Sundance 2017 Films Featuring and Directed By Black Talent

Comments Off on Sundance 2017 Films Featuring and Directed By Black Talent

Sundance 2017 Films Featuring and Directed By Black Talent
Posted by Wilson Morales

January 18, 2017

Once again, as the new year starts, so do the hopes for several filmmakers and talent who want to have their films picked up for distribution at the upcoming Sundance Film Festival.

The Festival hosts screenings in Park City, Salt Lake City and at Sundance Mountain Resort January 19-29

Last year had with a number of Black films getting theatrical distribution and new talent being discovered. Nate Parker led the charge with his debut film, The Birth of a Nation, which won both the Dramatic and Audience Award for Best Film. It also set a record for being the highest purchase ever at the festival with $17.5M from Fox Searchlight. It was set to be among this year’s Oscar nominees, but controversy surrounding Parker’s past may have derailed its track. Besides Parker, Ezra Edelman’s documentary OJ: Made in America seems to be a game-changer with its 7 hour length. Not only has the film won numerous awards, but it’s among the films close to getting an Oscar nomination next week, along with Roger Ross Williams’s Life Animated, which took home the Best Documentary prize last year at the festival.

Among the new talent that stood out from the festival last year was Royalty Hightower, who made her film debut in The Fits and was nominated for a Gotham Award for her performance. Although he had a dramatic role in Get On Up, Craig Robinson reinvented himself with a stellar performance in Morris From America, and so his co-star from the James Brown film, Tika Sumpter, who dazzled as Michelle Robinson in Southside With You. Both films went on to hit theaters last year.

2017 will feature the return of director Dee Rees with Mudbound. It’s her first feature back at the festival since she was here with 2011’s Pariah.  Director Andrew Dosunmu, who’s been to the festival in the past with Restless City and Mother George, comes back with a new feature (Where Is Kyra?) that is shot by his trusted cinematographer Bradford Young.

The name Gerard McMurray may not be familiar, but he was a co-producer of Ryan Coogler’s Fruitvale Station, which won both the Dramatic and Audience Award back in 2013. Gerard is making his directorial debut with Burning Sands, which already has a deal with Netflix and will play in March. Since appearing in Short Term 12Keith Stanfield has had a number of supporting roles and co-stars in the recent Golden Globes winner Atlanta series, but with his leading role in Crown Heights, he may break out in a bigger way if the film is met with good reviews. Ironically, Stanfield’s co-star in Straight Outta Compton, O’Shea Jackson Jr., is out prove that he can do more in the acting field with Ingrid Goes West than playing his father Ice Cube.

Nia Long will have two films at the festival, playng he mother of rapper Roxanne Shante in Roxanne Roxanne and the Lemon, which is directed by Janicza Bravo and edited by Joi McMillon, who is expected to get an Oscar nomination for her work on Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight.

Congrats to those films that will be playing this year and hopefully, the rest of the world, will get a chance to see them, should it be picked up for theatrical release.

Here’s are some of the films that will be playing at the festival this year that are either directed or features Black talent.


The Incredible Jessica James / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Jim Strouse) — Jessica James, an aspiring NYC playwright, is struggling to get over a recent breakup. She sees a light at the end of the tunnel when she meets the recently divorced Boone. Together, they discover how to make it through the tough times while realizing they like each other—a lot. Cast: Jessica Williams, Chris O’Dowd, Keith Stanfield, Noël Wells. World Premiere. CLOSING NIGHT FILM

Mudbound / U.S.A. (Director: Dee Rees, Screenwriters: Virgil Williams, Dee Rees) — Based on Hillary Jordan’s 2008 novel of the same name, in which Virgil Williams wrote the screenplay with Dees, the film centers around a city worker in a WWII-torn country who relocates his family to a failing Mississippi farm and is forced to overcome insurmountable hardships, including his brother’s return from war. This epic pioneer story is about friendship, heritage and the unending struggle for and against the land. Cast: Carey Mulligan, Jason Clarke, Jason Mitchell, Mary J. Blige, Garrett Hedlund, Jonathan Banks. World Premiere

Where is Kyra? / U.S.A. (Director: Andrew Dosunmu, Screenwriters: Andrew Dosunmu, Darci Picoult, Cinematographer: Bradford Young) — Mild-mannered, sheltered Kyra, played with intensity by Michelle Pfeiffer, begins to spiral after the death of her mother. Long out of work, the deep-in-debt Kyra struggles to support herself. As she becomes increasingly desperate and isolated, longing for her mother, she launches a cryptic, last-ditch scheme to keep from being evicted. She also finds solace in another lonely soul, Doug (Kiefer Sutherland), from whom she initially tries to hide her plight, but Kyra slowly ropes him into her deception.d. World Premiere


Tell Them We Are Rising: The Story of Black Colleges and Universities / U.S.A. (Director: Stanley Nelson) — A haven for Black intellectuals, artists and revolutionaries—and path of promise toward the American dream—Black colleges and universities have educated the architects of freedom movements and cultivated leaders in every field. They have been unapologetically Black for 150 years. For the first time ever, their story is told. World Premiere


Burning Sands / U.S.A. (Director: Gerard McMurray, Screenwriters: Christine Berg, Gerard McMurray) — Deep into a fraternity’s Hell Week, a favored pledge is torn between honoring a code of silence or standing up against the intensifying violence of underground hazing. In his freshman year of college, it seems Zurich (Trevor Jackson) has everything going for him; he has the respect of his teachers and university administration, the love and devotion of a wonderful girlfriend, and he’s been selected for admission to a prestigious Black fraternity on campus. But as Zurich embarks on the Hell Week of pledging his fraternity, the harsh trials of entry into brotherhood begin to test the limits of his self-worth. As the intensifying abuse begins to become untenable, Zurich struggles to honor the fraternity’s code of silence, and the scaffolding of his life outside the frat begins to dismantle. Cast: Trevor Jackson, Alfre Woodard, Steve Harris, Tosin Cole, DeRon Horton, Trevante Rhodes. World Premiere

Crown Heights / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Matt Ruskin) — When Colin Warner is wrongfully convicted of murder, his best friend, Carl King, devotes his life to proving Colin’s innocence. Adapted from This American Life, this is the incredible true story of their harrowing quest for justice. Cast: Keith Stanfield, Nnamdi Asomugha, Natalie Paul, Bill Camp, Nestor Carbonell, Amari Cheatom. World Premiere

Ingrid Goes West / U.S.A. (Director: Matt Spicer, Screenwriters: Matt Spicer, David Branson Smith) — A young woman becomes obsessed with an Instagram lifestyle blogger and moves to Los Angeles to try and befriend her in real life. Cast: Aubrey Plaza, Elizabeth Olsen, O’Shea Jackson Jr., Wyatt Russell, Billy Magnussen. World Premiere

Roxanne Roxanne / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Michael Larnell) — The most feared battle emcee in early-’80s NYC was a fierce teenager from the Queensbridge projects with the weight of the world on her shoulders. At age 14, hustling the streets to provide for her family, Roxanne Shanté was well on her way to becoming a hip-hop legend. Cast: Chanté Adams, Mahershala Ali, Nia Long, Elvis Nolasco, Kevin Phillips, Shenell Edmonds. World Premiere


STEP / U.S.A. (Director: Amanda Lipitz) — The senior year of a girls’ high school step team in inner-city Baltimore is documented, 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. World Premiere

Strong Island / U.S.A., Denmark (Director: Yance Ford) — Examining the violent death of the filmmaker’s brother and the judicial system that allowed his killer to go free, this documentary interrogates murderous fear and racialized perception, and re-imagines the wreckage in catastrophe’s wake, challenging us to change. World Premiere

Whose Streets? / U.S.A. (Director: Sabaah Folayan, Co-Director: Damon Davis) — A nonfiction account of the Ferguson uprising told by the people who lived it, this is an unflinching look at how the killing of 18-year-old Michael Brown inspired a community to fight back—and sparked a global movement. World Premiere. DAY ONE


Carpinteros (Woodpeckers) / Dominican Republic (Director and screenwriter: José María Cabral) — Julián finds love and a reason for living in the last place imaginable: the Dominican Republic’s Najayo Prison. His romance with fellow prisoner Yanelly must develop through sign language and without the knowledge of dozens of guards. Cast: Jean Jean, Judith Rodriguez Perez, Ramón Emilio Candelario. World Premiere

The Wound / South Africa (Director: John Trengove, Screenwriters: John Trengove, Thando Mgqolozana, Malusi Bengu) — Xolani, a lonely factory worker, travels to the rural mountains with the men of his community to initiate a group of teenage boys into manhood. When a defiant initiate from the city discovers his best-kept secret, a forbidden love, Xolani’s entire existence begins to unravel. Cast: Nakhane Touré, Bongile Mantsai, Niza Jay Ncoyini. World Premiere


WINNIE / France (Director: Pascale Lamche) — While her husband served a life sentence, paradoxically kept safe and morally uncontaminated, Winnie Mandela rode the raw violence of apartheid, fighting on the front line and underground. This is the untold story of the mysterious forces that combined to take her down, labeling him a saint, her, a sinner. World Premiere

The Workers Cup / United Kingdom (Director: Adam Sobel) — Inside Qatar’s labor camps, African and Asian migrant workers building the facilities of the 2022 World Cup compete in a football tournament of their own. World Premiere. DAY ONE


Dayveon / U.S.A. (Director: Amman Abbasi, Screenwriters: Amman Abbasi, Steven Reneau) — In the wake of his older brother’s death, 13-year-old Dayveon spends the sweltering summer days roaming his rural Arkansas town. When he falls in with a local gang, he becomes drawn to the camaraderie and violence of their world. Cast: Devin Blackmon, Kordell “KD” Johnson, Dontrell Bright, Chasity Moore, Lachion Buckingham, Marquell Manning. World Premiere. DAY ONE

Deidra & Laney Rob a Train / U.S.A. (Director: Sydney Freeland, Screenwriter: Shelby Farrell) — Two teenage sisters start robbing trains to make ends meet after their single mother’s emotional meltdown in an electronics store lands her in jail. Cast: Ashleigh Murray, Rachel Crow, Tim Blake Nelson, David Sullivan, Danielle Nicolet, Sasheer Zamata. World Premiere

Gook / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Justin Chon) — Eli and Daniel, two Korean American brothers who own a struggling women’s shoe store, 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. Cast: Justin Chon, Simone Baker, David So, Curtiss Cook Jr., Sang Chon, Ben Munoz. World Premiere

Lemon / U.S.A. (Director: Janicza Bravo, Screenwriters: Janicza Bravo, Brett Gelman) — A man watches his life unravel after he is left by his blind girlfriend. Cast: Brett Gelman, Judy Greer, Michael Cera, Nia Long, Shiri Appleby, Fred Melamed. World Premiere

Person to Person / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: 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


From horror and comedy to works that defy genre classification, these films will keep you wide awake, even at the most arduous hour.

Kuso / U.S.A. (Director: Steven Ellison, Screenwriters: Steven Ellison, David Firth, Zach Fox) —

KUSO director “steve” (the filmmaking moniker of Steven Ellison, better known as famed musician/DJ/rapper/producer “Flying Lotus”) will have quite a unique Sundance. Not only will his debut feature film be premiering, he’ll also be performing at Sundance a few times including the KUSO World Premiere Party/Concert, which also includes performances by Thundercat and special guests.  The film itself has garnered a lot of buzz following the memorable debut of his insane short ROYAL at Sundance’s NEXT Fest this year.  KUSO has been described as an extension of this film, with a mix of live action, puppetry and animation, and has a cast that includes Hannibal Buress, George Clinton, Anders Holm (Workaholics), Tim Heidecker (of [adult swim] “Tim & Eric fame), and Zach Fox better known as internet personality Bootymath.  It also includes new original music from acts like Aphex Twin and Thundercat.

Broadcasting through a makeshift network of discarded televisions, this story is tangled up in the aftermath of Los Angeles’s worst earthquake nightmare. Travel between screens and aftershocks into the twisted lives of the survived. World Premiere



One-of-a-kind moments highlighting new independent works that add to the unique Festival experience. An evolving section, this year includes episodic work, short films and live post-screening discussions.

Shots Fired / U.S.A. (Executive Producers: Gina Prince-Bythewood, Reggie Rock Bythewood, Brian Grazer, Francie Calfo) — After racially-charged shootings in a North Carolina town, an investigator digs into the cases alongside a special prosecutor. Together they seek justice while navigating the ensuing media attention and public unrest threatening the divided town. The Festival will premiere two episodes of this 10-hour series, followed by an extended Q&A. Cast: Sanaa Lathan, Stephan James, Helen Hunt, Richard Dreyfuss, Stephen Moyer, Mack Wilds. World Premiere

TIME: The Kalief Browder Story / U.S.A. (Director: Jenner Furst, Executive Producers: Jenner Furst, Shawn “Jay Z” Carter, Harvey Weinstein, David C. Glasser, Nick Sandow, Julia Willoughby Nason, Michael Gasparro) — After his arrest at age 16, Kalief Browder fought the system and prevailed, despite unthinkable circumstances. He became an American hero. The Festival will debut the first two episodes of this in-depth, humanizing look at a broken justice system, followed by an extended Q&A. World Premiere

Underground Season 2/ U.S.A. (Executive Producers: Misha Green and Joe Pokaski)

In anticipation of its upcoming second season, WGN America’s series “Underground” will return to the Sundance Film Festival this month for the second consecutive year.

The slave drama will have a “clips and conversation” panel on January 21 at 6 p.m. at the Park City headquarters of the Blackhouse Foundation. The event will run two hours and feature Green and Pokaski as well as “Underground” stars Jurnee Smollett-Bell and Aldis Hodge, director Anthony Hemingway and executive producer John Legend, who will guest star as abolitionist Frederick Douglass in the upcoming season.

Production has just wrapped in Savannah, Ga. on the ten-episode second season, to premiere on March 8.

Docuseries Showcase

The Festival is proud to debut an episode from an exciting new Netflix docuseries, featuring an extended Q&A with director Rashida Jones.

Hot Girls Wanted: Turned On / U.S.A. (Director: Rashida Jones, “Women on Top,” Executive Producers: Rashida Jones, Ronna Gradus, Jill Bauer, Peter LoGreco) — Porn has gone mainstream; the question is, can we handle it? This exploration of the intersection of sex and technology is told through the stories of the people whose lives are defined by the current explosion of internet porn—whether they’re creating it, consuming it, or both. The Festival will debut one episode of the series, followed by an extended Q&A with Director and Executive Producer Rashida Jones. World Premiere

Comments are closed.