Image Courtesy of Sundance Institute

“Each year at this time we look forward with great anticipation and excitement to the discovery of new voices at the Sundance Film Festival…” announced Executive Director of the Sundance Institute, Keri Putnam, and 2013 is no different. With 12,146 entries, an increase of 429 films submissions from 2012, the Sundance programming team spent endless hours in front of monitors and television screens, searching for works that presented exciting and thought-provoking images and dialogue. From this overwhelming number of visual creations the team of panelists drew up the final list of 113 films for competition in the 2013 Sundance Film Festival (January 17-27, 2013). Sundance will also screen numerous films in an “out-of-competition” category entitled Next that promotes creative and bold storytelling.

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One film of note in the Next category is Blue Caprice, directed by Alexandre Moors. The film chronicles the true life story of John Allen Williams, better known to the public as John Allen Muhammed, played by well-known actor Isaiah Washington. In 2002, Muhammed, a deeply troubled man captured national attention as he orchestrated a series of shootings and became known as the D.C. sniper. Far from black and white, this directorial debut attempts to shed light on the nuances surrounding the decisions of John Allen Williams, his motives, and the consequences of his actions.

Image Courtesy of Newlyweeds Facebook Page

The Next film category also offers up a work by Shaka King, who has won film awards for his screenplays and shorts. His latest work, Newlyweeds, follows the romantic trials of a young couple torn apart by weed. Written as a dark comedy, the story focuses on the importance of priorities in relationships and the effects of choosing a substance or dependency over a person. The film has already been selected as a finalist for the New York University Columbus Vague award and for inclusion in the 2011 IFP Emerging Narratives series.

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The films in the Next category, like the ones described above, compliment the main attractions, 16 documentaries and 16 narrative feature films that will have their world premieres at the Sundance Film Festival. One filmmaker to watch out for is Andrew Dosunmu, now making his second début at Sundance. Andrew Dosunmu, director of Restless City (screened at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival) has entered the competition with his latest work Mother of George. The protagonist in Dosunmu’s work is a South African Basotho immigrant, Janet Matashane, brought to New York by her fiancée Denni Mobama. Following their traditional Basotho marriage, in which Janet is named after her future son George, Ma George as she is called, begins to settle into life. She plays the role of the attentive wife perfectly except in one way. As the weeks and months progress, Ma George fails to become pregnant. Her ‘son’ George, for whom she is named, remains only a dream. As she struggles to find her place in the bustling city of New York, far away from the traditions and comfort of her Basotho homeland, Ma George is further confronted by the possibility of having to grant her husband permission to find a second wife with the ability to conceive children. Funded by a large grant from the Ford Foundation, Mother of George captures the frantic efforts of a woman faced with the potential loss of her most pressing desires, a son and a husband.

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In contrast to the singular and fictional trials of Ma George, American Promise, a film by Joe Brewster and Michèle Stephenson, is a documentary that follows the lives of two young African-American boys from their enrollment in kindergarten through their 12th grade graduation.  The film is described as an accurate and detailed portrait of the daily trials that face young black boys, particularly in middle class families. As such, the storylines within American Promise  further emphasize the ongoing educational limitations for African-American men. Working to resolve these social issues, American Promise will premiere alongside a national campaign in support of the Big Brothers Big Sisters program, Mentoring Brothers in Action. Research has shown that children mentored through Big Brothers Big Sisters are more likely to succeed in school.  American Promise hopes to inspire people to give their time and money, with the goal of raising $100,000 and 100,000 volunteer hours.

~Ardea Smith

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