Sundance Film Festival: Interview with Jim Brunzell III

By Jim Brunzell III, the festival director of the Minneapolis, MN & Austin, TX based Sound Unseen Music+Film Festival. Check out his guest DJ sets on My KUTX here and here.

Pre-festival interview
Post-festival interview

Beginning Thursday, January 19, and running through Sunday, January 29 Sundance Film Festival takes place in Park City and Salt Lake City, Utah–and your living room. For the past two years, Sundance was completely online (thanks, COVID and omicron) and this year, they will be back in person for the first time since 2020, and will continue to offer an online option.
This year’s Sundance lineup has 14 different categories: U.S. Dramatic Competition, U.S. Documentary Competition, World Cinema Dramatic Competition, World Cinema Documentary Competition, Premieres, Spotlight (films that premiered at other 2022 film festivals), NEXT (low-budget and innovative storytelling), Indie Series Program (Episodic), Short Film Programs (multiple short programs), New Frontier Films, Special Screenings, From the Collection, Kids and Midnight.

This year, the music-related films include fiction films, documentaries, short films, and Indie Series Programs. The feature films will cover musicians from the Indigo Girls, Little Richard, a Texas-based Mariachi competition, a Chopin piano competition, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, Wings, the Harlem Cultural Festivaland Austin legend, Willie Nelson. (Descriptions are provided by the Sundance Film Festival and Sundance Institute.)

FLORA & SON – Premieres
Single mom Flora is at war with her teenage son, petty thief Max. Encouraged by the police to find Max a hobby, she rescues a beat-up guitar from a dumpster and finds that one person’s trash can be a family’s salvation. Directed by John Carney (“Once,” “Begin Again,” “Sing Street” and former bassist for The Frames) and starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Eve Hewson. World Premiere. Fiction. (Note, “Flora & Son” is not available as an online screening.)

GOING VARSITY IN MARIACHI – U.S. Documentary Competition
In the competitive world of high school mariachi, the musicians from the South Texas borderlands reign supreme. Under the guidance of coach Abel Acuna, the teenage captains of Edinburg North High School’s acclaimed team must turn a shoestring budget and diverse crew of inexperienced musicians into state champions. World Premiere. Available online.

Blending 40 years of home movies, film archives, and intimate present-day verite, a poignant reflection from Amy Ray and Emily Sailers of iconic folk rock duo Indigo Girls. A timely look into the obstacles, activism and life lessons of two queer friends who never expected to make it big. World Premiere. Documentary. (“It’s Only Life After All” is not available as an online screening.)

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JAMOJAYA – Premieres
A father-son relationship is put to the test when an up-and-coming rapper at the crossroads of his career decides to let go of his manager, who is also his father. This decision forces them to confront the past and figure out what they want of each other. World Premiere. Fiction. Available online

LITTLE RICHARD: I AM EVERYTHING – U.S. Documentary Competition
This celebration of Little Richard reveals the Black queer origins of rock ‘n’ roll, finally exploding the whitewashed canon of American pop music. Through archival and performance footage, the revolutionary icon’s life unspools with all of its switchbacks and contradictions. World Premiere. Available online.

PIANOFORTE – World Cinema Documentary Competition
Young pianists take part in the legendary International Chopin Piano Competition. A unique chance of a lifetime, portrayed from backstage and set to Chopin’s music. World Premiere. Available online.

Aspiring martial artists Ria Khan Believes she must save her older sister, Lena, from her impending marriage. With the help of her friends, Ria attempts to pull off the most ambitious of all wedding heists in the name of independence and sisterhood. World Premiere. Fiction. (“Polite Society” is not available as an online screening. However, Focus Features will release “Polite Society” theatrically on April 28.)

An inside look at the studio responsible for some of the most iconic and recognizable album covers of all time. From Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon to Led Zeppelin’s Houses of the Holy, the studio ruled the 70’s. Documentary. Available online.

SUMMER OF SOUL (OR, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised) – Special In-Person Screening
An epic event that celebrated Black history, culture, and fashion shines a light on the importance of history and the healing power of music during times of unrest. World premiered in the 2021 festival and won the U.S. Grand Jury Prize: Documentary and Audience Award, followed by the Academy Award for Best Documentary. (“Summer of Soul” is not available as an online screening. However, the film is available on Hulu.)

WILLIE NELSON & FAMILY – Indie Episodic Program
The first and only documentary on the iconic Willie Nelson. This five-part series is directed by Thom Zimny (“Elvis Presley: The Searcher,” “Bruce Springsteen’s Letter to You” and “The Gift: The Journey of Johnny Cash”) and Oscar-nominee Oren Moverman (“The Messenger”). World Premiere. Available online.

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(Descriptions are provided by the Sundance Film Festival and Sundance Institute.)

In addition to Sundance, right down Main Street (or up the hill) and held at the Treasure Mountain Inn, the 2023 Slamdance Film Festival will be taking place Friday, January 20 through Thursday, January 26, with online options starting Monday, January 23 through Sunday, January 29. Slamdance always provides eclectic and solid music films and some of this year’s highlights include, “Punk Rock Vegan Movie” directed by Moby; “Sign the Show” about ASL interpreters discussing the DEI & Accessibility movement at live music, comedy, and theater performances; “Space Happy: Phil Thomas Katt and The Uncharted Zone” about artists/musicians making music videos in Pensacola, Florida; “Fuzzy Head” the sophomore feature by writer/director Wendy McColm (“Birds Without Feathers”), which screens with the short film “Write a Song About Heartache,” and lastly, “OKAY! (The ASD Band Film) about four autistic band members from Toronto, Canada rehearsing to play their first public show, was also a selection at the 2022 Sound Unseen Music + Film Festival.

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