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Sundance Film Festival Hosts Roundtable Discussion with HBCU Students

The Sundance Film Festival’s HBCU Virtual Roundtable provides insider details about Black films set to premiere at the upcoming festival.

2024 Sundance Film Festival Program Logo. The event is held from Jan. 18 to Jan. 28. (Photo courtesy of Sundance Press)

The Sundance Institute hosted a virtual roundtable conversation that invited students from HBCUs – including Howard University, Hampton University and Florida A&M University– to discuss the upcoming Sundance Film Festival. 

The Jan. 11 conversation featured professionals from the Sundance Institute, including festival programmers who gave an exclusive look into films that will be premiering later this month. 

The Sundance Film Festival in Salt Lake City is the largest independent film festival in the United States. The 2024 Sundance Film Festival will also serve as a 40th edition celebration and will screen 90 feature films and 50 short films beginning Jan. 18. The selection team reviewed over 17,000 submissions from 153 countries for this year’s festival. The team comprises programmers who watch hundreds of films and determine which will make it to screening. 

During the roundtable, programmer Stephanie Owens shared that the selection process is vast to ensure fairness. 

“Our team is made up of people of different tastes, and that’s intentional,” she said.

Ash Hoyle, the Sundance Festival programmer, explained that the Sundance Institute was developed to “interrupt the studio system” and introduce creative, edgier works to audiences. 

The Sundance Institute has brought a wide range of film categories to screens since 1985. After reviewing and deliberating over submissions by independent filmmakers, programmers curate an assortment of documentaries, dramas, shorts and episodic content.

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Hoyle described the task of convincing fellow programmers of a film’s artistic value as an “expansive experience.” 

Additionally, the Sundance team expressed that many highly anticipated titles are works by Black creatives. Dawn Porter’s “Luther: Never Too Much,” is a documentary feature giving audiences a look into the life and legacy of Luther Vandross. “As We Speak,” is another documentary feature directed by “Jeen-Yuhs” editor J.M. Harper that explores the “weaponization of rap lyrics.” 

The documentary competition will also include Natalie Rae and Angela Patton’s “Daughters.” This film follows incarcerated fathers and their families preparing for a father-daughter dance in a Washington, D.C. prison. Owens discussed the emotional weight of this film, saying, “You get an understanding of what is at stake for families when someone is incarcerated.”

The Sundance Film Festival has a history of first screening blockbuster films by Black creatives. Owens shared a personal favorite of hers: “Love and Basketball” (2000). Some other notable titles to have first premiered at the festival include “Love Jones” (1997), “Fruitvale Station” (2013) and “Get Out” (2018).

Ray J. Love, marketing and communications associate at Sundance Institute and Florida A&M University alum, coordinated Thursday’s conversation. He dubbed these classic films “Blacksics.” 

Hoyle expressed his excitement to see a Haitian film in this year’s Midnight category entitled: “Kidnapping Inc. This category “pushes the boundaries and moves media forward,” he said. He believes that the late-night Utah scenery enhances the audience’s viewing experience.

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“You don’t really know what you’re about to see, but you’re open to it,” he continued. “Part of the magic is the liminality.”

Hoyle also discussed the anticipated premiere film “Freaky Tales” starring “Insecure” actor Jay Ellis and “Wild Side” singer Normani. 

“It’s definitely going to be one of the most talked about films at the festival,” Hoyle said.

Sundance Festival Prior Screening. Virtual screenings are available from January 25 to January 28. (Photo courtesy of Sundance Press)

Copy edited by Jalyn Lovelady


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