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12 Breakout Stars From Sundance 2016

From an 11-year-old girl to the Meryl Streep of microbudget indies, meet your new Sundance stars

Breakout Stars; Sundance

Elliot Davis/Sundance, Paul Yee/Sundance

Sundance is all about discovering something new — the place where a single movie can turn a debt-ridden grad student into a bonafide indie auteur, or a relative unknown into a major star. Buzz is king in Park City's mountains and Main Street, and nobody who weathered the lines and snagged the coveted last seat at a world premiere is content with watching a good movie. They want to see a coronation.

And this year's festival was absolutely bursting with them, as a pop star emerged as a multi-faceted talent, a marginalized actor cast himself as Hollywood's next big thing, and a handful of wide-eyed kids became the new faces of indie film (or, in the case of Other People scene-stealer J.J. Totah, left a calling card to remember). These are the 12 breakout stars of Sundance 2016; learn their names, because it won't be long before you're hearing about them everywhere.

Morgan Saylor; White Girl

Michael Simmonds/Sundance

Morgan Saylor, ‘White Girl’

There are so many remarkable things about Saylor's ferocious lead performance in White Girl that it's hard to know where to begin. Obliterating whatever assumptions you might have from watching her on Homeland, the 21-year-old plays a fresh-faced college sophomore named Leah who moves to Queens, falls for a square-jawed Puerto Rican drug dealer, and finds herself stuck with a kilo of unsold blow when her new beau gets pinched. Saylor's fully weaponized embodiment of racial privilege always saves the movie from sensationalism, even as Leah snorts her body weight in cocaine and tries to become the Tony Montana of lower Manhattan. Vulnerable, invincible, empowered, and pathetic all at once, few actresses have better navigated the difference between being naked and being exposed — and it looks like we ain't seen nothing yet.

Kate Lyn Sheil; Kate Plays Christine

Sean Price Williams/Sundance

Kate Lyn Sheil, ‘Kate Plays Christine’

Pretty much the Meryl Streep of the micro-budget film community, Kate Lyn Sheil is hardly a new face to audiences who like to look for movies beyond the multiplexes. But never before has she had a part so knotted as this, the role of a lifetime: playing herself, or at least the version of herself who's preparing to play Christine Chubbock — the Sarasota TV news reporter who shot herself in the head on air in 1974. It's a performance with more layers than a government conspiracy, and while the actress shifts between her two characters with expert fluidity, the genius of Sheil's work is in how she eventually blurs them together. By the end of the movie's confrontational final scene, you'll be he happy to watch Kate play anyone she wants.