Sundance 2024 Kicks Off Its 40th Anniversary with a ‘Freaky’ and Full First Day

At this year’s Sundance Film Festival, the IndieWire team is endeavoring to take you (yes, you!) into the heart of the festival experience, thanks to a series of rolling roundups that aim to synthesize each day, all the action, most of the drama, and the stuff everyone is talking about, in Park City and beyond.

Day one! This year, Sundance kicked off in rare form, which is to say, early. While the festival has steadily ratcheted up its day one programming over the years, moving from a single opening night pick, to a curated program of four features in the evenings, this year’s current lineup is its beefiest yet. That frenetic schedule seemed to spell one thing: well, freneticism, and all on day one of the ten-day event.

Newly installed Sundance director (and IndieWire founder!) Eugene Hernandez was seemingly everywhere all at once, but IndieWire first spotted him at the Prospector Square Theater, where he introduced the premiere screening of Kelly O’Sullivan and Alex Thompson’s charming “Ghostlight.” (Check out our Critic’s Pick review right here.)

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Power

Elsewhere, it seemed that the biggest topic of early buzz was Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck’s “Freaky Tales,” which nabbed a plum opening night premiere slot at the Eccles. Even before the red carpet rolled out, everyone I talked to was pumped to see the film and anticipating long lines at the marquee venue (fans and cinephiles weren’t alone: brass from Netflix and Searchlight Pictures were spotted, scoping out the acquisition title).

A return to the very festival that introduced them to the filmmaking world way back in 2004 with their short “Gowanus, Brooklyn,” Fleck and Boden introduced the film to a packed theater, with Boden joking that, had this filmmaking thing not worked out, she might have become an accountant, her back-up plan when she was just 24-years-old (as for Fleck, his filmmaking partner cracked that he would have been unemployed after the closure of the last video store). It might have been a stacked audience, though, as Boden also noted that so many people who made the film (and starred in it, including Pedro Pascal, Normani, and Jay Ellis) were in attendance that they couldn’t all hit the stage for a post-screening Q&A, as it would have been a fire hazard.

Despite some frequent cheers during the raucous, 1987-set Bay Area spectacle, which weaves together various tales that are less freaky than viciously, bloodily anti-Nazi (a good thing!), reaction afterward in the press scrum was mixed. (Our own review is, indeed, more than just mixed: check it out here.)

Another popular in-line-killing-time talking point: how this festival, the second in-person Sundance since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, was already feeling more energetic (and well-attended) than last year’s (which, coming out of two years of no in-person Sundance, sure felt energetic and well-attended to this writer, though I do have to admit, there’s a touch more excitement in the air this go-round). A few chats with Park City residents, however, revealed a different take on the annual event: it’s changed, one New York transplant bemoaned to me in the “Freaky Tales” line, and this is going to be her last Sundance.

Freaky Tales
“Freaky Tales”Courtesy Sundance Film Festival

While “Freaky Tales” was unspooling, the festival’s opening night gala/fundraiser honored everyone from Christopher Nolan to Maite Alberdi, Celine Song and Kristen Stewart. If you weren’t at a screening, it seems, at least from IndieWire’s red carpet coverage, you were at the gala. Our own Brian Welk was also in attendance, and his report from the evening paid special attention to Nolan’s award, the inaugural Trailblazer Award, handed to him by his own “Oppenheimer” star Robert Downey, Jr.

Over on Main Street: parties. I could barely make it all the way up to the street to hit the premiere of Caroline Lindy’s Melissa Barrera-starring Beauty and the Beast-ish rom-com revenge thriller (with musical sequences!) without running into packs of good-time-seeking denizens, cramming into various pop-up clubs, lounges, and what-have-yous.

Even in New York City, our own David Ehrlich was checking out a concurrent premiere of Jane Schoenbrun’s “I Saw the TV Glow,” the filmmaker’s followup to “We’re All Going to the World’s Fair” (a personal fave). His review is to come, but we’re guessing from his gushing tweet, we’ll have another Critic’s Pick incoming imminently.

Other IndieWire reviews to check out now: June Squibb gets a starring role in “Thelma,” Yance Ford returns with a new documentary with “Power,” John Early shining in Theda Hammel’s very funny COVID dramedy “Stress Positions,” a girl-centric followup to “Boys State” in “Girls State,” the raw documentary “Frida,” and the queer romance “Layla.”

Stress Positions
“Stress Positions”Neon

And at at IndieWire’s studio on Main Street (presented by our pals at Dropbox), a cavalcade of stars and creators sat down with our own Christian Blauvelt to chat about their new films, including Kristen Stewart, Steven Yeun, Jane Schoenbrun, Justice Smith, Brigette Lundy-Paine, Lucy Liu, Jason Schwartzman, Jodie Foster, Riley Keough, the Zellner brothers, Jesse Eisenberg, Kieran Culkin, Theda Hammel, John Early, Talia Ryder, David Schwimmer, Amanda McBaine, Jesse Moss, Yance Ford, and many more. Look for those interviews (and more good stuff) to roll out on the site in the coming days.

So, what to expect today, on day two of the festival? Premieres like “Between the Temples,” “The Outrun,” “Sasquatch Sunset,” “Love Me,” “Power,” “Little Death,” “Presence,” “It’s What’s Inside,” and many more. It just keeps rolling!

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