The Women-Led Sundance Projects We Absolutely Cannot Wait To See

For two weeks every January, Park City, Utah, is converted from a sleepy ski town (population: 3,000) to a film lover's mecca for the annual Sundance Film Festival. Sundance is where the humanistic, poignant, daring films premiere that large studios concerned with superhero franchises might not ever get around to making. It’s where studio and streaming acquisitions executives find those movies, and buy them for larger distribution. And it’s where awards buzz for next year begins to rumble. To put it simply, Sundance is a big deal for independent film.

This year marks a particularly momentous festival for women creators. The percentage of female directors hit an all-time high, with 37% of the festival's films directed by women. Sundance also supports women filmmakers and producers through its Women At Sundance programming, and partnerships with other organizations — like Refinery29's own Shatterbox Anthology, a short film series. This year's festival is also remarkably diverse. Take the U.S. Dramatic Competition category as an example. Of the 16 films up for an award, only seven were directed by white men.

We may not all get to go to Sundance for the classy, high-altitude parties and the indie movie premieres. But we can be excited for the movies that trickle down from Sundance to streaming sites, and to theaters near you. These are the films by women premiering at this year's festival to get excited about.

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The Miseducation of Cameron Post
Directed by: Desiree Akhavan
Starring: Chloë Grace Moretz, Quinn Shephard, John Gallagher Jr.
Category: U.S. Dramatic Competition

It's 1993 in Montana, and Cameron Post (Chloë Grace Moretz) is fulfilling the high-school dream: She's gettin' some with a popular kid on prom night. Only Cameron is hooking up with the prom queen — and she gets caught. Cameron's conservative guardians ship her off to a gay conversion camp, where she finally meets her people: outcasts just like her. The film is adapted from a popular YA novel of the same name.
Directed by: Christina Choe
Starring: Andrea Riseborough, Steve Buscemi, Ann Dowd
Category: U.S. Dramatic Competition

Films like NANCY challenge us to empathize with difficult, unlikeable people. The lying and manipulative woman at the heart of NANCY will certainly prove a fascinating, if disturbing, protagonist. Nancy, played by Andrea Riseborough, spends her days catfishing people on the internet in her home, which she shares with her mother. Then she uncovers a couple whose daughter went missing decades prior, and convinces them — and herself — that she is their vanished daughter.

NANCY is Christina Choe's directorial debut.
Courtesy of Sundance
The Kindergarten Teacher
Directed by: Sara Colangelo
Starring: Maggie Gyllenhaal, Gael García Bernal

Lisa Spinelli (Maggie Gyllenhaal) is a kindergarten teacher who's no longer amused by her students' starry-eyed charm and comments; essentially, she's wiped out by decades of teaching. The highlight of her week comes when she takes the Staten Island Ferry to her poetry class in Manhattan. But it turns out the poetic talent she's sought her whole life is actually in her kindergarten class. Lisa realizes that a five-year-old boy might be a poetic prodigy — and she'll do anything to awaken his genius.

Colangelo's short film, Little Accidents, premiered at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival, and she also participated in a Sundance Institute Writer's Lab.
Courtesy of Sundance
Directed and written by: Kaitlin Fontana
Starring: Franchesca Ramsey
Category: Indie Episodic

Sundance is about more than film, people! Franchesca is a part of of Sundance's first-ever indie episodic lineup. Ramsey found fame with her YouTube channel Chescaleigh. In Franchesca, she plays a version of herself escaping internet trolls, and getting an elaborate Japanese manicure. A day in the life of a YouTuber.
Directed by: Coralie Fargeat
Starring: Matilda Lutz, Kevin Janssens
Category: Midnight

The force of destruction in this horror movie is a girl. A girl brought to a luxurious house by her mysterious lover. A girl left for dead, after being assaulted by her lover and his friends. A girl who picks herself back up, and goes after those men, like a blood-soaked phoenix not afraid of reaping more violence. Revenge has already received rave reviews.
I Think We’re Alone Now
Directed by: Reed Morano
Starring: Peter Dinklage, Elle Fanning
Category: U.S. Dramatic Competition

For an extreme introvert, there's an obvious upside for surviving the annihilation of the human population. Solitude! Time for reading! Time for learning that craft! Del (Peter Dinklage) finds himself in the position of being the last man alive, and he is content with loneliness. His peaceful solitude is shattered when he meets Grace (Elle Fanning), another survivor, who craves human company.

This indie apocalypse movie is Morano's first major project following The Handmaid's Tale.
The Tale
Directed by: Jennifer Fox
Starring: Laura Dern, Common, Jason Ritter
Category: U.S. Dramatic Competition

The era of Laura Dern continues with The Tale, a story about the power of selective memory and the stories we weave of our lives. Jennifer's (Laura Dern) happy life is shaken up when her mother discovers one of her old journals, which contains proof of her sexual relationship with two adult coaches. How could she have forgotten? Confronted with such a past, Jennifer returns to the horse farm where the coaches work, and seeks to reconcile her memory with reality.
Leave No Trace
Directed by: Debra Granik
Starring: Ben Foster, Thomasin Harcourt McKenzie, Jeff Kober, Dale Dickey
Category: Premieres

In 2010, a young actress named Jennifer Lawrence left Sundance audiences rapt when she starred in director Debra Granik's film set in rural Appalachia, Winter's Bone. Granik is back with another movie set in an unforgiving American landscape. Leave No Trace is about a father and his teenage daughter who have lived off the grid for years, and struggle to adapt to modern life when they're caught by social services. Thomasin Harcourt McKenzie could be the next Jennifer Lawrence.
Directed by: Claire McCarthy
Starring: Daisy Ridley, Naomi Watts, Clive Owen, Tom Felton
Category: Premieres

This is everything an English major, Shakespeare nerd, feminist could ask for: a retelling of Hamlet from the perspective of Ophelia. Ophelia's inner struggle between loyalty to her Queen, and loyalty to her erratic new lover, Hamlet, is finally explored fully. We're hoping all Shakespearean dramas get a female-centric retelling, soon. Is Desdemona coming up next?
I Am Not a Witch
Directed by: Rungano Nyoni
Starring: Margaret Mulubwa, Henry B.J. Phiri, Nancy Mulilo, Margaret Sipaneia
Category: Spotlight

I Am Not a Witch received a tremendous response at Cannes, and then traveled on to other major movie festivals before stopping at Sundance. In a remote Zambian village, an 8-year-old girl (Margaret Mulubwa) is declared a witch. She has a choice: Stay in the village and die, or live her life in exile at the nearby "witch camp," where powers are cultivated. She goes to the camp. The movie is a blend of real accounts of witchcraft accusations in Zambia, blended with fairy tale and absurdism.
On Her Shoulders
Directed by: Alexandria Bombach
Category: U.S. Documentary Competition

Nadia Murad is 23 years old, and she has become the spokesperson for an entire people. Murad is a part of the Yazidi population currently being targeted by ISIS militants. On a speaking circuit that includes radio appearances, rallies, and the U.N., Murad must relive the brutalities she endured (and that other people are still enduring), just so people can shake out of complacency, and take notice, and do something.
This Is Home
Directed by: Alexandra Shiva
Category: World Cinema Documentary Competition

This Is Home follows a family of Syrian refugees as they resettle, and become accustomed, to life in Baltimore, Maryland. It's the kind of empathetic look at the immigrant experience that all Americans should see, especially as this subject will continue to be relevant on a national and global scale for years to come.
Dead Pigs
Directed by: Cathy Yan
Starring: Vivian Wn, Zazie Beetz and David Rysdahl
Category: World Cinema Dramatic Competition

A pig farmer. A rich girl. A homeowner defending her property. A busboy with a secret job. An expat looking to win big in China. The five protagonists in Yan's mosaic of a movie are brought together through a strange occurrence: Pig carcasses floating down the main river in Shanghai.
Seeing Allred
Directed by: Sophie Sartain, Roberta Grossman
Category: U.S. Documentary Competition

Has there been a more appropriate cultural moment for a documentary about legendary women's rights attorney Gloria Allred than right now? The documentary picks through the highlights of Allred's four-decade career, culminating in the cultural reckoning regarding sexual misconduct we're currently talking through on Twitter and around dining room tables.

Seeing Allred is making its debut at Sundance, but will land on Netflix on February 9.
Jane Fonda In Five Acts
Directed by: Susan Lacy
Category: Documentary Premieres

Most recently, Jane Fonda has filled your heart with joy (and martinis) as Grace on the Netflix original Grace & Frankie. For anyone who's followed Fonda's incendiary and trailblazing career, it's no surprise that Fonda stars in a show that celebrates two strong older woman, in a Hollywood landscape in which such subjects are scarce.

Jane Fonda In Five Acts looks at Fonda over the course of her career, and life in the public eye. "Jane Fonda has been vilified as Hanoi Jane, lusted after as Barbarella and heralded as a beacon of the women’s movement. This film goes to the heart of who she really is, a blend of deep vulnerability, magnetism, naiveté, and bravery, revealing a life transformed over time," the film summary reads.

Catch Jane Fonda In Five Acts later this year on HBO.
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