World Premiere

Person to Person
U.S.A.
Directed and written by Dustin Guy Defa
A record collector hustles for a big score while his heartbroken roommate tries to erase a terrible mistake, a teenager bears witness to her best friend’s new relationship and a rookie reporter, alongside her demanding supervisor, chases the clues of a murder case involving a life-weary clock shop owner.
Cast: Abbi Jacobson, Michael Cera, Tavi Gevinson, Philip Baker Hall, Bene Coopersmith, George Sample III. World Premiere

The Last Word
U.S.A.
Directed by Mark Pellington
Written by Stuart Ross Fink
Harriett is a retired businesswoman who tries to control everything around her, from her gardner to her OB/GYN. When she decides to write her own obituary, a young newspaper journalist takes up the task of finding out the truth, resulting in a life-altering friendship.
Cast: Shirley MacLaine, Amanda Seyfried, Anne Heche, Thomas Sadoski, Philip Baker Hall. World Premiere

The Polka King
U.S.A.
Directed by Maya Forbes
Written by Maya Forbes, Wally Wolodarsky
This narrative is based on the remarkable, true story of the world’s only known Polka Ponzi scheme that occurred in Hazleton in Northeastern Pennsylvania. This mix of comedy and tragedy is about Jan Lewan, a polish immigrant who believed in the American Dream. But with big dreams came big mistakes for the man who became the “King of Pennsylvania Polka.”
Cast: Jack Black, Jenny Slate, Jason Schwartzman, Jacki Weaver, J.B. Smoove. World Premiere

Rebel in the Rye
U.S.A.
Directed and written by Danny Strong
A portrait of the life and mind of reclusive author J.D. Salinger (Jerome David Salinger) goes from the bloody front lines of World War II to his early rejections and the PTSD-fueled writer’s block that led to his iconic novel, The Catcher in the Rye. Cast: Nicholas Hoult, Kevin Spacey, Sarah Paulson, Zoey Deutch, Hope Davis, Victor Garber. World Premiere

Rememory
U.S.A. and Canada
Directed by Canadian filmmaker, Mark Palansky
Written by Michael Vukadinovich, Mark Palansky
A famed inventor found dead.
A machine that can record people’s memories.
A man haunted by the past.
This noir mystery explores the ways in which memory defines the present.
Cast: Peter Dinklage, Julia Ormond, Martin Donovan, the late Anton Yelchin (Star Trek) in his last film, Henry Ian Cusick, Evelyne Brochu. World Premiere

Cries from Syria
U.S.A., Syria, Czech Republic
Directed by Evgeny Afineevsky
This documentary attempts to recontextualize the European migrant crisis and ongoing hostilities in Syria, through eyewitness and participant testimony. Children and parents recount the revolution, civil war, air strikes, atrocities and ongoing humanitarian aid crises, in a portrait of recent history and the consequences of violence. World Premiere

Oklahoma City
U.S.A.
Directed by Barak Goodman
The bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City in April 1995 is the worst act of domestic terrorism in American history; this documentary explores how a series of deadly encounters between American citizens and federal law enforcement—including the standoffs at Ruby Ridge and Waco—led to it. World Premiere

Joshua: Teenager vs. Superpower
U.S.A.
Documentary – Directed by Joe Piscatella
When the Chinese Communist Party backtracks on its promise of autonomy to Hong Kong, teenager Joshua Wong decides to save his city. Rallying thousands of kids to skip school and occupy the streets, Joshua becomes an unlikely leader in Hong Kong and one of China’s most notorious dissidents. World Premiere

Motherland
U.S.A., Philippines
Documentary – Directed by Ramona Diaz
The planet’s busiest maternity hospital is located in one of its poorest and most populous countries: the Philippines. There, poor women face devastating consequences as their country struggles with reproductive health policy and the politics of conservative Catholic ideologies. World Premiere

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