Dec 6, 2023 - News

Newcomers get the spotlight at Sundance

Sundance Film Festival

General view of the Egyptian Theatre sign during the Sundance Film Festival on Jan. 23 in Park City, Utah. Photo: Mat Hayward/Getty Images

The Sundance Film Festival is highlighting a growing number of first-time feature filmmakers for its 40th anniversary in January 2024.

By the numbers: Of the 101 directors behind the 91 feature films the festival announced on Wednesday, about 40% are making their long-form debuts.

  • That's up from 28% last year.

Why it matters: The newcomers could become the next big names in cinema.

  • Prominent directors like Ryan Coogler and Chloé Zhao had meteoric rises after premiering their first feature films, "Fruitvale Station" and "Songs My Brothers Taught Me," at Sundance.

What they're saying: "Our reputation is built on discovery," said Kim Yutani, head of the festival's programming team. "We go to great lengths to find those … first-time filmmakers."

  • Programmers often start tracking new directors who submit promising short films or participate in the Sundance Institute's labs for rising talent, festival director Eugene Hernandez told Axios.

What we're watching: Painter and MacArthur Fellow Titus Kaphar is switching his medium to enter his debut, "Exhibiting Forgiveness," in the festival's high-profile U.S. dramatic competition.

  • Carla Gutiérrez, who edited the celebrated documentary "RBG," is occupying the director's chair for "FRIDA," entered in the festival's U.S. documentary field.
  • India Donaldson's first dramatic feature, "Good One" is already winning acclaim.
  • Sean Wang is moving up the ranks from the institute's "Ignite" mentorship program for emerging artists, with his dramatic feature "Didi" selected for the festival.

What's next: The festival runs Jan. 18-28.

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