Sundance 2013: The Essential Screening List of Documentary and Dramatic Premieres

Each year, the Sundance Film Festival unveils its lineup of vanguard filmmaking in the weeks following Thanksgiving, just as the Oscar campaigns are hitting fever pitch. As the fleet of awards-baiting period pieces competes for our attention with a whole new batch of Sundance-endorsed indie films, the array of high-quality entertainment offerings can feel a little overwhelming -- kind of like choosing between the caviar spread and the raw bar at a fancy hotel buffet.

Over the past week, Sundance has been rolling out its selections for the festival’s various sections, beginning with the Dramatic and Documentary Competitions and culminating with yesterday’s news of the festival’s high profile selection of narrative and non-fiction Premieres. While the Competition films often generate the most attention and speculation – particularly from Hollywood prospectors in search of the next Paul Thomas Anderson or Errol Morris – the Premieres section houses the festival’s most seasoned and enduring filmmaking (a.k.a. the films most likely to turn up among next year's Oscar contenders).

This year’s spread looks particularly appetizing, with its eclectic mix of films, which, mercifully, doesn’t fit under any umbrella or unifying theme (after last year, we’ll be happy if we never have to read another word analyzing the relationship between women and comedy). Instead, the 2013 lineup is remarkable for its broad spectrum of established filmmakers experimenting with the new and expanding upon the familiar.

But it’s those films that combine the two – directors forging new frontiers while deepening their relationship to familiar characters and storytelling milieu – that have emerged as the most compelling and highly anticipated films at Sundance 2013. With that in mind, we’ve combed through the program and highlighted the films that best represent the relationship between creative risk-taking and the rewarding films likeliest to remain at the center of the cultural conversation many months to come.

“Before Midnight”

This latest installment in writer-director Richard Linklater’s follow-up to his enchanting "Before Sunrise"/"Before Sunset" series, relocates star-crossed lovers Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy) to Greece, where they’re working against the titular deadline as they flirt, fight, and philosophize their way through the most enduring chaste romance in recent cinematic history.

“Breathe In”

Writer-director Drake Doremus planted his flag in similar terrain with his 2011 long-distance tortured romance, “Like Crazy,” the breakout hit at Sundance 2011. Here, Doremus explores the impact a foreign exchange student has on the world around her in this family drama set in upstate New York.

“The Look of Love”

There are few filmmaker-actor partnerships as consistently compelling as that of director Michael Winterbottom and Steve Coogan.  Their creative chemistry sparked to life in “24 Hour Party People” and produced one of the most explosively funny and poignant films of the last decade in “The Trip.” Here they reunite to tell the stranger-than-fiction true story of British porn magnate, Paul Raymond – a role Coogan was born to play.

“Prince Avalanche”

In the years since David Gordon Green launched his career with the heartfelt Sundance coming-of-age comedy, “George Washington,” he has become Hollywood’s go-to pot comedy auteur. With this comic take on self-discovery in the wilderness – starring Paul Rudd and Emile Hirsch as two commitment-conflicted lost souls – Green returns to his roots finding the funny in depressed, small-town America.


Korean filmmaker Chan-Wook Park’s long-awaited English-language debut stars Nicole Kidman and Mia Wasikowska as a grieving mother and daughter struggling to make sense of the charming and mysterious man (Matthew Goode) who enters their lives claiming to be a long lost uncle. Park’s emotionally charged genre storytelling has earned him a devoted following among stateside cineastes that’s bound to grow once this thriller (co-written by actor Wentworth Miller) hits the Sundance circuit.

“Top of the Lake”

Ever since “Sweetie” made its US debut at the 1990 Sundance Film Festival, writer-director Jane Campion has distinguished herself as one of the most original and humane storytellers working in independent film today. Originally produced as a six-part Sundance Channel series, this searing mystery about a pregnant 12-year-old girl, reunites the director with Holly Hunter for the first time since "The Piano."

“Running from Crazy”

Barbara Kopple, the unofficial dean of documentary filmmaking, follows Mariel Hemingway as she attempts to understand and overcome the legacy of insanity running through her family, beginning with her grandfather, Ernest Hemingway, who committed suicide in 1961.

“We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks”

It was only a matter of time before some enterprising documentarian tackled the origin, impact and ethics of Julian Assange’s whistle-blowing digital empire. Alex Gibney has proven he has the stomach for scandal necessary to perform a revealing and riveting cinematic autopsy.

“When I Walk”

Multi-media artist Jason DaSilva turns the camera on himself in what promises to be a moving and harrowing account of his diagnosis, at age 25, with Multiple Sclerosis, and the traditional and alternative treatments he’s sought to fight the disease.

“Which Way is the Front Line from Here? The Life and Time of Tim Hetherington”

In what may be the most intimate and intense doc at this year’s festival, writer-director Sebastian Junger has created a cinematic eulogy tracing the life and work of his colleague and “Restrepo” co-director, Tim Hetherington, a war photographer who was killed on the front lines in Libya last year.

Heading to Sundance this year? Check out these five Park City hot spots.