City So Real

Source: Sundance Film Institute

City So Real

Sundance Film Festival top brass announced on Tuesday (10) content in the Indie Episodic, Shorts and Special Events sections featuring new work by Marina Zenovich, Steve James, and Matthew Heineman.

James (City So Real) and Sarah Polley (Hey Lady!) are among the Indie Episodics line-up, while Special Events selections include Zenovich’s (Roman Polanski: Wanted And Desired) Lance Armstrong profile Lance, Matthew Heineman’s sex trafficking exposé Trade, and Love Fraud, the latest film from Jesus Camp and The Boys Of Baraka filmmaking team Rachel Grady and Heidi Ewing.

All selections appear below. All are world premieres unless listed otherwise. All synopses were provided by the festival and may have been modified slightly. New Frontier selections will be announced on Thursday (12). Sundance Film Festival runs from January 23-February 2, 2020.


Past projects that have premiered within this category include Work In Progress, State of the Union, Wu Tang Clan: Of Mics and Men, and Quarter Life Poetry.

Awkward Family Photos (USA)
Dir: William Kirkley
A hilarious, odd, and heartfelt exploration of the imperfect family experience. The families behind some of the most viral photos from the archives of tell their unique stories and reunite to recreate their original photos, forcing them to reconcile their past and celebrate their awkwardness.

Chemo Brain (Denmark)
Dir: Kristian Håskjold
When Oliver is diagnosed with testicular cancer, his life is turned upside down. This lighthearted drama-series depicts the derailment of a young man that is doing everything he can to not lose his friends, his girlfriend, himself, and ultimately his life.
Cast: Adam Ild Rohweder, Karoline Brygmann, Jens Jørn Spottag, Mads Reuther, Stephanie Nguyen, Mathilde Passer.
International premiere

City So Real (USA, pictured)
Dir: Steve James
An impressionistic mosaic portrait of current-day Chicago which delivers a deep, multifaceted look into the soul of America’s third-largest city, set against the backdrop of its history-making 2019 mayoral campaign.

Embrace (USA)
Dir: Jessica Sanders
Against the backdrop of Oakland California, Iranian-American medical student Kat tries to save her Iranian family by taking on a surprising side hustle. The show is a culturally diverse, quasi-surrealist dramedy that captures the ever-increasing need for human connection and the subsequent commodification of it.
Cast: Kathreen Khavari, Eddie Huang, Mitra Jouhari

Hey Lady! (Canada)
Dirs: Sarah Polley, Adriana Maggs, Will Bowes
A fearlessly off-the-charts rampage of urban vengeance as senior-citizen Lady, along with her friend Rosie, upturns everything in her path–social norms, rules of etiquette, and even the series itself.
Cast: Jayne Eastwood, Jackie Richardson

Laetitia (France)
Dir: Jean-Xavierde Lestrade
Eighteen-year-old Laetitia has disappeared. Police quickly arrest Tony Meilhon but investigators still can’t find the body. This story follows the repercussions for Laetitia’s family and twin sister Jessica; the police force inner workings and social services; the judicial system and government itself. Based on real events.
Cast: Marie Colomb, Sophie Breyer, Yannick Choirat, Sam Karmann, Kevin Azïas, Noam Morgensztern
International premiere

The Ride (USA)
Director: Linas Phillips
Wayne, a 40-year-old ride share driver and spiritual coach, recently moved back in with his mom and discovers the only thing that gives his life meaning is to help his passengers let go of their negative thoughts, whether they want his help or not.
Cast: Linas Phillips, Maria Thayer, Alex Karpovsky, Punkie Johnson, Joslyn Jensen, Timm Sharp

Untitled Pizza Movie (USA)
Dir: David Shapiro
How do you remember somebody in a disposable world? Weaving an abandoned film about pizza (NYC in the early 90s), a stunning, physical archive (thousands of objects) with a remarkable triple portrait, this series traces three lives over thirty years, three continents, and the fault lines of class, dreams, and memory.


One-of-a-kind moments highlighting new independent works that add to the unique festival experience. Past projects that have played in this category include Lorena, Now Apocalypse, Wild Wild Country, and Top of the Lake.

Hillary (USA)
Dir: Nanette Burstein
A portrait of a public woman, interweaving moments from never-before-seen 2016 campaign footage with biographical chapters of Hillary Rodham Clinton’s life. Featuring exclusive interviews with Hillary herself, Bill Clinton, friends, and journalists, an examination of how she became simultaneously one of the most admired and vilified women in the world.

Lance (USA)
Dir: Marina Zenovich
This deeply personal examination of cycling legend Lance Armstrong, one of the world’s most controversial figures, examines a man who’s both winner and loser, saint and sinner. With unprecedented access to Armstrong’s world, this psychological portrait is a powerful study of that 21st century phenomenon: the celebrity who falls spectacularly and publicly from grace.

Leap Of Faith: William Friedkin On The Exorcist (USA-Spain)
Dir: Alexandre O. Philippe
A lyrical and spiritual cinematic essay on The Exorcist, and an exploration of the uncharted depths of William Friedkin’s mind’s eye, the nuances of his filmmaking process, and the mysteries of faith and fate that have shaped his life and filmography.
Cast: William Friedkin
North American premiere

Love Fraud (USA)
Dirs: Rachel Grady, Heidi Ewing
Bigamy. Identity theft. Fraud. For the last 20 years Richard Scott Smith has used the internet and his dubious charms to prey upon unsuspecting women in search of love – conning them out of their money and dignity. But now his victims ban together and seek sweet revenge.

Max Richter’s Sleep (UK)
Dir: Natalie Johns
Following the composer as he navigates an ambitious performance of his acclaimed eight-hour opus. Centring around an open air concert in Los Angeles, alongside footage from Berlin, Sydney and Paris, we are plunged deep into the life and process of both the artist and his creative partner Yulia Mahr.
North American premiere

McMillions (USA)
Dirs: James Lee Hernandez, Brian Lazarte
McMillions is the definitive, real-life account of the McDonald’s Monopoly game scam, which defrauded the American public throughout the 1990s, as told by the “prize winners,” criminals, government officials, and FBI agents, whom eventually took the crime ring down.

Siempre, Luis (USA)
Dir: John James
Follow one single-minded immigrant’s improbable journey from Puerto Rico to the halls of power. Witness Luis Miranda’s unflappable idealism as he battles his health, mobilises the mainland Latinx community, matches wits with his youngest child applying to college and brings Hamilton to his island home, all in twelve months.
Cast: Luis Miranda, Lin-Manuel Miranda

The Trade (USA)
Dir: Matthew Heineman
A deeply personal and intimate portrait of human smuggling, sex trafficking, and the struggle to survive the migrant cycle between Central America and the United States.

We Are Freestyle Love Supreme (USA)
Dir: Andrew Fried
Follow the 15-year journey of the founding members of the improv hip-hop group Freestyle Love Supreme, as they reflect upon why this show remains such an important piece of their personal, creative, and professional history – from the basement of the Drama Bookshop in NYC to the Broadway stage.
Cast: Lin-Manuel Miranda, Thomas Kail, Anthony Veneziale, Christopher Jackson, Utkarsh Ambudkar, Chris Sullivan


Arabian Alien (Saudi Arabia/USA)
Dir: Meshal Aljaser
Saad, a Muslim married man, gets over his depression after a space alien is introduced into his life.

Baldwin Beauty
Dir: Thembi Banks
Farrah, new to LA, goes on the mobile styling app Get Glam, to find new clients. When she arrives at an appointment, she finds a house of girls pre-gaming for a party and maybe a new crew of friends.

Dir: Bridget Moloney
An existential comedy about the mother of two young children who begins to spontaneously vomit plastic toy blocks.

Dirs: Elegance Bratton, Jovan James
Caught in the throes of a depressive fugue, young Lynn resorts to debauchery to find joy – only to discover that happiness is a much more complicated proposition.

Danny’s Girl
Dir: Emily Wilson
Danny meets his online girlfriend for the first time, but accidentally discovers her unspeakable possession, which throws their first night together into a dizzying tailspin.

Dir: Matthew Puccini
Marco cuts class to spend the afternoon with his boyfriend, Graham. Things do not go as planned.

He’s The One
Dir: Jessie Kahnweiler
A girl meets guy and falls head over heels, but a shocking discovery forces her to question everything. A dark comedy about falling in love with the one person you’re supposed to hate.

How Did We Get Here?
Dir: Michelle Miles
A visual exploration of progressive atrophy. A study in how microscopic changes can go unnoticed, but amass over time. Even as these changes become drastic, we sometimes fail to realise anything has happened at all.

Lance (In A Neck Brace)
Dir: Chloé Aktas
After a devastating break-up, Lance listens to instructional cassette tapes on how to heal his broken heart.

Little Chief
Dir: Erica Tremblay
The lives of a Native woman and a troubled young boy intersect over the course of a school day on a reservation in Oklahoma.

Dir: Ashley Williams
A pregnant vegan struggles with her newfound craving for meat.

Meridian (USA/Italy)
Dir: Calum Walter
Footage transmitted by the last unit in a fleet of autonomous machines is sent to deliver an emergency vaccine. The film follows the machine before its disappearance, tracing a path that seems to stray further and further from its objective.

Dir: Haley Elizabeth Anderson
After seeing a boy she likes before church, Amber sneaks out to the Sunday school bathroom during the service and is given her first kiss.

Dir: Jason Gudasz
Wanting a fresh start, Lauren moves into a house with her daughter and new boyfriend–but the spirits of the house have plans to turn them all against each other in very bizarre ways.

-Ship: A Visual Poem (USA)
Dir: Terrance Daye
A black boy learns contradicting lessons of manhood and masculinity on the day of his cousin’s funeral.

Dir: Keisha Rae Witherspoon
A film crew follows three grieving participants of Miami’s annual T Ball, where folks assemble to model R.I.P. T-shirts and innovative costumes designed in honour of their dead.

Three Deaths
Dir: Jay Dockendorf
Three strangers confront death in a modern interpretation of a Tolstoy short story.

Valerio’s Day Out (Colombia/USA)
Dir: Michael Arcos
A young jaguar goes on a killing spree when he escapes from his enclosure at a zoo. After he’s captured, sedated and relocated, he makes a video diary for his significant other, Lula.


Are You Hungry? (Finland)
Dir: Teemu Niukkanen
A single mother struggles to connect with her adopted teenage son, whom she believes is gay.
US premiere

Backpedal (Australia)
Dir: Dani Pearce
A collage of an American poem, exploring the universality of womanhood.

Bad Hair (Estonia)
Dir: Oskar Lehemaa
Insecure and balding Leo has decided to try a mysterious hair growth liquid to fix up his looks. The liquid causes a series of grotesque metamorphoses, as Leo tries to get his bodily changes under control, the evening quickly turn into chaos.

Benevolent Ba (Malaysia/USA)
Dir: Diffan Sina Norman
A devout woman’s lust for virtue thrusts her family into a sacrificial slaughter of biblical proportions.

The Devil’s Harmony (UK)
Dir: Dylan Holmes Williams
A bullied teenage girl leads an a cappella club on a trail of destruction against her high school enemies.

Exam (Iran)
Dir: Sonia K. Hadad
A teenage girl gets involved in the process of delivering a pack of cocaine to its client, and gets stuck in a weird cycle of occurrences.

Former Cult Member Hears Music For The First Time (Norway/USA)
Dir: Kristoffer Borgli
After a woman escapes the captivity of her abusive family, a magazine invites her to a journalistic experiment: to hear music for the first time.

I’ll End Up in Jail /(Canada)
Dir: Alexandre Dostie
A stay-at-home mom gets into a murderous car crash where nobody wants to take the blame.
US premiere

Leave Of Absence (Russia)
Dir: Anton Sazonov
In Russia, supressed masculinity has led to a feeling of unfullfilment as men feel that the country rejects them, leading to a drastic decline in male life expectancy.
North American premiere

No One Is Crazy In This Town (Indonesia)
Dir: Wregas Bhanuteja
The owner of a big hotel orders Marwan and his team to remove mentally ill people from the city streets and cast them away in the forests.
North American premiere

Olla (France/UK)
Dir: Ariane Labed
Olla has answered an ad on a dating website for Eastern European women. She moves in with Pierre, who lives with his old mother, but nothing goes as expected.

Paola Makes A Wish (Switzerland)
Dir: Zhannat Alshanova
On an ordinary day at work, Paola starts to feel that she is missing out something exciting in her life.
US premiere

Pattaki (Cuba)
Dir: Everlane Moraes
In the dense night, when the moon rises, those who live in a monotonous daily life without water are hypnotized by the powers of Yemaya, the goddess of the sea.
US premiere

Regret (Canada)
Dir: Santiago Menghini
Following the death of his father, a man must survive the manifestations of his inner demons over the course of a dreary night.

Sadla / South Africa (Director and screenwriter: Zamo Mkhwanazi) — While going on a simple errand, Nathi’s journey is marked by disturbing interactions with authority. But is he an innocent victim?
US premiere

So What If The Goats Die (France/Morocco)
Dir: Sofia Alaoui
Abdellah, a young shepherd living in the mountains, is forced to brave the snow blocking him in order to get food and save this cattle. Once he gets to the village, he faces a supernatural phenomenon.

Song Of Clouds (Nepal)
Dir: Ankit Poudel
A haunting visual fever dream, and a meditation on the afterlife; the journey to the next world, and what gets left behind among the living.

Sticker (Macedonia)
Dir: Georgi M. Unkovski
After an unsuccessful attempt to renew his car registration, Dejan falls in a bureaucratic trap that tests his determination to be a responsible father. North American premiere

A Thousand Sails (Hong Kong)
Dir: Hing Weng Eric Tsang
Ren promises to keep a secret for her neighbour’s son – a secret she can share with no one on the island. Her only refuge from sleepless nights is her deceased husband.
International premiere


Abortion Helpline, This Is Lisa (USA)
Dirs: Barbara Attie, Janet Goldwater, Mike Attie
At a Philadelphia abortion helpline, counselors answer nonstop calls from women who seek to end a pregnancy but can’t afford to. In this documentary we learn how economic stigma and cruel legislation determine who has access to abortion.

All That Perishes At The Edge Of Land (Pakistan)
Dir: Hira Nabi
A ship berthed at Gadani and the shipbreakers coming from all over Pakistan to break it discover that they might have more in common than otherwise imagined when they enter into a conversation.

Bereka (USA/Ethiopia)
Dir: Nesanet Teshager Abegaze
A family history archive as told by matriarch Azalu Mekonnen and her granddaughter Samira Hooks. Shot on Super 8 film in Los Angeles and Gondar, Ethiopia, capturing the Ethiopian coffee ceremony and explores migration, memory and rebirth.

Betye Saar: Taking Care Of Business (USA)
Dir: Christine Turner
At age 93, there’s no stopping the legendary artist Betye Saar.

Broken Orchestra (Canada/USA)
Dir: Charlie Tyrell
The Symphony for a Broken Orchestra project collected hundreds of broken instruments from the Philadelphia public school system, fixed them and then returned them into the hands of students.

Character (USA)
Dir: Vera Brunner-Sung
Actor Mark Metcalf made his reputation in Hollywood playing aggrieved authority figures. Now in his 70s, he takes a look back on his career in this meditation on power, privilege, and the perils of being a “type.”

Church And The Fourth Estate (USA)
Dir: Brian Knappenberger
A reporter uncovers a file that reveals a shocking series of child abuse allegations in Idaho’s Boy Scouts, which rattle the community and implicate the Mormon church. The story reveals long-running crimes that threaten to bankrupt the Boy Scouts.

The Deepest Hole (USA)
Dir: Matt McCormick
While the space and arms races are Cold War common knowledge, few know about the United States and Soviet Union’s race to dig the deepest hole. This is particularly surprising since Hell may have been inadvertently discovered in the process.

Día De La Madre (USA)
Dirs: Ashley Brandon, Dennis Höhne
A band of juveniles embark on a 24-hour spree of breaking into houses and causing a ruckus.

Do Not Split (USA/Norway)
Dir: Anders Hammer
The story of the 2019 Hong Kong protests, told through a series of demonstrations by local protestors that escalate into conflict when highly armed police appear on the scene.

E-Ticket (Hong Kong/USA)
Dir: Simon Liu
A frantic (re)cataloguing of a personal archive and 16,000 splices in the making. 35mm frames are obsessively rearranged in evolving-disorienting patterns, as a Dante’s Inferno for the streaming age emerges, illustrating freedom of movement for the modern cloud.

Guisado On Sunset (USA)
Dir: Terence Nance
Missed connection regret at that one late-night spot–the kind you keep playing back in your head but not quite ever remembering right, until it starts to look like something else.
International premiere

John Was Trying To Contact Aliens (USA)
Dir: Matthew Killip
John Shepherd spent 30 years trying to contact extraterrestrials by broadcasting music millions of miles into space. After giving up the search he makes a different connection here on earth.

Junior Bangers (UK)
Director: Danny Lee
In England, banger racing isn’t just a sport, but a way of life. Join 11-year-olds Finn and Harley on a cold winter race day in Birmingham.
North American premiere

Lichen /(Canada)
Dir: Lisa Jackson
An otherworldly deep dive into the hidden beauty of lichens, asking what we might learn from them. Ancient and diverse, thriving in adversity, confounding scientists to this day, lichen is a model of emergence. International premiere

A Love Song For Latasha (USA)
Dir: Sophia Nahli Allison
A dreamlike archive in conversation with the past and the present to reimagine a more nuanced narrative of Latasha Harlins by excavating intimate and poetic memories shared by her cousin and best friend.

Narcissister Breast Work (USA)
Director: Narcissister
Focusing on the exercise by women of their right to bare their breasts in public, this film is an investigation into how prohibitions on female toplessness are grounded in fear of, and desire to control, the female body.

Now Is The Time (Canada )
Dir: Christopher Auchter
On the 50th anniversary of the first new totem pole raising on British Columbia’s Haida Gwaii in almost a century, we revisit the day that would signal the rebirth of the Haida spirit.

See You Next Time (USA)
Dir: Crystal Kayiza
A window into the intimate moments shared across a nail salon table between a Chinese nail artist and her black client in Brooklyn, NY.

The Starr Sisters USA)
Dirs: Beth Einhorn, Bridey Elliott
Patte and Randa Starr are fun specialists. After overcoming a dark past, these sisters are inseparable. Now in their 70s, they do exactly as they please and their candy drawer is always fully stocked.

While I’m Still Breathing (Tandis Que Je Respire Encore, France)
Dirs: Laure Giappiconi, Elisa Monteil, La Fille Renne
The blurred portrayal of a young woman as she moves through three steps of her sexuality.
North American premiere


Daughter (Czech Republic)
Dir: Daria Kashcheeva
Should you hide your pain, close yourself inside your inner world, and long for your father’s love? Or should you understand and forgive before it’s too late?

Daytime Noir (USA)
Dir: Jeron Braxton
A mother and son’s journey through the exploitative world of tabloid TV.

eadem cutis: the same skin (Germany)
Dir: Nina Hopf
“I just want to be seen as who I am today!” John shares his thoughts on identity, body and gender and gives a very personal insight into his life – and an intimate proximity to his body.
North American premiere

Eli (USA)
Dir: Nate Milton
A true story from the realms of high strangeness, magical thinking, and manic delusion.

Farce (Norway)
Dir: Robin Jensen
A man, a woman and a meat grinder. Love is messy.

Hot Flash (Canada)
Dir: Thea Hollatz
Ace is having a hot flash, and she’s about to go live on local television. How one woman tries to keep her cool when one type of flash leads to another.
International premiere

Hudson Geese (USA)
Dir: Bernardo Britto
A goose remembers his last migration.

Inès (France/ Switzerland)
Dir: Élodie Dermange
Inès is facing a difficult choice. Tonight, she thinks about the decision she will make.
North American premiere

My Juke-Box (France)
Dir: Florentine Grelier
Yesterday, I overheard an old rock ‘n’ roll song that sounded familiar. This is probably the music that we used to listen to on my dad’s mechanical devices–the thousand lives man, the king of the jukebox. International premiere

No, I Don’t Want to Dance! (UK)
Dir: Andrea Vinciguerra
In these dark times, you may think that every hazard has been identified, but nobody has taken into consideration how dangerous dance can be…

Sh_t Happens (Czech Republic/Slovakia/France)
Dirs: Michaela Mihalyi, David Štumpf
The caretaker exhausted by everything, his frustrated wife, and one totally depressed deer. Their mutual despair leads them to absurd events, because… shit happens all the time.
US premiere

The Shawl (USA)
Dir: Sara Kiener
After years of long distance, a pair of big and beautiful boyfriends celebrate their reunion at a Stevie Nicks concert, where they share a brush with magic.

Slug Life (UK)
Dir: Sophie Koko Gate
A day in the life of Tanya, a curious woman who has developed a taste for non-human lovers. Her next creation: a giant slug. Can such a perfect creature survive in this gnarly world full of freaks and beefs?

Takoyaki Story (Japan)
Dir: Sawako Kabuki
Always attracted to takoyaki–octopus balls, a famous Japanese street food–a girl tries them for the first time and becomes addicted.

Wong Ping’s Fables 2 (Hong Kong)
Dir: Ping Wong
Wong Ping urinates twice before gently pressing your head down with his right foot, giving you a closer look at your own reflection in his urine.

Wood Child And Hidden Forest Mother (UK)
Dir: Stephen Irwin
Deep in the forest, a hunter encounters a strange creature he cannot kill.