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Highlights of the 2023 Sundance Film Festival

Feb 17, 2023 2:45:43 PM Written by Diogo Brüggemann 6 min read

Independent cinema never ceases to amaze me. The slate of indie films from this year’s Sundance Film Festival is proof that moviemaking is alive and well around the globe. One of the most important events in the independent film industry, the festival has been dedicated to showcasing outstanding independent films, and the 2023 edition was no exception. Creative productions abounded in every category, focusing on films with unique, unconventional, and innovative themes and storytelling techniques. Once again, Sundance has introduced new voices and perspectives into mainstream cinema, pushing boundaries and challenging traditional storytelling methods. I had the opportunity to watch some of the films premiering there and brought here a few highlights - let’s check them out!


Talk to Me

(Australia, 2022 - 1h 24min)

This Australian horror film directed by twin brothers and youtubers Danny and Michael Philippou was certainly one of the festival’s favorites. Exhibited during Sundance’s popular Midnight section, which always displays an exquisite catalog of scary films, Talk to Me showed that these debuting filmmakers have tons of potential working in the genre. It mixes horrifying moments with good teenage family drama, all with great editing, visual effects, makeup, and acting. The premise itself is dreadful, as it follows a group of teenagers who become addicted to talking to spirits through an embalmed hand that connects the world of the living with that of the dead. The film was acquired by A24.


(Spain, 2023 - 1h 23min)

Selected for the World Cinema Dramatic Competition, Mamacruz is a Spanish drama full of humor and heart directed and co-written by Venezuelan-born filmmaker Patricia Ortega. The film tells the story of a grandma who has spent her last years without any real sexual interaction with her husband. As a very religious woman, she has lived her life without paying much attention to her own desires, until she starts navigating the internet and discovers a new world of possibilities. A creative and relevant meditation on womanhood and friendship, Mamacruz also features an amazing performance from its lead actor, talented directing, and a superb score.


(Morocco, 2022 - 1h 34min)

Animalia (Morroco, 2023) - Feature Film

A sci-fi thriller full of drama, this incredible film from Morocco, directed by Sofia Alaoui, offers a very unique perspective on the traditional world invasion narrative. It tells the story of Itto, a young woman from a modest rural background who needs to adapt to the Moroccan upper class manners of her new husband’s family. As the country is put in an emergency state due to some supernatural occurrences, Itto will have to fight for her emancipation in the most extreme scenarios. With an otherworldly mood and talented acting, Animalia feels very sober, even though the plot is quite unreal. Beautiful cinematography and clever editing choices helped create a chilling atmosphere for this alien invasion story that is more about humans than anything else.

Theater Camp

(USA, 2022 - 1h 34min)

Molly Gordon and Nick Lieberman debut as directors of a feature film with this hilarious story about a camp in upstate New York where children go to learn and act in musical theater. I must say I was skeptical at first, but as soon as the film starts, there isn't a single unfunny moment! I had a blast with amazing casting and a great script (although I'm pretty sure a large part of its success is due to improvisation). The entire cast is on point, the storylines are well put together and everything works at the end, even during the final credits! Theater Camp won the U.S. Dramatic Special Jury Award: Ensemble Cast and was acquired by Searchlight Pictures.


(United Kingdom, 2023 - 1h 24min)

A British comedy-drama, written and directed by Charlotte Regan in her solo directorial debut, Scrapper is the heartwarming story of Georgie, a dreamy 12-year-old girl who lives happily alone in her London flat, following the death of her mother. When her estranged father turns up out of nowhere, Georgie has to adapt into a family dynamic that will give her a new perspective on life. The film is full of good intentions and the ending is really charming, even if it feels that it tries too hard sometimes. Still cute and with great acting all across the board, Scrapper won the World Cinema Dramatic Competition.

Rotting in the Sun

(USA, 2023 - 1h 49min)

Multi-talented Chilean filmmaker Sebastián Silva strikes again with another eccentric tale of queer life in the modern world. Rotting in the Sun follows the story of troubled filmmaker Sebastián (played by Silva himself), as he navigates life in Mexico City and meets a social media celebrity that shakes his world view. As usual for those familiar with Silva’s independent work, the film deals with unconventional subject matter and features naturalistic performances, an exploration of gender and sexuality, humor and satire, and experimentation with form and structure - everything you expect from a Sundance premiere!


(Mexico | Sweden, 2023 - 1h33min)

One of the most acclaimed films of this year’s festival, Heroic is a Mexican drama directed by David Zonana. Selected for the World Cinema Dramatic Competition, the film dives deep into the repressive and agonizing methods of the Mexican military as we follow the story of a young man struggling to make ends meet. As the army represents social and economic stability in a society where young men have few opportunities, the film crudely displays the physical and psychological damage it can cause to those inside this system. Even with beautiful cinematography, Heroic can be hard to watch.


(France, 2023 - 1h 22min)

Directed and co-written by Ira Sachs, Passages is a French film that depicts a long-time male couple who are shaken when one of them has an affair with a woman. The film, selected in the Premieres category of this year’s Sundance, focuses on character development, as is common with other films by Sachs, and it explores the inner life of its protagonist, who is deeply complex and flawed. Shortly after its premiere, Mubi acquired distribution rights to the film in the United States, United Kingdom, Ireland, and Latin America.

Infinity Pool

(Canada | Croatia | Hungary, 2023 - 1h 57min)

Maybe the least independent film of this list, Infinity Pool is the newest film by Canadian filmmaker Brandon Cronenberg, and was one of the most anticipated films of this year’s Sundance catalog. A science fiction horror movie starring the talented Alexander Skarsgård and Mia Goth, Infinity Pool follows a group of tourists staying at an isolated island resort in a foreign country. As they explore the unique culture of the place, the group are confronted with the mysterious and violent ways the country uses to deal with visitors who do not follow the local rules. With a chilling atmosphere and gorgeous aesthetic, the true highlight of the film is the always outstanding Mia Goth, who steals each and every scene she is in.


Diogo Brüggemann

Diogo Brüggemann is a Brazilian film enthusiast with a Master's Degree in Cinema and Literature. He has written about films and their relationship with gender and sexuality, as well as the connections between cinema and foreign affairs. He maintains a website in Portuguese focused on film critique.

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