In a historic first, the Sundance Film Festival is coming to a Bay Area drive-in theater. And while most screenings are already sold out, know that additional tickets are expected to be released on Monday.
The prestigious independent film festival that usually draws throngs of celebrities, moviemakers, journalists and faux furs to Park City, Utah, has been forced to go virtual this year because of COVID-19. Instead, the festival is presenting the films at drive-ins across the country, including Fort Mason Flix, the recently reopened drive-in at San Francisco’s Fort Mason complex. The screenings will benefit San Francisco’s beloved independent movie house, the Roxie Theater.
As always, the festival features Bay Area-fueled films, including Oakland filmmaker Peter Nicks’ third documentary in his Oakland cycle, “Homeroom,” as well as “Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided to Go for It.” Both are vying for Sundance’s best U.S. documentary feature award. Also screening are “Amy Tan: Unintended Memoir,” an intimate portrait of the acclaimed Bay Area novelist, and “Try Harder!,” which focuses on the pressures facing students at one of San Francisco’s top-ranked public schools.
The fest runs Jan. 28-Feb. 3; most screenings are $49 per car; a festival pass $350; tickets, updates and other information can be found at www.roxie.com, fortmason.org/event/flix, or tickets.festival.sundance.org.
Here’s a rundown of some of the films set to screen:
“Coda”: In this family drama — a best U.S. feature contender and a world premiere — a young woman (Emilia Jones) confronts a hard decision: either help her family members, who are deaf, maintain control of their fishing business or pursue her own dreams. (5 p.m., Jan. 28)
“Son of Monarchs”: In this Alfred P. Sloan Feature Film Prize winner, a New York scientist returns to his small Mexico hometown, a magnet for monarch butterflies. Estranged from his brother, Mendel (Tenoch Huerta) must reconcile with the past and the present so his life too can get out of the larval stage and take flight. Playing as part of thein the NEXT program. (8:15 p.m., Jan. 28)
“Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided to Go For It”: The resilient, incredibly talented 89-year-old East Bay treasure endured rampant racism to become one of the rare EGOT artists, winner of an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony. Mariem Perez Riera’s documentary charts the “West Side Story” actress’ path as one of the most influential Hispanic American artists. It receives a world premiere and is up for a best U.S. documentary award. (5:10 p.m., Jan. 29)
“In the Earth”: Will filmmaker Ben Wheatley rebound after his flaccid “Rebecca” redo for Netflix? Looks possible given the creepy, gripping premise of his latest, a virus thriller where a trip through the woods is anything but pleasant. It receives a world premiere. (8:10 p.m., Jan. 29)
“Rebel Hearts”: Catholic sisters in Hollywood unite to create a radical college that made a habit of ’60s-era protests ranging from Selma to women’s marches. But as filmmaker Pedro Kos relates in his U.S. best documentary contender, a cardinal’s outrage puts them to the test. (5 p.m., Jan. 30)
“R#J”: Shakespeare’s tragic-lovers classic has been adapted countless times, from Oscar-winning musicals (“West Side Story”) to schlockfests (“Tromeo & Juliet”). So will Carey Williams’ TikTok-like variation — with all the action taking place on cell phones — reboot interest in a new generation? We’ll have to find out. (8:05 p.m., Jan. 30)
“My Name is Pauli Murray”: The filmmaking team of Betsy West and Julie Cohen scored Oscar nominations for their excellent 2108 documentary, “RBG.” Now the dynamite duo turn their lens on another influential legal eagle, a non-binary Black activist who argued for gender equality and pushed for civil rights. While Pauli Murray’s name is hardly as recognizable as an influencer as the late Ruth Bader Ginsberg, West and Cohen’s documentary — receiving a world premiere — hopes to put Murray in the international spotlight. (4:45 p.m., Jan. 31)
“Together Together”: A 26-year-old surrogate (Patti Harrison) and a 40-year-old man (Ed Helms) find a growing connection in director/screenwriter Nikole Beckwith’s world premiere, costarring Tig Notaro. Sound like a standard rom-com? This U.S. dramatic competitor is not. (7:45 p.m., Jan. 31)
“Users”: In this unsettling, personal documentary, filmmaker Natalia Almada questions our overdependence on technology, and how it is shaping and changing our youngest generations — including her son. It receives a world premiere and is competing in the best U.S. documentary category. (5:15 p.m., Feb. 1)
“First Date”: A shy Black teen (Tyson Brown) finds his awkward attempts to take out a special someone (Shelby Duclos) foiled at every turn in the rollicking feature filmmaking debut of South Lake Tahoe’s Manuel Crosby and Valley Springs’ Darren Knapp. “Date” is featured in Sundance’s NEXT program, which spotlights up-and-coming filmmakers and their innovative works. (8 p.m., Feb. 1)
“Try Harder!”: Got a stressed out high school student at home who’s freaking out over college applications? You and yours will want to make an evening out of Debbie Lum’s documentary. Lum turns her lens on San Francisco’s top-ranking public high school — Lowell — and plunges into the high demands/expectations that get placed on students by others and themselves. It is competing in the best U.S. documentary category. (4:45 p.m., Feb. 2)
“Amy Tan: Unintended Memoir”: In his last film, the late Fairfax filmmaker James Redford, son of Robert Redford, directed this intimate portrait of bestselling novelist Amy Tan. Using her works as a diving-off point, Redford brings to life how the Oakland resident and author of “The Joy Luck Club’s” past influences her present — both on and off the page. (7:45 p.m., Feb. 2)
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Author: Randy Myers, Bay City News Foundation