Sundance 2016: Obamas' First Date, Nick Jonas Frat Film Lead Fest - Rolling Stone
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Sundance 2016: Obamas’ First Date, Nick Jonas Frat Film Lead Fest

An on-air suicide and ‘Birth of a Nation’ update also slated to debut in Park City

Sundance; 2015; Film Slate

Obamas' first date, a Nick Jonas frat movie and a 'Birth of a Nation' update are slated to debut at Sundance 2016

Jerod Harris/Getty

A revisionist take on the most notoriously racist movie ever made, a romantic biopic about Barack Obama’s first date with his future First Lady, and two separate stories about the on-air suicide of a local news reporter in 1974 Florida highlight the list of titles set to premiere at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival, which announced its competition lineups Wednesday alongside the innovative features that will screen in the NEXT section. 

Culled from a list of 4,081 submissions, 117 features have been invited up to the mountains of Utah for the world’s most prestigious indie film fest, the most recent edition of which launched everything from beloved summer charmers (Mistress America) to awards season juggernauts (Brooklyn). Reflecting Sundance founder Robert Redford’s claim that the 2016 lineup reflects “diverse backgrounds, places and perspectives,” several of the 16 films vying for glory in the U.S. Dramatic Competition star people of color (and five were directed by women, matching last year’s total). 

In The Birth of a Nation (written and directed by leading man Nate Parker), an educated slave in the antebellum South agrees to help his master subdue the plantation’s less cooperative types through the word of God. On a less severe note, Richard Tanne’s Southside With You goes back to a sunny Chicago day in the summer of 1989 as the romance between Barack Obama and Michelle Robinson recalls Before Sunrise. Heading west, Andrew Ahn’s Spa Night tells a coming-of-age story about a Korean-American teenager whose job at his family’s Los Angeles spa is complicated by the forces of puberty. 

This year’s lineup has fewer obvious bombshells than usual — there’s no Boyhood, for example — but Park City will still boast a star-heavy lineup. Swiss Army Man features Paul Dano and Daniel Radcliffe in the story of a stranded man who bonds with a corpse he finds in the wild (no word on who plays which part), while Goat is fronted by pop star Nick Jonas in the role of a 19-year-old boy who pledges his brother’s frat. 

One interesting wrinkle to this year’s slate is that the two films about Christine Chubbuck’s televised 1974 suicide are playing in different sections. Christine, a narrative take on the story that stars Rebecca Hall in the title role, is set to bow in the Dramatic Competition. Robert Greene’s Kate Plays Christine — a more experimental take on the material that continues the Actress director’s penchant for blurring the line between fact and fiction — will debut as part of the non-fiction slate alongside docs about Newtown, American abortion clinics, and an autistic boy who connects to the world through the power of Disney movies.

2016’s NEXT category, which has previously unleashed the likes of Tangerine and James White, is laced with all sorts of intriguing fare, from The Fits — a psychological thriller about a fainting spell that plagues a bunch of 11-year-olds on a Cincinnati dance team — to something called How to Tell You’re a Douchebag

A full list of the competition and NEXT films is available on the Sundance website, where you can also check out the previously announced slate of Midnight selections. More films will be announced in the coming weeks. This year’s festival will take place between January 21st and January 31st.


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