Sexuality and fame in focus as Sundance film festival returns to Utah

Documentaries exploring sexuality and fame via the life stories of supermodel Brooke Shields, singer Little Richard and author Judy Blume are among the lineup for next month’s Sundance film festival unveiled Wednesday.

Co-founded by Robert Redford and renowned for launching major independent, art house and documentary films, the festival is set to return in-person to the mountains of Utah from January 19, after two previous editions were forced to take place online due to Covid.

Stars including Anne Hathaway, Emilia Clarke, Jason Momoa and Chiwetel Ejiofor all have feature films in the lineup, while Emilia Jones returns to the festival that first played her best picture Oscar winner “CODA,” with two new movies of her own.

On the documentary side, “Pretty Baby: Brooke Shields” tells the story of the global supermodel and actress who first achieved fame aged 12, and reflects on the objectification, sexualization and commodification of women and young girls.
“Judy Blume Forever” charts how the US young adult fiction author came under attack for sexual content and offensive language in the 1980s, leading her to take a stand against book banning and censorship.

Both films “reflect the trends that we’ve seen in the last few years of biographically driven work” which allows viewers “to reopen history and to look at it from a different perspective,” said Sundance senior programmer John Nein.

Similarly, “The Disappearance of Shere Hite” tracks the pioneering feminist author of “The Hite Report,” whose bestselling 1976 book on the female orgasm provoked a sexual revolution, but who was forced to vanish from the public eye afer drawing vicious criticism.

And documentary “Little Richard: I Am Everything” tackles the Black queer origins of rock ‘n’ roll via the late, flamboyant singer, who renounced homosexuality and became a born-again Christian in later years.

The films each provide “a chance to engage with history in a very different way” via “the framework of a notable person within the arts and culture field,” said Nein.

Another prominent and topical theme in the lineup is films by and about Iranian women.

Documentary “Joonam,” and feature films “The Persian Version” and “Shayda” all explore the stories of women in Iran and its diaspora communities, at a time when the country has been rocked by protests over its strict female dress code.

And Hollywood A-listers are expected to return to the festival in force after two years of virtual Q&As and Zoom interviews.

Former “Game of Thrones” star Clarke appears alongside Ejiofor in “The Pod Generation,” a near-future social satire in which a company has invented a detachable womb, enabling couples to share their pregnancy.

Hathaway and Thomasin McKenzie star in “Eileen,” about a young secretary working at a prison who befriends a glamorous counselor with a dark secret.

“Aquaman” star Momoa narrates a documentary about the deep ocean and a mysterious organization planning to extract metals from the seabed. 

And Jones stars in dramas “Cat Person,” adapted from a famous New Yorker short story, and “Fairyland,” based on a best-selling memoir about San Francisco’s AIDS crisis.

The 2023 Sundance Film Festival runs January 19–29.